Western distinctiveness I: rapists of nature

My position, stated many times, is that a person doesn’t need to have a reason to love his people.  In fact, he cannot have a reason, since love is always directed at particular instances rather than general qualities.  You may think your children pretty and clever, but you would still love them if they lost these qualities or another set of children was found to exemplify those qualities to a greater degree.  Similarly, we men and women of European descent do not need to prove that our culture is especially refined or creative, that our ancestors were especially virtuous, or that our customs are especially agreeable by some objective standard.

Still, although we are not obliged to think about it, the fact is that other peoples are constantly noting the distinctiveness of the West.  We may wish to ignore their observations, because they are not at all meant to be complimentary, but then we would miss the chance to learn about ourselves.  I plan to comment each day this week on one of these features.

So, for instance Westerners are said to have a distinctive relationship to the natural world.  While other peoples are “at one with nature”, we live in alienation from, one might almost say in adversity with, the animals, plants, and landscapes.  We study the natural world unsympathetically, always with an eye to its exploitation.

I don’t think this claim is entirely without merit.  The critic of the West has put his finger on some actual truth.  Let us grant also that this quality of ours has certain dangers associated with it:  spiritual dangers to us and physical dangers to others.  But in our defense, we could say that this feature is not entirely bad.  One could say that there really is an inescapable polarity in the act of knowing between subject and object, also that there really is an important ontological gulf between intelligent beings and the rest of creation, and Westerners happen to have an unusually vivid sense of these facts about the world.

Another thing to be said about our alienation from nature is that our cure, if there is any, surely comes from following through with our distinct inclination rather than fighting against it.  We Westerners regain our appreciation for the natural world through science (or occasionally art or poetry, which also aim in their own ways to capture some aspect of the object as faithfully as possible) and through direct work (“exploitation”) with the soil, animals, and other “unprocessed” fruits of the land.  When we pose as Eastern mystics, we are only being inauthentic; the focus then is not really nature, but ourselves.

Not everyone has to relate to nature the way Western men and women do.  Perhaps it’s best that they don’t.  But I think one can argue that our way has sufficient value that it’s good one people follows it.

One could say similar things about other distinctive features of the West.  We are dogmatic and intolerant in our religion.  For us to try to interpret our beliefs as myths or expressions of a particular religious spirit is to cease to take them seriously at all.  We simply cannot “do religion” like other peoples–more enlightened peoples, if you insist.  We are said to have a harsh and excessive sexual ethic, and yet to be hypocritical degenerates in our private lives.  We are said to be particularly oppressive to our women.  We are hierarchical; democracy and socialism are alien to our spirit.  Indeed, egalitarians have long known that whites are their only real enemies.  Nor have we even tried to construct a hierarchy based on any sort of merit (like the Chinese) or virtue (like the Pharisaical Jews) or spirituality (like the Hindus), but shamelessly organize ourselves around accidents of feudal inheritance and wealth.  We are exclusivists, racists, as is clear from this essay’s very existence–that I should make no claim of the West’s objective superiority while still wanting us to maintain our distinctiveness.

All of this is essentially true, and there are indeed disadvantages to the Western way:  our alienation from nature, our dogmatism, our strict sexual morals (that we don’t even do a good job following), our preference for hierarchy and indifference to “social justice”, our particularism.  However, these things have usually been discussed in a very one-sided way.  They can be understood more deeply if we withhold condemnation and consider the Western way dispassionately.  In every case, some valuable and sympathetic features shine forth.

In what follows, I will leave “the West” vaguely defined, as it is when applied to questions of cultural identity.  Western civilization includes everything whites are supposed to be ashamed of and non-whites are not expected to identify with.  Western Christendom is definitely included; classical paganism and Western diaspora Jews may or may not be included, depending on context.

