"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, May 20, 2019

Toxic Whiteness–The Final Act Of The Failed Farce Of Race-Gender-Ethnicity

Louis XIV of France, the Sun King, social reformer, patron of the arts and culture, supported Molière, Racine, Pierre Mignard, Antoine Coysevox and Hyacinthe Rigaud, making their works famous throughout Europe. He founded the Académie Royale de Danse in 1661 and the Académie d'Opéra in 1669.  Thanks to Louis France was able to establish colonies in the Americas, Asia, and Africa during his reign, and by the 1680s, France was a major power not just in Europe, but in the whole world.

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he great kings of England from Henry II to Henry VIII established English sovereignty, reclaimed foreign land, and ruled over an increasingly united kingdom.  The kings and queens of Holland and Spain, the Holy Roman Emperor, and centuries of powerful and influential popes consolidated and expanded European Influence and culture throughout their empires.  The era of Spanish, Portuguese, English, and French exploration opened new lands to Western civilization, language, culture, and religion. 

The campaigns to derogate whites and to raise non-whites to higher cultural significance are obvious attempts to right a listing cultural ship.  The contribution of white people to Western culture, say progressive activists, has been carried out on the back of the poor, the enslaved, and the marginalized.  Notre Dame, Chartres, Salisbury, the Coliseum, and the temples of Persepolis cannot be counted as positive investments in human development, but examples of exploitation, plunder, and abusive power.  In other words, there can be nothing white worth noting, since all white achievements are tainted.   The entire white race from its earliest beginnings to its sad and sorry end has been corrupt, pernicious, and dangerous. 

Not only are the accomplishments of white civilization questionable, but the legacy of the white rule, empire, and political hegemony is like original sin - an innate corruption passed on from generation to generation ad perpetuam. It is about time to reject white history once and for all and to restore racial equilibrium say social justice advocates.

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Yet history is not so easily erased.  The facts of empire cannot be expunged simply because they are looked at through a different lens.  History is the story of empire, wealth, and high civilization.  America is the beneficiary of European civilization, founded by Jefferson and his colleagues on its intellectual and moral principles.

The concept of ‘toxic whiteness’, an attempt to blame historical white rule for society’s current ills and to assume an innate moral corruption of whites because of their heritage, is the last, most desperate accusation of a political movement which has little intellectual foundation except the vague notion of ‘multiculturalism’, an ascribed value without the philosophical underpinnings.

Multiculturalists are not for anything but only against something.  The French Revolution for all its excesses was based on principle – a democratic republic of universally applicable laws, rights, and privileges.  After The Terror, France restored the aristocracy within a newly-constituted context.  The aristocracy was still an important element in France’s historical primacy.  Without the kings, queens, and courtiers of France, it would never have been la fille ainee de l’Eglise, the country that defeated the Saracens and saved Europe from Islamic rule, and the country whose art, literature, and thought would be models for the rest of Europe.

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American multiculturalists would like to consider themselves latter-day French revolutionaries, but they have little of the Europeans’ cultural imperative.  They have no substantive vision of a true structural reform, but only one of vague aspirations.  They have never demonstrated or proven the inherent value of a culturally inclusive plurality.  The American ideal of democratic heterogeneity – all comers were welcome if they subscribed to the Founding Fathers’ notions of enterprise, discipline, family, God, and country – was based on the lessons of history and the philosophical principles of Greece and Rome and adopted by the Enlightenment.  Contrary to progressive idealists, not only is there no higher value to a society based on racial heterogeneity per se – i.e. without subscription and adherence to universal norms and a Judeo-Christian ethos – but that peculiarly narrow understanding of foundational democracy is debilitating.

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What does blackness, homosexuality, or gender have to do with higher moral enterprise? Such attributes are superficial characteristics only, and have nothing to do with foundational moral principles.  Cato the Elder, a Roman educator, taught the future leaders of the empire not only the practical elements of leadership – strategy, management, organization, rhetoric, and policy – but the moral ones.  Rome would never survive without a grounding in the moral principles of honesty, courage, discipline, compassion, respect, and honor.  These principles were most important for Rome’s leadership, but essential for all.  Modern China is still based on Confucian moral principles – an ethos, a philosophical foundation on which the society can be governed and prosper.

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It is respect for and adherence to these fundamental principles which should guide America.  Traits of gender, race, and ethnicity are superficial, secondary, and insignificant relative to them.

The idea of whiteness as an evil in and of itself is an outgrowth of this myopic focus on multiculturalism.  It is not surprising that those who have raised ‘inclusivity’ to a higher moral order by fiat alone – that is without philosophical or historical grounding – are now vilifying those who are assumed to be its enemies.  It is not enough to demand a just, fair, and equal society as Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin did; but to play a perverse zero sum game of racial politics.  Only if white people are marginalized, dismissed, and removed from cultural importance can minorities thrive.

Modern progressives have cast society in absolute terms.  There can be no historical subtlety or room for interpretation.  Only the lens of race-gender-ethnicity has a clear focus.  Only cultural relativism has philosophical value.  Deconstructionism insists that there is no qualitative difference between slave journals and the works of Shakespeare.  Both are no more than expressions of society and its cultural antecedents and are only simple records of the times in which they were written.  They are absent of genius, creativity, or insight.  Similarly all cultures are equal.  Differences in development, achievement, or empire are irrelevant with no inherent value.   With but an incidental twist of history, an African empire might have become preeminent.  

Since white European civilization’s glory is nothing more than shadows on Plato’s cave wall, its legacy means nothing.  Pride in ancestry is nothing more than a fading desire to retain supremacy.

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Yet dismissing white European civilization as nothing more than an incidental, valueless bit of history denies its foundational values.  It is no coincidence that all great cultures, both East and West, share the same principles.  Cato the Elder and Confucius are only two examples.  Respect for the past does not imply a vain hope for a resurgence of white supremacy in an age of threatening multiculturalism, but a validation for historical values.

There is no inherent value in whiteness; only in the civilizations that gave expression to empire and culture.  The dynasties of Egypt, China, Persia, and India were not white, but supreme.  Respect for them has nothing to do with race.

While the American white population may be far removed from Ancient Greece, the Enlightenment, or Rome, it is still proud of its European heritage; and most resent the implication that legacy means nothing and that history is only fiction.  The demonization of whites, toxic whiteness, and the political devaluation of European achievement, power, and importance can only be divisive, destructive, and dangerous. 

However, American progressivism is in its Baroque period – a period of flourish, rhetorical excess, and overwrought ideas.  Any culture which evolves to similar points where excess is the only value is doomed to eventual dismantling.  A return to sanity, reflection, and reason cannot be far off.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Hollywood, Bollywood, And Why We Love The Movies–Fact And Truth Mean Nothing

Hobbes exaggerated only slightly when he said that ‘the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’.  Most people feel this way even though they may have risen above 19th century penurious misery.  Tolstoy perhaps said it best when Konstantin Levin reflects on the cruel irony of a God who created Man with wit, humor, intelligence, insight, and creativity; granted him a few score years on Earth, then consigned him for all eternity beneath the cold, hard ground of the steppes.  No man, regardless of his physical satisfactions or wants, can ignore the fact that such a short, ironic, and meaningless life is indeed nasty and brutish.  It is our fate to live in a vaporless world for a few years, then die and be absolutely and completely forgotten.

How, given these sobering thoughts, can anyone be happy?

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Another Tolstoy hero, Ivan Ilyich, a man dismissive of anything sobering and intent on simply creating a simple, trouble-free life, finds in his dying moments that perhaps he was wrong to be so cavalier.  Perhaps those irritating elements of his life – people especially – were indeed important; and perhaps he should meditate on his indifference.

The moment, however, passed.  Life was what it was; and death, a far more important event which had nothing whatsoever to do with the past (‘We all die alone’) was imminent.  Better to reflect on the eternal void than on the inconsequential events of his life. Yet there was nothing to reflect on or consider since death was and always would be the great unknown.  What to do?

