White supremacism! Eurocentrism! Murticulturalism! Endorse, deplore, assert, denounce any of these, vociforously, emotionally? Want to promote freedom and equality without stumbling over these dilemmas? Read on.
Richard Spencer is an ‘Identitarian’ in his terms; a white separatist; white nationalist; whatever he wants to call it, it’s about being white. This is a fallacy, because what we really value, what Spencer pretends to value, is not whiteness, or anything associated with the rather poor attribution of being white. His is really an ancient tribalism, something that we acknowledge the human race went through naturally, but not something that’s worth hanging on to.
The origins of the ‘Identitarian movement‘ suggest something more specific than being white, but less general than some of the values we might want to endorse. The specificity of the ‘white’ aspect arose in opposition to the perceived non-white Islamification of France. However, it erroneously conflates a difference that matters, culture, with one that does not, ethnicity.
When Spencer uses the qualifier ‘White European’, he’s doing so to pretend to loftier things, but he’s really about nothing more than base tribalism.
What’s worth valuing is something else other than racist ‘whiteness’; or even anything specifically ‘European’, despite Europe being the most localised origin of what we do value … and here I presume ‘we’ value freedom and equality, though I recongnise some do not.
The common ‘European’ culture we now enjoy evolved from the disparate cultures of Europe’s past, and inspirations from around the world. Historically, in the less mobile and less communicative past, it’s obvious that the greater effects on a region would result from nearby cultures coming together, with influences from further afield arriving piecemeal, mostly through trade, sometimes through being conquered, or being the beneficiaries of conquest abroad.
As Europe’s turn to dominate the world came along in the second half of the previous millennium, aided by its nascent science and technology, it forcefully acquired, as all empires have, the benefits of the cultures it invaded and consumed; and a little reluctently acknowledged these days, imparted new ideas on the conquered.
So here we are now: ‘Western’ secular liberal democracy; advanced science and technology; a history of philosophical development in reason and logic; a humanism developed out of, but also often in conflict with, the dominant religion of the region, Christianity.
‘Western’ in this context is used because the most recent source of this culture, the focal point of the trade and ideas routes, is European, and later, North American. And ‘western’ has been used to contrast that expanding culture to others around the globe – being emphasised in particular as being distinct from recent cold war Communist ‘enemies’, the USSR and China, the ‘Eastern’ empires.
But the ‘European’ rather than ‘Western’ qualifier is used by white separatists like Spencer, in places like the USA, to focus on the ‘white’ European origins of the dominant ‘Christian’ culture in the USA. This is necessary for them because the USA is built on the efforts of a wider range of migrants, and the African American heritage that is a result of slavery. The actuality of the diversity of USA is far too inconvenient for white separatists. Focusing on ‘European’ allows them to justify the ‘white’ by association. Avoiding too much emphasis on the ‘Christian’ nature of this culture is necessary to shun the large non-white Chrisitan members of the population.
However, this ‘Western’ or ‘European’ culture has nothing to do with colour or ethnicity other than the coincidence of its most recent and effective convergence. But the ideas that are fundamental to western liberal democracies are available to all. People of many ethnicities under oppressive cultures envy the freedom of people in ‘the west’ – and recently many of them have been lamenting the way in which many in the west appear willing to throw it away. This ‘western’ culture is often valued more by those that don’t have it than those that do.
Proud to be British, European, Western?
Should we, the ‘white’ people that inherited this ‘European’ culture, be proud of it? In a general sense, yes, of course – but no more so than ‘non-whites’ that value it too. We are in it by the luck of birth. None of us choose our place and culture of birth, or the colour of our skin. This pride is one of luck, succession and continuation, not creation – no person alive today can take credit for this western culture, other than the extent to which they help sustain it.
But, there is nothing about colour or ethnicity prevents you enjoying this ‘western’ style society once in it, and nothing stopping you being proud of it, and nothing stopping its export. In Britain, for example, even though Christianity dominates, though declining, there are many practicing Sikhs, Hindus, Jews and Muslims, of religious cultures traditionally from outside Europe, that are very proud to be part of Britain. They ARE members of a western liberal secular democracy – it’s theirs as much as anybody’s, and they too are entitled to have pride in the culture they embrace.
Surely the meaning of ‘pride’ in something you have not created yourself comes out of your embracing of it, your valuing of it, your effort to sustain and improve it. In this sense, pride in ‘western’ culture is available to anyone. That doesn’t mean you paper over the cracks of imperfection.
In that same sense you can see many that are not proud of it, do not embrace it, are ashamed of it, are not really appreciating the benefits of it. They start from the good intent of pointing out the imperfections, this, for some, turns into an irrational self-loathing. While we must avoid the presupposition of inherent supremacy, it seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater to denigrate it in the way many pseudo-liberals do.
