Hat Tip: And So it Goes in Shreveport.
Obama is touted as a post-modern, post-racial (whatever that means) president. An intelligent, multicultural citizen of the world ... Yet, he demonstrates precious little knowledge of even the most basic ideas of culture. He does not seem to accept that he is American in his essence and that his core values and beliefs are not those of the rest of the world.
At the core of this highly-extolled belief is a denial of other cultures' intricacies and even their existences. In an effort to make ourselves closer to other cultures, we have taken the short-cut. Instead of attempting to understand the other, the multiculturalist learns enough to make analogies with America and then foolishly proclaims "Oh, they're just like us," and then assigns them our value system. Thus our understanding is preceded by our demand for the other culture's conformity to our conceptions.
From this mind-set we get lines from Obama such as "Indeed, you will be celebrating your New Year in much the same way that we Americans mark our holidays -- by gathering with friends and family, exchanging gifts and stories, and looking to the future with a renewed sense of hope." Such superficial similarities are touted and thought of as being some sort of inroad to deep understanding. Golly gee! Why this sounds just like our Christmas or a birthday! Wholly missing is any attempt to understand the cultural significance of such foreign holidays, the values it espouses, and the stamp that it makes the minds of the people. Rather ironic is multiculturalism's demand that such shallow comparisons be used to make ourselves understood to others. We make them judge us in the same superficial manner in which we judge them.
Yet even the concept of evil is uncomfortable for mainstream America. It's something from movies, presented as enticing, darkly intelligent and melodramatic (like Hannibal Lecter and Jigsaw from the endless string of "Saw" films). But it is also safely isolated from reality-- a Hollywood trick designed to titillate our sense of macabre, not unlike the make-up effects of zombie flicks or slasher films. To suggest now that evil is real is not unlike suggesting that the "Force is with us."
Bush was roundly criticized for his "Axis of Evil" concept, and intellectuals (and those who pretend to be) often bashed him for his "wild west" good versus evil mentality. Apparently we're too smart and sophisticated for such antiquated concepts.
When mentioning Hitler and the Nazis, most people can agree that they were indeed evil, but when asked why most just mumble things about the holocaust and WWII. Many roll their eyes as if the question itself is ridiculous. Of course Nazis are evil... It's as if asking if the sky was blue. Nazis have become transformed in our eyes, warped into demons and monsters... and of course monsters are evil. And when we do this, when we cut ourselves off from the truth of the matter-- the truth that Nazis were living, breathing, passionate, rational and intelligent human beings-- then we learn nothing from the horrifically expensive lessons of WWII. The simple truth of the matter, something that never sat very well in the minds of the WWII generations, is that living, passionate, rational, and intelligent human beings are capable of great evil and the greatest of atrocities. It is essential to approach the Nazis first and foremost as human beings. When we dehumanize the Nazis, dismiss them as cartoonish villains and bogeymen, we cannot begin to understand the way in which this evil came about and how it has repeated itself since.
Such approaches don't sit well with our fashionable humanist attitudes of today, the open celebrations of the human spirit (though we so seem to know so little of it), the hallowing of our great compassion and our so vehemently believed in natural compulsion for good. This belief persists despite the great atrocities of the recent past (the holocaust, the genocides of the Khmer Rouge, the Japanese' wholesale murders of Nanking and much of China and Southeast Asia, the devastation in Rwanda, the mass killing in Uganda, the multiple genocides perpetrated by Red China, the millions [possibly tens of millions] killed by Stalin, the Turkish attempt to eradicate the Armenians, etc.) that demonstrate man's capibility for great destruction. Armed only with optimism that seems born purely of self-love and humanistic faith, we mostly ignore all this evil. If we do acknowledge it, we shunt it off as the work of dehumanized monsters such as the Nazis, offer excuses (a friend of mine actually compared the building of the Hoover Dam with Kim Il-sung's brutal North Korean "modernizations"-- "people die when building infrastructure") and deny evidence. But mostly we don't allow it to sink in, we refuse to internalize this ugly affront to our beautiful conception of human nature.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Be sure to read the full essay at Critical Narrative, "Cultural Arrogance and the Denial of Evil," which offers a penetrating contrast between the moral clarity of George W. Bush and the multicultural relativism of Barack Obama: