Sunday, August 10, 2008

Another liberal victory: defining Western civilization as secular libertinism

In the recent thread at View from the Right in which the Candian leftist Ken Hechtman expounds upon his vision for the world, Hechtman stated his belief that a soap opera was going to "Westernize" the Middle East. This sentiment was popular shortly after September 11th, 2001, when prominent leftists and neoconservatives began to advocate what might be called the "Britney Spears" strategy for combating terrorism: bombard 'em with the MTV culture. At the same time, "public health" enforcers often speak of the problems with a "Western" diet, or claim that various non-Western peoples, previously healthy, have developed health problems after being introduced to a "Western" diet. At a recent visit with my father, who was a Reagan voter in the 80s but has more recently become a liberal, I remarked that the North Koreans could alleviate their famine and other problems by abandoning Communism and adopting a freer economy as South Korea has done, and he said that that's what brought down the Soviet Union: increasing "Western" influence with our movies, TV shows, pop music, fashions, etc.

What is interesting about this is that when such people use the word "Western," they don't mean traditional Western civilization. They don't think that soap operas are going to spark a wave of Middle Eastern interest in Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and Shakespeare. They don't mean that African tribes started developing atherosclerosis and heart disease after they began to eat roast chicken and peas. Instead, they're referring to the corrupt, degraded, mass-produced popular culture that has taken hold of Western countries. They're referring to the television shows and movies that glorify sexual promiscuity, the acceptance of cohabitation and homosexuality and bastardy, the interest in getting the latest upgrade to one's home theater system rather than in living rightly, the ubiquitous fast food and junk food with their high-calorie but otherwise low-nutrient French fries and sodas.

Of course, it's insulting to traditional Western civilization to have these things co-opt the "Western" label. Not only are they unrelated to the traditional West, they are positively antagonistic to traditional Western values. And of course, it's a victory for the left to have the term used this way, because it makes it that much harder to advocate for the traditional West when the name "Western" now means something else. But there's a second, often overlooked point in this discussion: why should these phenomena be considered Western? There's nothing distinctly Western about them; debauchery, materialism, and junk food exist the world over. Western civilization did not invent them, and there is no historical continuity between them and the traditional West; Shakespeare did not give birth to The Sopranos, nor Mozart to Britney Spears. One might say that these phenomena first emerged as society-wide phenomena in Western countries, but that is more a function of Western countries being uniquely suited to produce the wealth necessary to support them. Today, they certainly exist anywhere such wealth exists, and take on their own decidedly non-Western cultural flavors: witness the burgeoning Hong Kong pop music scene, for instance. So why should they be called Western, any more than strong family ties or a sense of social obligation should be called "Eastern?"

They shouldn't. Let's stop giving the cultural left ammunition, and make sure we don't participate in their defining everything that's corrupt about our society at present as characteristic of our civilization.


Laurel Loflund said...

Anyone who wants to know how MTV style "culture" can bring down and destroy authentic culture should watch a PBS documentary made about nine years ago called "The Merhcants of Cool." It can be watched in its entirety online at the PBS website. (I made a tinyurl because the full one is way too long for a blogger comment field.)

The really odd thing is that the marketers think they are finding and emphasizing authentic culture, just using it to sell Sprite at the same time.

You are completely correct about how secular libertinism destroys societies.

BTW, I posted a piece of your post into a thread over at to see what folks thought of it. Hope that's OK.

God bless,

Smith/Wesson said...

Very perceptive, Hermes. Our "Western" values exported to Muslim countries via globalism and the War on Terror aren't meant to free them. They're meant to destroy their society, just like they're destroying the West.
(note: I am not pro-Islam in any way, shape, or form)