A new essay from the ever-insightful Fjordman:
I have commented that there is an undercurrent of anti-Western self-loathing permeating parts of our popular culture and our news media. There is. But there are also some other trends worth studying.
I watched the movie Superman Returns recently. I knew it had received some criticism in advance. Rather than Superman’s traditional motto “truth, justice and the American way,” his mission had now been transformed to “truth, justice and all that stuff” by scribes Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris. “The world has changed. The world is a different place,” Harris said. “The truth is he’s an alien. He was sent from another planet. He has landed on the planet Earth, and he is here for everybody. He’s an international superhero.” “We were always hesitant to include the term ‘American way’ because the meaning of that today is somewhat uncertain,” Dougherty explained.
Some commentators complained that Superman had adopted too much of the “metrosexual” trend and had been reduced from the Man of Steel to the Flying Girlie-Man. I think they were being too hard on Superman. Sure, he probably wears more mascara than his great love Lois Lane, but he still fights the bad guys and kicks their asses.
The Superman Returns movie by itself is a decent movie, but not a classic. It is mainly interesting because it is part of a wave of successful superhero and fantasy movies in recent years. Why do we show such an interest in superheroes? Why now? Superman was invented during the troubled economic times of the Great Depression. He was created by Canadian artist Joe Shuster and American writer Jerry Siegel in 1932, although he first appeared in 1938. He was a popular character in the 1950s and 1960s, when the West lived in material comfort, but also in fear of a global nuclear war between the two superpowers. He quite literally died as a cartoon character in the 1990s, after the threat of such a showdown seemed to have disappeared. I personally think the 1990s should be dubbed the Seinfeld Decade, after the funny, but rather navel-gazing friends of Jerry Seinfeld, preoccupied with the little things in life. The 90s as an historical epoch lasted from the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 to the terror attacks of September 11th, 2001. It was a period when the West didn’t feel that it was faced with any major ideological threats, and hence indulged in decadence and irony as a sigh of relief after the Cold War had ended.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but is the sudden reappearance of superheroes exemplified by Superman, Spider-Man and swarms of other similar characters a sign of a renewed sense of vulnerability and insecurity in the West following the Jihad attacks of 9/11? Another closely related meta-trend is the renewed popularity of fantasy literature. In online magazine The American Thinker, blogger Bookworm has some interesting comments to the surge in fantasy literature and some of the values we are presented there. J.K. Rowling’s enormously successful books about teenage wizard Harry Potter have been belittled as merely “silly books for children.” But as Bookworm notes, some of the later books such as Order of the Phoenix are much darker than its predecessors. It “centers on Harry’s desperate efforts to convince the Powers That Be that evil once again walks among them. Only with tremendous effort is he able to rally some believers to his side and prepare them for war.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Rowling’s dark tone continues unabated — indeed, it deepens — in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. “Harry questions whether it’s worthwhile engaging in a fight so destructive to the Wizarding community. [His mentor] Dumbledore will have none of this. Essentially, he tells Harry that, in the battle between Good and Evil, those on the side of Good cannot give up, but must press ahead, knowing that they are doing the right thing.”
Evil wizard Lord Voldemort, who killed Harry’s parents, is terrorizing society together with his followers, murdering all those who stand in their way. He is so feared that most people dare not mention his name, referring to him only as “You-Know-Who” or “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.” Harry will have nothing of this and insists on calling Voldemort by his real name. As his best female friend Hermione Granger says: “Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.”
Did the dark wizard Voldemort have a difficult childhood? Yes, he was an orphan. But so was his nemesis Harry Potter, and he still didn’t become evil. The difference between the two lies not in their background or their abilities, but in their choices. Sometimes people don’t do evil things because they have a troubled past or a difficult present, sometimes they do evil things simply because they are evil or deliberately choose to do evil.
