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

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Culture of Victimhood–The Corrosive, Damaging Nature Of Identity Politics

The United States certainly has a race problem and has ever since the early days of the Antebellum South. Northern ghettoes are the legacy of slavery and Reconstruction, and given the isolation, dysfunction, and alienation of inner city black communities, the issue of race will not go away soon.  White Americans cannot possibly know what it must be like to walk down any street in America and be looked at with suspicion, prejudice, or hostility, and yet most commiserate with and support the cause of African Americans. 


    Reconstruction, Georgia Legislature www.georgiaencyclopedia.org

They also know, however, that if anything the race situation in America has deteriorated; and the conditions of the inner city remain unchanged. Worse, after sixty years of government attempts to right past wrongs and to set the African American ship on a more favorable course, progressives are still reluctant to call for systemic change within the black community. Worst yet, the inflammatory if not incendiary demagoguery fueled by the media and community leaders has aggravated matters and turned issues of race into bitter warfare not reconciliation. For every progressive embracing ‘Black Lives Matter’ there is at least one conservative angry at the perceived hostility toward whites, the police, and the capitalist system held responsible for these and all social ills.  

Considered from a feminist perspective, women have had a rough time, and still need community and male support to help them over the last hurdles or up the last step of the ladder to the trapdoor in the glass ceiling.  Of course, victimhood of women is a relatively new theme.  The women in every one of Shakespeare’s Histories, Comedies, and Tragedies are strong, determined and defiant.  There was no way that Lady Macbeth, Dionyza, Cleopatra, Volumnia, Tamora, Beatrice, or Rosalind were going to be the pawns and playthings of the men who courted them.

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Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, Rebekka West, and Hilda Wangel are strong,willful, Nietzschean heroines. Laura (Strindberg’s The Father) is dismissive of men, ably manipulates her husband, driving him mad and in so doing gaining custody of their daughter.  Martha is a match for George (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), and Christine Mannon (Mourning Becomes Electra) rules all the men in her family and in her life.

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More and more Americans are tired of feminist whinging when it is clear to them that women are strong, determined, and – if one is to believe Shakespeare – far more intelligent than men.  Women are quite capable of taking care of themselves, thank you very much; and the double-speak about protecting women against predatory men simply doesn’t wash.  Strindberg understood that since only a woman knows for sure who the father of her children are, they have a fundamental power over men.  Men have to play catch up in gender games and pull out the heavy artillery in gender wars.

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Because women are doing so well, feminists like any other interest group, need to expand to other minority groups to assure their continued relevance and to keep their activist agenda alive.  Most older feminists cut their teeth on the Women’s Liberation movement in the Seventies and are discouraged that younger women have little interest in their ragged and strident attacks on men.  The increased coverage of rape and abuse is fueled by this political agenda.  Academic feminists are hoping that young women will overlook the inherent contradiction in their message.  Women are strong and able, they say; but also weak, vulnerable, and in need of institutional protection against rape and abuse.

Male progressives like their feminist colleagues, also see one-issue campaigns as self-limiting and ultimately life-threatening  So, like feminists, they have taken up the cudgel of gay rights.  Homosexuals, they say, are the legatees of the civil rights movement, and need the same boost that blacks did.  Despite the fact that most surveys suggest that the percentage of LGBT in the population is well under 3 percent and closer to 1, progressives are tireless in promoting their agenda. Yet gay activists showed their considerable political clout and cultural savvy when thirty-five years ago they asserted that “AIDS is everyone’s disease” and were successful in neutering CDC’s argument that it was in fact not everyone’s disease but had vectors and routes of transmission.

Far more Americans are in favor of gay marriage than they are of homosexuality itself; and the recent SCOTUS decision may be only a pyrrhic victory; but the gay community is taking care of itself just fine as it always has done – organization, reconfiguration of its culture to flow fully into the middle-class, heterosexual mainstream, and political activism.  Since homosexuality is not simply a civil rights issue but a religious one (Biblical injunctions against homosexuality) as well, the row will be a difficult one to hoe.  However the rule for gays is the same as it is for women and minorities – once one adheres to majority norms and values, subscribes to American ideals of work, enterprise, and success, the way is clear.

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Ethnicity is of least concern to progressives who worry about the state of the nation. It takes only a generation and Latinos are speaking English like a native and more importantly have subscribed totally to the American work ethic and promises of prosperity.  They are Christian, here to earn a living and send remittances home, not to destabilize the country, become radicalized, and work for the overthrow of the government.  It is only a matter of time before they join the mainstream.

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The point is that Americans are not unsympathetic to these causes.  Most people do in fact express interest in and concern about the progress of those segments of society which have had a harder time than others. They are simply weary of the secular evangelism; and ready to return to issues of immediate and more fundamental importance.

America is a profoundly religious country and fundamentalist Protestants who make up a significant proportion of the population are concerned with salvation, redemption, and God’s grace.  They look to the Bible for instruction, guidance, and sustenance – not liberal and inflexibly secular activists.  Many of these same people are doing the best they can to keep their heads above water.  If there is any secular issue of relevance, it is economic progress.

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Older people are increasingly concerned with putting their moral and spiritual life in order as they see the dimming light at the end of the tunnel.  The more educated and intellectually challenging focus their interests on literature, art, philosophy and how these disciplines can enrich their lives if not help to explain them.  Young people are getting on with their lives, focused on marriage, children, and good schools. 

If one simply pulled the plug on The Nation, The Guardian, Upworthy, MoveOn,and the hundreds of other print and online journals of the progressive Left, most people would give a sigh of relief – not because of idle self-interest or egocentric dismissiveness, but because this thin race-gender-ethnicity ground has been mined until all resources have been exhausted.  There is enough in the Bible, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Faulkner, and Dostoevsky alone to fill a thousand newspapers; and this does not even touch upon the genius of Anselm Kiefer, Sargent, Vermeer, or Picasso. Perhaps as importantly, reading Faulkner and Shakespeare are likely to produce more insights into human nature, the human condition, and why people do what they do than any money-and-politics driven Nightly News.

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One chapter of Augustine’s Confessions is enough to make anyone reflect on morals, ethics, and one’s relationship to God. Even a history of a small war, like The War of 1812, can give untold insights into early America and its foundational philosophy.

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The differences between liberals and conservatives in this country is profound.  The Left believes in the perfectibility of Man, progress, and the eventual creation of a secular utopia.  The Right believes in the ineluctability of human nature.  History repeats itself because we are hardwired to be aggressive, self-interested, territorial, and protective. Like Nietzsche conservatives understand that in such a determined if not meaningless world, the only validation of humanity is the expression of individual will.

The twain shall never meet.  The progressive Left largely due to its intolerance of American fundamentalism and mainstream conservatism is losing credibility and salience. The events of the last few months, as encouraging as they may be to liberals who see a revolutionary change in American society, a final confrontation with evil and immorality, will only harden the opposition and strengthen the hand of conservatives who already hold the reins of power. Progressives blame conservatives, religious fundamentalists, the South, and radical Right Wing extremists for the nation’s ills; but they do not realize how their own intolerance and incendiary arguments do more to widen the socio-political split in the country.  As much as they talk about healing, the compassionate benefits of diversity, and civil rights; they do little to convince many people of their sincerity. 

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