Thursday, September 28, 2006

Who are we (relatively speaking)?

Nobody says it better than Mark Steyn. Excuse me if I just put this here and add nothing, but there's really nothing that needs to be added. (These are just excerpts.)

There's always been a market for self-loathing in free societies: after all, the most effectively anti-western idea of all was itself an invention of the West, cooked up by Karl Marx while sitting in the Reading Room of the British Library. The obvious defect in communism is that it's decrepit and joyless and therefore of limited appeal. Fascism, likewise, had many takers in those parts of the cultural West that were politically deficient--i.e., continental Europe--but it had minimal support in the heart of the political West--i.e., the English-speaking world. So the counter-tribalists came up with something subtler and suppler than communism and fascism--the slipperiest ism of all.

The great strength of "multiculturalism" is not that it's an argument against the West but that it short-circuits the possibility of argument. If there's no difference between English Common Law and native healing circles and Tamil Tiger fundraisers and gay marriage and sharia, then what's to discuss? Even to want to debate the merits is to find oneself on the wrong side--for, if the core belief of multiculturalism is that there's nothing to discuss and everything's equally nice and fluffy, then to favour honest argument puts you, by definition, on the extremist side.

I'm sure most of my colleagues at the Western Standard have found themselves in this situation on call-in shows or at public meetings. You point out, for example, that there are very few "free" Muslim societies. And your questioner retorts: "Well, that's just your opinion." And so you pull up a few facts about GDP per capita, freedom of religion, life expectancy, women's rights, etc. And she says: "Well, you're just imposing your values on them." And you realize that the great advantage of cultural relativism is that it renders argument impossible. There is no longer enough agreed reality. It's like playing tennis with an opponent who thinks your ace is a social construct.

... Bernard Lewis, the West's pre-eminent scholar of Islam, worked for British intelligence through the grimmest hours of the Second World War. "In 1940, we knew who we were, we knew who the enemy was, we knew the dangers and the issues," he told The Wall Street Journal a few months ago. "It is different today. We don't know who we are, we don't know the issues, and we still do not understand the nature of the enemy."

... And the typical western education, even when it's not telling you that your country's principal legacy is racism and oppression, teaches history in a vacuum--random facts, a few approved figures, but no overarching heroic narrative. And, if the past isn't worth defending, why should the future be?

... The issue is self-defence. If you're a genuine cultural relativist--if you really believe our society is no better or worse than any other--you're about to get the opportunity not just to talk the talk but to walk the walk. Good luck.

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