Far from being “silly books for children,” the story of Harry Potter in fact contains murder, betrayal and terrorism, but also bravery as well as some highly politically incorrect ideas about Just War. In Harry Potter’s fictional Britain, some people are simply evil and should be confronted and crushed, and if necessary killed. In real life Britain, PM Blair and others are afraid to name the enemy, and launch ridiculous attempts at dialogue with terrorists. Let’s see: Naming your enemy, confronting him to defeat him and, if necessarily kill him. Thumbs up for Harry Potter, thumbs down for Tony Blair. Isn’t it a bit sad that the main person left in the UK standing up to and clearly identifying evil is a fictional teenager?
The Lord of the Rings by British author J. R. R. Tolkien, written against the backdrop of WW2, saw a surge of interest following the 2001-2003 release of the movies made by Kiwi director Peter Jackson. Besides being excellent advertisement for Jackson’s native New Zealand, one of the few countries of the world to rival the fjords of Norway for scenic beauty, it contains much of the same message as Rowling’s books. It praises traditional values such as honor, loyalty, bravery and steadfastness. As Bookworm notes: “The movie’s story acknowledges that evil exists and recognizes that the only thing to be done against evil is to attack it, root and branch. A war against evil is a total war, from which one cannot walk away. The Fellowship of the Ring has no talk about trying to understand Saruman’s unhappy childhood as a way of exonerating his evil acts.”
Why do so many people like the Lord of the Rings book and movies? There are probably many reasons for this, but I suspect one of them is the refreshing idea of defending your civilization and your lands against evil, as well as praising old-fashioned virtues such as honor, dignity and pride in your heritage. Predictably, Leftist, pro-Islamic newspaper The Guardian has criticized Tolkien’s work for its “stereotypes,” and radical feminists are suspicious of its display of traditional masculinity.
In addition to the entertainment value, part of the enormous popularity of fantasy literature such as the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and the Narnia books of C. S. Lewis is because they provide us with a refuge from the suffocating anti-Western self-loathing of our age. In real life, we are taught that there is no such thing as “evil,” just different perspectives, which are equally valid as our own. Defending your country against invasion is “racism and xenophobia.” Terrorists murder people because they have suffered injustice in the past or “Islamophobia” in the present.
In this age of Multiculturalism and cultural relativism, the only places we can identify evil and fight it are in fictional worlds, be that the Middle Earth of Tolkien or the Hogwarts of JK Rowling. Maybe that’s why it’s such a relief to visit them, if only for a few hours. In the real West, our Universities would advice us to negotiate with Sauron and identify his legitimate grievances. Our media would say that the real reason why the Orcs kill people is because they suffer from institutionalized racism and Orcophobia. We would all get sensitivity training, invite Orcs to settle in our major cities by the millions and teach our children about the richness of Orc culture.
The 2001 Indian Nobel laureate in literature, V. S. Naipaul, has written in his book Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey and in its 1998 follow-up, Beyond Belief, about how people in Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia get their original culture subdued and erased by Arab cultural imperialism in the form of Islam. Naipaul now lives in Britain, but is not invested in the notion that Western civilization is in decline. ”That’s a romantic idea,” he said brusquely. ”A civilization which has taken over the world cannot be said to be dying. . . . It’s a university idea. People cook it up at universities and do a lot of lectures about it. It has no substance.” The ”philosophical diffidence” of the West, he maintains, will prevail over the ”philosophical shriek” of those who intend to destroy it.”
Naipaul has called Islam ”parasitic on that world’,’ meaning that the Islamic world itself creates very little, it can only feed off the achievements of others. The economic development of India and China he said, will ”completely alter the world,” and ”nothing that’s happening in the Arab world has that capacity.”
Another smart Asian, Singapore’s political mentor Lee Kuan Yew, agrees, and thinks that economically, there will be a shift from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific: “What is gradually happening is the restoration of the world balance to what it was in the early 19th century or late 18th century when China and India together were responsible for more than 40 percent of world GDP. With those two countries becoming part of the globalized trading world, they are going to go back to approximately the level of world GDP that they previously occupied. But that doesn’t make them the superpowers of the world.”
