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

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Race, Gender, Ethnicity, And Great Wines In Paris–The Undoing Of An Innocent Abroad

A black American journalist was invited by a well-known European paper to be their Paris correspondent.  The paper, once known for its wide-ranging serious articles on law, religion, art, literature, and philosophy, had in recent years veered to the progressive left, had turned its back on the intellectual leadership it once enjoyed, and had become almost exclusively focused on race, gender, and ethnicity.  ‘Diversity’ was its thematic byword, and a new editorial staff was chosen to reflect aggressive feminism, uncompromising racial preference, and the rise and uncompromised moral purpose of the LGBTQ community.

The American journalist was given free rein.  He, a man from an inner city neighborhood, would offer a particular, unique, and essential perspective on French culture.   His ‘Letters Of A Black Man In Paris’ would be welcomed by the paper’s reconfigured readership, most of whom already advocated blackness, queerness, and ethnic pride as ways of countering and reversing white male privilege.   The paper urged the journalist to simply write what he saw, and to share it with his readers.  Given the systemic racism of both America and Europe, the views of an oppressed black man would, ipso facto, be valid.  His editors were less concerned about what he wrote than the fact that he wrote it.

His first articles were filled with wonder over the City of Lights.  He, who had never been outside St. Louis, who traveled only to Alabama to spend Christmas with his grandmother who had raised him, then moved back to Mobile when he and his brothers and sisters had become young adults, and who knew of Paris from Paris Match, National Geographic and from dispatches from the foreign correspondents of major US newspapers, was understandably impressed with the city.  So impressed was he, that he had no idea where to start. The Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, the Opera? Or the fine restaurants, grands magasins, chic cafes, and salons of haute couture? Or perhaps something closer to home and his American readership – the byways, shops, and clatter of middle-class neighborhoods far from the glittering showcases of the Right Bank?

Image result for images of paris by night

Yet after a few months of random impressions, on-the-fly vignettes about Parisian street life, oysters, and Versailles, he began to flounder.  Where was all this going?  What and where was his voice? His particular, unique vision?  Returning to familiar territory, he began to write about race and racial matters, singling out the French elite for their ignorance and dismissal of the northern suburbs, and their absolute refusal to reject the ‘We are all French’ arriere-garde elitism.  He was at least on familiar ground.  While he could not be expected to weigh in on French Impressionism or the politics of Robespierre and The Terror – and even if he had, his readers would not be in the least interested – he could write about race. 

Yet this too was problematic for a journalist who had not been picked for his scholarship on French colonial history, but for his background and fresh approach to the European city.  Once he got past ‘systemic racism’, a universal, international white, elitist phenomenon, years of study about African tribal slavery, the nature, extent, and character of European colonialism, Négritude and Senghor, France’s mission civilisatrice in Africa, and the profound Christianity behind French history would be ahead of him.

Image result for images senghor

Yet he thought he should at least try to make something more intellectually lasting of his séjour in Paris; but the more ideas he submitted to his editors about historical antecedents and philosophical zeitgeist and the roots of French social unrest, the more they were turned down.  The editors wanted something more ‘valid’, more representative of his black, American, poor roots and more subjective.  Any man jack could write about Voltaire and Descartes, few could write about the world seen through oppressed eyes.

The journalist, as smart as he might have been, was too ambitious and too jealous of his plum assignment to think anything amiss; but still could not get over the creeping, niggling thought that he was being patronized.  He of course was on to something.  Within his editors' progressive, reformist outlook, an analysis of history was of no value whatsoever.  His observations on the excesses of Parisian life – expensive wines, faux elegance, a retrograde assumption of the permanence of aristocratic values, an overweening belief in the superiority of French cuisine, couture, and thought – would certainly be more accurate than any social history of kings, courtesans, and beheadings.  The journalist was indeed to be An Innocent Abroad.

Image result for images paris runway spring collection

Equally unsurprising was the journalist’s seduction by the very influences his editors hoped to discredit.  With his generous expense account, and on the pretense of ‘observing’, he not only dined at Paris’ finest restaurants but became a well-known patron.  Over the course of time, he could – or at least said he could – distinguish between a 2014 Chateaux Margaux and a 2011 Echezeaux, the delicacies of and distinctions between Belon and Fines de Claires oysters, truffles from the Perigord and Lascaux, and the ins and outs of the Spring collections of Hebert and Rocher.  He wrote about these experiences without an even casual reference to down home cooking, his grandmother, or life in Hamilton Heights, St Louis.  He had quickly dispelled any disruptive thoughts of purpose and meaning, and became quite at ease in his new surroundings.

He had been shamelessly patronized by his European editors and because he accepted their faulty notion of race per se as value, he had become the worst kind of reverse-patronizing expatriate.  He had become so seduced by Parisian high living that he not only did he forget his roots, he lorded over those he left behind.  Without looking back, he had become an aficionado of good wine, cuisine, couture, and culture and let everyone know it.   

