Friday, May 19, 2006

Look At Them Burn Their Widows. Isn't That Special?

Some good bits in this TownHall column:

“Although the film invests time among the tribesmen, it never really explores the idea that one man's missionary work is another's ideological aggression."

It’s been months since I first read it, but this line from the Washington Post’s review of End of the Spear still leaves me flabbergasted. Only one sentence previously, the author had noted that the Christian missionaries had “prevailed upon the natives to stop their deadly infighting, which threatened the very survival of the Waodani people.” Which is worse, cultural and ethnic suicide or a bit of “intellectual aggression” by Christians? For the Washington Post and its ilk, that’s a tough call.


Like everyone else who advocates relativism, the multiculturalists are conditional in their embrace of it. The slavery and conquest practiced by the Aztecs is excused, but the slavery and conquest practiced by whites is a moral blemish of which we cannot be absolved.

There is hubris in this double standard. As Leszek Kolakowski notes, “A European who says that all cultures are equal does not normally mean that he would like to have his hand cut off if he is caught falsifying his tax forms, or be subjected to a public flogging (or, in the case of a woman, a stoning) if caught making love to a person who does not happen to be his legal wife (or husband). To say in such a case, ‘This is the law of the Koran, and we must respect traditions other than our own’ essentially amounts to saying, ‘that would be dreadful if it happened here, but for those savages it’s just the right thing.’”


The solution to this puzzle can be understood by considering the “museum Fremen” in Frank Herbert’s Dune books. In this popular sci-fi series, the Fremen began as fearsome warriors hardened by the unforgiving desert environment they lived in. But environmental modifications and political and religious pressure slowly change this. Near the end of the series, thousands of years after the beginning, the only remnants of this people are “museum Fremen” whose job is to preserve some of the trappings of the culture, without even understanding why they do what they do. Actions once required for survival have become merely a ritual performance. In short, there was no longer a culture, merely the relics of one, with people acting parts.

I’ve watched an auditorium filled with hundreds of good, peaceable liberals applaud a war dance from the Pacific Islands. Why shouldn’t they? No one was going to be speared afterwards; the dancers were going to get out of their grass skirts and ribbons, and slip into jeans and sneakers. Having been stripped of all meaning and context the cultural artifact was found fit for liberal consumption. When the left applauds multiculturalism, what they mean is liberal culture with more culinary and entertainment options.

So long as they are kept at a comfortable distance, most liberals will excuse the wrongs of other cultures while delighting in a few reproductions of the less noxious aspects. The portions of the culture that are real for them are those on the stage or in the dining hall, not those in the mosque or harem. “Child brides and honor killings? Well, that’s just their culture, and isn’t this falafel delicious?”

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