One way of describing moral development is in terms of general levels; egocentric, ethnocentric and worldcentric. One starts with an exclusive concern for oneself, then the group – whichever group one identifies with – then a concern for everyone in principle. The Green MEME liberal has a worldcentric developmental level. Their infatuation with egalitarianism can lead to moral and cultural relativism. No moral perspectives are better or worse – all are equal. The same applies to cultures. Cultures are not better or worse, just different.
Moral relativism implies moral nihilism. If one moral perspective is not better than another and you can’t be wrong, then morality is null and void. Cultural relativism says one can’t compare morally the practices of different cultures. Again, there is no question of moral realism or the notion of objective values transcending cultures.
The goal of cultural relativism is tolerance. It is also intended to avoid ethnocentrism and the claim that my culture is better than your culture simply because it is my culture. The liberal in this instance conflates ethnocentrism with bigotry. This is obviously a mistake. One can have a preference for one’s own culture without simply denigrating out of hand other cultures, just as one can have a special love and preference for one’s own parents or children, without making a moral mistake.
The morally worldcentric liberal and cultural relativist seeks to get rid of bigotry by removing ethnocentrism. Thus they make identification with a group a sin. They want to go straight to the transcendent, bypassing the immanent. This is a form of Gnostic world-hatred. It is the situation of the misanthropist who hates and despises all particular human beings while professing love for “humanity” in the abstract. Here is the moral and metaphysical error.
The liberal’s attempt to avoid ethnocentrism leads to cultural hatred directed against his own culture and no other. But a) he’s being thoroughly Western in doing so and b) it’s suicidal because he offers no culture, no traditions, no way of life as a replacement for his own vilified culture, other than a supposed attachment to the most abstract and universal of principles.
“Those who protest against “Western ethnocentrism” imagine themselves to owe nothing to the West, since after all they rage furiously against it. But in fact, theirs is the most Western perspective of all, more Western than their adversaries.
Not only is the revolt against ethnocentrism an invention of the West, it cannot be found outside the West. …
Western culture is quite obviously ethnocentric. But it is no more ethnocentric than any other, even if its ethnocentrism has been more cruelly effective on account of its power.” (René Girard, The One By Whom Scandal Comes, p. x)
Many people are familiar with the parable about the man who refused to be rescued from the flood because he was confident that God would save him. Multiple offers are made as the flood waters rise – first by car, then by boat, then by helicopter. Each time the man refuses and is finally drowned. In heaven the man asks God why He didn’t rescue him. God replies – first I sent someone with a car, then a boat and then a helicopter.
The story is one about transcendence and immanence; about the Absolute and the relative. If God is going to rescue the man, He has to do it in some concrete and particular way. There is no abstract and general of saving someone bodily.
Christianity and Mahayana Buddhism are arguably partly about bringing the perspective of the Absolute into the realm of the relative, but in a way in which the two coexist. One comes to see Plato’s Form of the Good which is abstract and universal, but then descends back into the furthest reaches of the cave, the particular and specific. One doesn’t simply abandon the parochial. To draw upon the work of Ken Wilber, the Absolute would be equivalent to “all is one.” It is the perspective of God in which all that exists is part of God’s creation and is thus declared good. Each speck of dust participates as much in divinity as anything else does. We are all equal as creatures of God, as John Locke says in his Two Treatises of Government.
However, in the realm of the relative, some things are better than others. In the language of the One and the Many, the One loves the Many and embraces it in compassionate love. The Many love the One in a kind of aspirational love in which one seeks wisdom, moral growth, happiness and salvation, and individuals and cultures can be further along that path.
If we try to substitute the relative for the Absolute and jettison the relative all together, then we lose the ability to make rational decisions. As Wilber says, in choosing between eating a carrot and an ape, we should choose to spare the ape because apes are rarer and represent a higher level of development. From the perspective of God, apes and carrots are valuable and perfect in their own way, as a mother may feel about her children. But from a practical perspective we have to make rational choices when only one can be saved. Depth and degrees of consciousness are important here. So too is Plato’s principle of plenitude. Namely, that whatever can exist should exist given the constraints of time and space. If twenty one species of whales are possible and there is room for them, then that is better than if there were only fifteen.
Part of what makes the universe delightful is the variation to be found within it. For instance, many different landscapes, natural and man-made, are beautiful in their own way and the world is richer for it.
The liberal is focused on compassion and feeling sorry for the excluded, victimized and under-performing. That is legitimate. But that must be combined with an admiration for the healthy, flourishing, successful; for the striving of the Many for the One.
