The Fear of Ethnocentrism and the Death of Standards

To traditional Americans, judging the quality of a culture was a commonsense and everyday practice that acknowledged a common standard for all people… this common cultural standard was the opposite of bigotry.

To traditional Americans, judging the quality of a culture was a commonsense and everyday practice that acknowledged a common standard for all people. Though Americans have been persuaded by progressives to be ashamed of it, this common cultural standard was the opposite of bigotry. That some cultures and subcultures came closer to that standard than others was obvious to them.

In contrast, a devout progressive is unwilling to make judgements about cultures (except of course regarding the superiority of progressive society over traditional American society). Newthinkers unconsciously believe that it is arrogant to judge other cultures because they are composed of equally, inherently noble human beings.

The unconscious logic supporting this belief goes like this, starting from the “Human beings are inherently and transcendentally noble” branch of the newthink worldview tree:

• Human beings are inherently and transcendentally noble.
• All cultures are equally virtuous because they are composed of equally, inherently noble human beings.
• It is arrogant to judge other cultures because they are composed of equally, inherently noble human beings.

 

As newthink takes over, people become increasingly unwilling to judge even the products of various foreign cultures or American subcultures. The idea of a hierarchy of cultural quality is anathema to devout newthinkers. Heavy metal music is as good as classical music which is as good as rap. Tattoos and piercings are as good as evening dress which is as good as sweats. Cultural standards are out the window because all cultures, hence all cultural products, are equal. Newthinkers believe that America is not exceptional; that it has in fact been an oppressive and exploitative force; that its cultural output is not in any way superior to that of any other cultures; and that its traditional culture should not perpetuate.

Bust of Herodotus. 2nd century AD. Roman copy ...

Bust of Herodotus. 2nd century AD. Roman copy after a Greek original. On display along the portico of the Stoa of Attalus, which houses the Ancient Agora Museum in Athens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After all, ethnocentrism is a habitual trait of humanity. Anthropologists point out that ethnocentrism causes every culture to believe that it is the pinnacle of humanity, sometimes to the point where others are viewed as less than human. Herodotus, the Greek historian, described the ethnocentrism of the ancient Persians like this:

Of nations, they honor most their nearest neighbors, whom they esteem next to themselves; those who live beyond these they honor in the second degree; and so with the remainder, the further they are removed, the less esteem in which they hold them. The reason is that they look upon themselves as very greatly superior in all respects to the rest of mankind, regarding others as approaching to excellence in proportion as they dwell nearer to them; whence it comes to pass that those who are the furthest off must be the most degraded of mankind.*

But ethnocentrism doesn’t require distance. As Yi-fu Tuan discusses in his book Topophilia, in northwestern New Mexico there are five distinct cultures whose ethnocentrism helps maintain their cultural integrity and distinctiveness in the face of modern media and continual intermingling. Each of these groups describe themselves as “people.” the Spanish-Mexicans call themselves la gente; the Zuni, “the cooked ones”; the Navaho, dineh; Mormons, the “chosen people”; the non-Mormon European-Americans refer to themselves as “real Americans” or the “white man.”** Similarly, in a nearby area, the Cherokees referred to themselves as ani-Yunwiya, meaning “real people.”***

Progressives, aware of ethnocentrism, assume that they suffer from the same degree of cultural chauvinism. Thus they are reluctant to criticize or oppose foreign cultures. They instead prefer to believe that all cultures are equally virtuous and that, besides, outsiders can’t truly understand the essence of other cultures. To avoid the taint of being perceived as cultural chauvinists, newthinkers make the leap from believing in the nobility of all human beings to believing in the nobility of all human cultures. The see-no-evil syndrome takes over: they focus on the good in other cultures and become blind to the bad. If one is looking for the good, one is always going to find it; if one is blind to the bad, one is never going to see it.

In reality, it’s arrogant not to judge other cultures because it displaces a universal standard of ethics on the grounds that we as inherently noble human beings can do better.

And so our current cultural self-consciousness has developed into diffidence and embarrassment at the idea of anything special about American culture. But all this is sophistry. In reality, it’s arrogant not to judge other cultures because it displaces a universal standard of ethics on the grounds that we as inherently noble human beings can do better. It is much more arrogant – and easier – to think that all cultures are equally virtuous, and let non-judgement reign.

*  William Steams Davis, Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, Volume 2: Greece and the East, (Allyn and Bacon, 1912), pp. 60-61.

** Yi-fu Tuan, Topophilia, (Columbia University Press, 1990), p. 31.

*** James Mooney, Historical Sketch of the Cherokee, (Aldine Transaction, 2005), p. 3.

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Cultural Equality and the One World Ideal

The progressive worldview assumes an equality of virtue among all cultures. But while all humans are created equal, not so all human cultures.

Traditional Americans, while championing the given of equal human worth, were free to judge the good, the bad and the ugly in each subculture. The good remained in the American pot, while the bad and the ugly were melted away.