7 thoughts on “Western distinctiveness I: rapists of nature

  1. Pingback: Western distinctiveness I: rapists of nature | Reaction Times

  2. Pingback: Western distinctiveness I: rapists of nature | @the_arv

  3. This is very refreshing, Bonald. I look forward to your further comments on our distinct, Western features.

    It’s clarifying to be reminded that one does not need a “reason” to love one’s own. The reason, such as it is, would be that we love it because it is ours.

  4. I would argue that Westerners are, by their tradition, less alienated from nature than any other people. In the early Nineteenth Century, Westerners (see William Wordsworth) discovered that they were in imbalance with nature and that they ought to square or balance themselves with nature, not least their own nature. The long-term result is, among many other things, coal-burning power-plants that inject nearly zero contaminants into the ecosphere, and well-designed atomic reactors, which are also environmentally benign. And a host of other apologetic technologies. Those whom Leftists describe as “in touch with nature” are, in fact, tyrannically dominated by the least conscious, the lowest, stratum of the natural world, and they are therefore in their behavior bloody in tooth and nail, unassuagible in their genital, but not progenitive, drives, as befits their primitive orientation. They are dumb nature. Liberal defectors from Western Civilization (we Traditionalists, on the other hand, are dissenters from Liberalism) are dominated by their animal impulses, not least the melanin-ideologues, who sniff everything hind-end-on, and Harvey Weinstein, who indubitably sniffs everything hind-end-on. Which is to say that those people are dominated by their bodies, most especially by their olfactory instincts. They are probosces. Liberalism is proboscially anti-Western. It belongs, positively and contrariwise, to Western Civilization, going back to the Greeks, that a human being is a soul as well as a body, and not merely a body solely. Not merely a scent. Nature = to be born. Modernity, i.e., anti-Western reactionism = to kill the fetus in the womb. Of course, Westerners have forgotten their Tradition. They have reverted to perversely bodily, soul-rejecting, impulses, non-procreative, and to olfaction, the least symbolic of the senses.

    Please patronize the new Blade-Runner film.

    In the new Blade-Runner film, the villain is an abortionist and the hero is one who dies to vindicate birth as a “miracle.”

  5. Excellent; thanks, Bonald. I eagerly anticipate your next few posts. Regarding this one, I have, not quibbles, but additions; “and yet,” rather than, “not so.”

    I’ll stick with the critique of the West as peculiarly adversarial in its relation to the natural world, but most of my observations are analogues of others I could make in respect to the other critiques of Western distinctives.

    First, I note that these critiques are all originally, characteristically, and uniquely Western. They are instances of the West critiquing itself. It’s not the Chinese dumping on us for messing with Mother Nature, nor is it the Levantines, with their gigantic irrigation projects, huge cities, massive public works, and so forth (all established long before the forests of Europe (including those of Greece and Italy) began to be cleared). No; it’s us.

    No other culture has thought it wicked to exploit the environment. The American Indians – those archetypal tree-huggers of sappy liberal myth – were responsible for the extermination of the formerly plentiful American megafauna, as were their Siberian ancestors for the analogous extermination in the Old World. They managed the forests of the East by now and then setting great fires in them (so as to shunt them away from the local climax ecology, thus increasing their yield of game); they farmed the rain forests of South America using slash and burn; the Plains Indians hunted by driving whole herds of mesofauna over cliffs (as formerly they had done with the megafauna). Drive into any Indian reservation to see how the Indians care for – and think about – the natural world; they make the Las Vegas strip look like Arcadia.

    NB: Arcadia is a Western notion.

    Yes, Westerners are alienated from Nature. But in the first place, this is unavoidable for denizens of great cities, and so is endemic wherever and whenever such settlements have been found, so that it has been noticed since the beginnings of cities; and in the second, we are the only culture that has so acutely noticed that it is bad to be alienated from Nature. Perhaps that is only because we have been more thus alienated than anyone else. But I doubt it. Just as plausible, perhaps – if not more – is the suggestion that we feel our alienation from Nature more acutely than most cultures, precisely because our culture has always been so close to her, and was itself (so relatively recently) a puny denizen of the immense European forests.