Taking his last breaths he thought

"And death...where is it?"

He sought his former accustomed fear of death and did not find it. "Where is it? What death?"

There was no fear because there was no death. In place of death there was light.

"So that's what it is!" he suddenly exclaimed aloud. "What joy!"

To him all this happened in a single instant, and the meaning of that instant did not change. For those present his agony continued for another two hours. Something rattled in his throat, his emaciated body twitched, then the gasping and rattle became less and less frequent.

"It is finished!" said someone near him.

He heard these words and repeated them in his soul.

"Death is finished," he said to himself. "It is no more!"

He drew in a breath, stopped in the midst of a sigh, stretched out, and died.

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Death wasn’t so bad after all.  It was the fear of death that was the problem, not death itself.

Tolstoy was famous for his epiphanic scenes – those of Ivan Ilych, Count Andrei, Pierre, and Levin – and through these climactic experiences was able to express his own views of being, nothingness, and spirituality.  He continued to write after Ivan Ilyich, mostly religious monographs. In his last novel, Resurrection, he writes of a man’s life gone wrong and his attempts to atone for if not rectify his mistakes. Travelling through the miseries of Russian prisons, he concludes with the following:

All this comes," Tolstoy says, "from the fact that all these people — governors, inspectors, police officers, and policemen — consider that there are circumstances when human relations are not necessary between human beings. ... If once we admit — be it only for an hour or in some exceptional case — that anything can be more important than a feeling of love for our fellows, then there is no crime which we may not commit with easy minds. ... Men think there are circumstances when one may deal with human beings without love. But there are no such circumstances…

If you feel no love, sit still. Occupy yourself with things, with yourself, with anything you like, only not with men. ... Only let yourself deal with a man without love ... and there are no limits to the suffering you will bring on yourself.

Of course few people sober up to reality except when they are approaching the final accounting.  Best to put off the inevitable for as long as possible.  Yet how to keep those niggling thoughts of mortality at bay? To keep the wolf away from the door?

That’s why Hollywood and Bollywood are there.  Except for la nouvelle vague and the Japanese, Russian, and Scandinavian art movies of the Fifties and Sixties, movies were all about life at its most exuberant, youthful, and invulnerable.  Watching The Cranes are Flying, Last Year at Marienbad, The Sign of the Seven Seals, or Hiroshima Mon Amour was meaningful then, painful now.  These movies seem academic, contrived, and impossibly boring.  After fifty years we have shed our European pretentions and gotten over any artistic intellectualism and returned to our roots – romance, shoot-‘em-ups, sex, glamour, and adventure.

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Bollywood never went through such a purposeful cleansing.  From the 40s to the present, Bombay films have been melodramatic and romantic with better Hollywood endings than Hollywood itself could ever have imagined; and have served their public well.  Indian audiences after four hours watching the same, routine, formulaic movies can barely pull themselves up and out of their seats.  The experience – so beautiful, so unlike anything in their Hobbesian lives, and so hopeful and emotionally fulfilling – is inimitable and unforgettable.  Bollywood has made billions off of the same, predictable scenarios.  Perhaps the American European art house interregnum was a good thing.  We now know better who we are, what we want, and especially what our fantasies are.

It shouldn’t have taken a European counterpoint to make all this clear.  After all, Louis B Mayer and the studios had been turning out one glorious Hollywood movie after another since the early days of the talkies.  The cult of film stardom was fully established from the very beginning of film.  Romance, beauty, glamour, adventure, and anything that parted company with the America of the Depression and War years was bound to be a success.  The movies were not only an expression of our fanciful and unrequited dreams, but a celebration of celebrity and image.  Once the movies had taken hold, facts, reality, and ‘the truth’ played second fiddle.  Gradually, seduced by Hollywood and its seductive dream machine, we have come to care less and less for the reality behind the image.  The images are plenty good enough for us.

