A superb piece by David Thompson on the perils of the moral equivalence that is as common as breathing nowadays:
Last week, during a conversation about the “˜cartoon jihad” uproar, I used the phrase “emotional incontinence.” This did not go down well. I was promptly told, in no uncertain terms, that I mustn’t “impose” my own cultural values. Apparently, to do so would be a form of “cultural imperialism”, an archaic colonial hangover, and therefore unspeakably evil. I was, apparently, being “arrogantly ethnocentric” in considering Western secular society broadly preferable to a culture in which rioting, murder and genocidal threats can be prompted by the publication of a cartoon.
As the conversation continued, I was emphatically informed that to regard one set of cultural values as preferable to another was “racist” and “oppressive.” Indeed, even the attempt to make any such determination was itself a heinous act. I was further assailed with a list of examples of “Western arrogance, decadence, irreverence, and downright nastiness.” And I was reminded that, above all, I “must respect deeply held beliefs.” When I asked if this respect for deeply held beliefs extended to white supremacists, cannibals and ultra-conservative Republicans, a deafening silence ensued.
After this awkward pause, the conversation rumbled on. At some point, I made reference to migration and the marked tendency of families to move from Islamic societies to secular ones, and not the other way round. “This seems rather important,” I suggested. “If you want to evaluate which society is preferred to another by any given group, migration patterns are an obvious yardstick to use. Broadly speaking, people don’t relocate their families to cultures they find wholly inferior to their own.” Alas, this fairly self-evident suggestion did not meet with approval. No rebuttal was forthcoming, but the litany of Western wickedness resumed, more loudly than before.
This tendency to replace a coherent argument with lists of alleged Western wickedness and an air of self-loathing is hardly uncommon. Indeed, in certain quarters, it is difficult to avoid. In her increasingly baffling comment pieces, the Guardian’s Madeleine Bunting has made much of bemoaning “our preoccupation with things; our ever more desperate dependence on stimulants from alcohol to porn.” (One instantly pictures poor Madeleine surrounded by booze, drugs and pornography — and tearfully alienated by all of those other terrible material “things” she doesn’t like having, honest.)
In one infamous recent article, Bunting – a “leading thinker”, at least according to her employers — waved the flag for cultural relativism and denounced the idea of Enlightenment sensibilities: “Muscular liberals raise their standard on Enlightenment values — their universality, the supremacy of reason and a belief in progress”¦ It is an ideology of superiority that is profoundly old-fashioned — reminiscent of Victorian liberalism and just as imperialistic”¦” Bunting’s argument, such as it is, suggests no objective distinction should be made between democratic cultures in which freedom of belief and education for women are taken for granted, and theocratic societies in which those freedoms are curtailed or extinguished. As, for instance, when Islamic fundamentalists took umbrage at Western-funded school projects in Northern Pakistan and promptly destroyed the offending schools, on the basis that illiterate girls were being taught “˜un-Islamic” values.
Read it all.