August 20, 2007

How Societies Commit Suicide

Tell me if any of this sounds vaguely familiar to you. From Theodore Dalrymple, writing in the City Journal:

In an effort to ensure that no Muslim doctors ever again try to bomb Glasgow Airport, bureaucrats at Glasgow’s public hospitals have decreed that henceforth no staff may eat lunch at their desks or in their offices during the holy month of Ramadan, so that fasting Muslims shall not be offended by the sight or smell of their food. Vending machines will also disappear from the premises during that period.

Apparently the bureaucrats believe that the would-be bombers were demanding sandwich-free offices in Glasgow hospitals during Ramadan. This kind of absurdity is what happens when the highly contestable doctrine of multiculturalism becomes a career opportunity for the semi-educated and otherwise unemployable products of a grossly and unnecessarily swollen university system.[* update: Dalrymple's reporting on the Glasgow hospital policy appears to be in error (h/t Hubris, in the comments); sadly, it is easy to substitute in a number of other similarly-minded policy proposals and their defenders to fill the void left by this rather happy error - ed.]

Meanwhile, the highest court in Italy was confirming an appeals court’s acquittal of the father and brother of a Muslim girl, whom they beat and locked up for becoming too Westernized—that is to say, for having a Western friend. The court ruled that, though they had undoubtedly beaten her and locked her up, this was not because of any culpable ill-feeling toward her. It was, rather, because of “her lifestyle, which did not conform to their culture.”

When western cultures begin bending their own rules of law to accommodate the “higher law” of “toleration” (defined, ridiculously, as preventing offense — the absolute opposite of the legal idea of toleration that provides the skeleton for such liberal ideas as free speech protection) they’ve blithely skipped past the outposts of boutique multiculturalism and have taken those first tentative steps down the far more exotic road of complete cultural relativism.

The upshot? Should such accommodating cultures find themselves subsequently compelled to apply their own reconsidered laws equitably in the face of new precedent, there is, in theory, nothing that can prevent activist identity groups from coalescing around their own preferred set of laws and then claiming special dispensation to circumvent rules of the state.

Because let’s face it, even the most brainwashed adept of illiberal multiculturalist social policy can recognize that it is problematic for a society professing to be “liberal” to punish different groups of people differently for identical crimes — particularly when the “difference” is tied to something so arbitrary as what group you choose to join.

This is particularly tricky with regard to religion — where conversion, or a simple affirmation of faith — is enough to provide one with a ready-made escape clause from the laws of sovereign liberal democracies.

Islamic law that is inconsistent with the laws of the host countries should not be granted exemptions; instead, the idea of assimilation — once the proper goal for those wishing to join the fabric of an already functioning society — demands that those wishing to adopt a new home make the appropriate social, religious, or ethnic compromises.

As Dalrymple notes:

The sound of a civilization committing suicide can be heard in these stories; for civilizations collapse not because the barbarians are so strong, but because they themselves are so morally enfeebled.

The inability to pass judgment — which requires the difficult work of criticizing and potentially offending — has been replaced with the convenient fiction that such an inability is not a weakness, but is rather a strength, and one that covers itself in a veneer of moral rectitude.

What is a bug is recast as a feature — and those who refuse to acquiesce to the anti-intellectual exercise of enforced equivalence (whether it manifests itself in the “equality of opinion,” the “equality of competing interpretations,” or the “equality of competing truth claims”) are cast as bigots, nativists, imperialists, or cultural hegemons.

As I described in my previous post, this is simply the shopworn leftist technique of shaming and redefining — all of which is born from a consensus vision of truth, whereby will disguises the intellectual and moral laziness masquerading as “progressive” virtue.

The fact that we can’t objectively appeal to some metaphysical referree to seek independent judgment on our “universals” doesn’t mean that the universals we adopt are not worthy of the rarified status we have granted them.

Multiculturalists take the pedestrian observation that “truths” are man-made constructs to conclude, with the ease and confidence of those no longer burdened with having to make hard choices, that competing truths are therefore equal.