Ironically the naysayers of western liberal secular democracy seem to be equally foolish when it comes to multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is a good thing, as long as we retain the best of cultures and not land ourselves with their worst, simply to appease the cries of victimhood of the loud and assertive. When we say, “Multiculturalism has failed,” with regards to Islam, for example, that’s not to say the principle of multiculturalism has failed, but that we have failed to uphold the best of liberal democratic secularism and freedom of speech, and have bowed to a 1400 year old monocultural monotheism’s demand for a respect for apsects of it that do not deserve respect but censure.
Multiculturalism is not only not a bad thing, it’s a virtual given, in human social development. It has been near ever present, with only historical moments and places of isolation that have allowed near monocultures to develop over a few generations, so that their multicultural history has been lost, while local developments in the monoculture come to dominate. For example, the ‘Muslim’ culture of Pakistani Brits often seems to them like their root culture, while that of the British Empire is of the oppressor. They forget their ‘Muslim’ culture wasn’t theirs in the first place, but was also forced upon them.
If there’s something we need to do in ‘the west’ it’s to get the progressive project back on track, to be proud of our freedoms and rights, and to ensure they are not endangered by foolish tolerance of intolerant cultural imports. To do otherwise will continue to highlight and confirm the fears for the ‘white European’ nature of our culture, rather than sustain the best of our liberal secular democratic freedoms and rights.
Given that these ‘western’ ideas have been spreading around the world, with local cultural adaptations, perhaps we can help by putting this ‘White European’ label to bed – particularly the ‘white’ bit – since that seems to be the real bugbear of those that demonise ‘Eurocentrism’.
A Thought Experiment
There is a fundamental flaw in calling it ‘White European’ culture. To illustrate this I’ll ask you to indulge the following thought experiment. It is only a thought experiment, so don’t mistake this for a proposal – though I guess some pseudo-liberal ‘white guilt’ sufferers would jump at the chance.
- Imagine we culturally appropriate one particular practice, and adapt it: forced marriage.
- One twist is this: you must marry and reproduce with someone of another ethnicity. Other than that, you are free to marry who you like.
- We add this condition too: if a sibling or child marries into one ethnicity, other siblings or children must marry into some other; and this goes on generation after generation. This clause avoids closure on nearby ethnicities. We’re really mixing it up.
The result? Eventually there will be no ‘white’ people! “Yeah!”, shout the guilt ridden whites and the anti-white non-whites; “Nooo!”, shout the fearful whites.
I know this is terrifying for those that fear for the end of ‘White European’ culture. This is the white nightmare.
Their problem is they stop thinking at that point. But, here are some more consequences …
- There will be no ‘white’ people, but also no ‘black’ (African) people, no Chinese, Korean, Mexican, Native American, … Ethnically we will be thoroughly mixed. Though a ‘pure’ white race has gone, it has not been conquered by some other, as there is no other ‘pure’ conqueror race.
- And here’s the nail in the coffin for the cowardly white separatist hiding behind ‘European’ or ‘Western’ culture they pretend to value so much: all of these non-white non-black non-whatever people can treasure and sustain the secular liberal democracy, and the philosophy and the science, that has helped the world progress and is available to the world to appropriate to their own benefit.
The big mistake the white separatists make is to presume that their whiteness is a significant part of the intellectual cultural inheritance they celebrate.
And, the irony is that some of the white separatists, especially the white supremacists, are the dumbest people – hardly prime examples of the white supremacy they profess to support. But it’s their ignorance that’s the problem. They need help, not demonisation.
The same is true of others that hold malignant supremacist notions. If you think your cultural selling point is convincing, subject it to scrutiny, and don’t potect it from criticism behind false victimhood and blasphemy laws.
When you dig deeper into the minds of the isolationists, the monoculturalists, you often hit the nerve of the fear of having your female property raped by conquering hordes. This must be a deep one common to many cultures, possibly so old and tribal it’s actually a component of our brain biology, our evolution. There are certainly versions of it in other species. Maybe that is what has been perpetuated in cultures and sustained in religions that use forced marriage within the culture, that insist on marriage within the culture, particularly for the women.
But this ‘white fear’, for people like Spencer, or the equivalent for those intent on maintaing some other culture, is the antithesis of liberalism and freedom.
We’re Not As Racist As You Think
In defence of non-racist western liberal culture, I’ll take a guess, which you are free to refute with facts.
