Underdogma is admittedly not our normal fare for book reviews here at WWTFT. However, we were intrigued by the title, and so when the publisher contacted us to see if we’d be interested in reviewing it, we assented, figuring that we could always post the review on one of the other blogs we occasionally write for (The Path To Tyranny, Motor City Times, American Thinker, etc.) However, after reading it, the reviewer (that’s me) decided it fits well enough in with our theme — Liberty.
Underdogma is a fast paced book, quickly read. It feels like it might have been written by Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point. The book is formatted like it and even has a similar cover. This is probably not an accident. Like The Tipping Point, Underdogma is about a particular phenomena which the author has identified and defined as “the belief that those who have less power are virtuous and noble — because they have less power — and the belief that those who have more power are to be scorned — because they have more power.” Author Michael Prell calls this phenomenon Underdogma, and has apparently even trademarked the term.
In the first chapter Prell presents 4 key concepts relating to his discovery:
The subsequent chapters of Underdogma provide numerous examples to amplify these concepts and also to show the harmful results of this tendency. Throughout the course of the book, Prell sprinkles in interviews with an array of disparate people like self-help guru Anthony Robbins, Conspiracy Researcher Dr. Patrick Leman, and Ambassador John Bolton, among others.
Prell looks at Underdogma from multiple angles, including, personal, political, commercial, foreign policy, and moral relativity. However, he begins his analysis with a chapter entitled Field Testing The Theory. Prell provides several examples to make his case. For reasons of brevity, we’ll look at one case here (although all are interesting), Green House Gas Emissions.
According Prell, Underdogma plays a role even in the environmental debate about CO2 emissions. He points out that,
Although the integrity of climate change science and climate change proponents is disputed, millions of people around the world firmly believe that “the debate is over” on climate change, that it is caused by greenhouse gases (GHGs) and the the biggest GHG culprit is carbon dioxide (CO2). Global efforts to reduce greenhouse gases have, therefore, largely focused on reducing emissions of CO2. If more CO2 is objectively bad, then it should follow that those who emit more CO2 are also bad. Right?
The answer, according to Underdogma, is: it depends on who is doing the emitting.
Prell then goes on to provide a very clear and lucid example of how one should not confuse the issues with the facts!
In spite of the fact that Chinese CO2 emissions (which continue to rise) have overtaken U.S. emissions (which continue to drop) by 14% , the Chinese get a pass on their pollution by the Underdogmatists. China overtook the U.S. in emissions in 2006!
If CO2 emissions are bad, then concern for the environment should lead environmentalists to heap more scorn on China (which emits more CO2) and less scorn on the United States (which emits less CO2).
This is not happening.
Prell demonstrates this fact with examples and then explains why — Underdogma. Because China is viewed by many western environmentalists as the underdog in terms of economic and political power, this trumps their environmental concerns. Prell points out that it can’t be because China treats their environmentalists far better than America treats its environmentalists. For example, Chinese environmentalist whistle blower Wu Lihong was arrested and sentenced to three years imprisonment after being beaten severely enough to break three of his ribs.
There is much more to this example, but you get the idea.
The book is filled with scenarios like this, including the illogical support of Islamic causes by homosexual groups. Prell points out that the only country in the middle east that does not persecute homosexuals, and in fact welcomes them, is Israel. In some countries homosexual activity is punishable by imprisonment or even death. Prell contends that it is because Israel is perceived as the “overdog” in the region. Because they are powerful – they must be bad.
One of the most striking examples in the book is the contrast between the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the UN rape-for-food scandal.
Prell doesn’t defend the abuse of terrorist prisoners by US soldiers that took place from October to December of 2003. In fact he says it was wrong. However, he does compare the scope, scale, heinousness, and coverage of the two scandals. Scores of United Nations soldiers raped starving children in exchange for food, between 2004 and 2010. Yet the United Nations child rapes scandal has garnered less than 1.3% of the coverage that the Abu Ghraib scandal did. There has been little damage to the UN’s position as the world arbiter of right and wrong. No member states have prosecuted their “peace keepers.” Conversely, the US prosecuted and jailed soldiers who were involved in the humiliation of terrorists at Abu Ghraib. Prell points out that this scandal never made the cover of Newsweek and that there were no PBS or HBO specials about it.
There is much more than can be covered in a review. President Obama’s diplomacy, the world financial crisis, and the environmentalist movement (humans as “Overdogs”) are all examined under the rubric of Underdogma. At points in the book, Prell lays out side by side comparisons of similar situations in tabular form, contrasting them to show the pernicious effects of Underdogma. The technique is startling and effective. There is even a bonus chapter (with others promised) on the author’s website, entitled fittingly enough, The Rise of the Underdog: Bloggers and New Media.
Prell concludes his book with an explanation of the antidote – a return to a culture that embraces greatness and is not ashamed to be good. He talks about the system that the Founding Fathers set up in America and why its system of check and balances works:
Give all the power to the many, they will oppress the few. Give all power to the few, they will oppress the many. Both, therefore, ought to have the power, that each may defend itself against the other. — Alexander Hamilton
Prell explains that Declaration of Independence did not promise all men that they would live their entire lives equally, or achieve equal outcomes. He cites Alexis de Tocqueville who pointed out that men have differing abilities and that as a result their achievements will never be equal. He goes on to say,
The power of America is in the idea of America. The American spirit. American exceptionalism. Its founding principles. The founding documents. The philosophical foundation upon which your power was earned. That is the reason why America has become the most power nation in world history in the historical blink of an eye.
Finally, as a side note, while Prell makes no bones about his utter distaste for President Obama (who can blame him?), Underdogma, is not really a book on political philosophy. This reviewer’s aside: “who can blame him?” is an example of the occasional scorn that Prell evinces in the course of the book. In a way, it’s a shame, because while his disdain for the man (Barack Hussein Obama) is understandable, and even justifiable (and shared by this reviewer), it does detract a bit from the seriousness of the topic.
That is about the only negative thing there is to say about the book. Overall, Underdogma is well-researched, interesting, and thought provoking, if a bit snarky at points.