August 2002

Law professor and pro-Palestinian agitator Francis Boyle expected to have a lot of e-mail waiting for him after his two- and-a-half-week vacation. But he never imagined that there would be 55,000 messages packing his inbox — many of them hurt, even belligerent, notes from friends and fellow activists.

Why, they wondered, had Boyle — who appeared on national television last Sept. 13 to campaign against U.S. involvement in Afghanistan — written “when I see in the newspapers that civilians in Afghanistan or the West Bank were killed by American or Israeli troops, I don’t really care”?

Serves him right.

{ 0 comments }

The horror of Pakistani honour violence

by Limbic on August 27, 2002

A woman horribly mutilated and left for dead by her husband:

Holding her captive, Iqbal accused Parveen of having an affair. Parveen insisted that she had never been unfaithful to him, but Iqbal didn’t listen. Instead, he gagged her, bound her feet and hands and hung her upside down from the ceiling. As he beat her with a wooden ax handle, blood began to drip from her arms and legs. Then Iqbal, a barber by profession, traded his ax for a razor. He cut off the lower lobes of her ears, then sliced her nose at the base. “He next used a metal rod to poke out my eyes,” she continues, “and then put his finger inside each socket to make sure nothing was left.” Parveen hooks her skinny index finger in the air, makes a half-circle motion for effect and then holds her head with both hands as if the memory hurts. When Iqbal finished mutilating her, he cut the rope, causing Parveen to fall to the floor like a limp rag doll “He left me for dead,” Parveen says, ” and then he took our daughter and left.” Parveen crawled across the floor, found a blanket, wrapped it around herself and passed out.

{ 0 comments }

Self-regulation and the Decline of Civility

by Limbic on August 27, 2002

Peter Saunders talks to Theodore Dalrymple – A superb interview with the great man.

{ 0 comments }

Roger Kimball
THE CULTURE CULT
Designer tribalism and other essays
214pp. Westview, 12 Hidís Copse Road, Cumnor Hill, Oxford OX2 9JJ. Paperback, £15.50.
0 8133 3863 8

In April last year, the Etireno , with a cargo of slave children en route from Benin to Gabon, briefly became the most infamous ship in the world. Rumour had it that approximately 250 children, found to be surplus to requirements, had been thrown overboard. When this could not be substantiated, the worldís press lost interest, thereby missing the bigger ñ and yet more terrible ñ picture: the orphans of the Etireno were only a small part of an estimated 200,000 children sold annually into Africaís modern slave trade. The authorities in Benin tried to explain the episode away as a West African custom in which children are sent abroad to live as household servants with wealthy relatives. Beninís Foreign Minister, Idji Kolawole, remarked, ìIn our culture, we think that itís always good for a child to go from his parentsí house, to an uncleís or to a friend abroad.î

Another incident, a few months later, gave the lie to this relaxed attitude. The prolonged torture and death of Victoria ClimbiÈ, sent to London to improve her life chances ñ not to speak of widespread evidence of sexual, physical and emotional abuse of other children sent away to live as unprotected mendicants with wealthier families ñ leads one to question the use of ìalwaysî in the Foreign Ministerís statement. His other phrase, ìin our cultureî, was striking too. Here and elsewhere these seemingly unexceptionable words have a strong intent: they are intended to immunize the practice being discussed against criticism.

Roger Sandallís brilliant, impassioned and sardonic The Culture Cult explains among other things how the phrase ìin our cultureî has come to be used to defend behaviour that would otherwise be seen as quite abhorrent. Until recently Sandall was a Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Sydney. His career coincided with the high tide of an intellectual fashion which held three dogmas to be unquestionable. In his words:

1. each culture is a semi-sacred creation, 2. all cultures are equally valuable and must never be compared, and 3. the assimilation of cultures (especially the assimilation of primitive culture by a secular civilisation coldly indifferent to spiritual things) is supremely wicked.

For adherents of what Sandall calls the culture cult, primitive culture is not inferior to modern civilization ñ it is different and quite likely better. Some commentators of this persuasion call for a radical simplification of modern life based on their notion of the condition of the primitive. Nothwithstanding their own doctrine of incommensurability, they take ìa sour view of modernityî, forgetting, Sandall argues, that modern civilization not infrequently ìallows changes of government without bloodshedî, as well as ìcivil rights, economic benefits, religious toleration, and political and artistic freedomî; whereas most traditional cultures ìfeature domestic repression, economic backwardness, endemic disease, religious fanaticism and severe artistic constraintsî.