But while this may be true rhetorically — all statements of truth are made of the same linguistic material — it is not at all true that we have no ground from which to pass judgment. Liberal societies have long relied upon rationalism and the rule of law — itself founded on consensually adopted “universals”. So from within this paradigm, it is perfectly acceptable to “pass judgment,” and to note that the “truths” claimed by others don’t comport with “our” own, and so we reject them.

Until we regain the fortitude it takes to criticize the Other as vigorously as we criticize those like us who argue for such a necessity, we are, as Dalrymple rightly suggests, well on our way to cultural ruination, and a return to totalitarianism.

(h/t CJ Burch)

Posted by Jeff G. @ 2:35pm
53 comments | Trackback

Comments (53)

  1. “Should such accommodating cultures find themselves subsequently compelled to apply their own reconsidered laws equitably in the face of new precedent, there is, in theory, nothing that can prevent activist identity groups from coalescing around their own preferred set of laws and then claiming special dispensation to circumvent rules of the state.”

    Your disclaimers aside, you miss something important here. Activists identity groups require a certain degree of exoticism, Otherness, what have you, to be considered in this line of thinking. “White” groups like Mormons would never bend societies like this, at least through the philosophical avenue described above.

  2. So I guess this means no day off on Rosh Hoshana and no revival of the Salem Witch Trials? ‘Cause it’s white culture? I was personally looking forward to a government-mandated Friday Fish Fry from sea to shining sea, so you all could embrace your inner Wisconsinite with us.

  3. Actually, OHNOES, we’re currently lobbying to ban coffee and tea from offices and restaurants, alcohol from all venues, and Monday Night Football from Monday night. (It’s Family Night for us, so everyone else should have to observe it too.)

    Next on the hit parade: Catholics ban meat on Fridays, Hari Krishnas ban salt, Jehovah’s Witnesses ban holidays, Jews ban the use of ballpoint pens on Saturdays, Baptists ban dances, Hindus ban animal farming of all kinds, and Quakers ban war.

    See, now that we’re all tolerant, aren’t we the happiest things?

  4. I think OHNOES is very much on-target.

    For example: If Christians (not exotic) are offended by “Piss Christ,” that is their problem. Who do they think they are, to dictate what art is on display.

    But, if Muslims, even peaceful Muslims, were to be offended by, say, putting a Koran in the toilet, then it is up to us, the larger society, to correct the miscreants who might have done so.

    Similarly, one suspects that it is not okay to engage in homophobic behavior, if one is a Christian conservative (including them gap-toothed mo-rons). But if a different culture (say, a Muslim one, or even black Americans) were to engage in homophobic behavior, who are we to criticize them?

  5. As briefly mentioned earlier, fasting can also be observed voluntarily (as part of the Greater Jihad ): Sawm is intended to teach believers patience and self-control in their personal conduct, to help control passions and temper, to provide time for meditation and to strengthen one’s faith. Fasting also serves the purpose of cleansing the inner soul and freeing it of harm. Most importantly, the fast is also seen as a great sign of obedience by the believer to Allah. Faithful observance of the Sawm is believed to atone for personal faults and misdeeds and to help earn a place in paradise.

    If you remove temptation, you attenuate the meaning of the fasting, no?

  6. Apparently the bureaucrats believe that the would-be bombers were demanding sandwich-free offices in Glasgow hospitals during Ramadan.

  7. If only it was that easy.

  8. it is not at all true that we have no ground from which to pass judgment

    I know antimetaphysical talk doesn’t do much for you, and I think you already almost believe this anyway, but –

    Yes, we do have a “ground,” but that ground is “we” — those who’ve consensually adopted it, granted it status, etc., as “ground,” and called it that. “Ground” is just a way of saying that that adoption was in the past. Judgments (there is no “judgment”) are expediencies. And it’s expedient to treat them as grounded while knowing that they aren’t — but even more so, politically, to say that they’re not while behaving as though they are.

