A Publication of Seth J. Frantzman
November 24th, 2007
The Other, ourselves: The paradigm of the ‘other’ has led to us knowing less about our own culture and heritage and more about those of the ‘other’. This means that increasingly our own heritage is foreign to us and therefore we are, in fact, the other to ourselves.
The temptation to steal: A recent article claimed that people tempt others to steal by their very presence or by leaving valuables around. However the real temptation to steal comes from lack of communal solidarity and increased diversity in urban areas.
Offense: The very concept of being ‘offended’ is one that is unique to modern society. Never before in human history did people get ‘offended’ when they heard one person insult another group of people who were not their own.
From Akbar's India to Muslim Spain to the Ottoman empire and Omar's Jerusalem: a history of tolerance: Tolerance is a myth of history and any attempt to project backwards our own concept of tolerance is fraught with deception, self-delusion and lies.
The Other, ourselves
November 24th, 2007
Seth J. Frantzman
In all the endless discussions of the ‘other’ from academia to portrayals on television we have been treated to a continuous beating over the head regarding our treatment and perception of the other. The other, as a paradigm, was designed to understand the way in which majorities view minorities. It took as its classic example the treatment and perception of Jews in European history. They were, so we are told, the classic other, the people that ‘good Christians’ always defined themselves against for centuries. We are also warned that stereotyping the other is not merely an innocent and natural fact of life, but also leads to things like the Holocaust and the Inquisition.
Even if we ignore the central problem with the concept of the other, namely that it does not recognize the fact that minorities also view majorities as an ‘other’ and that within the majority society there are also many ‘others’.
However the main flaw in this paradigm is the fact that much has changed in our perceptions of the ‘other’ and ourselves since the 19th century. We no longer view the ‘other’ as an inescapable stereotype. Today the ‘other’ is ourselves. We no longer know our own culture and we rarely revel in its greatness. We no longer have knowledge of our own heritage and we usually mock it. In contrast to our own self depreciation and self-mocking we revel in the heritage of the other, we learn his history before our own, we study his religion and we call his lifestyle exotic, while we condemn our lifestyle by calling it ‘silly’ and ‘stupid’ and ‘narrow minded’.
In many respects the heritage, history and lifestyle of the other has increasingly been adopted by ourselves while our own heritage, history and lifestyle has become foreign. Academics, intellectuals, the media and politicians use the foil of the other as a straw man to increasingly encourage us to push aside any interest we might have in our own communes and force us to take up the cause of the other in order to distance ourselves from the claim that he is being portrayed as the other.
This ridiculous self fulfilling prophecy, this viscous cycle has led to a complete abandonment of any knowledge of what it might mean to not be interested in the other. In a sense we have become the other to ourselves. Ourselves, or knowledge of what we are and where we came from and what our heritage encompasses, is completely foreign to most of us.
When an American says things such as ‘Americans are ignorant’ one can be assured that they do not know the first thing about American history. Yet their foil of ignorance does not lead them to acknowledge their own ignorance and want to research American history, their foil of ignorance is a way of saying ‘I want to know about other cultures.’ They have no even learned the first thing about their own culture and yet they want to know the religions and ideals and histories of other cultures. I once sat in a class entitled ‘world religions.’ The teacher began the class by putting Judaism, Islam and Christianity on the board. He then explained to us that ‘in this class we shall not study Christianity because all of you are Christians and know about Christianity.’ This is once again the straw man argument, the person sets up a supposed ‘knowledge’ so that it can be dismissed and knocked down so that he can talk about what he wants to talk about, namely the other. Another class I recall began with the professor explaining that ‘I know all of you are Zionists and were raised by Zionist families, therefore in this class I’m going to do something a little different, I’m going to present what you might consider radical, I’m going to present the other side.’ The brilliant professors assumption that the entire class was composed of ‘Zionists’ was perhaps bellied by the fact that more than half the class was composed of non-Jewish Europeans, surely people who were likely to be ‘Zionists.’ But the Professor didn’t believe the students really were ‘Zionists’ he merely had to set up the foil in order to justify his desire to teach the one thing he knew about, which was the ‘other side.’ I sat in classes as a young man in which Abraham Lincoln was described as a ‘honkie.’ I recall a cocktail party at which a white woman said to a Mexican man ‘I am just a dumb gringo, I don’t speak Spanish.’ I recall another class entitled Western Civilization in which not one student knew the number of the tribes of Israel, or the number of Commandments in the Bible. But these are integral parts of knowledge of the self, surely people should know this before they are asked by their colleges to learn about the difference between Shia and Sunni and learn the difference between Romadan and Sufism and Jihad. I recall a scene at a coffee shop where a young white woman lectured an Arab Muslim man about the ‘true’ meaning of some passage in the Koran. Only in the west would this be possible, that a white woman would be raised so that her knowledge of the Koran would be greater than some Muslim. One cannot imagine the scenario being turned around, no Arab Muslim woman would lecture a westerner on some obscure passage in the Old Testament. No Arab Muslim would be caught studying ‘Christian Cannon Law,’ but multitudes of western students have been deceived into studying ‘Islamic law in the 8th century Abbasid empire’ in order to better understand the ‘other’ so that the west can better integrate Muslims.
