Saturday, February 21, 2009

Montaigne: Godfather of PC MC?







Introduction:

Can we trace the roots of Politically Correct Multi-Culturalism (PC MC) as far back as the 16th century? After reading a little of the essays of Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), I would answer in the affirmative. Not only do we see the roots of PC MC in Montaigne, we see the foreshadowing of major axioms of the PC MC paradigm in his assumptions.

Montaigne is often hailed as a precursor to the Enlightenment because of his corrosive skepticism that, to later minds, seemed to be capable of undermining authoritarian dogma, particularly, of course, the dogmas of Christendom. Montaigne did not invent skepticism, nor did he single-handedly revive its classical forms. His era was already predisposed to a reconfiguration of the paradigm of Christendom, since that paradigm in his generation was already beginning to suffer extraordinary pressures consequent upon the Protestant Reformation. Secondly, Montaigne was no solitary disaffected intellectual cut off from society: he was deeply involved in the government of the French royalty and had important official positions and duties related to that. He was firmly ensconced in the “elitist” intelligentsia of his time.

Discussion:

In the first paragraph of his essay on “Cannibals” (chapter 30 of his Essays), Montaigne draws the reader’s attention to the example of various ancient Greek leaders who assumed the Romans were barbarians, until the spectacle of the orderly disposition of the Roman armies moved them to rethink their assumption. Montaigne concludes:

Thus we see how it behooves us to avoid common opinions, and rather to judge opinions in the view of reason, not by the popular voice.

This piece of sound counsel makes sense in the general context Montaigne adduces. It is usually advisable to look more carefully at the data, to see whether the interpertations based on the givens of one’s age really fit that data or not. The uncommon conclusion that Montaigne finds that reason yields, in this essay, is that outsiders to our culture are not necessarily less civilized than we are, if we only take the time to examine their mores more closely, and if we open our minds beyond the common tendency to always regard our ways as superior. What Montaigne did not foresee was a context where the age, and the axioms of its “common opinions”, would evolve to agree wholeheartedly with what he thought in his time was an uncommon insight.

Similarly, Montaigne a little later, referring to the newly discovered “New World”specifically what would later be approximately the Brazilian part of South Americaargues that one could ascertain more accurate information about such places from the common man, “simple and blunt”, rather than relying on the intelligentsia, “refined gentlemen”. In fact, he knows such an ordinary person who has traveled to “antarctic France” (i.e., Brazil) and upon whose travelogue he will rely.

And again we must remark that Montaigne had not, apparently, foreseen a sociopolitical situation in which just such a revisionism of foreign cultures (modern anthropology) and of history, purveyed by an intelligentsia of “refined gentlemen” (and ladies), has suffused the sociocultural atmospherics of the common man so successfully in our time, that one could no longer necessarily count on any average “simple and blunt” person to give us a report of a Muslim country, if they happened to travel there, that was not filtered through the dominant PC MC perspective of the intelligentsia “elites”. I.e., in Montaigne’s time, he may have felt himself to be an intellectual going against the grain of his “elitist” peers; but could he have foreseen an era like our own, where the vast majority among the “elitist” intelligentsia in fact share most of his assumptions and axioms about life?

And what does Montaigne’s “simple man”whose reportage he implicitly trusts to be accuratereport of his experience with the inhabitants of this New World? The short answer: that “there is nothing barbarous or savage about these people”.

Now, Montaigne is not merely relying upon the facts which his “simple man” has relayed to him: Montaigne is also interpreting those facts according to a paradigm. The paradigm he uses has certain axioms. One of them involves the subtlety that challenges the concept of “barbarism” itself. Montaigne asserts that everyone who uses the term “barbarism” does so from a relative standpoint that assumes that any outsider who does not conform to the observer’s customs is liable to be called a “barbarian”just as Montaigne’s opening example exemplified, which we described above, about the Greeks who saw the strange Romans whom they had assumed must be “barbarians” because they were not Greeks, but then were surprised to see these “barbarians” had sophisticated military strategy.

Furthermore, according to Montaigne, we have no other waybeyond our relative and dubious standards based upon our own provincial customsof ascertaining the truth about outsiders and the world outside our own small world: For, we are essentially biased to think that our ways are the best, and other ways are inferior. Montaigne doesn’t stop there.

