It comes as a bit of a shock to me. After all, I have spent my life in non-Western cultures, and studying them has been my great interest. I have been married twice, first to a Pakistani woman, now to a Filipina, and my two children are half-Filipino. Politically, I have always been a liberal, condisering it self-evident that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain rights. In religion, as a Catholic, I believe that all men are brothers, of equal worth in the eyes of God.
But no—somehow the word “white supremacist” has changed definition. It apparently no longer requires believing, as I do not, that there is any such thing as a “white race.” And it no longer requires believing that people with pale skin should be given some special rights—i.e., supremacy.
I suppose this should not surprise me. I had, in earlier days, supposed that being a liberal put me on the left of the political spectrum. But that ground got shifted decades ago.
I am jolted into this realization by the current controversy over US representative Steve King.
The Washington Post writes:
King told CNN that he is merely “a champion for Western civilization,” which he called “a superior civilization.” Which means, of course, that he considers other civilizations inferior. But we knew that.
… We should pay attention to his lexicon, however, because today’s white supremacism tends to shy away from overtly racial terminology. Listen instead for words such as “culture” and “civilization.”
The idea is that the United States is the land of the free and the home of the brave because its “civilization” is “European” or “Western” — euphemisms, basically, for “white.”
I face an obvious problem here. It is conceivable, I suppose, that some people use “European civilization” as a euphemism for “white race.” Maybe King is doing this, although I think we owe it to people generally to take their words at face value, and not put new words in their mouth.
But what about people like me who are simply using “European civilization” to mean “European civilization,” and are making the point that it is the most advanced civilization in the world?
For we would naturally say exactly the same thing. How does the Washington Post, or anyone, tell the difference?
It seems the answer is that racism no longer requires believing in race. It is this very opinion, that Western civilization is superior, that is intolerable. The WaPo apparently has a problem with the mere statement that “other civilizations are inferior.” “But we knew that.”
To be fair, King also said something more controversial. He tweeted, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”
If American culture is not race-based, and it obviously is not, then yes, of course, they can. But King has explained that this is not what he meant: he was referring not to the children’s genetic makeup, but to the values instilled by their parents. Which seems a perfectly fair point. If race does not matter, in a country like the US or Canada, values matter that much more.
It ought also to be pointed out that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a country being race-based. Some countries are: Japan, Korea, other Asian countries. If we really suddenly have a problem with this, we are going to have to re-think a lot of things. Is Japan Japanese-supremacist because they do not take in immigrants? Are they morally obliged to do so? Are the Falklands morally obliged to take in Argentine immigrants?
Rep. John Lewis tweeted,
“Rep. King’s statement is bigoted and racist. It suggests there is one cultural tradition and one appearance that all of humanity should conform to. These ideas have given rise to some of the worst atrocities in human history, and they must be condemned.”
Actually, King did not say this. He was speaking of America, not the world. He was saying there is one cultural tradition all Americans should adhere to. Nigerians are presumably free to conform to theirs, and Koreans to theirs. But now simply claiming that there is a distinct American culture, and it is worth preserving, is “bigoted and racist.” Why would this be so? What about claiming there is a distinct Korean culture, or a distinct Jamaican one?
But I would go father than King here. I actually think there is indeed one cultural tradition all of humanity should conform to. You could call it the emerging world culture. I have been in Korea, the Philippines, China, and the Middle East for most of the past twenty-five years. And I tell you, it is artificial any longer to speak of different cultures. Everybody now listens to the same music, eats the same fast food, plays the same games on the Internet.
And I believe this is a good thing. As I have said before in this space, there is no such thing as “Western civilization.” There is only civilization and lack of it. The great task of human existence is to take the best wherever we find it, and build human civilization.
As it happens, that is more or less what America already is.
Anyone who is against that, and who insists instead on preserving their little cultural ghetto, is doing the devil’s work.
King is not doing that. King wants more melting pot. Lewis and the Washington Post and cultural relativism are doing that.