    None of these positions has any big-p Philosophical status, off in the onto-aether. They’re only rhetorical strategies. No one, not even me, believes any of that “competing truths are therefore equal” shit. People talk like that to make other people do things — defer, mostly.

    And also to make you waste your time arguing against a metaphysics no one believes — which, when the “argument” starts, is the first thing they’ll tell you, you may have noticed, because their desire to declare you a strawman-slaying rube is closer than their exoteric coat-of-many-colors.

    That’s all you need to know. It is permitted to exit the hamster wheel.

    (The Form has an EXIT sign on it. I got so high I saw it one time.)

  9. All I know is that Allah loves you more better if you fast while Carol from accounting is eating a homemade pork and apple bangers and mash next cube over.

  10. psychologizer –

    I think that’s what I said, more or less:

    The fact that we can’t objectively appeal to some metaphysical referree to seek independent judgment on our “universals”>doesn’t mean that the universals we adoptare not worthy of the rarified status we have granted them.

    Multiculturalists take the pedestrian observation that “truths” are man-made constructs to conclude, with the ease and confidence of those no longer burdened with having to make hard choices, that competing truths are therefore equal.

    But while this may be true rhetorically — all statements of truth are made of the same linguistic material — it is not at all true that we have no ground from which to pass judgment. Liberal societies have long relied upon rationalism and the rule of law — itself founded on consensually adopted “universals”. So from within this paradigm, it is perfectly acceptable to “pass judgment,” and to note that the “truths” claimed by others don’t comport with “our” own, and so we reject them.

    Or am I missing the thrust of your comment?

    Be back later. Off to lift heavy shit.

  11. “Be back later. Off to lift heavy shit.”

    You realize that there are over the counter medications for that.

  12. OHNOES,

    Just as fair warning, me and Johnny Travolta are working on getting that over-the-counter stuff banned.

  13. One of the principal aims of fasting is to sympathise with those less fortunate ones who do not always have food and drink readily available.

    So how is not eating at your desk not to “sympathise with those less fortunate ones who do not always have food and drink readily available,” and, therefore, a de facto and state-proscribed observance of Ramadan?

    The whole thing is just all kinds of stupid, really. It’s not an outrage so much as a let’s all pretend we didn’t just see the retarded child piss all over himself thing.

  14. Comment by dicentra on 8/20 @ 3:13 pm

    According to my personal religion, based on a separate but perfectly cromulent new Ten Commandments I made up while sitting on the john (resting from trying to replace the float valve, if you must know), I should be permitted to shoot tailgaters on sight.

    It’s a sacrament, I tells ya!

  15. Be back later. Off to lift heavy shit.

    Dave Neiwert just had a seizure and he doesn’t know why.

  16. proscribed, prescribed, whatever – it’s not my kid is the main thing

  17. If you remove temptation, you attenuate the meaning of the fasting, no?

    Precisely why the Muslim insistance that they are more moral in forcing women to cover their hair/heads/bodies to remain “modest,” is such a farce. If you’re only refraining from sexually assaulting a woman because she’s draped in a bulky black tent, you are in reality a seriously depraved individual.

  18. - Maybe in Reponse to Neiwert’s poofty “Teh Conservative Bonfire of The Ghey Vanities” jeff should crank out a treatise on:

    “Secular Progressives and their Extremist Muslim Brothers – A study in Masculine inadaquacy expressed through female oppression – teh tyranny of the Big Black Tent.”

  19. For example: If Christians (not exotic) are offended by “Piss Christ,” that is their problem.

    I’m not a Christian and I’m offended by it. Does that make a difference?