He is not content to level the playing field through a relativistic agnosticism, claiming that we cannot know who is savage and who is not, since no absolute measure can be found, only biased perspectives whereby every culture thinks its own culture is not barbarous and all outside cultures that do not conform to its values must be barbarous. No, Montaigne goes further. He argues that the so-called savages of the New World, being closer to Nature are therefore behaving “naturally”, while we Westerners with our “artificial” culture that perverts Nature have the culture that most befits the term “savage”.

“They are savage, if what we call savage are the fruits that Nature through its ordinary process produces: There indeed are things which we have altered by our artifice and thereby perverted the common order so much so that it is we who should rather be called savages.”

In this view, of course, Nature is deemed to be intrinsically good and unsavage, and only our perverse perspective limited by our provincial bias deems the “natural state” savage when it seems savage to our sensibilities. His specific reasons for valuing Nature above “Artifice” are not relevant to my purposes here. (One historian argued plausibly that it has roots in the classical Greek and Roman ideas of an idyllic, paradisaic “Golden Age” which time and civilization are bound to corrupt, ideas also “in the air” throughout the ecumenic syncretism of ancient cultures, whether more civilized or more primitiveindeed, a perennial cross-cultural constant, as Mircea Eliade argued in many of his writings, most notably The Myth of the Eternal Return.)

It is ironic, however, that the politically correct multi-culturalism that is, in great part, Montaigne’s legacy has also in the meantime incorporated a dark pessimism about, or antipathy to, Nature that is in tension with its Nature-worship. This dark pessimism or antipathy is usually not relieved by any recourse to Culture, but remains an amorphous psychological complex within a framework of a general nihilism: a kind of formless, vague ennui and contemptus mundi similar to the ancient Gnostic rebellion against the Cosmos, but having no belief in a Beyond of the Cosmos, and no belief in an eschatological release. To further the incoherence, as we noted above, these pneumopathologies often co-exist side by side, or mushed together, with various forms of Nature-worship and their obverse side of the coin, an irrational denigration of Culture and Civilization.

The irrational denigration of Culture and Civilization, of course, is selective: it is really only white Western Culture and Civilization that tends to be denigrated, while non-white non-Western cultures are irrationally elevated. And this brings us back to Montaigne. He is not merely one of the Godfathers of PC MC, but specifically, so it seems, of the idea of the “Noble Savage”that the non-Western “Savage” is ennobled by virtue of being closer to Nature and thus enjoying a state of “original naiveté”. Even if some of his modern heirs have developed an antipathy to Nature in their minds, that does not necessarily jeopardize the role of the “Noble Savage” that co-exists in their minds with that antipathyfor such minds are not operating rationally, but irrationally, whereby incoherence is hardly an impediment to the mind’s engagement of the emotions, nor to the concretion of this incoherent engagement in the realm of actions.

Montaigne’s more detailed description of this Noble Savage’s “original naiveté” exemplifies, as we alluded above, a classical Utopianism based upon a lost Golden Age, when mankind lived more simply, unencumbered by all the complications of civilizationWestern civilization, of coursethat inevitably corrupt man and introduce into his life and his relations with others most of the sins that trouble the world. And not only is Montaigne referring to the sociology of the Noble Savage in glowing terms, but also his physical environment and his physical being, endowing these latter with almost mythical or fabled qualities:

“Moreover, they live in a very pleasant land and clime, and according to the reports I have heard, it is rare to see anybody sick there: and I have been assured that never has anybody been seen suffering tremors, bleary eyes, toothlessness, or bent over from old age.”

To the extent that this perception of the New World was not an isolated sentiment but reflected a general view, or at least certainly an increasingly prevalent view, it would provide massive fodder, over time as PC MC developed more fully, for an amorphous sense that America (South, Central and North) was a pristine aboriginal paradise that became victimized through a long process of corruption and defilement at the hands of white Western man in various despicable and shameful ways.

The Main Course: Cannibalism

Montaigne in the longer passage from which the above is drawn begins by referring to the practice of cannibalism among the natives (after a long and dry and as far as I can tell utterly neutral anthropological discursus on their daily habits), and notes that it functioned in the context of war against enemiesthe captured enemies being killed, then cooked and eaten.