    Something in us remembers still that narrow verge between the steep mountain and the deep lake, the dark forest and the open water, and misses it, and wants it, and would remake it.

    Hallstatt is the archetypal Western settlement. None of us can but want to return to it, now and then, as to our home.

    Second, nature mysticism is endemic to Western culture, inherited from both its Aryan and Semite factors. It goes back to the Psalms and to Homer, aye and deep into the fathomless mists that precede them. The first art in the world – the first human art – was the work of European nature mystics, in the caves of France and Spain. That urge extends forward continuously from Lascaux to Thoreau, Whitman, Hamsun, Muir, Abbey.

    Hell; I’m a nature mystic. That’s why I became for a while a whitewater guide, and a hermit in the Vermont woods. They were not inauthentic moves.

    Only (some) of the Chinese Taoists and Japanese animists and Zen Buddhists approach our love of Nature (it seems to be a Northern thing). Our love of her is the main reason we feel that our alienation from her is bad. Appreciation of Nature – Romanticism, the cult of the garden and the art of landscape architecture, silviculture, conservation, national parks, sojourning in the wilderness for the sake of the beauty thereof and the refreshment there to be had, environmentalism, indeed the very notion of exploration, or of natural history, then of science, and at last of cultural anthropology and the appreciation of other cultures as fitted ingeniously and aptly to their natural circumstances – all are Western inventions. Other cultures ape them, the way they ape our business suits and our markets and our cinema, our skyscrapers and our computers. There are national parks in Africa only because there were and are Englishmen all over that continent who thought such things important.

    Stewardship of the Earth is a Christian notion.

    Other peoples are not “at one with nature.” That’s a Western prejudice, deriving from the 19th century European Romance with the Noble Savage, which could have been entertained only at great distance – a vertiginous intellectual height – from the concrete embodiments of its beau ideal (the latter day fascination of the American chattering classes with the “authenticity” of Muslim and Latino and Black culture are variants of that Bay State enthusiasm)(which could only have arisen as a reaction to the Bostonian’s acute awareness – thanks in no small part to the New England Transcendentalists, their forbears and heirs – of his own inauthenticity, his own untoward alienation from Nature, and from his proper European patrimony of union with her). Nor do other peoples feel they are at one with nature; nor do they think it important that they should be. They just go along to get along, and do what they must.

    I have lived years in the wilderness. That’s how it is. It is stupid to mess with her, but you do what you must; Nature will get over it, for soon she shall swallow you, and all your works.

    What’s distinctive about the West in respect to Nature is that we are the only culture on the planet that has scruples about exploiting her. The Taoists worry that messing with Mother Nature is messy, and that’s true. But the Christians (and their cultural heirs) are the only ones who worry that messing with her is *wrong.*

  6. ‘When we pose as Eastern mystics, we are only being inauthentic; the focus then is not really nature, but ourselves.’ Speaking as someone who in the past has been attracted to Eastern mysticism and who has known many other Westerners similarly attracted I have to say that this is spot on.
    Years ago I read a quote in a book of sayings marked (as far as I remember) as ‘ancient Chinese’ in origin. Maybe it comes from Taoism. Anyway the quote was ‘It is separation that leads to completion’. This strikes me as encapsulating the Western spiritual mission, namely that it breaks up primeval largely unconscious or passive oneness in order to reassemble it in a far more conscious and active manner. This may be messy in the short term but ultimately makes us far more spiritually aware and alive.

  7. I’ll join with those above who dispute the allegation of brutality towards the natural world. There are a lot of ways one could look at this, but Westerners basically invented the notion of environmental restraint. The other cultures’ respect for nature was ultimately grounded in their inability to disrespect nature. It’s like the sexual reject priding himself on his chastity.

    I do agree with you about the remorselessness of Western logic, although this has decayed badly since the 17th century. This may have blinded us to certain shadowy aspects of human experience, but it also prevented us from running our arguments into the shadows the moment they got hard or unpleasant.


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