Playing UN “Survivor”

by | Nov 2, 2002

If surviving in the world most fundamentally involves producing the values from nature that are needed to sustain human life, then the hit CBS series, Survivor, hardly lives up to its name. In the current season debut, one exceptional team member, John, found the water source, taught the others to row as a team, and […]

If surviving in the world most fundamentally involves producing the values from nature that are needed to sustain human life, then the hit CBS series, Survivor, hardly lives up to its name. In the current season debut, one exceptional team member, John, found the water source, taught the others to row as a team, and was emerging as a determined leader. He was resented by the whole group for being “a know-it-all” and was voted out of the game by his peers almost unanimously — this is not the exception.

By Survivor’s rules, achieving the approval of your peers is the cardinal value. In this twisted game, a predictable cycle of cutthroat treachery, deceit, and appeasing self-sacrifice develops as each contestant’s need to pursue life sustaining values must be balanced against the petty self-esteem crises of the others. Survivor is a perfect microcosm for the self-destructive nature of the recently much ballyhooed foreign-policy principle that states that only the approval of others can grant a nation’s actions moral virtue — the principle of ‘multilateralism.’

It is the principle of ‘multilateralism’ that the rest of the world, and intellectuals here in the US, are championing with their insistence that we must seek permission from the UN to act in our self-defense. In the contest between the approval of others and self-interest, only one can be upheld on principle. If a country accepts that it has a right to act in its own self-interest, then it may, legitimately, cooperate and ally with others on that basis. If a country grants ultimate moral status to the approval of others, it may be permitted to act in its own self-interest only some of the time, if others approve. In either case, it is the governing principle, self-interest or approval-seeking, that becomes the ultimate arbiter.

In his recent speech before the UN on Sept. 12, Secretary General Koffi Annan affirmed the UN’s commitment to the principle of ‘multilateralism.’ Speaking before the General Assembly, Annan declared, “I stand before you as a multilateralist by precedent, by principle, by charter and by duty.” As Annan stated, the UN needs the world to abandon self-interest as the governing principle. They cannot consistently deny nations sanction to act in their own self-interest — if they did and could enforce it, nobody would produce anything for them to redistribute and regulate — but they don’t need to. Once the principle of ‘multilateralism’ has been adopted, the UN becomes “the voice” of consensus, free to approve or deny sanction.

Annan and the UN also need the world to accept ‘multilateralism’ as a “duty,” since they cannot make a case for it as a benefit to all nations of the world. They are well aware that it calls for the great nations to sacrifice to the squalid, and so, as Annan’s statement confirms, they call on the great nations to adopt this policy of self-sacrifice as a “duty.” Every week that passes while the US begs the permission of the UN to act against Iraq, is another week Saddam Hussein has to make plans for his defense. In a war, giving the enemy time to prepare has a cost — in lives. While we “work the diplomatic channels,” trenches are being dug that America will ultimately pay for in soldiers and Marines. Those young men’s lives will be the sacrifice we will ultimately make to satisfy UN concerns that after 11 years of blatant deception and overt hostility, there may not yet be a miraculous “peaceful solution” to be worked with Hussein. It is a cost we must bear, under ‘multilateralism,’ as a “duty” to other nations.

‘Multilateralism’ is based on the ethics of altruism – preaching sacrifice as the supreme virtue, and self-interest as the lowest vice. Only on this code could the great nations of the world be called upon to lay themselves across the sacrificial altar. No other ethics could so completely undermine a free nation’s inclination to assert its right to self-defense. When our politicians concede the premise that we must seek the sanction of the UN or act within a coalition, they are seeking the moral sanction of the world on the only grounds possible under altruism: by demonstrating the willingness of Americans to sacrifice their values. By acting on that premise, they consign Americans to a life according to Survivor rules, with all the treachery and self-destruction that implies.

But, just as people choose whether or not to be a contestant on Survivor, it is also the choice of Americans to accept or reject the ‘multilateralism’ principle. If it continues to define our foreign policy, then the events of last September 11th will prove to have only been the harbinger of all the “sacrifices” yet to be laid at the altar. If we reject it, it will have to be on the realization that the ethics of altruism and the ethics of rational self-interest are incompatible.

Our soaring skylines, fantastic industrial achievements, nice homes in which to raise our families, and robust enjoyment of life are not the products of our sacrifices, they are the products of our virtue — our pursuit of our own happiness. If we are going to preserve these values, and sustain the conditions under which new values can be created, we must emphatically reject ‘multilateralism’ and the altruist creed on which it is based. We have been playing UN Survivor for over fifty years, and the barren and empty 16-acre tomb that now scars lower Manhattan is the “prize” for our compromise and flexibility. America is the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the history of mankind because our republic is based upon principles that are morally right. We do not need the assistance of the world to help us preserve our prosperity, nor do we need their sanction to give us justification for having it. It is time to disassociate ourselves from the UN and reject ‘multilateralism’ — it is time to vote ourselves out of the UN’s Survivor game. Our survival depends on it.

Reference: United Nations, text of Koffi Annan speech before the UN General Assembly, Sept. 12, 2002;

Chris Smithe is a writer for Capitalism Magazine.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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