Then he claims that the natives did not eat their enemies for mere nourishment, but rather as an expression of “extreme vengeance”, just as the ancient Scythians did. His proof for this then renews his jabs at his own West again: the natives, he claims, eventually gave up this practice of cannibalism after they became familiar with a practice they observed the Portuguese conquerors doing to their enemiesburying them up to their waist, shooting them with arrows, then hanging them. According to Montaigne, these native savages were so impressed with this superior form of savagery that the Portuguese were doing, as exemplifying a more dastardly (plus aigre) form of taking vengeance on the enemy, that they gave up cannibalism and adopted the more “advanced” savagery of the Portuguese. This amusingly sly and piquant maneuver by Montaigne, of reversing the blade of criticism into self-criticism (if not self-condemnation), presages his articulation of the formula of the Eqo Quoque fallacy (the fallacy that tries to deflect the problem by claiming that “we are as bad as they are”)which to him is no fallacy at all, but rather a corrective in the interest of the love of truth.

The cannibalism of the natives also figures in his contrast with their savagery which he argues compares favorably with apparently extant excesses among Europeans, since the natives only ate their human victims after killing them, whereas Europeans supposedly in Montaigne’s time were engaging here and there in a cruel torture of their enemies whereby they would let dogs or pigs attack them and gnaw on them. Here, Montaigne exemplifies a tendency one sees in our own time, of massaging the facts in order to wrest an Ego Quoque out of them, which indeed turns out cleverly (or incoherently) to be an
Ego Peiorone step up (or down) from the Ego Quoque fallacy: “we are worse than they are”.

From Ego Quoque to Ego Peior:

To remind the reader of our terms: Ego Quoque is the attempted logical argument based on the idea that "We are as bad as they are", while the Leftist twist to that, Ego Peior, means "We are worse than they are".

Let us examine more closely what Montaigne is here doing. I will quote in entirety the relevant passage, numbering each clause for reference:


1) I am not so concerned that we should remark on the barbaric horror of such a deed, but that, while we quite rightly judge their faults, we are blind to our own.

2) I think it is more barbaric to eat a man alive than to eat him dead, to tear apart through torture and pain a living body which can still feel, or to burn it alive by bits, to let it be gnawed and chewed by dogs or pigs.

3) (as we have not only read, but seen, in recent times,

4) not against old enemies but among neighbors and fellow-citizens,

5) andwhat is worseunder the pretext of piety and religion).

6) Better to roast and eat him after he is dead.

1) Montaigne begins with an apparent concession to the reader’s horror who at this point in the text has already read his detailed description of the cannibalism behavior of the natives. The concession, however, is couched in terms of introducing what Montaigne presents as more important than merely the reasonable response of our civilized sensibilities to such a horror: what is more important, Montaigne claims, is to remember to add to our civilized horror at the faults of non-Western barbarians a complementary awareness of our own faults. By implying that this is more important (Je ne suis marri que... mais oui bien de quoi...), Montaigne sets up the premise of the Ego Quoque, ostensibly at this point merelyand with a tonality of disingenuously sincere concern for equitygently but firmly reminding the reader that he is not necessarily better than the savages, but that rather we are on the same plane.

2) The next clause immediately shifts from Ego Quoque to Ego Peiorthough the blow is softened by terms that sound abstract and generic. Now we are no longer concerned to remind ourselves that we too do comparably bad things, just as the savages do: Now it must be emphasized that in fact there are worse acts than the cannibalism he has described among the nativesto wit,

a) eating a man while he is still alive rather than waiting until after he is dead

b) torturing a man while still alive by, as Montaigne vividly describes, “tearing apart the flesh of a body full of thoughts and feelings”

c) slowly roasting with fire a living body

d) letting living bodies (in such contexts of torture) be attacked and gnawed by dogs or pigs.

The first thing one notices that Montaigne is doingwhen the distracting verbiage is sifted throughis trying to compare the use of animals by Western torturers (whether incidental or purposeful) to attack and gnaw on the living bodies of the human victims, with the actual cannibalism practiced by the natives upon human bodies they killed and cooked. This is either an unfair and clever sleight-of-hand, or Montaigne is being incoherentthough given his erudition and intelligence, the latter seems unlikely. Montaigne is ostensibly trying to obfuscate the grotesque ghoulishness of humans eating other humans—out of hatred for those humans because they are the enemy, as he himself admitted is the case with the Brazilian cannibalsby manipulating the emotion and logic of his reader. He does this by trying to lead the reader into conceding first that, of course, torturing other humans is horrible, just as badnay, worseand it also involves eating those bodies, though never mind that the eating is done by dogs and pigs and not humans; and besides it is done upon living bodies, not dead bodies as the natives do.