Also, the liberal fascination with the universal and the abstract, by extension the Absolute and the transcendent, and hatred for the ethnocentric and parochial means that they attack the floor on which they are standing. One has to live in some particular way or other. We cannot live in the Absolute. We do not even exist as separate individuals from that perspective. In trying to bring heaven to Earth, to impose the perspective and reality of the Absolute into the realm of the relative and immanent, they do violence to the ethnocentric, particular and local. Again, these are seen as a sin.
But, like the parable of the man waiting to be saved from the flood by God, one is connected to the universe through the immanent; through some particular people and some particular community and some particular culture. One learns to love through the particular love that one’s parents gave to one. One learns to love beauty through particular beautiful things. The mistake is in thinking that one should eventually abandon one’s attachment to the particular. It is OK to see the transcendent shining through the particular but not to think that the particular is expendable.
For instance, it is pointless to admire friendship in the abstract, but to abjure having any particular, actual, friends.
God’s love for you is made manifest through particular individuals, otherwise love remains theoretical and “in principle” only. One notion of why there is a universe at all is that God knew His nature to be love, but that a love made manifest is better than an “in principle” abstraction. Saying “I would love my girlfriend a great deal, if I had one” is nice but less perfect.
The liberal adheres to the Enlightenment rejection of tradition and intuition. Intuition, anamnesis, is the only way most of us perceive the truth of religious/metaphysical truths; it is the ground of faith. Direct mystical experience might be better, but that is only for a few. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb argues, tradition amounts to cultural practices derived from trial and error. Tradition is not the product of rational reflection and can be opaque to analysis. There is an arbitrariness to tradition, but this is not a defect. Why French cuisine and French sensibility as opposed to German cuisine and German taste? Either one will work. However, some concrete and specific way of living must be chosen.
It is frequently observed that rationality is analytic, not creative. Even the origin of scientific hypotheses is creative and unknown. There is no rule for thinking of an idea to test. The foundations of a culture have a chance or random element that is responsible for variation. Some of this will be related to physical environmental factors; some of this is not.
If one insists on a rational justification for tradition and culture one will end up with nothing – cultural nihilism. Neither can religion or morality be a purely rational exercise. Morality requires a non-naturalistic first principle; for instance, the intrinsic value of human life.
Finding culture and tradition to be irrational, the liberal pledges allegiance to only the most abstract of rules. Anything is permitted so long as it does not hurt anyone else. There is some truth to this. I should not interfere with your choices if no one is negatively affected by them. John Stuart Mill pointed out that the harm to me has to be truly significant. It cannot simply offend my taste. And it certainly should not be a matter of “hurting my feelings.” But such a rule does not constitute a culture. It’s not a way of life. Mistaking this abstract rule for a substantive culture, there ends up being no culture to defend. With no allegiance to any particular way of life or another, each as arbitrary as the next, and as I say, there really is an element of arbitrariness to culture, the liberal finds nothing to preserve. “The culture” cannot be harmed since “the culture” is just an abstraction. Abstractions cannot be harmed per se. The “anything is permitted if it doesn’t harm you” ends up being just some kind of egocentric self-gratification – leave me alone to my pleasures. It is the sort of rule one might devise once all attempts to live together on some more positive basis have failed.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is a critique of liberalism. Upon reading it as a teenager, I realized that I had no way to defend the notion of dying for one’s country. If I could not benefit from my actions then I could not find a reason to justify dying in this way. This kind of rational egoism tended to characterize the Enlightenment conception of the individual.
The liberal’s hatred for ethnocentrism and bigotry leads to relentless self-criticism that is also self-adulation. Many college classes are a rejection of Western culture. Post-colonial studies seem likely to be not much more than the resentment of the underperforming culture for the colonizers. It is true that colonization and imperial pretensions were a moral mistake and have been oppressive, interfering with native cultures in all sorts of ways. Self-determination is a legitimate virtue, as is the right to make one’s own choices about how to live, including the right to make one’s own mistakes. But that is different from saying the culture of the colonizers is illegitimate or worse than the oppressed culture. Oftentimes it may simply be a matter of technological development. If the New Zealand Maori had the technical ability to conquer the West, we have reason to think that their treatment of Western peoples would have been worse than European treatment of them.
