Wednesday, 1 August 2018

"Western civilisation is not a product of geography. It is a body of knowledge and values. Any individual, any society, is potentially capable of adopting it and thereby becoming 'Westernised'."


This seems to me important: in the week that so-called defenders of western civilisation arrive here instead to impugn it, to take advantage of one of its highest values, it seems to me to be important to remind ourselves (or to learn, if we never have) what the nature of western civilisation really is. Would-be upholders of western values must not only understand their source and nature, they must know enough to defend them from both their obvious antagonists, and from those who (falsely) claim to defend them.

So what is the nature of western civilisation? To my mind, the clearest description is George Reisman's* :

The Nature of Western Civilisation
In order to understand the implications, it is first necessary to remind oneself what Western civilisation is. From a historical perspective, Western civilisation embraces two main periods: the era of Greco-Roman civilisation and the era of modern Western civilisation, which latter encompasses the rediscovery of Greco-Roman civilisation in the late Middle Ages, and the periods of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution. 
Modern Western civilisation continues down to the present moment, of course, as the dominant force in the culture of the countries of Western Europe and the United States and the other countries settled by the descendants of West Europeans. It is an increasingly powerful force in the rapidly progressing countries of the Far East, such as Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, whose economies rest on "Western" foundations in every essential respect. 
From the perspective of intellectual and cultural content, Western civilisation represents an understanding and acceptance of the following: the laws of logic; the concept of causality and, consequently, of a universe ruled by natural laws intelligible to man; on these foundations, the whole known corpus of the laws of mathematics and science; the individual's self-responsibility based on his free will to choose between good and evil; the value of man above all other species on the basis of his unique possession of the power of reason; the value and competence of the individual human being and his corollary possession of individual rights, among them the right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness; the need for limited government and for the individual's freedom from the state; on this entire preceding foundation, the validity of capitalism, with its unprecedented and continuing economic development in terms of division of labor, technological progress, capital accumulation, and rising living standards; in addition, the importance of visual arts and literature depicting man as capable of facing the world with confidence in his power to succeed, and music featuring harmony and melody.
So much, so straightforward -- and so important too to realise that the defining characteristic of western civilisation is not one that is defined by race; that it is not defined by being (for example) "Anglo-Saxon." This is not just nonsense, it’s nasty – and in today’s interconnected and easily-led world, it’s dangerous nonsense.

The truth, as George Reisman so patiently goes on to explain, is that Western civilisation is neither Anglo-Saxon nor Semitic: it is in fact and in achievement the property of no particular race or of any particular ethnic group. This is of course one of its many great virtues -- that (while not yet being universal) western civilisation is fully universalisable; that is, it is open to everyone. In this sense, western culture is like an invitation to the dance, a welcome in.

I remember once trying to explain this to Tariana Turia, just before I headed off to see the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra under at Peruvian conductor perform a Russian concerto with a Chinese soloist and players from almost every other part of the world. "That," I said to her by way of exemplar, "is western civilisation in action." And so it was: it is the universalisability of the culture -- a culture that is blind to race or origin, and open instead to achievement.

