Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Curious assumptions

One of the things I find extraordinary in the continuing saga of the Danish cartoons is how easy it has become to polarize and demonise other groups, races and religions in the name of cultural (rather than racial or religious) superiority. To some extent it's a concession to PC. We're no longer allowed to frame issues publicly in terms of race or religion, so let's do it with culture (in particular political culture, culture's most superficial veneer).

In the controversy about the Danish cartoons, a bewildering myriad of variations on hate have emerged. The extremist Muslims have had their part in it, of course, but the violence of this tiny minority, who illegitimately echo the authentically wounded pride of the peaceful majority, is also being transformed by numerous intellectuals into an implicit "proof" of what should be recognized as fundamentally racist theses. The atmosphere appears to be one of backlash, i.e. growing intolerance and persistent misunderstanding. The breakdown isn't the west vs. Islam, but white civilization vs. the ambient disorder, Prospero vs. Caliban. I'm sorry to say this after the orgy of "awareness" spawned by the civil rights movement, but I have the impression that everywhere in the western world it has produced a small stream of selective integration and a flowing river of politically correct discourse.

The trend can be pernicious. I notice Francis Fukayama's at it again: . Having predicted the end of history 15 years ago - an "end" attributable to the globalizing triumph of the value system of the U.S. - he's now offering us (both Europeans and US Americans) the "truth" about Europe's identity crisis, which of course, in his comprehensive view, turns around the inability of European countries to integrate the Muslim minorities (it may just be his way of conceding victory to Samuel Huntington in the rivalry between two simplistic versions of the post-Cold War world, a rivalry in which Huntington scored the winning run on September 11, 2001).

What struck me while reading Fukayama's article is,

1) that he assumes last November's riots in France were an expression of Muslim identity and fails to realize that there's a long colonial and post-colonial history to what is essentially a racist status quo.

2) that he sees the model of U.S. immigration as the key to the salvation of Europe and practically gives straight A's to the U.S., whose colonial history is far different and no less inglorious, especially if one builds into one's account - as Fukayama fails to do - the fate of blacks, Native Americans and most Latinos (Fukayama seems to be thinking about voluntary "civilized" immigrants who arrive as individuals, not the groups sucked into the economy or pushed towards its periphery for the convenience of the masters and the "integrity" of the dominant culture*).

In other words, it seems to me glaringly obvious that the debates about clashes of values and civilizations have become a hypocritical means of denying the heritage and persistence of racism. Whether conscious or unconscious, it's clearly visible everywhere unless we refuse to see it (which seems to be the cosmetic role of PC). We continue to view the world in missionary-conquistador terms ("the good, advanced culture" of economic liberalism and its attendant values will inevitably triumph). Thus whenever friction arises between two cultures - as in the case of the cartoons -- we see it as an opportunity to analyse, as "objectively" as possible, which of the cultures is more advanced and draw conclusions from that rather than try
to understand how cultures (and not individuals) react to assaults on their values and the principles of their identity. This is the kind of reasoning that enables us to export "democracy" in the form of war and to condemn whole populations for reacting inappropriately (according to our values) to manifest insults. We don't despise the people whose affairs we have volunteered to manage; on the contrary, we are acting in their best interest by bringing them universal values (ours). The fact that they happen to have darker skin than ours is immaterial. The fact that they both have darker skin and maintain retrograde collectivist instincts (tribalism!) instead of embracing enlightened individualism makes them both suspect and easy to identify and eventually quarantine. This, I would submit, is racism.

Am I being paranoid (odd, because I'm definitely white)? Am I just imaging all this? Can anyone speak up and show me that racism is definitely not a part of what's going on? I'd be relieved to know it since that would make it much easier to begin to grapple with the monumental problems that are facing us (e.g. the fate of the planet, the stupidities of nation-states, large and
small, the corruption that appears to be built into our economies, liberal or constrained, etc.).

* Raising the question of the dominant culture has long been taboo in the U.S., thanks to the melting-pot theory, though left-wing intellectuals have, at least since the 50s, pointed to the historical domination of WASPS and the emergence of WASPism as a feature of the new extreme right wing (McCarthyism, John Birch Society, etc.). Huntington's latest contribution "Who are we?" very directly expresses his worry that white Protestant culture may be submerged by multiculturalism in general and Latino culture in particular. This isn't racism of course; it's "academic sociology" with a bit of cultural patriotism thrown in!

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post Peter.

You say:

"The breakdown isn't the west vs. Islam, but white civilization vs. the ambient disorder, Prospero vs. Caliban. I'm sorry to say this after the orgy of "awareness" spawned by the civil rights movement, but I have the impression that everywhere in the western world it has produced a small stream of selective integration and a flowing river of politically correct discourse."

I'm trying to get my own blog operational again these days.

www.ambientdisorder.blogspot.com

If you find time give it a glance.

We're going to start inviting team members. Maybe you can contribute a post sometime???

At one time we had about 15-20 solid readers... it was a start...

Peter Isackson said...

Bright_Abyss,
I've had a quick look. I'm flattered by the citation and the use you've made of my epithet. And I heartily approve your venture. I'd be glad to contribute or collaborate in some way. As you may have notifed, I haven't had much time recently to feed my blog and I actually do prefer collective, collaborative ventures (that's actually at that core of my professional work).

Wishing you success,
Peter

Michael said...

Hey Peter, bright-abyss (michael) here,

I'm liking the new posts on your blog.

Just to let you know, my blog project mutated into a radio/blog situation...

I'd still lve to have you come post something, or make an extended comment...

the new site is:

http://brightabyssradio.blogspot.com

...there will be about 30 of us friends looking and listening to this 'project'...

You interested in being a guest and doing an interview some time...???

Michael~