Self-adulation manifests itself in the liberal in the way that it is imagined that the more one castigates oneself and criticizes Western culture, the more admirable the liberal finds himself to be, until one gets an orgy of self-hatred engendering a sense of one’s utter enlightenment and saintly transformation. The self-righteous liberal takes on the perspective of the outsider critical of the liberal’s home culture. Mimetic rivalry raises this to a frenzy. Everything about the Other is admirable; everything about oneself, despicable. As René Girard says:
“The great dispute between the West and archaic cultures is now refereed by politics and fashion, whose excesses have reached the point that anything which threatens to tarnish the good reputation of these cultures is condemned. The anachronistic perspective of political correctness is so influential today, in fact, that some reputable museums of Amerindian ethnology in the United States minimize violence, or even ignore it altogether, in presenting the history of religion and war in native American societies.
To justify this condemnation it has become necessary to reject all testimony that contradicts it, and in particular ethnological studies carried out prior to the disappearance of archaic religions, which is by now virtually complete. This ostracism is justified in its turn by the claim that all research prior to the present era of multiculturalism was the product and instrument of Western imperialism. …Nonsense.” (René Girard, The One By Whom Scandal Comes, pp. 21-22.)
The more intensely one sympathizes with the possible victim of scapegoating, the more one feels oneself to be immune to scapegoating. But, in fact, scapegoating continues, but this time directed at those deemed insufficiently sympathetic to groups of people who have been scapegoated in the past. So, for instance, Yale university students rhetorically lynch a faculty member who suggests that obnoxious and even a little offensive Halloween costumes might be OK, not because they are not obnoxious, but because young people have a right to be a little obnoxious and offensive at times – it is part of growing up. Seven hundred and fifty students vilified this woman for suggesting that they might be permitted to have free speech in this regard. Despite all the awareness of scapegoating and victimhood, the mob rejoiced in their outrage and bonded together in shared hatred of the one, completely unaware of their participation in the scapegoating mechanism; convinced as they were of their own moral rectitude, all but lynching the poor woman for discussing hypothetical Halloween costumes and hypothetical offense. Scapegoating the perceived scapegoater is the new twist on an age old phenomenon.
At this moment in time, the liberal masses are looking for their next opportunity to be outraged. The delights in mob membership are too great to ignore. The concept of micro-aggressions and trigger warnings provides rich new opportunities to be offended. If “harm” to others is as easy as that, instead of a relatively permissive liberal culture, one gets an increasingly totalitarian repression, with each of us looking over our shoulders. As the number of “victims” thus increases further hatred of Western culture seemingly becomes justified.
To try to defend Western culture in any way means one is not participating in saintly self-vilification and is conniving in any moral errors the West has ever made. Thus the liberal from within the culture and the terrorist from outside the culture are in complete agreement that Western culture is evil.
The liberal’s love of multiculturalism is based on the rule that though one’s own culture is evil, no criticism of other cultures should be tolerated. Multiculturalism offers some relief from relentless hatred. Any watering down of Western culture must be good. It can only be an improvement. If it harms us, that is OK too – we deserve all that we get.
War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage by Lawrence Keeley discusses the lies and false interpretations involved. For us to be uniquely evil, the evil of other cultures must be banished. One sees this particularly in discussions concerning slavery. Slavery has been a worldwide phenomenon, yet in the U.S. one would think that we invented it. One person I know has read four books about slavery but not a single book about slavery outside the United States. A quick search of Amazon shows that it is very hard indeed to find any book on the subject that discusses slavery in any other culture. That renegade Thomas Sowell’s Race and Culture is a rare exception and in it he discusses slavery in the Middle East, South America and the Caribbean among others. He highlights the British contribution to ending world slavery solidifying his unpopularity with liberals.
German self-hatred leads many Germans to want to consider themselves generically “European.” Having rejected their own way of life, they can hardly turn around and try to protect it without some kind of self-transformation. Every attempt to defend themselves will lower their moral status in their own eyes. Every Western country has adopted this perspective to some extent or other in another version of JFK’s “I am a jelly donut” speech.
The Enlightenment championed reason, but it turns out that being too wedded to rationality and abstraction is not rational. As Taleb argues, when faced with two equally rational choices, some kind of nudge is needed to get the donkey moving.
Apotheosis via self-castigation and a rationalist love for abstraction and a minimalist culture, mean that for the liberal there is no culture worth defending. Standing up for Western culture, whatever of it that remains, is seen as xenophobic and racist partly because Western culture is seen as uniquely oppressive. But no culture must prove its own moral perfection to justify its existence and neither do we. One hopes that the silliness of shooting oneself in the foot with bigger and bigger guns and competing to see who can say the nastiest things about Western culture from within Western culture can end in some way other than what seems like the inevitable self-destruction. No help from terrorists is in fact needed in this regard.