The notion of the incommensurability of cultures was first put forward by Herder in the eighteenth century. In the twentieth it was particularly associated with the American anthropologist Franz Boas and his many disciples (and, outside anthropology, with Isaiah Berlin). It has, in many instances, been motivated by an honourable and humane rejection of pseudo-scientific biological notions of race and culture, which justified the iniquitous exploitation of ìlesser breeds without the lawî and provided a Darwinian rationale for ideologies which culminated in genocide. At its best, the doctrine of incommensurability is rooted in a passionate loathing of things that should be loathed passionately, such as ignorant scorn for peoples who do not happen to have the same habits of thought and ways of life as oneself. It is informed by tolerance, self-questioning and wonder at the variety of the ways in which humans may make their way through the world. But at its worst, sacralization of cultural difference serves as a hypocritical denial, by people who are comfortably remote from its consequences, of the fact that there are cultures that have deeply undesirable aspects. The veneration of closed, tribal, warrior cultures involves a failure to acknowledge the absence in such societies of, among other things, individual rights and freedom of thought, rights that these same romantic primitivists demand for themselves.

Sandall focuses on the worst aspects of cultural relativism, in particular its non- relativist use of sentimentalized assessments of primitive cultures as a stick with which to beat civilization. He begins with a cameo: Lauren Hutton, the actress and ex- model, forcing her two young sons to watch red-robed Masai warriors drinking warm blood from the carcass of a slaughtered cow. Their reaction ñ tears in contrast to her own delighted yelps of ìwowî ñ disappointed her. Perhaps, Sandall wonders, they understood better than she did the necessary violence of the warrior life behind the tourist-anthropology cabaret. As the mother of two boys, one might have have expected her to reflect on the appalling initiation ceremonies to which warrior societies sometimes subject young males. In some highland Papua New Guinea societies, boys ìwere beaten with stinging nettles, had barbed grass pushed up their urethras to cause bleeding, were compelled to swallow bent lengths of cane until vomiting was induced and were required to fellate older men, who also had anal intercourse with themî.

The initiation rituals undergone by Papuan boys are somewhat at odds with the ìcommunal basket-weaving, accompanied by traditional dance and songî, that, Sandall argues, dominates the image of indigenous cultures in the minds of ì boutiqueî multiculturalists. Multiculturalist thinking tends to exaggerate the place of art in past communities. Writers enchanted by Aztec art, architecture and poetry often ignore the unspeakable despotism of this warrior and priest-ridden society and their continual wars, waged in pursuit of the 20,000 prisoners needed annually for purposes of human sacrifice. For their neighbours, the arrival of the conquistadors was liberating.

The image of a lost world of wise, peace-loving artists in harmony with the natural world is the invention of Western intellectuals disgruntled with the civilization that makes their lives so easy. In reality, many primitive societies were not only homicidal but also impressively eco-cidal. The Maoris, for example, managed, despite their relatively small numbers, to wipe out about 30 per cent of the indigenous species, including all twelve kinds of Moa, within a century of their arrival in an edenic New Zealand. This took place against the usual background of incessant tribal warfare, and a brutally unfair legal system which was reformed only when, as a result of a series of deals with the white settlers, which benefited the chiefs but not their people, the Maoris were marginalized in their own land and came under European law.

Such facts cut little ice with those who have the strength to dream. The career of Margaret Mead is illustrative. Her journalistic transformations of scanty field notes into a Polynesian idyll supported her fantasies of how human life would be if unshackled by the constraints of civic society. Coming of Age in Samoa , Sandall argues, was particularly persuasive in the Greenwich Village community where Mead had first hoped to make her name as a writer: it ìresonatedî with this avant-garde culture, where living for the moment, sexual liberation and the sovereignty of self- expression were the dominant ideas. No wonder she by-passed awkward truths about Samoa; such as the practice of enslavement, human sacrifice and eating prisoners, all routine before they were stamped out in the nineteenth century by governments working in close alliance with Christian missionaries.

A mong the many who believed the answer to the problems of the twentieth century were to be found in tribal societies of the past, the palm for lunacy must be awarded to the highly respected economic historian Karl Polanyi. He was so impressed by the control and command economy imposed by the rulers of eighteenth-century Dahomey (now called Benin) that he commended this barbaric autocracy as a model for the twentieth century. He did not worry too much about the rights of the kingís 2,000 wives, or of the large numbers of women appointed by the king to provide sexual services for the public at large, the elaborate system of state spies, or the systematic slaughter of prisoners of war.

A cornerstone of the excessive valuation put on cultural difference is the conviction that the arrival of Europeans invariably signalled disaster for native peoples. It is this belief that has clamped inverted commas on the phrase ìEuropean civilizationî and buried its achievements under sneers. The assumption is that imperialism was always synonymous with exploitation that tended naturally to mass enslavement and genocide. In some cases ñ for example the Belgian occupation of the Congo ñ this was true, though even then the bloodbath would not have been possible without extensive native collaboration rooted in the priority given to tribal, family and class loyalties over any sense of abstract justice or universal rights. As Hugh Thomas points out in his history of the Atlantic slave trade, ìmost slaves carried from Africa between 1440 and 1870 were procured as a result of the Africansí interest in selling their neighbours. There were few instances of Africansí opposing the nature of the traffic desired by the Europeans.î Romantic primitivists forget that many ñ perhaps most ñ tribal societies from prehistoric times have been slave-owning. In a number of cases it took Europeans to make this moral outrage visible, so that it could be challenged. Slavery in India was little documented until the British identified 10,000,000 slaves in a census of 1841 and outlawed slave owning in 1862.