  20. I was careful to do what I could during Ramazan (that’s what the Afghans called it – Ramadan is Arabic) not to chow down in front of people who were fasting. But on the odd occassions I did manage to slam a Harvest Bar or part of an MRE – you know what? The observant Muslims didn’t have a fit, or demand my head on a stick – they were cool with it. I think the Brits might be able to get by with lunch-at-the-desk during the ninth lunar month of the Islamic calendar, and nobody will try to slag Trafalgar Square or imitate Guy Fawkes ’cause of it… are the multi-cultis exhibiting just a bit o’ prejudice in assuming an adherent of Islam would not be able to carry on if they saw a kuffir eating a candy bar at their desk some afternoon? Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations…

  21. I’m not a Christian and I’m offended by it. Does that make a difference?

    - Yes. Very much so, and its that sort of mutual respect that any decent, moral person feels when they see that sort of vicious hatefullness. That they would defend such a disrespect simply screams the fatal flaw in everything Progressive. “Tolorance by thee, but not by me.” the far Left loons are so profoundly imperious in their cultist beliefs, they never see the irony, proving narccisists seldom notice their affliction.

  22. I’m a Christian and and Artist and the only thing about “Piss Christ” that offends me is that the prints of this thing sell for $100,000 a pop. So there is a market of people so in love with this contraversy that they actually parted with $100,000 to own an artist print of it. That, is “piss stupid.”

    But, “A fool and his money…”

  23. Steven Pinker’s “Blank Slate”, chapter 15 (“The Sanctimonious Animal”) centers around this point, that modern progressives have tried to strip away norms, but have, in fact, merely replaced the old norms with new ones. Here’s a sampling of Pinker’s list of “things that have acquired a moral coloring only recently:” advertising to children, “big box” chain stores, clothing from Third World factories, corporate-owned farms, executive salaries, fast food, logging, “sprawl”, toy guns, weight of fashion models

    Looking at this, he doesn’t have anything about tobacco in the list. This strikes me as a surprising oversight.

    Anyway, it seemed relevant, sort of.

  24. tropical fish, foie gras, bottled water, democracy

  25. Rob, I’ve long been convinced that the purveyors of modern “art” are the greatest con men the world has ever seen. On the flip side, have there ever been marks as easy as the wealthy fools who shell out top dollar for the stuff?

  26. I didn’t know you had to be mad at your victim for it to be a crime to beat them and lock them in a room.

  27. I found that interesting, too, Kevin. Does that mean that if I were to beat the shit out of some Eurotrash pacifist vegan–after all, I’m a violence-loving, meat-scarfing cowboy American, and that lifestyle does not conform to my culture–and lock him up in a small room in Rome just because my cultural sensibilities clashed with his, I’d get off scot free?

    Somehow, I doubt it.

  28. It appears that Dalrymple’s article is inaccurate:

    THERE is no question – despite reports in the national and local media – that staff in NHS Lothian have been ordered not to eat at their desks for fear of offending Muslim colleagues. Nor is there any question that NHS Lothian will be moving vending machines.

    However NHS Lothian has a duty to be sensitive to needs of people of all faiths and no faith.

    This story stems from an email sent to NHS Lothian and other health boards by a private public affairs consultancy. This email gave helpful background information to organisations across Scotland about Ramadan, a major Muslim religious celebration.

    It seems this was a dumbass email from a consultant that was forwarded around, not a dumbass policy implemented by NHS. Apparently it made its way into the news urban-legend style.

  29. Leave it to Hubris to be all level-headed ;-)

  30. What up JD, hope you and yours are doing well.

  31. Sure are. The little ankle biter just started kindergarten, and her proud father just got back from walking her to the bus. I am already dreading the teenage years, as after her first day in kindergarten, she asked me if she could marry a boy in her class. Happy pills will be needed, I fear.

    How are yours ?

    BTW, during Ramadan or Ramazan, I tend to walk around with a slab of thick sliced bacon, eating it raw. Just for the effect. And flavor. LOL

  32. All three kids are great, thanks. The second twin got pulled into gifted class with the first as of yesterday, which is good because the first had been having trouble getting along with the effete Poindexters in there last year.

  33. I was just informed by my better half that we are expecting twins !!! God and Mother Nature have wicked senses of humor.

  34. Glad to hear the policy was bogus. Sad to say, though, that there are plenty more to take it’s place.

    And I’m generally more concerned about the legal rulings — though I think the decisions businesses make (keeping in mind that they tend to take the path of least resistance) can potentially have quite an impact, as well.

