Demonisation of the West
The demonisation of the West has become the driving paradigm of Western academics and media talking heads, as well as those who promote their own cultural preferences with as much zeal as the West ever did. We are increasingly led to believe that anything and everything that the West has ever done is always bad and what other civilisations do or have done, by the very virtue of them being non Western, are always good or, at the very least, excusable. Of course, most reasonable people acknowledge that all cultures have done both good and bad and future cultures will be the same.
In the 1980s, there was a BBC documentary series presented by Oxford Historian John Roberts called The Triumph of the West. This excellent series had a profound influence on my own intellectual development. Firstly it encouraged me to have a civilisational rather than nationalistic outlook, something that was quite uncommon in the 1980s. Since this time my worldview has always been pan European, and until very recently I was very much in favour of the European Union. After all, by having a civilisational outlook it made the heroes of other countries into my own heroes. I could accept Leonardo da Vinci, Voltaire or Nicholas Copernicus just as much as Drake, Nelson or Churchill.
I have been trying to find the series on DVD for some time, but to no avail. It probably has something to do with it not supporting the current anti-Western paradigm. However, someone has put a large part of the series (seven episodes) on YouTube (see below). It is well worth watching and a much-needed antidote to the unthinking critique of Western civilisation, philosophy and science that is promoted in certain influential circles.
Triumph of the West
The BBC series, The Triumph of the West, shows how the West was the engine of progress that created the modern world. It brought people together on a scale hitherto unknown thanks to its voyages of discovery. The series demonstrates that the West became the first civilisation in the world to abolish slavery for its own sake – for moral rather than material reasons. It shows how much of the world adopted, or as we will see later – appropriated, Western technology and Western fashion. It shows how Western communications technology transformed the world, ultimately to the benefit of all. It shows how it was the West that laid the foundations on which contemporary globalisation was built upon. These are aspects of Western history that people can take pride in.
In the days in which the series was made there was a degree of regret about the excesses of Western imperialism but not the cultural pessimism and self-debasement of the present day. The series was not presenting an hagiography of the West, it recognised the achievements of other civilisations and how the West was built upon their achievements and appropriated their ideas and technologies. It also recognised the parts of Western history for which we should rightly be ashamed but it did so in a more balanced way than is seen today. Just like with all cultures and civilisations, there are good and bad aspects. Modern documentary makers could learn something from The Triumph of the West.
One of the most pernicious techniques used to demonise the West the is the practice of unilaterally claiming ownership of language and definitions and using this perceived control to prevent logical debate on the issues.
A particular technique used to attack the West, that has been in the news recently in relation to the attack on Syria with tomahawk cruise missiles, is the often-used charge of cultural ‘appropriation’. This is when someone in the open minded West dares to incorporate elements of another non-western culture. The accusation of cultural ‘appropriation’ is designed to mark someone out as somehow being intolerant or insensitive. However, it would appear that the use of such accusations is the legacy of the ‘active measures’ used by the Soviet Union against its NATO enemies during the Cold War!
Soviet active measures were not designed to promote equality and fairness, they were designed to sow division in the target country to create societal weakness and make it more vulnerable in the case of war. They were not designed to create intercultural harmony in the diverse West, they were designed to create a sense of grievance in order to create conflict. The idea of criticising cultural ‘appropriation’ would fit into the toolbox of Soviet active measures quite snugly and the technique bears the hallmarks of something that has been designed. It exploits division and makes society weaker and less cohesive. High level Soviet defector Yuri Bezmenov explained the technique back in 1983:
“What it basically means is: to change the perception of reality of every American that despite of the abundance of information no one is able to come to sensible conclusions in the interest of defending themselves, their families, their community, and their country.”
It is applied with a broad brush, and those who use the brush try to confuse people by contrasting it with the term ‘cultural sharing’. However, where one ends and the other begins is left deliberately vague so that the political activists using it have maximum freedom of usage. Appropriation would imply that the thing in question was taken without permission, but is culture something that it is possible for someone to own. Normally, people see an aspect of another culture and absorb it. The practice of al fresco dining, barabaques and the cafe culture was something that was adopted in England after people had experienced continental holidays. They did not get permission to do it while abroad. Adopting aspects of culture is something that happens naturally and informally.
This is what happened when some white women decided to start wearing hooped ear rings. They liked the look of them and thought I like those and they will look good on me so they started wearing them. However, they then faced charges of cultural ‘appropriation’ and told they should not be wearing them. No patent was violated, but the grievance industry saw an opportunity to create division. It is the equivalent of someone telling Sir Walter Raleigh that the people of Europe should not be eating potatoes when he brought them back from America! After all, I bet he did not get permission spread the culinary traditions of the Americas to other areas.