The living bodies / dead bodies dichotomy that is important for Montaigne in his present argument is, however, considerably undermined by a number of things he himself reported earlier:

a) the humans which the natives eat are humans killed in war against other tribeswe can hardly assume that the killing is peaceful and painless in such circumstances;

b) the eating is not done for nourishment but out of an extreme sense of vengeanceperhaps in their religious beliefs they even think the dead bodies they are eating can feel the pain of being eaten;

c) the natives with eager alacrity chose to adopt the more painful torture of living prisoners of war which they witnessed being practiced by the Portuguesea choice for which the natives should bear ethical responsibility, though Montaigne, like Leftists after him, chooses to regard the natives as seemingly bereft of such ethical responsibility when they make the decision to adopt this new, supposedly more barbarous technique, as though all the ethical blame is on the Portuguese and thus the barbarism reflects only upon them and not the natives, when at the very least, we have a Tu Quoque here to be directed at the natives, which Montaigne not only fails to exploit, but perversely uses as ammunition against his own civilization.

Let us continue with our point-by-point exposition.

Montaigne then buttresses his Ego Peior argument by saying that “we have not only read” about such Western barbarities perpetratedi.e., “read” one assumes in history books“but have seen in recent memory” (mais vue de fraîche memoire). So which is it? We Westerners have done such barbarities in the past, or in “recent memory”? This “recent memory” is a rather sly locution to contrast with the past about which one has “read”. Recent memory could mean anything: 100 years ago, 50 years ago, etc. Similarly, “seen” does not necesarily mean with one’s physical eyes, but can mean, it has been witnessed in “recent memory”.

At any rate, even giving Montaigne benefit of the doubt, that he means to say the straightforward thing he is nevertheless curiously, if not suspiciously, complicatingviz., that right now, today, we Westerners are doing x, y and z horrible things which, as I describe it, will become clear to the reader to be more barbarous than what I described the natives as doingwe run into the problems we have already articulated, and others we will presently point out.

Montaigne continues to buttress his Ego Peior by saying that the horrible things we Westerners do (or have read about from our history and furthermore “have seen done in recent times”) are even worse for the fact that they are done “not against old enemies but among neighbors and fellow-citizens”. This part of his argument is vitiated, however, by the fact that the distinction between “old enemies” and “neighbors and fellow-citizens” is blurry in the context of natives who array themselves in violent enmity against members of other tribes. Apparently, these natives did not attack, kill and eat members of their own tribe, but only members of tribes nearby whom they deemed to be the enemy. How is this any more ethical? Isn’t violent tribalism precisely the transformation of one’s “neighbor” into an enemy against which one can do horrible thingslike, oh say, kill (in likely painful ways) and then devour in a trance of hatred and revenge...?

Furthermore, Montaigne is cleverly (or incoherently) glossing the sociopolitical complications involved in the contexts of Western history (or “recent memory”), whereby (if he is referring to the Inquisition, for example), the authorities did not willy-nilly pick up their own neighbors and fellow-citizens and torture them for no reason, but precisely in the context of sedition understood at the time as involving theological blasphemyand that, furthermore, finding its sense in the larger context of the problem of innumerable Muslims hiding amongst Spanish society after nearly 800 years of brutal and fanatically anti-Christian Islamic occupation of Spain only recently overthrown by the Spanish with the help of other Europeans. The “neighbors and fellow-citizens” in question, then, were precisely contextualized as aiding and abettingif not actually personifyingan “ancient enemy” indeed.

If Montaigne is referring to other tribunals of torture involving Christian authorities torturing other Christians deemed to be heretical in one way or another (as Charles Henry argues in his study of Montaigne’s essays, referring to the massacre of Huguenotsdeemed to be hereticsin 1561), a similar argument prevails, insofar as in that historical context, heresy was often understood to be seditious against the public order. Montaigne’s era represents the incipient birth pangs of a paradigm shift away from the violent excesses of religion of “recent memory”, and it is understandable that an expression of partisan bitterness finds its way into a voice such as his that is at the forefront of that paradigm shiftwhere the side he is partial to is the still inchoate new order that has become disgusted with those religious excesses, a new order whose cystallization Montaigne himself served to initiate, which would bear a fuller fruition more than a century later in the Enlightenment.

