March 31, 2009
Whom the Gods Would DestroyBy James Lewis
... they first make mad," said the Greeks. And they certainly knew what they were talking about, since what we call the Golden Age of Greece meant one savage war after another between the city-states, all of them riddled with plots, treason, sabotage and class war, along with unbridled hedonism, rebellion, tyranny, oppression, everyday slavery and finally miserable defeat in war.
Plato, Socrates and Aristotle yearned for a life of reason, because they saw so little of it in their own world. They became the intellectual founders of modern civilization, which also shows us a constant struggle between madness and reason. Human societies seem to be prone to madness. The life of reason, like perfect love, is an ideal that is never quite realized.
Which brings me to a certain madness in American culture today. I've come to believe there really is such a thing as American self-hatred. That sounds strange to my ears, because self-hatred is something we talk about for lifelong alcoholics who just can't kick the habit, or with lovelorn teenagers who live in despair about their uncontrollable zits. On a more serious level, self-hatred is tragically common among long-suffering peoples, like the Jews in Europe or Blacks in the time of Jim Crow. The great novels of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy are full of obsessional self-criticism of the Russian spirit, to the point of real self-hatred. It is the pre-eminent neurosis of the Old World, where people have fought for so many centuries that the dead hand of history is never gone. Self-hatred tends to go along with a long history of pain and suffering.
That is why the Balkans are always on the edge of genocide; every family keeps on rehearsing old, old injustices. I have a highly educated Hungarian friend who still feels furious about all the countries surrounding Hungary -- all those old enemies, the Poles, the Bulgarians, the Russians --- including the Hungarians themselves. I know a Bulgarian who can't stop thinking about what the Ottoman Turks did there before 1917. That's not unusual in those old killing-fields of Europe. European genocide did not start with Hitler and Stalin; the Soviets and Nazis just industrialized genocide. I have a Welsh acquaintance who is constantly wrestling with mixed feelings about the English, and an Irish friend who has never stopped hating the English for the Potato Famine of the 1840s. In England itself, after a century of socialist politics, the poor still hate the rich and want to get even.
Europe is constantly twisting over backwards trying to escape its history; which is why Europeans both love and hate America, because this country has always symbolized the promise of escape from the past.
Which brings me to my liberal American friends, who are all Europhiles. The reason is that they understand nothing about Europe, never having bothered to learn anything beyond the propaganda in their French and German textbooks. My liberal friends hate America to the same degree that they love Europe. It is astonishing; and they are impervious to facts and evidence. They seem to need that hatred, along with that fantasy love.
I know liberals who live in a world of dreams about the romantic lives of Native Americans, who constantly raided, raped, tortured and killed their neighbors. It wasn't Columbus and the Spanish but the first Siberian immigrants more than ten thousand years ago who killed all the giant fauna living in the Americas within a few generations of their arrival. My friends just worship tribal peoples who are, at the minimum, not very nice, in dealing with outsiders.
Liberal anthropologists who spent their lives studying stone-age peoples used to deny the vast number of credible reports about cannibalism, because it wasn't PC to admit it. They just thought it was the Yanamamo version of Monday Night Football. Then they finally, finally admitted that yes, there might be something to the cannibalism rumor -- because medical science finally showed that human beings have special immune resistance against brain infections, like Mad Cow Disease. It now turns out that cannibals eat the brains of other folks -- a fine delicacy, and very nutritious -- and that humans therefore evolved genetic protection against prion infections from eating other people's brains. It is the same reason why we carry immune protection against insect-borne viruses and bacteria. Human ancestors who stumbled into that immunity survived long enough to end up with ... us. Today most anthropologists seem to admit that yes, there must have been quite a lot of people-eating going on among those Noble Savages, before the missionaries came.
It took major discoveries in medicine to get anthropologists to admit the obvious. Everybody used to know about cannibals -- New Yorker cartoons had standard gags about missionaries being boiled in pots -- but the truth had to be erased by phony academic experts who denied the evidence of their own eyes. It all comes down to idealizing "The Other," and thereby smearing one's own: Self-hatred is the hidden secret of multiculturalism, and many other self-deceptions of the Left. The most boastfully compassionate folks have a lot of very angry feelings to hide, it seems.
Jane Goodall devoted her life to studying chimps in the wild, an heroic commitment because chimps are well-known to be dangerous. After the first decade of field work she was shocked, shocked, to find out that murder, infanticide and rape were everyday fare for her favorite critters. Bachelor groups of chimps routinely hit the borderlands to commit a little mayhem on neighboring clans. Chimp mobs run wild to chase down monkeys to eat. (Why did she think they had those long canine teeth? To peel bananas?)
Today the same myth-making seems to be going on with the Bonobo apes in the Congo, close relatives of the chimps, who we are told live a life of omnivorous sex and love, and never do anything nasty at all. Tear-jerking tales are told about Bonobos rescuing little baby elephants, and not for private consumption either. Usually it takes about ten years for wildlife biologists to fall out of love with their chosen species, and I am expecting any day to read that Bonobos get insanely jealous when their sex partners wander, or when those baby elephants grow up and start to act like rambunctious teenagers.
But this is not about chimps, nor about native peoples. I'm only talking about the incurable tendency of liberals to kowtow in awe of "The Other," as the trendy English professors like to call it. According to academic myth, The Other is supposed to be the scapegoat for one's own unacceptable side; there is something to that, but for the dominant culture of America today, the truth is exactly the opposite. For liberals, it is The Other who is above criticism, and it's the in-group -- like us folks -- who are irredeemably Evil. Why do you think they voted for Obama? To prove to themselves how much better they are. It certainly had nothing to do with the reality of picking a sensible leader for the country. Obama voters are living in a comic strip of their own devising, and it may take a really life-threatening national crisis for them to come down to earth. Just wait for the Iranian or North Korean Bomb, and we'll see.
The trouble with all that peace and love -- which I don't mind people fantasizing about -- is that seems to go along with a real hatred of one's own. It's interesting just to ask your nearest liberal friend -- "Can you say anything good about America? Anything at all?" -- and watch them flounder and stammer.
What are we to make of liberal Americans who live with obsessional hatred of their own country? Especially when their country is the most prosperous, lovable, and overall, the most benevolent country in the world?
(If you think others are more benevolent, check who has been supporting UNESCO and a hundred poor countries around the world. Or compare how much Saudi money goes to the Palestinians, even after the Saudi Royals have officially pledged millions. Or check to see who financed and carried out the Green Revolution that brought the Third World out of regular famines. Or... but you get the idea.)
I don't understand it at all. Maybe liberals just need to feel morally superior? Maybe they are acting out their Oedipus Complexes? Maybe they have just indoctrinated themselves over and over again with all the historical injustices rehearsed by American Blacks and Indians? Maybe they are really the Puritans of our age, a kind of persecutory cult of moral perfectionism?
So --- why all the self-hatred? I don't get it. I'm baffled.
All I know is that every single time I talk to a liberal, I get the same answer.
It's not good for the country. I wish they would just discover a leetle more tolerance and compassion towards their own country.