Progressives tend to believe that since all cultures are equally virtuous, it is better to seek cultural diversity than to join a common culture.

The mirage of cultural equality has balkanized America’s cultural standards. Progressives tend to believe that since all cultures are equally virtuous, it is better to seek cultural diversity than to join a common culture. So, for instance, America’s tradition of one dominant language – English – is under attack. Because, under newthink, all subcultures are equally virtuous, they all have an equal right to use their own language. Government has even assumed an obligation to provide non-English speakers with materials in their own tongue rather than burden them with the responsibility of learning English.

Traditional America is losing its ability to reproduce itself because of the dryrot of doubt implanted by newthink’s beliefs.

When a culture loses its confidence, its sense that its institutions and ideals are superior and worth saving, its existence is threatened. Traditional America is losing its ability to reproduce itself because of the dryrot of doubt implanted by newthink’s beliefs. If all cultures are equal, why pass on traditional American culture? Why not instead embrace multiculturalism, especially if to do otherwise is bigoted?

English: John Lennon rehearses Give Peace A Ch...

English: John Lennon rehearses Give Peace A Chance by Roy Kerwood. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a seeming paradox which I will discuss later, newthink’s belief in equal cultural virtue has led to the “one world” ideal, in which a global ethic supersedes the nationalistic ethic and nations become less necessary. The boomer generation was exhorted through song to imagine a world with no countries. This exercise in imagination contributed to a bias among progressives toward a policy of lax or non-enforcement of national borders. But as a cell cannot exist without a cell wall, a nation cannot exist without a border. Newthink, given time and the opportunity, will dissolve national borders and unite governments and cultures. Whether that will be a good thing is up to you to judge. (Unless you’re progressive – cultural judgement is progressively unvirtuous.)

The Melting Pot Goes Cold

Progressives tend to believe that all cultures are equally virtuous because they are composed of equally, inherently noble human beings.

The unconscious logic supporting this belief goes as follows, starting from the “Human beings are inherently and transcendentally noble” branch of the newthink worldview tree:

• Human beings are inherently and transcendentally noble.
• All cultures are equally virtuous because they are composed of equally, inherently noble human beings.

The unconscious logic branching out of this belief is:

• It is arrogant to judge other cultures because they are composed of equally, inherently noble human beings.
• It is arrogant to judge the products of other cultures and subcultures because they are composed of equally, inherently noble human beings.
• It is better to have cultural diversity than to group together around a common culture because all cultures are equally virtuous.
• We should join together into one world filled with diverse and equally virtuous cultures.
• All ideas are equally virtuous, since all cultures are equally virtuous, and all ideas are dependent on culture.

 

Cover of Theater Programme for Israel Zangwill...

Cover of Theater Programme for Israel Zangwill’s play “The Melting Pot” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Traditional Americans believed in America the “melting pot.” As Michael Medved explains in an article titled No, America’s Never Been a MultiCultural Society, the term was popularized in a 1908 melodramatic hit adaptation of Romeo and Juliet – The Melting Pot by Israel Zangwill – about two lovers in New York city who come together despite their very different origins.* The impassioned Romeo stand-in, David, tells his lover,

Understand that America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming! Here you stand. . . in your fifty groups, with your fifty languages and histories, and your fifty blood hatreds and rivalries. A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians – into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American.**

Later, gazing out at the Statue of Liberty, David elaborates:

It is the Fires of God round His Crucible! There she lies, the great Melting-Pot – listen! Can’t you hear the roaring and the bubbling? There gapes her mouth – the harbor where a thousand mammoth feeders come from the ends of the world to pour in their human freight. Ah, what a stirring and a seething!. . . how the great Alchemist melts and fuses them with his purging flame! Here shall they all unite to build the Republic of Man and the Kingdom of God!***

Since all subcultures are equally virtuous to newthinkers, they see no reason to group around shared cultural ideals.

As traditional American culture is usurped, America’s cultural melting pot is beginning to go cold. Since all subcultures are equally virtuous to newthinkers, they see no reason to group around shared cultural ideals. Instead of a common cultural standard, newthink assumes a cultural equality among all aspects of its various subcultures.

That “all men are created equal” (“men” in the sense of mankind meant women too) was a pillar of the traditional American worldview. People inherently have equal worth. But, contrary to newthink’s tenets, all cultures are not created equal, and, though one is nearly certain to be accused of arrogance and racism by progressives for saying so, it’s not an arrogant or racist assertion – human equality, yes; cultural equality, no.

* Michael Medved, “No, America’s never been a multicultural society”, Townhall.com, http://townhall.com/columnists/michaelmedved/2007/10/10/no,_americas_never_been_a_multicultural_society, October 10, 2007.

** Israel Zangwill, The Melting Pot, (The MacMillan Company, 1909), p. 37.

***Ibid., pp. 198-199.