Indeed, as the above-mentioned Charles Henry reports, Montaigne was no grumbling carping outsider to the sociopolitical system: he worked for the King of France in various capacities
not the least of which to personally investigate the site of the massacre of Huguenots eleven days after it happened and report back to the King about it. Thus, Montaigne was part of the “Elites”which makes his profoundly jaded criticism of his own Western societies all the more ironic: like Leftists of all eras, he seems incapable of fully assimilating the fact that his type of criticism reflects just as much upon the beneficent progress of the West as it does the West’s faults he is criticizing. He, like later Leftists, botches the paradox and thus, like a myopic cyclops, sees only one half of the paradox of the greatness of the Westincognizant of the grotesquely amusing fact that his own myopia is itself a symptom of the beneficient progress it cannot see! The Ego Peior thus tends to encode a perverse twisting of the concept of ethical standards, by which, to put it in a nutshell to bring out the perverse clarity at the heart of it: We are worse because we are better!

One recent example from our own time: This perverse conceit imbued the general PC MC discussion of the so-called “tortures” of Abu Ghraib. One got the distinct sense that in this discussion, Westerners simultaneously held their West to a higher standard, and at the same time condemned the West as worse
—almost as though the latter judgement of being worse derived from the former assumption that we embody a higher standard, which implies that in fact we are better!

As with all paradigm shifts that react against excesses, there is the tendency to react as a pendulum to the opposite extreme: and we see that error already in Montaigne. It is worthy of note that the sources the above-mentioned Charles Henry quotes concerning that massacre of Huguenots specifically report that some of the victims were led to a public place where they were “inhumanly massacred and cruelly made to be devoured by pigs” (à la place publique et illec inhumainement massacrés et faict [fait] cruellement devorer aux porceaux)implying a sequentiality whereby the pigs ate the recently massacred corpses, not the living humans as Montaigne alleges.

This brings us to his final point of buttressing his Ego Peior: “what is worse” Montaigne says, the tortures done by Westerners have been done “under the pretext of piety and religion”. Now, perhaps we can forgive Montaigne’s anthropological ignorance here, for when native cultures (whether in the lower Americas or in the Pacific islands or in parts of Africa) practice cannibalism, they are not merely expressing their “extreme vengeance” against the enemy they are eatingtheir cannibalism is also a religious ritual, since everything such natives do fits into their religious consciousness, and most certainly cannibalism. Of course, even later Leftists who do not have the benefit of the excuse of anthropological ignorance will find a way to squirm out of this and will persist in using “piety and religion”the piety and religion of Christians, that isas substantiation of their Ego Peior. They do this by privileging non-Western cultures (and often the more primitive, the better) with special exemptions which they deny to Christianity, as Robert Edgerton has documented in his excellent study on modern Western anthropology, Sick Societies: Challenging the Myth of Primitive Harmony. This perversely irrational position essentially boils down to saying that when we see non-Western religions doing horrible things, we cannot judge them ethically as we can judge Western religions when they do comparably horrible things. The reason why judgement is withheld from the non-Western religions seems to be an incoherent doctrine and/or feeling that non-Western cultures are somehow more harmonious with the rhythms of Nature, whereas Western religion is some strangely artificial construct that goes against Nature.

The crime here seems to be not so much the actual atrocity being perpetrated (though this does not stop Montaigne, like later Leftists, from trying to obfuscate the underlying issue by appealing to the reader’s sense of ethical outrage at such atrocities), but rather the supposed enmity of Western man against Nature, and conversely, the supposed harmony with Nature exemplified by non-Western cultures. In fact, when Montaigne, like later Leftists, tries to obfuscate this underlying issue by appealing to the reader’s sense of ethical outrage at the more superficial atrocities of the West, he is cleverly (or incoherently) exploiting the West’s standard in his reader of judging ethically on the basis of atrocity committed rather than on some doctrine stemming from Nature-worship, then turning that Western standard against the Westwhen all along, the ulterior standard by which the West was being really judged had nothing to do with a comparative weighing of one atrocity against another, whether quantitatively or qualitatively, but the weightier, deeper crime of being against Nature, compared with the deeper virtue of being harmonious with Nature.

Deeper, and darker, than this explanation, one gets the sense that what is really going on is simply a perverse self-hatred of one's own civilization (the West), based on a strange demonization of the West past all rational sense, and an equally irrational reverence for the non-Western Noble Savage (whether he be a South American cannibal in the 16th century -- or a Muslim in the 21st).