Gore Vidal once criticized American educated for imparting a great knowledge about the Holocaust than about the founding fathers. Basically he is correct. The Holocaust is an event with a universal message, but that doesn’t mean it should be taught before an American knows what the Bill of Rights is. After all how can a young American judge the immorality of the Holocaust and understand the processes that led to it, without understanding his own laws and his own rights that led his nation to be the one fighting against Nazism, rather than siding with it. A student raised today in the west may indeed reach maturity thinking that world history is composed only of Islamic legal thought and the Holocaust.
The concept of the other was derived to critique the fact that people were being raised in a manner that only exposed them to their heritage and way of life and increasingly meant that those who did not share their narrow way of life and their narrow view of history were castigated as ‘not us’ and usually portrayed negatively. But even in the time when the paradigm of the concept of the other was being developed it was already outdated. The idea of the other was supposed to be used as a way to understand why societies in the past frequently divided themselves along class, racial or religious lines. It was supposed to identify those positive societies where the ‘other’ was incorporated into society. Through the paradigm of the other the west was supposed to adopt a greater understanding about other people. It was not intended to replace our entire system of knowledge so that the only thing we knew about was the other and our own culture was discarded as being ‘stupid’, ‘ignorant’ and ‘racist’. Everytime one hears that a certain person ‘made great strides to understand the other’ one sill find a person who simply became the other, not someone who made any strides to understanding anything. Understanding the other is only possible in the context where one first understands themselves. Then it is possible to synthesize the heritage and history and lifestyle of the other and compare it with ones own. Devoting one’s entire life to learning about the other has nothing to do with understanding, it has everything to do with conversion. A European who spends his life learning Chinese and living in China hasn’t come to ‘understand the other’, he has simply become Chinese in all forms except for his pale skin, and while Chinese people will surely still view him as the other, he will have lost all knowledge or interest in his own heritage. In fact the greatest tragedy of the ‘us’-‘other’ dialogue is not just that it increasingly denies us the knowledge of ourselves, but it reinforces the continued hatreds and stereotypes of the other by never requesting that they too learn about us. Because most people who study the other have so little knowledge of themselves they are never able to share themselves with the other. Most people who study Islamic law, for instance, have no knowledge of their own non-Islamic religion, they implicitly accept the Islamic label for themselves as ‘kaffir’ and they never widen the Muslim’s view of the other, they merely reinforce his chauvinism by showing that non-Muslim kaffirs have nothing better to do in life than study Islamic law. For the dialogue of the ‘other’ to work both cultures must be interested in the other. For the logic to work one must realize that minorities see the majority as the other just as firmly as the majority sees the minority as the other. If one wants to end racial stereotyping one cannot simply say ‘I want to learn about the other’ one should say ‘I want to teach the other about myself and in so doing learn about the other.’ Every relationship between peoples that is not based on pride on both sides breaks down into hatred and violence, no matter the good intensions of one side. Self hatred, ignorance of the self and love for the other are not models of a society that will ever decrease hatred, in fact it may inadvertently increase hatred by encouraging greater nationalism and chauvinism on the part of the ‘other’ who is being worshipped.