Of course Hollywood movies were never just fanciful stories.  The films of the Thirties and Forties had hard-hitting themes of honesty, courage, valor, and righteousness; but these wrapped in recognizable humanity.  Selznick and Mayer were not interested in teaching morality, but demonstrating it in a Hollywood way – heroes and heroines, victims, and villains.  Good would always prevail in Hollywood because it did not anywhere else; and that was worth watching.  Today’s films are zeitgeist-friendly.  Stories of racial, gender, and ethnic tensions are common; but they all end in the same way, happily, unlike real life.  The cult of identity has helped Hollywood to translate social issues into good storytelling.  Black people are very black, gay very gay, Latino very Latino; but within Hollywood boundaries.  There can be gang bangers, ghetto bling, and playground trash talk; but in the end goodness prevails.  Our negative images of minorities have been confirmed, but given a positive middle class twist.  There may be something white behind all the trash talk after all.

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The point is that reality in Hollywood matters as little today as it did in the first kinescopes.  Whether America has influenced Hollywood or the other way around is a moot point – they have always been mutually dependent; but that interdependency has created the perfect moral storm.  Whoever or whatever is responsible, image matters far more than facts, truth, or objectivity.

It is no accident that Donald Trump is in the White House.  He is more than anything a man of image.  Only Upper West Side liberals take and parse his every word for meaning and accuracy while the rest of the country, like good Derrida wannabes, deconstruct what he says for meaning.  The Wall is not a wall but a metaphor for rationalizing an increasingly dangerous immigration problem.  His politically incorrect tweets and asides are not the insensitive salvos against defenseless minorities the Left makes them out to be but shots over the bow of political correctness.  His sabre-rattling with Iran, China, Russia, and North Korea is nothing but the familiar posturing of Presidents.  He is, avowedly and proudly a vaudevillian in the spirit of Dostoevsky’s Devil who says 

Now I only prize the reputation of being a gentlemanly person and live as I can, trying to make myself agreeable. I love men genuinely, I've been greatly calumniated! Here when I stay with you from time to time, my life gains a kind of reality and that's what I like most of all. You see, like you, I suffer from the fantastic and so I love the realism of earth. Here, with you, everything is circumscribed, here all is formulated and geometrical, while we have nothing but indeterminate equations! I wander about here dreaming. I like dreaming. Besides, on earth I become superstitious. Please don't laugh, that's just what I like, to become superstitious. I adopt all your habits here: I've grown fond of going to the public baths, would you believe it? and I go and steam myself with merchants and priests. What I dream of is becoming incarnate once for all and irrevocably in the form of some merchant's wife weighing eighteen stone, and of believing all she believes.

In other words, as the Devil tells Ivan, without him life would be nothing but churches, masses, and goodness – insufferably boring.

A little blonde Norman girl of twenty—a buxom, unsophisticated beauty that would make your mouth water—comes to an old priest. She bends down and whispers her sin into the grating. ‘Why, my daughter, have you fallen again already?’ cries the priest. ‘O Sancta Maria, what do I hear! Not the same man this time, how long is this going on? Aren't you ashamed!’ ‘Ah, mon père,’ answers the sinner with tears of penitence, ‘ça lui fait tant de plaisir, et à moi si peu de peine!’ Fancy, such an answer!

The word on the street is ‘Lighten Up’ – we have had enough hectoring and moralizing to last a lifetime.  Go to a movie.  Enjoy yourself.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

In Praise Of Greatness–The Diminishing Returns Of ‘Inclusivity’

The means by which Providence raises a nation to greatness are the virtues infused into great men – Edmund Burke

The Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle observed in 1840 that history can be largely explained by the impact of “great men”, highly influential individuals who, due to either their personal charisma, intelligence, wisdom, or political skill utilized their power in a way that had a decisive historical impact.