She sniffed; you shouldn't, because it’s a crucial concept for would-be defenders of western civilisation to grasp. (And, sadly, one that to few of its alleged advocates do …).
The Universalisability of Western Civilisation
Once one recalls what Western civilisation is, the most important thing to realise about it is that it is open to everyone. Indeed, important elements of "Western" civilisation did not even originate in the West. The civilisation of the Greeks and Romans incorporated significant aspects of science that were handed down from Egypt and Babylon. Modern "Western" civilisation includes contributions from people living in the Middle East and in China during the Dark Ages, when Western Europe had reverted to virtual barbarism. Indeed, during the Dark Ages, "Western" civilisation resided much more in the Middle East than in Western Europe. (It is conceivable that if present trends continue, in another century it might reside more in the Far East than in the West.) 
The truth is that just as one does not have to be from France to like French- fried potatoes or from New York to like a New York steak, one does not have to have been born in Western Europe or be of West European descent to admire Western civilisation, or, indeed, even to help build it. Western civilisation is not a product of geography. It is a body of knowledge and values. Any individual, any society, is potentially capable of adopting it and thereby becoming "Westernised." The rapidly progressing economies of the Far East are all "Western" insofar as they rest on a foundation of logic, mathematics, science, technology, and capitalism--exactly the same logic, mathematics, science, technology, and capitalism that are essential features of "Western" civilisation. 
For the case of a Westernised individual, I must think of myself. I am not of West European descent. All four of my grandparents came to the United States from Russia, about a century ago. Modern Western civilisation did not originate in Russia and hardly touched it. The only connection my more remote ancestors had with the civilisation of Greece and Rome was probably to help in looting and plundering it. Nevertheless, I am thoroughly a Westerner. I am a Westerner because of the ideas and values I hold. I have thoroughly internalised all of the leading features of Western civilisation. They are now my ideas and my values. Holding these ideas and values as I do, I would be a Westerner wherever I lived and whenever I was born. I identify with Greece and Rome, and not with my ancestors of that time, because I share the ideas and values of Greece and Rome, not those of my ancestors. To put it bluntly, my ancestors were savages--certainly up to about a thousand years ago, and, for all practical purposes, probably as recently as four or five generations ago. 
I know nothing for certain about my great grandparents, but if they lived in rural Russia in the middle of the nineteenth century, they were almost certainly totally illiterate, highly superstitious, and primitive in every way. On winter nights, they probably slept with farm animals in their hut to keep warm, as was once a common practice in Northern Europe, and were personally filthy and lice infested. I see absolutely nothing of value in their "way of life," if it can be called a way of life, and I am immeasurably grateful that my grandparents had the good sense to abandon it and come to America, so that I could have the opportunity of becoming a "Westerner" and, better still, an American "Westerner," because, in most respects, since colonial times, the United States has always been, intellectually and culturally, the most Western of the Western countries. 
Thus, I am a descendant of savages who dwelt in Eastern Europe--and before that probably the steppes of Asia--who has been Westernised and now sees the world entirely through a Western "lens," to use the term of the critics of "Eurocentrism." Of course, it is not really a lens through which I see the world. It is much more fundamental than that. I have developed a Western mind, a mind enlightened and thoroughly transformed by the enormous body of knowledge that represents the substance of Western civilisation, and I now see the world entirely on the basis of that knowledge. For example, I see the world on the foundation of the laws of logic, mathematics, and science that I have learned. And whenever something new or unexpected happens, which I do not understand, I know that it must nevertheless have a cause which I am capable of discovering. In these respects, I differ profoundly from my savage ancestors, who lacked the knowledge to see the world from a scientific perspective and who probably felt helpless and terrified in the face of anything new or unknown because, lacking the principle of causality and knowledge of the laws of logic, they simply had no basis for expecting to be able to come to an understanding of it.
[…]
There is no need for me to dwell any further on my own savage ancestors. The plain truth is that everyone's ancestors were savages--indeed, at least 99.5 percent of everyone's ancestors were savages, even in the case of descendants of the founders of the world's oldest civilisations. For mankind has existed on earth for a million years, yet the very oldest of civilisations--as judged by the criterion of having possessed a written language--did not appear until less than 5,000 years ago. The ancestors of those who today live in Britain or France or most of Spain were savages as recently as the time of Julius Caesar, slightly more than 2,000 years ago. Thus, on the scale of mankind's total presence on earth, today's Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Spaniards earn an ancestral savagery rating of 99.8 percent. The ancestors of today's Germans and Scandinavians [and Scots!] were savages even more recently and thus today's Germans and Scandinavians probably deserve an ancestral savagery rating of at least 99.9 percent. 
It is important to stress these facts to be aware how little significance is to be attached to the members of any race or linguistic group achieving civilisation sooner rather than later. Between the descendants of the world's oldest civilisations and those who might first aspire to civilisation at the present moment, there is a difference of at most one-half of one percent on the time scale of man's existence on earth. 
These observations should confirm the fact that there is no reason for believing that civilisation is in any way a property of any particular race or ethnic group. It is strictly an intellectual matter--ultimately, a matter of the presence or absence of certain fundamental ideas underlying the acquisition of further knowledge.
* These passages are excerpted from George Reisman’s pamphlet ‘Education & the Racist Road to Barbarism,’ which thoroughly explains and pretty much explodes the process and the arguments (or lack thereof) behind so-called multiculturalism (i.e., the notion that all cultures are equal). Spending an evening reading that would be far more valuable to you than throwing your money away being trolled by barbarians.
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20 comments:

  1. Molyneux is perhaps, but I've seen no evidence that Southern is a racist or white supremacist. That's certainly the left's narrative, but I can't see it. She's against immigration from foreign cultures where the rate of immigration exceeds the likely ability to assimilate into Western values - but in our current context so are a lot of other people you wouldn't accuse of being racist, some of whom are even Objectivists. Perhaps she's failing to see Molyneux's flaws, but I wouldn't be too hard on that when she's only 23 years old.

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    1. On what basis do you consider him to be racist?

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    2. I’ve barely listened to him so I can’t offer proof, nor can I be certain . But Peter has, he’s made that conclusion, and I generally trust Peter’s judgement. On that basis alone it seems likely, if not conclusive. He’s also offered detailed arguments against Molyneux that seemed reasonable. In Southern’s case he’s offered no specific crtitique, and his general conclusion about her is not supported by what I’ve seen to date. As you get older you develop an increasing ability to sense insincerity, and I don’t see it in her. In the back of my mind I’ve allowed for the possibility that her physical attractiveness is clouding my judgement, but I don’t think it is.

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    3. In the interests of the virtue of justice it would pay to validate it. Peter isn't always correct. He is wrong about Tommy Robinson being a racist, bigoted nazi. I found this, from Robert Tracinski:

      http://tracinskiletter.com/2016/10/02/a-libertarian-icons-descent-into-racist-pseudoscience/

      If you go to the first video offered as evidence of his racism, linked in the eleventh paragraph, you'll find at the 16 minute mark evidence that he is not a racist.