    But then, I’ve been wanting businesses to fight back against Jesse Jackson, eg., for year.

  35. congratulations! your twins could be Gemini yes? (May 21 to June 20) How cool is that?

  36. happyfeet – I believe that would be correct. However, my better half had some problems with the first pregnancy, Kaitlin was delivered 7 weeks early and quite small, so the doctor expects her to deliver in mid-April, so I do not know what sign that would be under.

  37. Oh. Well, congratulations also to the British then. More than most they need positive reinforcement when they don’t do stupid things.

  38. Oh, exactamundo, me jefe. I say we take of the cultural kid gloves, as it were, and start seriously fucking with the “muslim street”. Hey, they thought our TV was bad? How about 24/7 pervo-porn beamed in at high power that the Saudi jammers can’t stop? How about air-dropping translated copies of “The Truth About Muhammad” into Islamabad?

  39. Well, best wishes, JD. Pregnancy is a lot like what they say about landing an airplane. Except really a lot different.

  40. happyfeet – So I have heard. After the 1st spent 8 weeks in neo-natal intensive care, I was not sure if I/we wanted to go through that again. Twins should be an adventure.

  41. I was a preemie. They accidentally sent me home without an esophagus ready to go.

    I think it was an accident.

  42. Jeff G – Bringing up Jesse Jackson in a post entitled How Societies Commit Suicide seems incredibly apropos. Early on, had a corporation stood up to him, his ability to essentially blackmail corporations would be much more limited, and far less lucrative for him. As is, it is a wellspring of capital, to be tapped whenever he feels the desire.

  43. An accident?! One hell of a thing to miss, no?

    Every child in my wife’s family has been a preemie, so there is little doubt the twins will be as well.

    I think I need to find a way to tap into Jesse Jackson’s wellspring of cash.

  44. JD congratulations. My wife and I spent 10 weeks hovering around the Neo natal ICU when our eldest daughter was born (a preemie and required 2 surgeries immediately). All I can say is The Ronald McConald House and the McDonalds Corporation have my undying loyalty and cash whenever I’m in the mood for some fasty food.

    For those of you that aren’t aware or haven’t had the experience of having a kid spend time in ICU – what McDonalds provides to parents and siblings is truly an amazing service.

  45. Old Texas Turkey – Their services are truly outstanding. We did not have to utilize them, but they made themselves available almost immediately. Hence, we never complain about Happy Meals.

  46. “For those of you that aren’t aware or haven’t had the experience of having a kid spend time in ICU – what McDonalds provides to parents and siblings is truly an amazing service.”

    B-b-but–they’re an Evil Corporation! Selling Fast Food and Obesity! Probably targeting The Poor! How can this be???

  47. Well ushie, obviously the Ronald McDonald House gambit is just the way the Evil Corporations™ attempt to Burnish Their Public Images™ by Pandering to People’s Emotions™.

    Something the Left would never stoop to, of course.

  48. BJ & Ushie – It is a nefarious plot to win over the hearts and minds of the parents, who then willingly submit to the subversive advertising targeted at those that are less than 3 months old. Indocrinate them early and they are indoctrinated for life.

  49. Added Hubris’ note to an update inside the post. Don’t think it makes a difference with respect to the overall argument, but because there are enough of these kinds of things to document, we should be careful to make sure we keep the record as correct as possible to avoid charges of alarmism.

  50. Good to know that those evil corporations actually do some good. If you gave the budget for Ronald McDonald House to Congress, they would fund some research into the sexual habits of the snail darter, buy a couple of manhole covers, and tear out a perfectly good road and rebuild it (during rush hour only).

  51. Also doing good work are the Fisher House people, though the Fishers are only evil rich people, not an evil corporation.

  52. “Be back later. Off to lift heavy shit.”

    You realize that there are over the counter medications for that.

    Mexicans are cheaper…

  53. OK happyfeet, I’ll bite. How is pregnancy a lot like what they say about landing an airplane?

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