In 1860 Herbert Spencer developed a counter-argument which said that such great men are the products of their societies, and that their actions would be impossible without the social conditions built before their lifetime. This view prevailed throughout the 20th Century and gained momentum with the rise of the Postmodernism in the Seventies.  Derrida, Lacan, and Foucault were believers in “historicism”:

Postmodernists use the term historicism to describe the view that all questions must be settled within the cultural and social context in which they are raised. Both Lacan and Foucault argue that each historical period has its own knowledge system and individuals are unavoidably entangled within these systems. Answers to life’s questions cannot be found by appealing to some external truth, but only to the norms and forms within each culture that phrase the question.

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Dismissing individual greatness in world leaders in favor of historical conditioning, however, shows the same deconstructionist vanity of regarding all ‘texts’ as equal.  Shakespeare and a barely literate slave of the antebellum South are equal, say Derrida, Lacan, and Foucault.  Both authors were equally influenced by history, and in particular the oppressiveness of a male, upper class, aristocracy.  Shakespeare was no more than the mouthpiece of the Elizabethans, a by-product of Machiavelli, Copernicus, and Martin Luther.  These post-modernists dismiss his elegant verse, his insights into human nature, his versatility, his humor, and his sublime understanding of love and jealousy.

Dismissing any unique, insightful and willful leader; or marginalizing writers who have illuminated history through the subjective insights of perceptive minds does perhaps the greatest disservice of all – demeaning and devaluing the individual, great or not.  Deconstructionism, historicism, and postmodernism are all collectivist in spirit and application.  Either we are all members of social collectives, or we are part of the greatest collective of all – human history.

Tolstoy responded with an intellectual compromise.  As he explained in his Second Epilogue to War and Peace

We say that Napoleon wished to invade Russia and invaded it. In reality in all Napoleon's activity we never find anything resembling an expression of that wish, but find a series of orders, or expressions of his will, very variously and indefinitely directed. Amid a long series of unexecuted orders of Napoleon's one series, for the campaign of 1812, was carried out- not because those orders differed in any way from the other, unexecuted orders but because they coincided with the course of events that led the French army into Russia; just as in stencil work this or that figure comes out not because the color was laid on from this side or in that way, but because it was laid on from all sides over the figure cut in the stencil.

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Napoleon, Genghis Khan, Tamburlaine, Alexander the Great, and Caesar Augustus were great leaders who influenced the course of history because of their intelligence, will, political and historical insights, and vision.  Yet they were products of their history, defined and determined by collective forces larger than themselves, and their actions – although attributed to them solely – are only the results of the intersection of past events.  Tolstoy takes this somewhat obvious assumption and introduces his particular nihilism – no action in and of itself has any particular value, conditioned as it is by accidental, random forces that precede it. 

In other words, history is a product of unique, remarkable, brilliant men whose actions while predictable if not determined, cannot be dismissed as incidental vehicles of fate.  For Tolstoy there was no contradiction.  Nihilism and individualism could and indeed coexist.

Today’s progressivism is based on French deconstructionism, but is also a homegrown blend of American individualism and Utopian communalism.   Progressives, like Lacan and Derrida, dismiss individual enterprise, creativity, and genius as nothing more than expressions of collective historical and contemporary influences.  Yet they take this argument further.  If the individual and his enterprise have no fundamental meaning; and if social, historical factors are the only determinants of individual action, then the generator of of these factors – society – becomes preeminent.  There is a higher order, a higher good to collective action, progressive say.  While this is an ironic twist of the French philosophers’ ideas – there is no such thing as a higher good in a historically reflexive world – it is also understandable.  The idealism of Soviet socialism – the subsuming of the individual within a social collective where individualism disappears and the will of the people reigns – is still operative even thirty years after the fall of the USSR.

The final distortion of the Lacanian vision is seen in the emergence of identity politics.  While individualism may be a fiction, individual identity if it conforms to idealistic norms is not.   If the true nature of an individual – intelligent, creative, aggressive, compliant, talented, compassionate – is ignored in favor of traits which conform to and promote a communalist, collectivist vision, justice and progress will be served.  Diversity, a race-gender-ethnicity expression of this vision, neuters this true individualism. 