The temptation to steal
November 18th, 2007
Seth J. Frantzman
A recent article I read noted that the presence of certain people engendered a ‘temptation to steal’ among other people. This is quite a common argument. If a rich person moves in next to poor people and he leaves his doors unlocked he is said to have created a ‘temptation to steal.’ Our society puts the onus on the victim. We claim that by not guarding your things sufficiently, your property, you are causing them to be stolen. But how did the onus get transferred from the robber to the robbed? Why is their more thievery in some places than others? Why are some cultures more prone to stealing than others?
The very suggestion that some people might be more likely to steal than others is open to the accusation of racism. According to most thought everyone is equally likely to steal regardless of their race, creed or color. The only thing that supposedly makes one more likely to steal is one’s economic standing, especially in relation to those around oneself. Therefore a society composed of a few wealthy people and many poor people, such as Mexico or South Africa, forces the poor people to steal. Only the differences in income causes this. Take the rich man, make him poor, and put him in Soweto and he will become a thief and take the Sowetan and put him in Beverly Hills and he will never think of stealing again. Makes perfect sense.
But theft, and other forms of crime, are not equally spread across of the world. Crime is most pronounced in urban areas and the highest crime rates are found in heterogenous cities, which is to say diverse, multi-cultural cities. Why? Why is the connection between greater diversity and more crime? The link should be obvious, but to the moral-relativist it will not be. Criminals generally target the ‘other.’ People are more likely to commit crimes against people who they perceive to be inhuman, or rather people they perceive to be different from themselves. The class origins of crime certainly fits into this. But the communal origins of crime are often ignored. Different communities frequently commit crimes against one another. People don’t like to hear this because they think this is an argument for racism.
But actually this is not exactly the case. Communities commit crimes against one another disproportionatly. Victims of crimes are disproportionalty less likely to be of the same race, religion or economic status as the criminal.
But because society has been told to be color-blind and see only the economic aspect of crime, people have begun to identify with their commune less and less. Instead they have replaced the commune with the belief in the self and the belief in multi-culturalism. Because of this they have come to hate and fear their neighbors. Since they believe they have nothing in common with people who look, speak, act and believe like they do, they have become suspicious of eachother as much as they are suspicious of the ‘other’. In a sense each person is today an ‘other’ to eachother. There is no such thing as communal solidarity. This means that the urban environment has become even more savage than it would otherwise be because the majority of people have come to distrust even those who might otherwise be closes to them. Their second-cousins cannot even be trusted.
Communal solidarity lessons crime in places where it is strong because crimes directed against one member of a community risk offending the entire community and setting off reprisals and retribution. In some communities, at least until recently, there existed the notion of the ‘100 year revenge.’ This meant that the family of a person who was wronged might wait 100 years to take revenge.
Rural communities are often homogenous and they therefore have less crime. But most rural communities have differences in economic levels. Nevertheless the communal solidarity of the rural environment ensures a decline in crime.
People should abandon the concept of ‘temptation to steal’ and embrace the idea that they are beholden to one another. Relying on the police and the government to take care of everything, especially when it comes to crime, is short sighted since the government cannot possibly prevent all forms of theft, especially in a liberal-democratic society where one cannot hang the thieves. In many ways society has gone to far, but small steps can be taken towards greater communal solidarity and one will be surprised how quickly this would lesson crime.
Seth J. Frantzman
November 19th, 2007
In the Sienfeld episode entitled ‘The Puerto Rican Day parade’ a Puerto Rican flag is inadvertently set on fire. Even before the episode was first aired it received protests. Jerry Sienfeld, the writer and producer of the show, met with a Puerto Rican leader to try an defuse the protests and accusations of racism. Sienfeld asked “how do you know there is something to protest when you haven’t even seen the show” to which the leader replied “we assume there is something offensive in it.”
The idea of something being offensive and taking offence to something is a modern idea. It has not always existed in human history. Because of the notion of people being ‘offended’ we have a society that now guards its actions and what it says more so than in the past. This has reached such levels that we have words like ‘political correctness’ to describe the action of guarding how one describes something. We also celebrate those rare characters who give us ‘strait talk’ or ‘tell it like it is’ or ‘keep it real.’