So as we can see, what is being described is not theft, because the thing in question is not something that is bought or sold, it is something that just is. It is not even sharing because in probably a majority of cases in human history, like the air we breath, it was something that was simply taken. This has always being how humans learn – they see a good way to do something and they copy it. The concept of owning a culture is particular perverse in any case, but people will try all sorts of approaches to earn money and should not be stopped from being creative.
The use of the term ‘appropriation’ is therefore very misleading that is which I have put the word appropriation in inverted commas. Cultural transfer is a much clearer and better way of saying the same thing but that would not be as effective from an active measures point of view.
The use of the term cultural ‘appropriation’ illustrates how the concept is designed to create a particular political outcome – the defining factor in active measures subversion. What makes the true motives of people using this political tool even clearer is that it is related by them to another vague concept – privileged and non-privileged groups. Of course, only they can decide who is put into each category and why. The real world is far more complex and nuanced and putting people into categories like this is yet another way of generating grievance and creating conflict.
These active measures, once initiated by the Soviets, would run on indefinitely and so they continued after the Cold War ended. Self-interested opportunists have adopted this legacy, whether they are neo Marxists wanting to sow global revolution or globalists trying to control democracies via a policy of divide and rule.
How cultural ‘appropriation’ is a normal part of human development
Trade is cultural transfer in its most basic form and is something that human beings have been doing since prehistoric times. Trade has always helped augment cultures and make them more alike. It has also served to promote shared interests and peace.
Labelling such cultural transfer as appropriation defies both reality and logic. The notion implies that culture is static – something that is refuted by historical reality. The desire to put people in distinctive and unchanging categories and to play them off against each other is something that should be treated with suspicion. Cultures merge, blend and borrow from one another, they always have and always will. It is not natural for cultures to develop in isolation and attempts to create a patchwork of cultural isolation is, frankly, quite silly.
In ancient times, China was the predominant culture in the world for many thousands of years yet this did not stop the West appropriating its many fruits. It ‘appropriated’ many things including, paper, gunpowder, alcohol, tea drinking, wearing silk and many others. It did not do this out of fear, it did it because the things that Chinese culture had produced were deemed useful or better than their home produced alternatives. As such we became a little bit more Chinese than we used to be and the two civilisations had that bit more in common. Surely this is something that should be encouraged. Absorbing parts of another culture is the highest praise that can been bestowed upon that culture. It illustrates cultural strength and longevity and is a demonstration of the success and resilience of that culture. It is a recognition of that culture’s contribution to world civilisation. For instance the factory system that the British found in Bengal could not fail to have influenced the creation of the industrial revolution in Northern England. The English probably applied what they learned from it subconsciously and certainly did not ask for permission.
Just like classical Communism ignored human nature in economics, those who peddle the results of Soviet active measures in the West ignore human nature in cultural terms. Blending ideas creates new thoughts and facilitates human progress, whoever the immediate beneficiaries may be.
Many people at the time that The Triumph of the West series was made believed that as a result of all countries adopting Western modernity, the world would become just like the West. Many countries adopted the methods of Western modernity, yet failed to develop. Other countries like Japan took it upon itself to use the technology, the intellectual property, of the West but gave it a uniquely Japanese twist. This created something new, something better, something uniquely Japanese. In turn Western countries adopted some of the uniquely Japanese components to improve their own technology and appropriated these aspects of Japanese culture. Neither the Japanese or the West asked for permission they just learned from what they saw.
A similar thing happened following the Norman conquest of Sicily. The new rulers sensibly recognised the value of aspects of the previous Arabic culture and used it. Again, this fuelled progress, and at that time a sense of mutual understanding and common purpose among the Norman and Arabic cultures on the island of Sicily prevailed. The impact of this ‘appropriation’ benefited both cultures.
When cultures are brought together, as they are today, in increasingly confined areas then the impact of ‘cultural appropriation’ will become even more intensified. This is a natural thing and a very good thing. It is when cultural appropriation does not happen that people should worry. If people confine themselves to the pigeon holes assigned to them by globalists of ‘progressive’ politicians then that is something to really worry about. If people are afraid to engage in ‘cultural appropriation’ then the result is a dangerous polarisation that could, in the end, result in ghettoization and conflict. This would be a disaster. Perhaps those who condemn ‘cultural appropriation’ are striving to create such a situation for their own self-interested political motives. The techniques unleashed by Soviet active measures should not be allowed to destroy our societies so long after the Cold War ended.
The real triumph of the West was the creation our world where all cultures and civilisations know each other and learn from each other. Throughout the period when the West was predominant it ‘appropriated’ the ideas of other civilisations and they ‘appropriated’ ideas from the West. As we stabilise into a multi-civilisational world order we will continue the very human tradition of ‘cultural appropriation’ and in so doing we will evolve into something new, different and better.