Kings of Nothing: Steve King, Geert Wilders, and Western Civilization

“[Dutch Prime Minister candidate Geert] Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”
Rep. Steve King, Twitter

“They’re importing a different culture, a different civilization — and that culture and civilization, the imported one, rejects the host culture…They are supplanting Western civilization with Middle Eastern civilization.”
Rep. Steve King, speaking to Breitbart

If I were “Western Civilization” on trial, I would not want Rep. Steve King as my defense attorney. That would be like Ben Affleck defending “Acting”, Guy Fieri defending “Eating Vegetables”, or Kim Jong-un defending “Not Being So Crazy You Make Charles Manson Sound Like Neil deGrasse Tyson”).

Rep. Steve King is correct, if you accept that “Western Civilization” is more of a narrative construct than a real thing — that means if you buy into post-modern thought, narrative constructs, the inherent subjectivity of all human experience (all those being things that Rep. King probably wants to cram into a rocket and blast into the sun revolving around a flat earth).

In that sense, the experience of “Western Civilization” under attack is really the experience of people who are suffering real and perceived harm from changes — “how you feel about the world and your place in it” changes, quality of living changes, “affordability of essential healthcare” changes, “competition for resources and jobs and money” changes, “the old ways don’t work for me anymore” changes, etc.

But Rep. Steve King is scientifically and historically ignorant about “Western Civilization” when measured by his own standards, the instruments & intellectual schools of thought central to (and emergent from) that very same “Western” Tradition:

  • e.g. the Socratic method, Judeo-Christian religion, Newtonian physics, Aristotelian inquiry
  • e.g. the language and numbers of demographics, anthropology, math — measured with the naked eye and augmented with technology

Rep. King is also politicizing that ignorance, something frowned upon by every “Western” icon from Moses to Mr. Winston Churchill.

Let’s set aside for now the idea of “restoring” something that never really existed. As if “Western Civilization” is some kind of older Operating System that we rashly replaced on all of our computers and smartphones, but can reinstall from a sacred backup (somewhere in “the cloud”)…because <SARCASM> an Operating System has nothing to do with the physical constraints of resources, a device’s purpose, the users, etc. </SARCASM>. Keep shoving that punch card into the HDMI slot.

You have to wonder about where Rep. King situates “Western Civilization” in earth’s geography and timeline, and its relationship to everything else. Is this a mashup of Evolution and Eschatology, where nothing precedes WC and nothing but destruction can follow it?

Is WC part of the same demographics of human migration out of Africa, where we now know humans first began working with tools for material function (industry) *and* artistic expression (intelligence)?

Is WC the same unified entity that has fought millennia of wars among itself over land, resources, power, trading rights, religious authority, and sometimes even just pride — including a war that almost ended with mutually assured nuclear annihilation (depending on whether you count the USSR/Russia as a member of “Western Civilization”, which Rep. King might because of their antagonistic engagement with Muslims)?

Is WC as incompatible with “someone else’s babies” as the mammals whose communities must continually bring new & foreign DNA into the gene pool — in order to stay healthy, productive, competitive, and resilient to environmental changes?

Is WC part of the same “host culture” as the Romans were to Judeo-Christianity, a Middle Eastern religious culture that so totally intertwined itself with the Roman Empire that it even today influences patterns of governance, trade, warfare and diplomacy?

Is WC part of the same intellectual history of Perception v.s. Reality as depicted by Greek playwright Sophocles in Antigone, where a mentally damaged tyrant hides his abuse of power and suppression of dissent with a distorted idea of “tradition”?

What would happen if people like Rep. King would really examine “Western Civilization” today on its own terms — as scientifically honest as Galileo, as intellectually critical as a Plato or a Socrates, as concerned with its soul as a Jesus, as mathematically exact as an Einstein, as precisely described as a Leonardo Da’Vinci, as unscrupulously analyzed as a Machiavelli, as economically minded as an Adam Smith, as politically passionate as a Lincoln or a Kennedy or a Reagan?