Because of the fear of offending others people have caged themselves mentally to the degree that they actually deny facts. It is a rare time in human history when people forcibly change their viewpoints and what they say and how they think because they are afraid it might hurt someone’s feelings. What is most interesting is that the notion of ‘being offended’ spreads beyond the people who actually take offense to include most wealthy and middle class western people, most of whome have no connection to the supposed offended party. This is why white people are offended by the word ‘niggardly’ and why strait people are offended by the word ‘gay’. This is why a strait white woman will take offense if a person tells her that Donatello, the famous Renaissance sculpture, was gay because he sculpted gay effeminate-looking young men and called those sculptures ‘king David.’ It is why a western white woman will be offended if she is told that most middle aged Arab women are overweight.
The notion of offense is fascinating. It is the idea that a person should get angry because they perceive that another person has insulted a third person. In the west this is called sensitivity. One is said to be ‘sensitive’ to racist remarks.
People today assume this is the natural order of things. People assume that this is the ‘correct’ way to live life. People have convinced themselves that constant mental self-policing of thoughts and speech is necessary to a healthy and progressive society. No one dares to challenge this concept, the concept which says that society should be self-regulating all the time in how it describes things and what it says.
But this self-policing is not healthy. It stagnates thought and lessens the ability of the brain to perceive and understand things. When one becomes blind, not through the loss of eyesight, but through the brain not permitting the eyes to see certain things, one has built a mental cage for themselves to live in. This cage is stronger than a prison, because people have the ability to get out of prison, whereas one can never free themselves from a mental cage once it is strongly constructed because they can no longer perceive the things that go on around them.
Think of the person who decides that the word ‘terrorist’ is offensive because it is ‘racist’ against Muslims. This is quite a common thought process among many leftists and intellectuals. It has led to the banning of the word at many news associations such as Reuters. When someone ceases to use the word terrorist and believes that the label of terrorist is racist they cease to be able to judge. When they are confronted with terrorism, say a bus blown up in front of their eyes, they no longer have empathy for the suffering civilians nor do they actually see what has happened. Linguists do not accept this line of reasoning. After the writing of the book 1984, in which certain words were banned so that people would no longer think them, linguists began to work hard to show that the absence of a word in a language does not necessarily mean that the concept behind the word does not exist. Just because there is no word for ‘freedom’ or ‘slavery’ doesn’t mean the two don’t exist. But in our case we are not dealing with a society in which these words do not exist, we are dealing with a society in which they do exist and yet society has convinced itself that they do not by mentally excising the thought process that lead to them. This is not like a normal brain of a person who comes from a word poor background but can nevertheless understand the meaning of the word ‘plethora’. Instead we are dealing with people who come from word rich backgrounds and yet they have taken away their ability to understand something. Linguistic tests never experimented with people who had done this, they merely tried to show that it was a fallacy that Eskimos(nay, ‘Inuits’ if you are a Canadian, ‘kaffirs’ if you are a Muslim) had more words for snow than other people.
Much of modern society is based on the idea that words can mean anything. Terrorism, justice, jihad, kaffir, fag. But changing the meaning of words such as peace is different than denying that peace exists. Modern society can change the meaning of words all it wants, this is the nature of the development of language. One no longer says “I smoked some fags” or “it was a gay ole time”. The word terrorism can only be used in regard to children as in “the cherubs terrorized their parents.”
The idea that concepts and thought processes and perception and realization can be excised from human thought it quite new and yet it is the most dangerous idea of all. The idea that society should chain its minds because of the fear of offending others is dangerous not only because is lessons the ability to think but because it entails a form of slavery. Breaking the bonds of fear which society has tried to instill in us, the fear of offending others, is essential to becoming a full human being. We are led to believe that offending others is wrong because it hurts them, because by saying certain words or making certain assertions we are causing them pain. But we should instead be asking why people have convinced themselves that the concept of being offended should exist at all.
Some segments of society invented the idea of being offended in the last decades. Slowly but surely they instilled this idea in others. They also began to instill the notion that one should not cause offense. They began to make people feel uncomfortable by telling people that they were making others uncomfortable. That is the genius of the offence and offended concept. Someone is told that by saying x they might make y uncomfortable. Even if there is no y around to here the x being said it still doesn’t matter because now z, a random person, might take offense on behalf of y. Therefore x is not relegated to the gutter and it is described as ‘racist’.