Still, even though V. S. Naipaul is optimistic on behalf of the West, he does notice a loss of cultural confidence, which Multiculturalism is the most obvious indication of. Western Europe today lacks ”a strong cultural life,” making it vulnerable to Islamicization. He says Muslim women shouldn’t wear headscarves in the West. ”If you decide to move to another country and to live within its laws you don’t express your disregard for the essence of the culture,” he said. ”It’s a form of aggression.”
The West is indeed in decline in global importance. As Naipaul himself points out, there is spectacular economic growth in many Third World countries. The West is declining as a percentage of world population, and in danger of being overwhelmed by immigration from poorer countries with booming populations.
Yes, the West has “taken over the world” in the sense that Western civilization is the first civilization in history to have had a truly global impact. The fact that Western influence has reached every corner of the planet has created a truly interconnected world system for the first time ever. Ironically, this is one of the reasons for the West’s relative decline. We feel guilty because we have conquered the world, which makes it difficult for us to maintain our own borders and cultures.
The population explosion in many other parts of the world, which is making the West increasingly demographically marginal, has been greatly facilitated by the technological globalization, the spread of medical advances, improved food transportation etc. that has been facilitated by the West.
Moreover, when the West experienced the breakthroughs of the Scientific and the Industrial Revolutions, this happened in relative isolation compared to the world as it is today. It is now impossible for one region or civilization to achieve, far less maintain, such as huge technological lead as we did for some time. Technological advances spread around the planet within years, months, or even seconds, not generations or centuries.
Westerners need to adjust our self-image to being just one of several powerful civilizations in the 21st century. It’s not the end of the world. Certainly not of the non-Western world, but not necessarily of the West, either. The West needs to acknowledge its own relative, global decline and embrace its vulnerability.
The question isn’t whether we will be such a powerful force in the world in the 21st century as we have been in the past. We almost certainly won’t. The question is whether the West will survive intact. Our dealings with the world should be adjusted accordingly. We have no obligation to “save” the Islamic world, and do not have the financial strength or the demographic numbers to do so even if we wanted to. We are not all-powerful and are not in the position to help all of the Third World out of poverty, certainly not by allowing all of them to move here. The West must first of all save itself.
We have cultures and countries that we’d like to preserve, too, and cannot and should not be expected to accept unlimited number of migrants from other countries. Indeed, due to massive immigration we have growing Third World ghettos within our own cities.
Thai citizens were recently warned against travelling to France because of the threat of crime. Stop for a minute to think about the implications of this. Thailand is usually considered a developing country, although it takes part in the economic growth of Asia, whereas France has traditionally been a developed, industrialized country. And now visitors from developing countries are complaining about…..the lack of public law and order. Immigration is erasing the differences between developing and developed nations.
The makers of the film Brick Lane about a Bangladeshi woman sent to London for an arranged marriage have cancelled filming in the London area where it is set owing to opposition from the Bangladeshi community there. Some members of the Bangladeshi community claim that the original novel, by Monica Ali, is “insulting.” “The people [of Brick Lane] have been humiliated, and they [the film-makers] should not come near to them.” Welcome to third World Europe.
We need to regain our cultural confidence and reject Multiculturalism. Our civilization is worth saving, despite what some of our anti-Western and post-Western intellectuals claim. It does neither ourselves nor the world any good if we are replaced by Islamic barbarism.
British PM Tony Blair has confessed to reading the Koran, which he has praised for its wisdom. The Bush administration has added a copy of the Koran to the White House library, and one must hope that some of them read it. Perhaps somebody should quietly slip them a copy of the Lord of the Rings or the latest book about Harry Potter. Maybe our Western leaders could learn something about Just War, identifying your enemy and confronting evil from these books.
Note to Mr. Blair: There is more wisdom in the tales of Harry Potter than there ever will be in the Koran.