Then he would have to look at the facts, all of the facts, as they really are now. He would have to use every applicable tool and framework. He would have to factor in the known as well as unknown. He would even have to factor in new theories of the mind and of the history of the earth and the living things that inhabit it.

Then Rep. King would have to look at “Western Civilization” as a narrative in the context of a larger narrative of Life and Luck, where people do really struggle to make good decisions against a world of physical restraints, biological impulses, natural-environmental pressures, cultural influences, institutional obstacles, etc.

Then Rep. King would have to look at “Western Civilization” as a framework or story to describe the experience of a particular self-identifying group that emerges successfully out of unique conditions, conditions that are definitely not totally controlled by that group (there’s a reason the Europeans were so fond of “Divine Providence”, especially when finding North America, a continent so exquisitely abundant with natural wealth and strong ocean barriers against invading armies).

Even if he just wanted to look at the experienced narrative of “Western Civilization”, he would have to admit that underlying the superficial “clash of civilizations” are fundamental patterns of reciprocity and mutually benefit…even if these patterns happen along a long “arc of history” stretching over years of death and destruction and ignorance and cruelty.

If he did that, then he would have to see his Tweets and Breitbart comments as highly questionable (at best) and outright ridiculous (at worst).

What NPR Won’t Let You Say About South Sudan

South Sudanese are “warring tribes of superstitious yahoos”. We need to send more American Peace Corps volunteers to “teach them about such things as public sanitation, proper nutrition…and birth control.” South Sudan’s problems are a result of “Muslim hegemony.”

These are the NPR-allowed comments underneath the article “Nothing Is Going Right In The World’s Newest Nation”.

Just don’t say anything about the pitying-patronizing tone of Western journalism towards South Sudan or its addiction to “conflict and poverty” porn.

Just like Mad Max at the Oscars, Right?

Don’t challenge the article’s assertion that “South Sudan needs a definitive end to its civil conflict before it can solve any of its other problems.” Certainly don’t mention that trade between communities could help create peace.

Don’t bring up the successes of South Sudanese challenging this “helpless victim” narrative — such as the farming cooperative that sent South Sudan’s first export to the USA, the cooperative that built the country’s first maize-grinding mill, or the women who showcase their art at fashion shows in LA and New York.

Don’t mention that South Sudan’s conflict has “start” and “end” points outside the cramped boundaries drawn by foreign observers. So don’t mention a hostile geography and climate (good for diseases, hard on mammals), violent collisions with other civilizations (neighboring tribes, the Egyptian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, then the British Empire), or the mixed results of post-colonial foreign intervention of aid, armed forces and diplomacy.

And whatever you do, don’t try to change this status quo.

Current Status

Hollywood’s Image of “Africa”

Intriguing. Applies to news media as well as how non-whites and non-males are presented in American film/tv, even documentaries.

If the recurring stories and characters are too limited, how does one not just create new characters and stories but make those new characters and stories part of the mainstream?

Seems like a combination of pioneering and gradual process.

Sometimes rewriting an old story with a new kind of character works really well. Blade, for example, would have been a miserable movie with a white male protagonist (see Van Helsing for proof).

As another example, I was just watching watching Die Hard 3 and I think it would have been outstanding if Samuel L. Jackson’s character rather than John Mcclane was the protagonist (e.g. McClane gets critically injured at the beginning of the film so Jackson has to do everything and save the day).

I think SciFi/Fantasy (including the catch-all “Alternate History” genre) opens up exciting possibilities, less constrained by history and contemporary politics.

Why does this matter? Perhaps because it limits the commercial success of the American film industry. Perhaps because “Hollywood” in the abstract sense is America’s “Grimm’s Fairy Tales”, a collection of stories and characters with social-political context and purpose that mold our national identity. And perhaps because that abstract “Hollywood” is also part of how the USA exercises power beyond its borders.