CULTURE AND ANTI-CULTURE

Why they hate our freedoms

It is now routine for Western governments to describe Islamic militants’ attacks on Western civilians as “cowardly.” Unfortunately that description tells us less about the militants than it does about the Western establishment: in particular its tendency towards doublespeak, self-contradiction, and head-in-the-sand ignorance. The acts of people who willingly die for their beliefs are anything but cowardly.

The West’s leaders—showing off a trait of cultural blindness that dates back through Magellan and Columbus—cannot understand their foes. They cannot accept that a reasonable person could ever loathe the West’s “advanced,” “progressive” culture with its compassion for the oppressed and expansive civil liberties. “Don’t those Muslims get that they’re on the wrong side of history?”

No doubt the pagan Romans were as puzzled by the martyrdoms of abstemious early Christians. Why die for a faith that “oppresses” you so?

The truth to which progressivism blinds the West is that Islam, like any historically normal culture, gives structure and meaning to the lives of its adherents. It does that in part by regulating what they must and must not do. Muslims want that structure and meaning more than they want personal freedom. In that sense, they do not see their culture’s rules as oppressions.

Indeed many of them would say that the West is the true oppressor, not only because it invades their lands, kills their children, and co-opts their leaders, but also because it exerts a corrosive and pervasive cultural influence. Even in the so-called Islamic world one cannot escape the smug droning of CNN, the licentiousness of Western advertisers, any more than Orwell’s Winston Smith could escape the ubiquitous telescreens and slogans of Big Brother.

But arguably Western progressivism is not just a culture engaged in the usual competition against other cultures. To the extent that it is about expanding individual liberties at the expense of traditional communal structures and meanings, it might best be described as an anti-culture—a dissolver of other cultures, not a true culture that can sustain itself in the long run. Its strictures concerning insensitive, politically incorrect speech suggest an attempt to entrench itself with Thou Shalt Not laws—the sort of thing that ordinary cultures do. But ultimately it doesn’t have a full and coherent set of the kinds of rules that hold societies together. How could it be a bona fide, logically consistent culture and still be “multicultural”? Also, like other forms of materialism (e.g., Marxism), progressivism denies and opposes key aspects of human nature, and thus for that reason too can’t be expected to last. Human nature is flexible, but has a tendency to snap back violently when pushed too far.

The evidence of the Western anti-culture’s severe conflict with its human hosts is all around us. There are, most obviously, the adverse reactions from Islamic and other societies whose traditional structures it threatens. There are many blowups too from Islamic and other traditional-society immigrants living in the anti-cultural West. But every few weeks now some native, nominally modern person in a Western country (usually the “freest” country, the USA) also goes berserk and starts shooting people. These modern shooters often are unable to articulate why they did what they did—the anti-culture has taken away their vocabulary for that; they have no equivalent of Allahu Akbar!

Progressives exploit these atrocities to advance their agenda by blaming “guns.” But there were plenty of guns in pre-anticulture America (say, the 1950s) yet there weren’t all these mass shootings. It seems much more plausible to blame these incidents on progressivism itself, for its dissolution of traditional Western culture has left nearly everyone in the West adrift and alienated to some extent. As in the Muslim world, some will experience that loss of structure and meaning more acutely than others, and will react with rage and despair.

The mass shooters and their victims are the most visible casualties of this rage and despair. But many thousands of others act it out by harming only themselves, using opioids, alcohol, excessive food, even guns. The mortality statistics are now showing this curious manifestation of societal collapse. Meanwhile the morbidity statistics reveal a mood and anxiety disorder pandemic among the West’s women—those lucky women whom modernity has “liberated” from traditional patriarchal oppression.

How does militant Islam most hurt the people of the modern West? By distracting them from their greater foe, their foe within.

 

Originally published Nov 22, 2015