Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The problem with cultural equivalencism

The term cultural equivalencism is usually expressed by the mantra "all cultures are the same" -- more recently, to assuage the anxiety aroused by the problem of Islam and its challenges to the PC MC paradigm, translated into "all religions are the same".

There are two problems with cultural equivalencism.

First, not every cross-cultural sociopolitical issue or constellation of issues is as abstractly equivalent and neatly symmetrical as origami. Sometimes there are singularities. This reflexive impulse to say "all religions are the same" in a sweeping way would be like saying "all foods are the same". Yes, all foods are the same in terms of certain criteria (they all nourish; they all are eatable; etc.); but they also differ in terms of certain other criteria.

Secondly, often this idée fixe about trans-cultural equality masks -- whether intentionally or incoherently -- an ulterior belief in inequality: viz., that in fact there is one culture out there (the West) which is inferior and all others are superior to it, with the leveling of the playing field -- a kind of cross-cultural affirmative action program -- merely a rhetorical and/or conceptual step toward such anti-Western supremacism. And the supremely bitter-comic irony about this is that this anti-Western supremacism has been, for several decades (with historical roots going back centuries), promoted most earnestly and comprehensively -- not to mention financially and institutionally -- by Westerners themselves!

Then we have the ironic curiosity of a Leftist Obama -- whose rise to the Presidency attracted the support of nearly all liberals and radical Leftists, to the extent that ultra-radical Che Guevara supporters and Maoists and card-carrying Communists as well as a motley group of Trotskyites and Anarchists and even ex-terrorists who had given up on the Democratic party long ago as "corrupt" all came out of the woodwork to hail Obama as their hope -- basically behaving no differently than Bush geopolitically. However, the OBushma geopolitics is basically predicated upon a uniquely Western paradigm of Wilsonianism that rests on a fundamental incoherency of "We are worse because we are better" -- and in order to assuage our moral shame at being better, we feel we are obliged to "help" the world.

And what makes this Western neurosis even more convoluted -- perhaps triply ironic -- is that we more often than not do help the world in massively and diversely beneficent ways; and yet meanwhile we continue to prattle on about how we are the worst offenders of the world and we are ruining the world. This cultural incoherency bordering on schizophrenia then, in turn, becomes fodder to be exploited by non-Westerners (and most slyly and adroitly of all, the clever Mohammedan) -- essentially using the anxious Western liberal's self-hatred against him; who in his turn, masochistically agrees and colludes.

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