And that is that liberal westerners have been in a wider range of inter-ethnic marriages than has occurred in any other ‘mono’ culture. Western liberal democracies are the least ‘pure’ of any, because of their general liberalism and humanism. In the UK it’s no longer the white parents insisting their children don’t marry someone of another ethnicity or culture – at least nowhere near as bad as it once was. But, you can bet that most objections to inter-ethnic, inter-culture, inter-faith associations come from families that are bonded to a religion.
The white separatists, among whites in the west, are the exception – some noteable exceptions being in Eastern Europe. And much of their fear is based on ignorance – we don’t educate well enough to get past this inherent fear of the ‘other’, that leads to racism only because skin colour is such a visible marker, and has historically also been a marker of distinction between ‘western’ liberal democratic culture and others – but no longer. When we’re all beige it will simply be too much trouble, let alone irrational, to be racist. The more isolated ethnicities of the past are ending.
I doubt we could see another Hitler trying to purify their society – at least not on such a scale, though there may still be places around the world where ‘ethnic cleansing’ is possible – but even then, it’s complicated. The multi-ethnic mono-faith Sunni Muslims of ISIS will quite happily ethnically cleanse Kurds, Yasidis … because these other peoples are clinging to their own mono-culture, and hence their religion, and refuse to mono-faith of Islam, no matter how multi-ethnic it might be. It’s the religious sectarianism that is causing an ethnic cleansing.
Liberal Secular Democratic Humanist Values
So, as a liberal secular democratic Humanist of of Britain I value and take pride in the furtherance of our ‘British values’, … no, our ‘European values’, … no, our ‘Western values’, … no, these specific Global Values. And, as a secularist that values freedom, that includes freedom of belief, so while I value my liberal secular democratic *Humanist atheism, I can reduce that to a subset of liberal secular democratic humanism.
(*by Humanist I really mean atheist humanism, and so ‘humanism’ includes non-atheists).
When defending our values in Britain it doesn’t have to be so specific as to require we say ‘British values’. Though it’s a useful term to use currently: in opposition to the Islamic values that are at odds with liberal secular democracy. But it is also used as a label to identify perceived xenophobia and nationalism. As with multiculturalism, there’s nothing wrong nationalism – it specifically doesn’t necessitate white monoculture. Nationhood remains a useful idea. The state is still a useful barrier to bad ideas – and sadly that has been lacking as we’ve willingly imported and turned a blind eye to horrible ideas that lead to radicalisation and even home grown terrorism. And the backlash, often scaremongered, may well erupt one day. Nationalism is not xenophobic, except when used by xenophobes that hate other nations and peoples.
On that point we might ask what the primary motivation is for many members of and voters for the Scotish Nationalist Party? How come the pride in the Scottish, Welsh, Irish identities, and others from further afield, aren’t demonised the way British, or even more so, English nationalism is? How come a white Brit is a xenophobe for flying the Union jack or the St George cross, yet a Sikh that does that is celebrated for embracing his Britishness? Old resentments, and throwing the baby out with the bathwater?
Religion And Secularism
Cultural identities in the UK are strongly tied to religion as well as ethnicity. Which brings me more generally to Islam, Christianity, and other religions. Let’s be honest though, the first named two are most problematic in the West when they are non-secular – that is when their followers hope to impose their religion on others. There are many unsavory elements of religion that have been brought into the present by the perpetuation of values that have been discarded by more modern societies:
- Forced marriage or limited scope for marriage, to create a religious monoculture.
- Obsession with denying or preventing the expression of sexuality – it helps control behaviour towards 1.
- Opposition to particularly homosexuality and gender diversity – though I can’t see why this would be a problem for a deity.
- Blasphemy, apostasy and all means to control commitment to the religion.
- The indoctrination of children, to ensure that in adulthood they perpetuate this pattern.
To name a few.
The Anglican church struggles mostly with the sexuality, particularly homosexuality, but also tries to maintain a serupticious continuation of the last two – through the co-opting of opposition to ‘hate speech’ – though they are never convincing when they try to special plead for the protection of religion, compared to politics. Politicians are freely offended for the ideas they hold – often brutally so.
The Roman Catholic church tries a bit harder sustain it brand of monoculturalism, though lately it too has looked back, apologised for misdeads, and now it seems to be kowtowing to Islam. Twitter is so awash with the subserviant tweets of the Catholic Dr. Craig Considine (@CraigCons) one would suspect he’s a secret Muslim – or perhaps a troll that’s damning Islam with ludicrous praise.
