July 26, 2005

Alogogenesis

Kids across the country learn about Louis Pasteur and his work on abiogenesis, otherwise known as spontaneous generation. Although his rabies vaccine is simple to remember, it's his work with germs that led to his immortalization as the process that makes milk drinkable - Pasteurization. His study of germs disproved one of the common misconceptions among doctors, scientists and learned experts of his time. They believed you could get something from nothing.

Specifically, they thought that bacterial growths were generated out of nothing, and that a covered broth would spawn bacteria or insects. Various intelligent doctors helped disprove the various forms of spontaneous generation theory, but Pasteur's work is most often credited with the accomplishment,especially as applied to unseen microscopic creatures like germs. These experts showed that you cannot start with a boiled broth and end up with a germ-laden broth sample without unfiltered access to the open air; they showed that you can't get something from nothing. This is the principle of omne vivum ex ovo - 'all life from egg.'

Abiogenesis was disproven because it takes the building blocks of life to produce life. Unfortunately, the equivalent for diplomacy and trade policy has not yet been fully accepted. Many discussions of foreign policy do not accept the premise that it takes the building blocks of freedom and democracy to produce them.

When we look at the crimes committed by various governments around the world, we should react with outrage and look for ways to express our anger, ways to alleviate the suffering these policies have caused. Unfortunately, the natural human instinct to do the former often overrides the much more pressing issue of the latter; we get so caught up showing our anger that we suggest reactions that often are not effective solutions or are even detrimental to solving the situation.

The trade embargo and its various manifestations is primarily my focus here. It may feel satisfying to punish a government by denying their country access to American goods and consumers, but does it do anything substantive? The Cuban embargo is embarrassingly ineffective at removing the tyrant Castro from power. If anything, we solidify his grip by isolating his people from American citizens, money and ideas.

Dictators, rather than running from openness, thrive on isolation, alienation and control. They go to great lengths to keep media, businesses and foreigners away from areas they want to control. They can't go around killing or imprisoning everybody, especially Westerners, so they need a closed society to do a lot of the front-line work to keep control. The fewer Westerners running around taking pictures, asking questions, spreading ideas and spending money, the easier it is to tell the people lies, mistruths and deceptions. Dictators thrive on closed, backwards, isolated populations that can be manipulated more easily. It is the educated, the informed and the successful that they fear.

Rather than focusing on self-expression of our outrage through crude, inexact embargo-derived policies, the US should embrace policies that fight tyranny at the source: closed civil societies. Our hope should be to educate, inform and enrichoppressed people. Unfortunately, restricting trade tends to do the opposite on all three counts.

It's valiant and admirable to call out China for its abysmal record on Tibet or religious minorities, or to criticize other nations like Cuba or South Africa for abusing their people, but we should not use trade restriction as a policy tool.

We cannot expect a tyranny to become more open and democratic when we enact policies that will remove democratic Westerners from the country. How can the political version of abiogenesis make any sense? Illcall it alogogenesis; abiogenesis means non-life-creation and alogogenesis means non-reason-creation or non-principle-creation. Without the logic, rationale, or principles behind democracy being preached, proselytized and explained to the oppressed peoples around the world, how can we expect them to undertake democratic change?Democracy, like bacteria, will not simply develop in a vacuum, and certainly it would not be aided by a vacuum we force onto the situation.

It seems like an embargo targeted against a human rights abuser would be a valuable contribution to the cause, but the democrats in tyrannical countries need allies rather than seclusion. We need to push the cause to the people, talking about democracy, freedom, free press, free speech, free exercise, free thought. When we withdraw Americans from dictatorial nations we lessen the pressure on their contradictory systems. It would be just the solution to undertake if we wanted to protect the tyrants, because in the long run freedom begets freedom.

If we want countries to become free, we should use freedom as our weapon: free trade, free speech and free press are the arsenal we should use. We cannot build open countries from closed policies, nor expect good democrats to spontaneously generate from authoritarian nations.

A wide-open trade policy with un-free countries should be step one in pushing the contradictions within these systems; instead of sheltering them from the light of day, we should be visiting, witnessing and speaking out. Closed borders do not help the victims of foreign tyranny. We need to encourage interaction and discussion in order to fight these regimes in the war of ideas,a battle where we always have the advantage.

UPDATE: Now available on the website here under issue articles.

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