Where was the blackness, his editors wanted to know?  The racism? The anger?  The exposure of the vanity and superficiality of the French aristocracy and all they stood for?  He, a black man of the earth and the cotton fields; a man of dignity, struggle, and righteous indignation was the real thing, while the faux nobility of the 7th and 16th were supernumerary and irrelevant.

Image result for images french aristocrats 20th century

In short order, the editors cancelled the journalist’s contract.  If they wanted a food critic, they would hire a French one, with experience, training, and a culinary background, not some Johnny-come-lately American.  If he was not going to filter Paris through the lens of race, gender, and ethnicity, he was of no value whatsoever.

So the journalist went back to the States, easily found another job in New York.  Unfortunately the New York progressive, Upper West Side Establishment and the black radical intelligentsia saw him as the worst kind of Uncle Tom.  They had no patience for his disquisitions on vintage and terroir, French this and French that.  He was damaged goods, unsaleable in New York where doctrinal racial purity and absolute obedience to the progressive canon was obligatory.  The journalist found himself neither here nor there, and hit a serious writer’s block.  He had been compromised – no fault of his own – and then had compromised himself.  He was no longer a racial firebrand, lighting the community in righteous anger; and no longer a neophyte of growing sophistication in matters of European culture.  He had been outed on both fronts.

Identity politics is never a good thing.  It is pernicious, corrupting, and destructive.  It was the undoing of a good man who despite his ambitious naivete deserved better.  He was wrong to have bought the fiction that not only does race matter but it is the only thing that matters; wrong to assume that the European newspaper’s overture was honest and forthright; wrong to be so complaisant and seducible; and wrong to assume that he could return without consequences to a life which had been based on false premises.

The newspaper was just as ignorant about the corrosive nature of identity as the journalist was; and the editors’ naïve belief in The Theory of One Perspective was their undoing.  The paper became one of many rhetorical media sites, and lost its following because of competition from MSNBC, The Nation, CNN, and a hundred other lesser-known exponents of ultra-liberal, angry progressivism.  It died a slow but in their minds principled death.  They went down to the last printing fighting for justice, equality, and the rights of racial, ethnic, and gender minorities. 

Theirs was not the only demise of a progressive journal.  Majority, conservative populations throughout Europe had clearly had enough of neo-socialist rhetoric and insistent hammering on issues of social ‘justice’; and those in America were finally waking up to the fact that ‘wokeness’ was not the be-all and end-all of political philosophy.

The paper folded but the journalist shook off his delusions and the cruel retribution of his own American community, and changed careers entirely, unknown at this moment, but likely to be far from blackness or Parisian sophistication.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Trump, al-Baghdadi, And Why The Gory Details Matter

Donald Trump enjoyed a major victory yesterday (10.27.19) when he announced the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS.  “He was vicious and violent”, said the President, “and he died in a vicious and violent way, as a coward, running and crying”. According to the White House, al-Baghdadi, terrified of the approaching American special forces, ran scared and cowering down a dead-end tunnel, then detonated a suicide vest, taking three of his children with him.  The White House was forthcoming with graphic video footage of the aftermath of the assault, and spokespersons described how the scattered remains of the ISIS leader were scooped up, bagged, and after a few words said by an imam tossed into the sea.

Image result for Images al Baghdadi

The man was not simply a terrorist, nor the leader of a violent jihad, nor America’s most wanted man.  He was scum, a sniveling coward, hiding behind his innocent children, a craven, weak, twisted autocrat who ran like a rat into the darkness away from his pursuers.  His remains were given no respect, no religious ceremony, not acknowledgement that the man had ever existed.  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was nothing more than a sack full of slimy guts and brains, dumped overboard like swill, garbage, and human waste.

The words chosen by the President were deliberately crude, bloody, and intemperate.  There could be no possible circumstances surrounding Baghdadi’s death other than the military operation which hunted him, found him, and killed him.  There was nothing about  Muslim piety, faith in the Qur'an, jihadist pretentions, or geopolitical amorality.  Only the beheadings, disembowelments, rapes, and torture he condoned and promoted mattered; only the bloody, inhuman, bestial actions of his followers counted; only the unholy, impious, profaned murders were to be noted.  Since he gave his pursuers no chance for retribution or vengeance, the only action – the best action – was to desecrate his name and reputation, to disregard any acknowledgement that he lived, give only a passing gesture to his religion for political reasons only.