As the above-mentioned study on anthropology argues and documents, the axiom of Leftist anthropology justifies any atrocity perpetrated by non-Western cultures on the basis that such atrocities are not really atrocities and become atrocious only when speciously and unfairly judged according to Western standards
but are really merely part of the rhythms of Nature: just as we do not judge the lion for being unethical when he hunts down and tears the living flesh of his prey to eat it, and just as we do not judge that apparently horrific act as an ethical atrocity, so too we must not judge non-Western man when he does things that seem atrocious to our Western sensibilities. The pathological perversity and admirably gymnastic hypocrisy of Montaigne’s clever ployusing the same Western standard of ethical outrage at atrocity he otherwise rejects, only in order to manipulate his Western reader into condemning his own Westnow becomes exposed. Or, if Montaigne somehow simultaneously accepts that Western ethical standard, then his cleverness is corrupted by incoherence.

The remainder of the essay on cannibals does not really offer anything new to add to my analysis, though it does tend to reinforce it with additional spice. For example, he implies that their economic system is superior to ours by citing the reaction of three Brazilian natives who had visited France (and whom Montaigne, being part of the French Court, personally met and interviewed, presumably through a translator) who, when asked what they found singular about our culture, remarked that they saw a disturbing disparity between the existence of fat and wealthy people on the one hand, and poor and hungry people on the other hand. The implication that Montaigne is telegraphing here is clear: their system, being more “harmonious” with Nature, is more equitable and just while ours is imbalanced, unharmonious, and unjust and thus results in too much social suffering.

More generally, we see in his final paragraphs Montaigne reiterating his opinion that the native savages of Brazilunlike us barbaric Westernersengage in military violence in a “noble and generous” manner, indeed, in a manner as “elegant” as can be, given wars essentially pathological nature, thus coming close to justifying it (et a autant dexcuse et de beauté que cette maladie humaine en peut recevoir). He goes on to detail why their military violence is so much prettier than our filthy Western war-mongering, but I will not bore the reader with that. And, of course, he introduces this excessively irrational praise of war among the non-Western savages by reiterating yet again the obverse side of the cointhe excessively irrational denigration of his own West:

“...we, who surpass them in every sort of barbarism...” (nous, qui les surpassons en toute sorte de barbarie).

This reflects what I have termed the “double axiom” of the PC MC paradigm, which effectively reverses the equation upon which Western civilization is based: no longer are we superior to the non-West, nor are we even equally as bad: we are positively inferior. Thus the transition from Eqo Quoque to Ego Peior. This exposes the lie of the supposed relativism and equivalency superficially purveyed by Leftists and the PC MCs: they are not really arguing for a level playing field of equality of all cultures: beneath that facade is an absolutist denigration of the West in favor of the non-West. Often, this absolutism is simply the logical conclusion of an underlying incoherence and confusion in their minds, emotionally trying to express their quasi-Gnostic antipathy to authority structures, but unable to wrest from these emotions anything rationally coherent. The more PC MC a person is, the more incoherent he will be and thus his anti-Westernism will be less logically absolutist, since his higher degree of dependence on his own West frustrates his self-hatred of that West. The more Leftist a person is, however, the more coherent and logical he will be in his anti-Westernism, for a higher degree of Leftism, leading on a vector toward Communism, translates into decreasing the dependence upon ones own West—leading to the ultimate logical conclusion: violent Revolution.

This coherence thus has limits: it will eventually come up against the Gnostic wall, and the Leftist, if he clearly follows his own logic, will have to face the choice of either abandoning his anti-Western pathos, or becoming a Revolutionary in order to fight against his own West. If he does the latter, it is at that point where incoherence reaches its apogee, since there is nothing to fight for other than some fantastic Utopian vision that is, in one form or another, the immanentized eschaton of modern Gnosticism.

The psychic pressure generated by this incoherence can be, in most such Revolutionaries, indefinitely distracted by simply plunging into activities of the Revolutionary Cause (with physical violence the ultimate intoxicating distraction). In this context, Islam offers the Leftist Revolutionary a singularly effective vehicle for relieving that pressure (as that infamous Leftist terrorist of the 1980s, Carlos the Jackal, discovered since he converted to Islam in his Paris jail cell in recent years). Islam represents another cosmion outside the West
a ready-made immanentized eschaton such that the Westerner disaffected by his own West need not have to flail around trying to create out of thin air a Utopianist system. The Islamic cosmion is furthermore imbued with the attractive auras of being “ethnic”, historically venerable, untainted by Western Capitalism and other Western structural evils, and—perhaps most important of all—shares the disaffected Westerner’s anti-Western pathosin spades.

