Beware the real axis of evils

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 January, 2007, 12:00am

Perhaps the leading obstacle to progress and happiness this year is a set of notable evils, their various appearances all too evident on the face of planet Earth. They are greed (avarice), excessive pride of community (nationalism), and taking the righteous law into one's own hands (bullyism). Together they comprise a true axis of evil; in various nasty combinations, they can rock the stability of the world.

Countries by themselves cannot be evil, whether North Korea, Iraq or Iran. Only their governments can, only their leaders can - especially when they are practitioners or enablers of an axis of evil practices.

For starters, avarice is almost always the easiest evil to detect - and the hardest to control. You see it in both the west and the east. In the east, for example, witness the selfish misconduct of the elites of mainland China. They are 'corrupt and greedy', according to intellectuals Yu Jie and Wang Yi , who made that assertion in a bold speech last year at the Sydney Institute of Australia, titled The Lie of China's Peaceful Rise. Such greed threatens to divide the mainland into two warring countries - the haves and the have-nots - in a sort of Chinese version of the divided Koreas.

In the west, we can offer an equally depressing example of avarice: the proliferation of secretive hedge funds. They seek to harvest more riches for the already filthy rich. The west needs to shine huge floodlights on them so the world can see what these greedmongers are really like when they think no one is looking.

Next up is an excessive and vitriolic sense of community, or extreme nationalism. This evil can be less easy to condemn: the motives of those who raise the flag and chant national virtues can seem entirely noble. Where this otherwise laudable sentiment can go wrong is the moment when the patriotism espoused seems less harmlessly defensive of the country than blatantly offensive to its neighbours.

The Japanese, for example, have every right to celebrate their nation's many extraordinary accomplishments. But they rattle everyone's tranquility and sense of security when their leaders visit war shrines that blithely seem to celebrate the evil as well as the good. Until such ambiguity is cleaned up, Japan's leaders simply should not go to such places.

Similarly, Chinese leaders who would substitute a rowdy and ragtag nationalism to fill the emotional holes created by the waning of Marxist ideology also engage in risky regional business. If we know one thing about excessive nationalism, it's that it is the enemy of true internationalism - that great force for peace and stability among nations.

A cousin of excessive nationalism is bullyism, the third discreditable member of my axis of evil. This destructive sentiment was in an extreme, pre-emptive, fast-forward mode when the United States military invaded Iraq.

What would Americans now propose to say to Beijing if it announced that Taiwan's continued threats of independence were a grave challenge to its internal political stability? Yes, you could invoke international laws, appeal to the UN Security Council, and you might even beg Beijing not to act like a bully. But which single country is in the weakest moral position to make that argument to the Chinese? Right, the US. A powerful moral edge is precisely what you lose when you behave like a bully.

By focusing on this axis of evils, we can all avoid the intellectual fallacy of pointing fingers at convenient targets and binding them up rhetorically into a non-existent conspiracy or league of enemies. It is far better, first, to point our fingers at ourselves, in a process of cleaning up our own act, before we look to criticise - much less clean up - the acts of others. Virtue can have its own rewards.

Tom Plate is a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy. Distributed by the UCLA Media Centre