John Derbyshire’s website, February 6, 2006
A couple of days after 9/11 I posted a column with the title “Hesperophobia.” I had borrowed this word from Robert Conquest, who used it to mean “fear and hatred of the West.” My attempt to re-float the word into general circulation didn’t fare any better than Conquest’s introductory effort had. I still think it’s a very handy word, though. It is, for example, the word that comes to mind when I look at those pictures of Muslims in Europe and Islamia, rioting about the Danish cartoons.
Lord, how they hate us! If you think this is just Islam, you are kidding yourself. The West, and Westerners, are hated all over the world. A friend who has been looking into the Nigerian “419 scams” tells me that while the main motivation for them is of course financial, a strong secondary factor among the Nigerian scammers is the desire to humiliate those suckers in the West who (still!) fall for them. The Chinese seem to have slowed down their production of rabidly anti-Western movies recently, but I have no doubt that hesperophobia still lurks just below the surface of Chinese life. In South America, politicians like Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales are riding to power on anti-Americanism, which is merely a targeted style of hesperophobia. The West is hated all over the rest of the world. Why?
As I said, different flavors of wishful thinking. The true reason why the Third World hates us is the one I spelled out for you in my original “Hesperophobia” article, if you’d only paid attention:
They hate us because we humiliated them, showed up the gross inferiority of their culture. To them . . . we are the other, detested and feared in a way we can barely understand. Things got really bad in the 19th century. When European society achieved industrial lift-off, Europeans were suddenly buzzing all over the world like a swarm of bees. They encountered these other cultures, that had been vegetating in a quiet conviction of their own superiority for centuries (or in the case of the Chinese, millennia). When these encounters occurred, the encountered culture collapsed in a cloud of dust. Some of them, like the Turks, managed to reconstitute themselves as more or less modern nations; others, like the Arabs and the Chinese, are still struggling with the trauma of that encounter. Neither the Arabs nor the Chinese, for example, have yet been able to attain rational, constitutional government.
That is the whole story. They hate us from wounded ethnic pride. They hate us because of our cultural superiority; which is to say, at one remove, our political superiority. They hate us because they can’t organize societies like ours, in which security, prosperity, and hope for the future are available to all, and creativity flourishes. They can’t, they know they can’t, and the knowledge drives them nuts.
Over most of the non-Western world, government is just an ATM for the clever, ruthless, entrenched, and well-connected. This simple fact is not much appreciated by Americans, though the evidence of it is all around us. Consider the flocks of illegal immigrants gathering at six thirty every morning on some street corner in your town. Why are they here? Fundamentally, because of the sheer excruciating crappiness of government in Central American nations. Citizens of those nations watch their corrupt elites shovel the national wealth into their private bank accounts. They look to the North and see a place where at least a day’s work will get you a day’s pay, which you will not then have to hand over as a bribe to some cop or official. So North they come, often bringing their native hesperophobia along in their baggage. It is humiliating enough to see people in a foreign land living far better than yourself. When the discrepancy is so great you are driven to trek across a desert in order to mow those people’s lawns for them, the humiliation is doubled.
And yet, the neocons purr, if only we could sweep away their crooked, tyrannical, or despotic rulers, these people would rise to the occasion and make prosperous European-style democracies for themselves. Would they, though? How do we know this? Is it, in fact a thing that can be known—known to be true, or known to be false?
Probably it is. Politics is a feature of human society, which arises from human nature. If human nature is not precisely the same—does not have the same averages and variability—everywhere, it may be hopeless to expect that politics will be, either. We now know, with our knowledge expanding very fast, that the processes of natural selection did not suddenly stop dead when human beings left Africa 50,000 or so years ago. The scattered populations of early humans, settled in very different geographical environments, were subject to different selection pressures, and evolved differently; and the evidence is in the structure of our bodies.
That includes our brains. It has long been known, for example, that East Asians have better visual-spatial skills than other peoples. This is true not only in East Asia itself, but outside it, where the toil of learning ideographic languages is not a cultural factor. Now, visual-spatial skills originate in the brain. So, however, do social skills. Man is a social animal, has been for far longer than that 50,000 years. Large areas of our brains are given over to processing social information—recognizing faces, judging the intentions and truthfulness of others, and so on. But if a group of humans with one genetic heritage can differ slightly from some other group in the way they process visual information, might they not also differ in the way they process social information? And if they do so differ, might it not be that forms of society that come easily to one group, might come only with great difficulty, or not at all, to another?