Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Hurrah for the Men of the West!

Western Civilization is demonstrably superior to all of its predecessors and all of its contemporaries.

Wow! Gotcha there didn't I?

When I was a budding young Social Scientist I used to pull that one out whenever I was feeling mean and wanted to jerk the chain of other Social Scientists around me. I loved to see the looks of outrage and indignation on their faces.

Now let me ask this: why would that statement outrage members of that very civilization, when the exact same statement made by a member of any other civilization about his own would be accepted by the same people as "just their point of view"? It's like everyone is allowed to be "ethnocentric" but us.

An intellectual party game some friends of mine and I used to play was suggest answers for the question, "When did Western Civilization begin?" Of course, the development of something like a culture or a civilization cannot have a "beginning" in a definite point in time. It obviously is something that developed over a length of time. However, we can note a discrete event which exemplifies something unique about our civilization.

One suggestion a friend made, was that it began when the Prophet Nathan told King David, "Thou art the man!" and King David was humbled and said he was right. (This was the matter of having murdered a subordinate in order to get his wife Bathseeba. This may not have been the first time something like this happened, but it was perhaps the first time the accuser survived the telling and lived to record it in history.) If it was wrong for a commoner, it was wrong for the king.

Wow, what a concept! The equality of all men before the law. Revolutionary stuff, which is probably why it took so long to catch on and be applied with anything like a reasonable degree of consistency.

Nonetheless, the principle was stated and upheld as the ideal, however short we fall from it. Point is, the idea hasn't even occurred to some other civilizations, or if it has it's been dismissed out of hand. If you read James Clavell's novel "Tai Pan" there is a scene when the delightful Lady T'chung Mai-mai, concubine of the Scottish Tai Pan, is reflecting on her love's weird Western quirks such as the "insane barbarian idea of one law for the rich and poor alike. What's the use of working to become rich if you have to obey the same law as poor people?"

Another suggestion (by writer Jerry Pournelle) was that the West began when the Romans placed the Twelve Tables of the law in the Forum for anyone to consult. "This is the Law, this is what it says, and you don't have to take anyone else's word for it."

Or how about in ancient Athens when, after the dictatorships of the Thirty and the Three Hundred, the Democratic party swore oaths not to seek vengeance on the Oligarchic party - even for the murder of their kinsmen. Throughout the rest of the world even to this day, revenge for the killing of family members is a sacred duty, whether they had it coming or not. And face it, deep down inside it feels like the right and natural thing to do. Those men decided that for the security of the state they had to break that cycle of violence. When they did this, they made it possible to have a state larger than a smallish collection of tribes.

Another example, it's interesting how many Westerners are not aware that the Western notion that a forced oath is not valid is not shared by everyone. In fact, it usually never occurs to us that there is another point of view on the subject. If someone puts a gun to your head and demands that you promise him something, what do you owe him once the gun is gone? By our lights, nothing.

Did you know, for example, that during the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, the Mau Mau recruited by kidnapping men and forcing them to take the Mau Mau oath? And that according to their customs and religion they were bound by it? Even when it meant that they had to do things that horrified them?

This principle has a couple of exceptions though; parole and the court oath to tell "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." Parole is a promise extracted of a prisoner in exchange for being released not to engage in hostilities against the party administering the oath, until a prisoner on the other side has been released. (Later this came to be applied to criminal cases.) The court oath is essentially a contract; you tell the truth about anything we ask you and in return you don't have to say anything that you can be prosecuted for yourself. If we want to know something about what you've been involved in badly enough, we have to give you a pass on it in exchange for your testimony.

Note that the first exception makes it possible to avoid the killing of prisoners that one is not in a position to guard and feed. The function of the second is to try to do away with torture in interrogation.

Further note that these things work only when there is a general agreement in the whole society, and between the different societies that make up that complex we call our "civilization", to observe them - and sanctions against the individuals and societies that violate them.

Now comes the bottom line; given that there are alternatives, other cultures, other points of view - you have to have a general acceptance that your way is better. Not "just another point of view" - but a better one. This is anathema to the Multiculturalist crowd.

P.S. The title of the post is from an Irish revolutionary song, "Men of the West". It's a play on words, sort of.

"I give you the gallant old West boys,
Where rallied our bravest and best.
When Ireland was broken and beaten,
Hurrah for the Men of the West!"


  • At 5:11 AM, Blogger ]|[ HalW ]|[ said…

    An interesting and lucid piece, but aren't you in danger of falling for the 'end of history' delusion. In the scope of history the qualities that characterize the Western approach have relatively rarely been applied and have often been set aside when a they inconvenienced a political goal. So the values may be admirable but the evidence for the effectiveness is less convincing.
    Surely the defense of multiculturalism is that without it people would be unable to see the advantages of the Western-secular thinking.
    I just read your article on 'rights' and the subversion of language and clear thought. It's excellent.

  • At 10:51 AM, Blogger M. Simon said…

    Civilization came with the laws of Noah.


  • At 10:35 AM, Blogger Mollie said…

    Another blow to Tribalism: Jesus turned his back on his mother, telling his apostles to go out and be missionaries....
    the Mother is the Tribe.

    I've been re-reading The History of the Franks, by Gregory of Tours. I have noticed, this time through that it is ALWAYS the mother/wife who remembers a wrong and has her husband/sons go out and take revenge. Even the saintly Clotild...


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