Conclusion:
Not only may we argue that Montaigne is the Godfatheror at least one of the Godfathersof Politically Correct Multi-Culturalism, but we may also tentatively state that he was one of the main founders of the Double Axiom of the PC MC paradigm, and of the Ego Quoque fallacy which tends to slide into the Ego Peior assumption.

Montaignes role in this process serves to show that PC MC has long historical roots, and would tend to disabuse the majority of those in the still inchoate Anti-Islam movement of their penchant for believing that PC MC must be a recent phenomenon without profound precursors.

This would push the roots of PC MC back to the 16th century, whereas previously I was under the impression that we probably could not trace any such roots clearly further back than the Enlightenment era of the late 18th century, even though I had a sense that there were vague prefigurations of this in the disturbances of the Reformation, and beyond that, in the endurance of various forms of Gnosticism in the medieval heresies. That vague Gnostic background is still arguable, but the relatively clear expression of assumptions in a 16th-century thinker like Montaigne that resemble current PC MC ideas has been an eye-opener for me, and shows me that we are dealing with an epochal process in Western civilization, not merely an extremely recent outbreak. What distinguishes the last 60 years is not, therefore, the substance and many of the particulars of PC MC ideasbut rather, its movement into mainstream dominance. This movement is in many ways probably the logical outcome of a much longer development since the Enlightenment era of the late 18th century, with several important crises and cataclysms and sociopolitical changes that erupted along the way throughout the 19th and 20th centuries providing significant forms of both expressions of that development, as well as accelerations of it.

The belief that PC MC is extremely recentonly going back to the beginning of the Counter-Cultural Revolution of the 1960sis part and parcel of the belief that it is relatively superficial in scope, and this in turn facilitates other conceits of dubious merit, such as that PC MC must be only the province of those dastardly Elites and not of us decent common folk; that it must be only Leftist in expression; that PC MC is thoroughly evil and that therefore those that follow it are evil too (i.e., consciously cognizant traitors to the West whether out of greed or out of ideology); that therefore PC MC is part of a Leftist-Marxist conspiracy to overthrow the West; and that what we have to do to protect ourselves from Islam is rise up in a civil war against our Elitistmasters who are colluding with Islam—and who will be easily toppled since they are only a tiny minority whereas we, the Common People, are the vast majority. And so forth.

On the contrary, all these assumptions seem to me to be sorely mistaken. And our most exigent need to dismantle PC MC from its position of mainstream dominancewhich is the single most important reason why the West continues to respond irrationally and suicidally to the menace of a global revival of Islamwill likely be hindered, not helped, by such misapprehensions of the nature and dimensions of PC MC.

4 comments:

Blode0322 said...

This is the most interesting and best-argued thing I have read on the web in months. I would love to see a couple of my dear ol' professors respond to it. A couple of them seemed to worship the ground Montaigne walked on, but I never got a clear idea if they were part of the PC MC albatross dangling from the neck of academe.

Your second-to-last paragraph skewers a number of notions I have believed in quite strongly from time to time. I wrestle with them because they are, quite simply, "not going without a fight" ... but your arguments are highly convincing.

Indeed, if we were to eradicate every last trace of political correctness from our minds, we would essentially lose our ability to self-criticize. I see no way around this - politesse, self-criticism, "putting yourself in the other bloke's shoes", humility - these virtues all blend into vices.

The question then is, how to "shrink the cancer" or "control the addiction" or some similar kind of metaphor. But I know the answer is likely to be very long.

Erich said...

Blode,

Thanks for your comments, I appreciate them. I too had a teacher in college who revered Montaigne as a proto-Modern Man.

Just to comment on some of your statements:

Re: "not going without a fight"

It depends on what the nature of the "fight" is. I maintain that the largest and most central aspect of the "fight" (i.e., the intra-Western argument pro and con Islam) is not a clearly binary Good Guys vs. Bad Guys scenario, but a much more complicated situation where most of the Good Guys are on the wrong side. The tendency I see from too many in the anti-Islam movement is, when they notice the massive data that indicates that most Good Guys are on the wrong side with regard to the issue of Islam, they tend to try to simplify the problem by doing one of two things:

1) deny that massive data and continue to insist that most good, decent folks (i.e., the majority throughout the West) are on the right side in this issue

2) re-define those Good Guys as bad guys.