 If Trump had had his way, his remains would have been unceremoniously tossed into the sea with no ceremony whatsoever; but still, wrapped and prayed over notwithstanding, he was still tossed in the sea like a bag of putrefying, stinking garbage. He was not interred in hallowed ground to be given a place to be worshiped.  While his admirers might still remember him for his holy war against the infidel, they would have to acknowledge that he ran away like a frightened schoolgirl, whimpering and sobbing only to obliterate three innocent children – not in the name of jihad or Allah, sacrificial victims in a holy war, but because they happened to be there.

It is useful to note President Obama’s temperate, unemotional, factual announcement of the killing of bin Laden:
The United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida, and a terrorist who's responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who've worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice.
In Obama’s words Bin Laden was called to task for his deeds; but by the very declaratory and unemotional way in which his atrocities were mentioned, he was portrayed him as one of the many despots of the modern era, assigning him an affectively neutral place in history arrayed alongside the likes of Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Mobutu and even Stalin and Mao without further comment.  Had he fallen during Trump’s watch, he would have been villainized and caricatured just as Hirohito and the Japanese were - bucktoothed, slanty-eyed, crazed savages.  The killing of bin Laden would have been celebrated in the same way – a cowardly faux-Muslim, surrounded by women, whimpering and begging for mercy as the Special Forces closed in, and blew him to smithereens.

Image result for WWII cartoons of  japanese

America seems to have gone all soft and giving with its culture of ‘inclusivity’, compassion, and unquestioning respect; its acceptance of even the most deviant behavior because of the inevitable and unavoidable socio-economic factors which have conditioned it.  For a number of years American military strategy has been based on a policy of minimum civilian casualties.  Contrary to the less nuanced and more absolute policies of WWII when the killing of civilian populations, both in Germany and in Japan was acceptable as a strategy of war, today’s policy, a throwback to the discredited ‘hearts and minds’ strategy of Vietnam, is to treat civilians as innocent victims.  Also, contrary to the WWII American commitment to victory at any cost, when soldiers’ lives were expendable relative to the nature of the enemy, today’s military is overly cautious, concerned more with limiting American casualties than inflicting them on the enemy.

Image result for image trump

Which is why Trump’s statements about the killing of al-Baghdadi are significant and important.  In a fight against implacable enemies, whether al-Qaeda, ISIS, or others, the US must convey the same determined, amoral, absolute commitment to victory.  No politically correct, measured, response can be tolerated.  The war is with Islam, albeit with its most radical elements.  It is against Russian, Turkish, and Chinese hegemony.  It is to defend American geopolitical and economic interests, and no holds barred.

Trump has been criticized for his intemperance, for not ‘acting Presidential’, for pulling no punches, and for his nationalistic, white supremacy.  Yet most Americans love his crowing about the killing of al-Baghdadi, the elimination of America’s Most Wanted Man and his ignominious removal; his at long last restatement of America’s amorality, an embrace of Machiavellian and Kissinger-esque realpolitik, a return to America-first nationalism, and a militant counter to foreign hegemonism. 
Machiavelli’s argument is compelling, for even in a cursory reading, history reveals itself as repetitively aggressive and self-serving; and as Shakespeare and Machiavelli have concluded, these impulses are at the very heart of human nature.  Neither one has any interest in moral regeneration. 

Richard III in Shakespeare’s version, sees the ghosts of the people he has killed, but goes on to the battlefield to pursue his interests regardless of the moral insights he may have gained from his visions.  Iago, Aaron the Moor, Edmund, Goneril, and Regan go to their deaths morally unregenerate. Cordelia is moral from the beginning, and King Lear perhaps alone among Shakespeare’s plays deals with good and evil – her battle against her immoral sisters and enemies – but it is still about the unending cycle of kings and queens, ascendancy and downfall, machinations and power.

Image result for Images Machiavelli

The US has been myopically romantic in its view of history.  There is such a thing as a better world, and despite history  if we all pull together, we can realize it.  Nonsense.  Wars occur exactly because nations believe in progress.  The sooner we realize that history will always be characterized by conflicts between opposing utopian philosophies in countries led by amoral, venal, self-interested,and  ambitious leaders, the better.  The sooner we shed our righteous mantel of moral exceptionalism and get with the program of dog-eat-dog Machiavellian reality  the better off we will be.

In an increasingly competitive, hostile, and aggressive world, the United States must lose its compassionate ‘inclusivity’.  America’s enemies and adversaries have no patience whatsoever for tolerance, accommodation, and good will.  Political, geographic, and territorial hegemony is the name of the game, and all that matters.  The more the US insists on moral authority and righteous exceptionalism, the more it will lose out to Machiavellian operatives.

The excoriating, demeaning, de-manning, de-mythologizing  words of Donald Trump are welcome and needed.  We have rid the planet of an ignorant religious zealot, a so-called Islamic prophet and hero who has been disgraced, discredited, killed,and discarded by the forces of secularism and democracy.  Good riddance to bad rubbish.