Such homogenization of a citizenry, however, must necessarily stifle individual enterprise and the intelligence, talent, ambition, and will behind it.  History as Tolstoy rightly saw it, becomes distorted.  There can be fewer and fewer great men if the idea of greatness itself is demeaned and dismissed.

There is something to be said for cultures that revere their pharaohs, shahs, emperors, and kings.  While the transfer of power let alone the exercise of it may be problematic for latter-day, judgmental eyes, the course of history has always been about power and ‘great’ men.  Without Cyrus, Xerxes, Darius, Ashoka, Ramses, Augustus, and Pericles, and Kangxi, the civilizations of Persia, India, Rome, Athens, and China would not have been as powerful, influential, and extensive as they were.  While each civilization had its share of bad rulers, the system not only rewarded greatness but justified it.  For every Nero there was an Augustus.  For every Charles IX there was a Charlemagne.

De Gaulle was a patrician, arrogant, but dominating figure who had an almost mystical sense of his historical destiny.  “La France, c’est moi” – the embodiment of 1000 years of French history and a call to arms and resistance to those who would threaten it – was genius.  If Churchill was the brains of the Allied Triumvirate, De Gaulle was its Savior.

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‘Roosevelt, Churchill, and De Gaulle were all from aristocratic, patrician families whose patriotism and respect for classical values was inherent.  Of course the popular will of the people was alive and well during their reigns, and they could not rule as autocrats.  Yet they came of political age at a time when aristocratic elites were taken for granted, afforded respect if not honor.  They did not have to go through mudslinging, barroom-brawl primaries to get elected; nor did they have to tailor their policies based on the views of the common man.  They were given license to rule.  It was no different in Ancient Rome or Greece.

Although De Gaulle might have carried this sentiment a bit too far when he claimed that he was Marianne, Joan of Arc, Louis XIV, Napoleon, and Charlemagne all in one, he nevertheless believed absolutely in his role in leading France.  Roosevelt, Churchill, and the Founding Fathers were no less committed to their nation but with less grandeur.

Inclusivity’, the prevailing philosophy in democratic America, assures the extinction of greatness.  The 20 current Democratic candidates for President (2020) are examples of this derogation.  They are running because of their race, gender, or ethnicity; promising to reform the country according to progressive, secular, communalist principles; but without any of the genius of De Gaulle, Churchill, Roosevelt, Jefferson, Hamilton, or Lincoln.  The candidates, most of them young enough to have been schooled in the educational philosophy of ‘multiple intelligences’, self-esteem, and social harmonization, cannot help but be deferential to popular opinion.  While they certainly have the drive and ambition of all politicians, they lack the essential qualities of leadership.

Cato the Elder was a Roman educator charged with the education of the Roman elite, the future leaders of Empire.  His diptychs encapsulated the principles of leadership.  Not only would future Roman leaders have be schooled in military strategy, economics, history, and law; bur would have to learn to value compassion, courage, honor, discipline, and respect.  Greatness was assumed, but not guaranteed.  In the current American school system greatness is dismissed and ignored, while simply being good is enough.

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Americans seem afraid of individual power and influence.  Yet Vladimir Putin, regardless of his autocratic excesses, is determined to restore Russia’s greatness, the glory of its Imperial past, and its world leadership.  Erdogan of Turkey has the same imperial vision to restore the greatness of the Ottoman Empire, to incorporate traditional Islamic values into a divisive democracy, and to rebuild Turkey as an international power.   Putin most certainly is a product of his past, but acknowledges it.   Regardless of the judgement of history, these men at least have historical vision and the deliberateness, intelligence, and will to carry it out.

Promoting a culture of greatness does not guarantee enlightened leadership.  For all those who have created, built, and civilized, there are the Hitlers, Maos, and Pol Pots who have done the opposite.  Yet without an understanding of the role of individuals, individual enterprise, and individual genius and the commitment to promote it, there will be no De Gaulles, Caesars, and Ashokas.