      It isn't racist to entertain the possible validity of a link between iq and genetics. If a link exists, then it is just a fact of reality. Nothing more and nothing less. At the 16 minute mark he shows a commitment to individualism.

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  2. By what standard do you judge them to be barbarians?

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    1. That was a poor question on my part, because I know by what standard. What I'd like to see is the evidence of their racism. Actual real evidence, and not just leftist slander.

      (Apologies if this isn't a duplicate post. I've had login problems.)

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  3. Western Civilisation is the collected cultures, values and shared history of the white people. That other peoples borrow aspects of it doesn't make them Western. This is so obvious it should not need stating. I don't know why people find this difficult or controversial.

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  4. Allow me to translate what I’ve just heard you say into clearer terms:

    “Western Civilisation is the product of superior reasoning and values. But none of us have any control over our thoughts or the values we adopt. Reason is not something we choose. It’s all determined by our skin colour you see. Rationality is not something I can choose to enact, I just have to follow the behaviour dictated by my skin colour. Reason is only allowed by virtue of my white skin. How do I know this? Because for the last 500 years out of mankind’s ~500,000 year history, most of our achievements came from Europe, and in Europe most people have white skin. Forget the fact that we all descended 65,000 years ago from one woman in Africa, forget the fact that 3,000-10,000 years ago the centre of civilisation lay in the Middle East rather than Europe. Forget the fact that I know from introspection that I have choice over the decisions I make (and by extension every other human being probably does too). All that matters is that I feel the need to feel superior, and because I can’t justify my superiority on the basis of what I’ve actually done with my life, I’m going to take the easy route and claim it because of what my ancestors with similar skin colour did. I don’t know why people find this difficult or controversial”

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  6. Where did I say anything about superiority? Peoples create civilisations. Ways of being. I happen to prefer Western Civilisation but that is just my own bias. Chinese people produce Chinese culture and most of them like it I presume. It suits them. Same with Arabs, Japanese etc. Many of us feel our civilisation is in danger and we intend to defend it. It an atavistic survival urge. I get the Randian devotion to reason, I used to be one, but it all falls apart when dealing with peopl who are not reasonable.

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    1. You’re right, you didn’t say anything about superiority. But I thought it was implied. Now when challenged, you say that Western Civilisation is “just your bias”. In other words there’s nothing inherently better about Western Civilisation, compared to say Islamic Fundamentalism. You just support the value systems determined by your skin colour, without any reason. You’re in favour of Western Civilisation because your skin is white, and a Somalia must be in favour of Sharia law because their skin is black. None is better than the other because you both just have your biases. You used to believe in reason, and therefore able to discern that one is better than the other. But because some people aren’t reasonable you’ve decided to follow them, and give up any attempt to differentiate a superior value system from an inferior one.

      Are you starting to see now the dead end alley you’re headed down? And how similar you’ve become to the Left?

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    2. the drunken watchman5 Aug 2018, 11:40:00

      Thomas Sowell‏ @ThomasSowell · Jul 31

      "Europe is belatedly discovering how unbelievably stupid it was to import millions of people from cultures that despise Western values and which often promote hatred toward the people who have let them in."


      Sowell is obviously a white supremacist :)

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    3. Drunken Watchman - You don't seem like a complete idiot, and so far I'm assuming you're genuine. So why can't you get it through your thick head that culture and race are not the same thing. The Left certainly conflate the two, but why do you insist on joining them? And even more bizarrely, why do you assume their arguments are mine?

      Ironic too that you're doing so whilst quoting a highly intelligent black man, that if left to Molyneux would probably be seen as undesirable due to an alleged casual connection between African genes and low IQ.

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    4. the drunken watchman6 Aug 2018, 11:42:00

      Mark, I really don't know what you are talking about. Obviously race and culture are not the same thing. I am not sure where in my text I gave you the impression I "joined them".... perhaps you would care to tell me? And where in my text I "assumed their arguments are [yours]"?

      As for conflating race and culture, perhaps you should point your finger at the labellers of anyone asking questioning Islamic immigration as "while supremacists". Hence, the intended irony of posting quote from Thomas Sowell - who would normally be labelled as a white supremacist but for the colour of his skin.

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    5. p.s MArk, ... but oh, yes, point taken that I have probably posted Thomas Sowell's comment on the wrong response thread, sorry if that was confusing

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  7. No influence of Christianity then?

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  8. the drunken watchman6 Aug 2018, 11:40:00

    Mark, I really don't know what you are talking about. Obviously race and culture are not the same thing. I am not sure where in my text I gave you the impression I "joined them".... perhaps you would care to tell me? And where in my text I "assumed their arguments are [yours]"?

    As for conflating race and culture, perhaps you should point your finger at the labellers of anyone asking questioning Islamic immigration as "while supremacists". Hence, the intended irony of posting quote from Thomas Sowell - who would normally be labelled as a white supremacist but for the colour of his skin.

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