Western Civilization is a sham. And it pains me for having to repeat what should already be an obvious fact. So much of right-wing conservative discourse in countries deemed of the West rests on the presumptions of the inherent superiority of their civilization and its history. That notion itself of ‘superiority’ should be clue in enough that this whole line of cultural self-congratulations is problematic and dangerous, but no. These troglodytes continue to stick to the narratives they construct that bestows on them a sense of honor by loose association via their ancestors.
In the United States, endless grandstanding and worship is heaped upon the alters of the ‘Founding Fathers’. Praise is given to their wisdom, their sense of liberty, their genius in crafting some holy document, the constitution. And all of American history since then is painted in such glorious rosy colors of following in the Founders’ footsteps. But these Founding Fathers were mostly slave-owners and merchants, they’re every deed and word an act of the highest hypocrisy. And the history of the United States is one long drama of expansionism and bloody conquest defined by the enslavement of one people and the ruthless extermination of another.
Take another example, the French. How many Arabs and Muslims have suffered for the purposes of the maintenance of “French Culture.” The Muslims won’t integrate and adapt, they say, they are a threat to our heritage. Well what is your French heritage, because as far as I can tell you’re not talking about “liberté, égalité, fraternité,” but rather the same sorts of colonialist murder and empire building that defines the rest of Western Civilization.
And this myth making goes back even further. So the Greeks and Romans are held up as the founders of true civilization (instead of say the Sumerians or earlier societies post-neolithic revolution) and political principals like democracy and liberty. But isn’t it interesting how those who wrote most eloquently about democracy (Greeks) and liberty (the Roman’s around Cato the Younger) were also all oligarchs and slave owners.
Those who glorify the past of a nation for the ideological purposes of today, are doing so for the benefit of the rulers of today as well as the past. What did Orwell about he who controls the past.
To quote from Walter Benjamin:
Those who currently rule are however the heirs of all those who have ever been victorious. Empathy with the victors thus comes to benefit the current rulers every time. This says quite enough to the historical materialist. Whoever until this day emerges victorious, marches in the triumphal procession in which today’s rulers tread over those who are sprawled underfoot. The spoils are, as was ever the case, carried along in the triumphal procession. They are known as the cultural heritage. In the historical materialist they have to reckon with a distanced observer. For what he surveys as the cultural heritage is part and parcel of a lineage which he cannot contemplate without horror. It owes its existence not only to the toil of the great geniuses, who created it, but also to the nameless drudgery of its contemporaries. There has never been a document of culture, which is not simultaneously one of barbarism.
Now this isn’t to say the so-called ‘Western Civilization’ is unique to this. Every civilization of today, and therefore the rulers of these societies, sits about the bodies of millions upon millions that it crushed underneath over centuries. Even those societies that were obliterated by others, like the Aztecs and Incas, had plenty of blood on their hands. Every citadel, from the ancient temples of India, the palaces of China, the pyramids of Egypt, the castles of Europe, and the universities and skyscrapers of today, are built on a foundation of bones.
So remember that next time your told to remember and celebrate your cultural heritage. Whose heritage is that? The heritage of the rulers or of the ruled. Cause its very rare they ask you celebrate the Paris Commune or Shay’s Rebellion.
Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving 2012.