In the absence of advanced technology, life is hard; and when life is hard, unsurprisingly, the primary concern is the survival of oneself and oneís family; the exercise of power is unlikely to be directed by a passion for Universal Human Rights. Equally unsurprising is that attempts to establish ideal communities modelled on the virtues attributed to primitive societies ñ rejecting modern technology and the institutions of civilization ñ have always proved disastrous. Sandallís accounts of a few utopian experiments in the United States ñ New Harmony, Oneida and Cold Mountain Farm ñ should be enough to persuade doubters that tribal collectivism, expressed in the common ownership of property, women and children, sooner or later leads to recrimination and destitution. What was it that prompted Rousseau, Herder and their modern successors to idealize primitive communities? Injured pride, says Sandall, and a sense of being under-appreciated by their peers. Hence the happy ìstate of Natureî in which everyone is equal, and equally at home, where invidious comparison is unknown and no oneís pride is wounded. As Rousseau admitted, ìsuch a state perhaps never existed and probably never will existî; but it is a sufficient basis from which he and subsequent writers were able to berate civilization.

Romantic primitivism and what Sandall calls Designer Tribalism are irritating and wrong, but do they actually matter? They do if they result in bien pensants helping exotic autocrats to get away with murder. (The most shocking is Raymond Williams, whose dislike of capitalism led him, according to his biographer Fred Inglis, to sympathize with Pol Pot for having ìto impose the harshest discipline . . . over relatively innocent peopleî in order that his revolution should not ìbe broken down and defeatedî.) These fantasies matter, also, if they promote the idea that the benefits of civilization ñ low infant mortality, long life-expectancy, adequate nourishment, effective treatments for illnesses, accountable government and individual rights ñ came from nowhere. They matter most of all when they translate into real-world policy.

Some of the passion in Sandallís writing comes from a local issue: his horror at the betrayal of the Australian Aboriginal people by practitioners of romantic primitivism, the intellectuals who rewrote Aboriginal history, enforced bilingual instruction, encouraged a cultural apartheid of ìself-determinationî and prioritized the preservation of traditional culture over the skills of modern life. This has resulted in vocational disability among Aboriginal people, due in part to a catastrophic decline in literacy, and (to use Ernest Gellnerís words) in ìfrozen, visible, and offensive inequalityî. The result is a diminution of life chances, and condemnation to a marginalized existence of a kind that boutique multiculturalists would not accept for themselves and their own children. Anyone reading this book will ever after hear the exculpatory phrase ìin our cultureî with the terror that Bakunin (and after him Chomsky) said should attend the phrase ìfor reasons of stateî. The ideology of culture has, one could add, replaced patriotism as the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Roger Kimball edits New Criterion.

{ 0 comments }

The language of leftism is out of date. It desperately needs reconstruction and revitalisation, if the Left is ever to regain its proper status as a voice of ethical critique of materialistic modern society.

{ 0 comments }

The Peaceable Kingdom? Guns and the English

by Limbic on August 23, 2002

…Introducing firearms in English history did not change the proportion of property crimes to personal crimes.

In short, gun control did nothing to stop crime in the UK.

{ 0 comments }

The poisonous Protocols

by Limbic on August 23, 2002

Umberto Eco on the distinction between intellectual anti-semitism and its popular counterpart

{ 0 comments }

“Relationships begin because you like one or more things about someone else. But a relationship requires you to live with everything about someone else. There’s no assurance the higher math will compute.”

MORE

{ 0 comments }

heodore Dalrymple investigates:

Nothing could illustrate mankind’s Promethean bargain more forcefully than the ethical dilemmas posed by the new reproductive technology. Should everyone who wants it be entitled to artificially assisted conception and, if so, who should pay for it? Should post-menopausal mothers be allowed to give birth simply because it is now technically feasible that they should? In what circumstances, if any at all, should selective abortion be available?

{ 0 comments }

Man "shot", get up and runs away….

by Limbic on August 23, 2002

A man who had apparently been shot four times in the chest at a Chelsea restaurant amazed other diners when he got up and ran away. Customers at the Tipico restaurant in Fulham Road watched in horror as one of three black youths, who walked up to the man, produced a handgun and fired four shots at point-blank range into his chest before escaping. The victim collapsed for several moments, but then he too ran off. One witness said: “I saw a black guy seemingly pumping shots into another. The bloke appeared dead, then he stood up weakly and ran away, doubled up. It was weird.” A police spokesman said: “At present, we do not know whether they were live shells or blanks.”

They may have been .22 rounds.

{ 0 comments }