"Indeed, if we were to eradicate every last trace of political correctness from our minds, we would essentially lose our ability to self-criticize. I see no way around this - politesse, self-criticism, "putting yourself in the other bloke's shoes", humility - these virtues all blend into vices."

Not necessarily. There is hope that they don't -- and that hope is rooted in the massive reality that the West, in former times, had more balance about the tension between self-criticism and self-praise with regard to non-Western cultures. As with all human movements, it was and is a process, and as with all human processes, it can never be solidified into permanent stability. Nevertheless, the West was healthier in this regard for centuries, and it can become so again. Whether it must be shocked in massively horrific ways -- by a non-Western people it insists must be benign -- in order to recover that kind of rationality, only time will tell.

"The question then is, how to "shrink the cancer" or "control the addiction" or some similar kind of metaphor. But I know the answer is likely to be very long."

Re my last paragraph above, the likely way it will play out will be a combination of the slow patient stillicide of a growing anti-Islam movement within the West, combined with horrific shocks coming from Muslims. The combination of these two will help to dismantle the PC MC paradigm, but as I see it, it probably won't be realized for several decades, probably an entire century. The longer it takes, the bloodier and messier will be the solution, but I have hope that the West will win in the end.

Blode0322 said...

Okay, now I know a new word - stillicide.

Redefining the good guys as bad guys - ridiculously tempting! Also counterproductive. So I guess the task you've outlined is: don't let our frustration with the PC Pollyannas allows us to think they are the devil incarnate. Remember that they're just unaware.

I think I'm going to tell all the smartest good people I know about this site. That's not very many ... you're sort of beyond the "grade level" of most people I know. But of course the moderately smart people can still benefit from Gates of Vienna I suppose.

Does anything beat Gates of Vienna for a simple recounting of events, of the kind that would establish a pattern of Islamization?

Traeh said...

One of your most interesting pieces, Hesperado. For the most part a maximally entertaining balance of the abstract on the one hand, and meditation on concrete historical facts and personalities on the other.

What you say about the bias toward primitive peoples because they are supposed to be "natural" and thus assumed to be superior to our supposedly "artificial" West, reminds me of part of Derrida's attitude to Western culture. Derrida does not privilege "nature" or primitives, but rather spent a great deal of time challenging that very bias. Derrida criticized what he took to be a central Western illusion going back to the ancient Greeks, namely the notion that nature is superior to culture, presence to absence, speech to writing. Despite all the absurdities and foolishness of "Deconstruction," Derrida in that respect agrees with your critique. But his work perhaps shows that the roots of PCMC go all the way back to the birth of Greek philosophy. Here's an excerpt from Encyclopedia Brit on Derrida:

Derrida is most celebrated as the principal exponent of deconstruction, a term he coined for the critical examination of the fundamental conceptual distinctions, or “oppositions,” inherent in Western philosophy since the time of the ancient Greeks. These oppositions are characteristically “binary” and “hierarchical,” involving a pair of terms in which one member of the pair is assumed to be primary or fundamental, the other secondary or derivative. Examples include nature and culture, speech and writing, mind and body, presence and absence, inside and outside, literal and metaphorical, intelligible and sensible, and form and meaning, among many others. To “deconstruct” an opposition is to explore the tensions and contradictions between the hierarchical ordering assumed or asserted in the text and other aspects of the text’s meaning, especially those that are indirect or implicit. Such an analysis shows that the opposition is not natural or necessary but a product, or “construction,” of the text itself.
The speech/writing opposition, for example, is manifested in texts that treat speech as a more authentic form of language than writing. These texts assume that the speaker’s ideas and intentions are directly expressed and immediately “present” in speech, whereas in writing they are comparatively remote or “absent” and thus more easily misunderstood. As Derrida points out, however, speech functions as language only to the extent that it shares characteristics traditionally assigned to writing, such as absence, “difference,” and the possibility of misunderstanding. This fact is indicated by philosophical texts themselves, which invariably describe speech in terms of examples and metaphors drawn from writing, even in cases where writing is explicitly claimed to be secondary to speech. Significantly, Derrida does not wish simply to invert the speech/writing opposition—i.e., to show that writing is really prior to speech. As with any deconstructive analysis, the point is to restructure, or “displace,” the opposition so as to show that neither term is primary.


Deconstruction has played a large, and negative role in support of the PCMC paradigm, of course. And that despite the fact that it de-privileges nature and the noble savage. Deconstruction tends to turn relativism into an absolute, and that is one way of summing up PCMC.