Society today is the most fake society that has ever existed. Never before in human history were people less genuine and more guarded with what they allowed themselves to think and what they allowed themselves to say. The same pathetic society that has worked so hard to control its own speech and thoughts still marvels when someone comes along who has not been brainwashed by these conventions. Those people are said to be ‘blunt’ and to ‘keep it real.’ Its strange that in only one generation people who said what they thought and told the truth are said to be unique and interesting, as if these are rare qualities. But they are rare qualities. Lying and self-deception are the only qualities society rewards.
From Akbar's India to Muslim Spain to the Ottoman empire and Omar's Jerusalem: a history of tolerance.
November 20th, 2007
This has been discussed before and it is part of an in depth examination of the methods, manners and processes that lead us to celebrate 'tolerance' and 'diversity' in the past, when no such thing existed in the past.
Because our modern society prides itself on certain accomplishments in civil society and because we now value such things as diversity there is a quest to go find those 'good' places in the past where our modern society was replicated long ago. In a sense we want to create a dialectic to show that our modern craze for multi-cultural-diversity-tolerancism is not a unique phenomenon but has a deep and rich history. In order to find that history we usually have to look outside our traditional knowledge of western civilization. But this suits the west just fine because for the last three decades there has been a sharp decline in the teaching of 'western civ' and a focus on teaching 'comparative history' and 'non-western civ.' In most colleges such courses are now required. Most students today have replaced their parents decent knowledge of western history with blotchy, patchy, generalized history of the world. Every student now knows something about Africa and China and the Incas. They know little about Pope Alexander VI or St. Augustine. They know less about the difference between Plato and Aristotle and know absolutely nothing about Louis XIV.
This leads our modern cultural critics and historians to harken back to non-western societies as models for our western society. It is quite common, for instance, to hear people remark that we should 'live like the native Americans.' There is one slight problem however. 'living like native Americans' would entail the rich-Bourgeoisie people who recommend such a lifestyle to give up their SUVs and their houses in Aspen and their summer home on Lake Tahoe and their cabin in Montana. That would be a stretch for even the most enlightened liberal. Liberals perhaps forget that there are plenty of people in the world who still live like 'native Americans', except we are busy trying to reform their lifestyles by sending NGOs, Human rights activists and the U.N to tell them how to live in places such as Africa and the Amazon. The poor people of Bhutan were living 'like native Americans' until people kept banging on their door demanding the right to be tourists in their country and demanding that they have greater 'human rights.'
But lets return to the way in which we try to project our ideals back into history and find societies like ours. Since we can't find an example of a gay-loving, diverse society full of 'African-Americans' and 'native-Americans' in the west we are drawn to four different 'tolerant' societies that supposedly encompassed the diversity we love so much today. The societies are, in order of tolerance, Muslim Spain, Muslim India, Muslim Ottoman empire and Omar's Muslim Jerusalem. They have one thing in common: they are all Muslim. The leftist who worships these periods in history however would describe them thus:
"This millet identity can be termed communitarianism: the world-view and self-perception of Jews (and other non-Muslims) living in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious empire. There was a high level of toleration, communal autonomy, and cultural symbiosis among Muslims, Christians, and Jews (Joel Beinin, Egyptian Jewish identities)."
You might not know by reading this utopian vision of mutli-ethnic perfection that these wonderful places had slavery. That’s right, slavery. Slavery existed in Akbar's India. Slavery existed in Muslim Spain. Slavery existed in the Ottoman empire. Slavery existed in Omar's Jerusalem. But we are cautioned to recall that 'our values are not theirs, during that time it was quite common to have slaves.'
Slavery is a fascinating thing. Historically it has only been judged to be a negative part of society when it has been practiced by western Europeans and when the slaves have been black Africans. We do not often hear Rome condemned for slavery. We do not hear Islam or Africa condemned for slavery. We do not often hear the Byzantine empire condemned for slavery. By contrast we do not often hear the Christian church praised for having ended the institution of slavery in Europe. Yes, that is right, Christianity ended slavery in Europe. That is why for 1,000 years Europeans were not engaged in the slave trade. It wasn't until the Spanish conquest of the New World that the 'white man' was allowed to enslave people and even then the most passionate defenders of he rights of slaves have been Christian theologians. Bartholomew De Las Casas, a Christian cleric, was the first 'human rights activist' on behalf of enslaved native peoples. In fact it was because of him that the Spanish crown gradually made enslaving the native Americans (read Incas and Aztecs and Caribs) illegal and instead began importing Africans to do the slave labor in the Spanish New World. An irony he surely did not realize.