Islam, being the second largest religion, is still pretty much committed to all the above points, except when it fails to contol its more liberal adherents. But even then, among what appear to be ‘liberal’ followers, there is some tendency to favour monocultural marriages, or conversions of partners. That this latter point is often a requirement is the coincidence of both the good and bad of Islam: to its credit it is not a racist religion, though some Islamic communities steeped in their own ethnic origins might make it so; but to its detrement, it must control marriage in order to sustain the religion within the community.
There are problems with religions that are opposed to or resist secularism. Many within global Islam see it as a monolith, for the purpose of Dawah, the spreading of Islam – all are brothers and sisters – and that despite how diverse it is, between cultures and sects. It is singular religious political judicial system. It is ironic that it is Muslims that give out the impression of it being monolithic, and then criticse non-Muslims for not noticing the diversity within. The clue to the inherent monolithic political intensions can be seen in terms like ‘Nation of Islam’, ‘Muslim lands’, the Ummah, that despite the secularism of many Muslims it is hard to shake off. On the smaller scale Islam is diverse – but in Allah, Mohammed, Qurna, it is a monolith for most practical purposes to non-Muslims.
In this sense Islam, as a system of belief, is not compatible with liberal secular democratic humanism. It is possible for some to cherry pick sufficiently for it to appear compatible, and to work reasonably well within a liberal secular democracy, but regular flash points of conflict occur that highlight the differences. The monolith exposes itself following a terror attack by a Muslim: even pretty liberal secular Muslims leap to defence of Islam first, then fellow adherents, and are quick to warn of the suffering of Muslims in some imagined backlash that never happens beyond a few incidents that are relatively minor compared to the atrocity just witnessed. A personal and anecdotal observation that’s shared by other critics of Islam: it’s the Ahmadiyya community that are first on the scene to condemn violence in the name of Islam.
Of course, some strands of Christianity are incompatible too. The giving unto Caesar bit makes it appear secular, and Jesus was supposedly somewhat liberal – at least compared to the greater orthodoxy of his fellow Jews of his time. While the liberal democracy and a good deal of humanism may be present in the USA, and foundational in the Constitution,, it’s odd that a Middle Eastern Jewish religion has been appropriated by by white and black Christians in America and is seen to belong at the head of what in principle is the first major purposefully secular state.
Some African Americans that have slaves as ancestors might want to point out that Christianity was forced upon them, many originally being Muslims when taken. Well, me too – I’m not sure how many of my Celtic ancestors agreed to have Christianity shoved down their throats, but I know I didn’t. And, do remember that the Islam of the slaves was imposed upon them in their prior life, when they were notionally free in Africa.
Religion has been imposed upon us all. And one of it’s memetic characteristics is that if replicates through the committments of its captive minds.
Valuing Global Liberal Secular Democratic Humanism
Whatever the detail of our past and current ethnicities, it is clear that we are all of one original species that can adapt. We may have diverged into separate monocultures for a while, but that latter history is a blink of an eye to evolution. And the more liberal and tolerant we are the more we can mix freely, without the need for my contrived forced marriage. We should make it easier to acknowledge and embrace our commonality. Secularism also lets us embrace our differences safely.
The value of ‘Western’ culture is not its whiteness (or its Christianity) but its more general value of freedom; the freedom to say what you think, marry who you choose, believe in any deity you like, appropriate ideas and cultural practices that you find valuable and adapt them as you please. And it allows us to do that without fear of oppression or persecution. That these principles are not fully upheld is not the faault of the principles, but the failure of we that try to live by them.
And the freedom to discard the bad ideas, or at least not be overwhelmed by them, is crucial. Or at least we have to have the freedom to speak out and point to bad ideas and criticise them, without the adherents pulling any form of censorship out of their ass they can: ‘Islamophobia’, ‘blasphemy’, ‘racism’, ‘respect’, ‘offence’, ‘hate speech’.
Liberal secular democratic humanism: They are the global values that are worth spreading to whoever wants them wherever in the world; and anyone that values them is, as far as I’m concerned, welcome to my Britain, my Europe. And the world is entitled to share and take pride in those values, as many people around the world do, often at great risk to themselves when living in oppressive monocultures that reject these values of freedom and liberty.
If we want the world to embrace these values, we have to get away from their association with ‘whiteness’. It would help if we have a catchy non-Eurocentric name for them, rather than ‘European values’ or ‘Western values’. Ideas on a postcard please. And we have to get used to the idea that multiculturalism needs to be done right, not accepted without discrimination of ideas, only accepted without discrimination against people.
UPDATE – Cultural Appropriation
Roaming Millennial has had a great youtube video up for a while: “HANDS OFF MY CULTURE!” | The Myth of Cultural Appropriation
So, go on, consume each other’s cultures … but when it comes to ideas that have political consequences, I’d advice you take the best and discard the worst.