But modern westerners cannot find anything to love about Las Cases and the 16th century. Westerners cannot even find a hero in William Wilberforce, another devoted Christian who ended slavery in the British empire. He is no hero of the modern west. His society, along with that of Las Cases, was not diverse enough.
This is always the rub. Christianity outlawed slavery. It is the only religion to have ever done so. But Christianity doesn't win praises for this. After all the same Church that outlawed enslaving the natives was busy with the inquisition at home. The same Roman Catholic church that forbid the enslaving the Christians in Europe, did so only because there were no non-Christians left to enslave and did so when it was busy plotting the Crusades. So modern people cannot look back and forgive the warts of this period. We cannot say 'but that was their culture' when it comes to the Crusades and the Inquisition.
We, who are slaves ourselves of leftist academics, find it hard to love a culture that had no slavery. So we project our love, our quest for the perfect historical culture, towards Islam and there we find our heritage. That is right. Whereas people in the 1950s looked to Athenian democracy or John Locke or George Washington's America for their heritage, we look towards the Ottoman empire, Akbar's India, Muslim Spain or Omar's Jerusalem for a paradigm of the society we want today.
These places, these Islamic empires, were surely diverse. They certainly looked different, so we are told, from their neighbors. Muslim Spain was colorful, Christian Spain was drab. The Ottoman empire was full of all sorts of exotic people, including belly-dancers. Its Russian enemy was dark, cold and depressing. Akbar's India was exotic and colorful, while those few Hindus who resisted it were 'fanatical'. Omar's Jerusalem was exotic, his Byzantine enemies were, well, Byzantine.
Ours society should be judged for the history it chooses to worship. Since our society has so completely surrendered to an Islamic interpretation of history and since our modern society now looks to Islam as a model for our present world we deserve to be judged for exactly what we pride ourselves on. All these 'diverse' places were exactly that: they were diverse. But they were also places where one religion dominated. Places where members of one religion dealt in slaves of people considered kaffirs because they came from another religion. This is the society we worship; a society based on injustice of the highest order. We love such a society. A society not of democrats but of tyrants. We love such a society.
Our modern refusal to see beneath the veneer causes this worship. Our modern society that judges diversity based on the color of people's skin rather than the content of their character. Our modern society that says 'this company' or 'this college' is diverse because the company website and the college brochure include their token black and their Chinese guy and their white woman. Our modern society that says "I have a native American friend…but I don't know where he is from or what tribe he is a member of, but he sure is colorful." Our modern society that worships a heritage of tyranny and slavery. That is a sad society.
Athenian democracy, Protestant England, Adams' New England. Perhaps these were not perfect societies. Perhaps they were not ideal. They were not very diverse. They didn't have millets. They didn't have multi-culturalism. That’s true for the most part. But they didn't have sultans and jihads either. They didn't have the slave market where 13 year old girls were paraded around nude and sold to the highest bidder. I'll take my drab new England, I'll take my drab, cold foggy England, I'll take my gay Athenians any day of the week just to not have to worship a society of slaves and tyrants. Yes. Give me the cold, hard floor of a house of pilgrims in the New world. I'll swap that for the exoticism of the harem. I will swap it because the pilgrims had equality and because they had democracy. I will swap it because they spoke their minds. I will swap it because they lived modestly and did not boast of their wealth. I will swap it because they didn't deal in slaves. I will swap it just for that reason. That is enough.
The liberal and the leftist can have his diverse slave society. Societies that deal in the slaves of the world are sure to be diverse. The Brothels of Tel Aviv and New York and London and Las Vegas are diverse. In Vegas one can order up the 'petit Japanese teens' and 'Polish blondes'. Such diversity. But it is a diversity of the gutter. One finds diversity in a dumpster too. There are rotten tomatoes and rotten onions and rotten apples and perhaps a human body part. Its diverse, but is it really something to be worshipped? Diversity by itself doesn't equal decency. Diversity only works once the illness of society has been washed away. It only works when tyranny and slavery and rape have been washed away. The liberals can have all the Ottoman-Muslim-Akbarian-Muhammed diversity they want. The conservative will continue to have a diversity of decency.