Enslaved by History: Parasite Privilege and the Silenced Majority
by Alexander Zubatov
A sometimes-express, sometimes-unspoken premise undergirds many of the revolts, riots, protests and one-sided diversity “dialogues” purporting to challenge the status quo in our cities and universities: the powers-that-be, imagined as white males, have created cultures that are comfortable for and hospitable to themselves and, to a lesser extent, to those of their female counterparts who are willing to fall in line, but subtly oppressive or openly hostile to racial, ethnic, religious, gender and sexual minorities of all stripes. Among many segments of society, this premise is a foundational principle, so that the only question of interest is not whether it is true but how it manifests itself and what must be done to combat its pernicious consequences. Thus, entire university departments and industries have proliferated dedicated to ferreting out every last explicit and implicit bias, consulting organizations on the creation of “more inclusive environments” and retraining those out of step with the program.
But what if the premise, however true it may have been awhile back, is now not only wrong but, in many respects, precisely backwards? A fascinating recent blog post from the prominent moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt (http://heterodoxacademy.org/2015/11/24/the-yale-problem-begins-in-high-school/) describes his experience lecturing at an elite private school on the West Coast where, while all students pay lip service to the value of classroom discussions in which everyone, no matter their views, feels the freedom to speak up (as opposed to an environment where those with “offensive” views keep their mouths shut), the reality is that some students feel far more at liberty than others to give voice to their concerns. Girls are far more comfortable than boys speaking up in discussions of gender issues, minorities are far more comfortable than white students in discussions of race issues and liberal students (who are an overwhelming majority in this school) feel far more comfortable expressing their political views than the small contingent of conservative students. These “less comfortable students” report feeling like they are “walking on eggshells.”
True, this is just one school. But we have every reason to believe and enough experience to know that it is representative of other, similar environments dominated by the political left, including, of course, nearly all academic institutions (here is one recent description of the stifling intellectual atmosphere at Brown University: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/12/06/brown-university-professor-denounces-mccarthy-witch-hunts.html), “progressive” organizations and the media, as well as any milieu the media saturates. That last clause bears emphasis, for in our age of omnipresent 24/7 media and its all-seeing, all-hearing vanguards and rearguards in the social media commentariat, there are increasingly few milieus into which the media and its brand of groupthink have not made significant incursions. Some people manage to confine themselves in a Fox News/conservative talk radio bubble, but the organizations from which they get their news and views, far outnumbered by their left-leaning counterparts, have been unable to resist the seismic shift in the political dialogue engineered by the advanced divisions of the P.C. Kulturkampf; our most basic notions of what words and views are acceptable in conversations that touch upon any protected category — and, at this point, it seems it is difficult to avoid such conversations even when one is trying one’s best to steer clear of the obvious landmines — have changed drastically. If, as W.E.B. DuBois had occasion to observe, white people could once live blissfully oblivious to what black people thought of them while black people had to monitor their behavior persistently because they could not but view themselves through the eyes of their white peers, the situation now has reversed itself: for all our overblown media propaganda about blacks living in fear of police violence (a bit more on that later), black people can and do generally strut about proudly and loudly, exhibiting themselves, their culture and their style with unabashed self-righteousness while would-be-inoffensive white people skulk fearfully through the shadows, monitoring their every move to make sure their progress is sufficiently respectful and none too self-assertive, keeping their culture (if they have any left) tightly in check and juggling within their damaged psyches yet a second level of fearfulness lest their dutiful show of timidity itself cause offense by inadvertently implying they are afraid of the black people in their midst. (For a good laugh in this respect, one can read, or, better, skim this recent pathetic and prominent instance of a white writer twisting herself into perverse publicly displayed contortions to boldly flee from the phantom of “white debt”: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/06/magazine/white-debt.html?_r=0).)
The roles, in other words, are being rapidly reversed, and those who were once powerful have been unceremoniously shunted aside. There is, in fact, an entire vocabulary that has been elaborated for the sole purpose of shutting up people rightly or wrongly perceived to be powerful. Men who do too much more than listen attentively, nod along and throw in an occasional “Amen!” during a “gender” discussion are guilty of “mansplaining.” “Sexism,” “racism” and other such “isms” have been unintuitively redefined to require the presence of prejudice plus power, so that, by definition, black people, who — it is decreed — have no power vis-à-vis white people, cannot be guilty of racism, women, who — it is similarly held — have no power vis-à-vis men, cannot be guilty of sexism, and so on. When white people react “defensively” — that is, with anything other than respect, agreement and apologies — to being accused of unspeakable crimes against humanity, they are then accused of exhibiting the pathologies of “white frustration” or “white fragility.” And, of course, we cannot forget to mention that ultimate dystopian ever-at-the-ready nonsense term that is bandied about so broadly and blithely as to have lost all meaning: privilege, in all its metastasizing permutations, i.e., white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege, cis privilege, cis hetero white male privilege, etc. Visit any online forum, any article “comments” section, any physical or virtual public forum where a discussion touches on a potentially relevant issue, and you will see and hear such terms being both intentionally and reflexively deployed to silence the groups deemed too “powerful” to be given a speaking role in the unfolding morality play. In fact, if you have the stomach to glance through the reader comments appended to Jonathan Haidt’s description of his experience at the West Coast school, you will not have to read too far down to find his observations being thoughtlessly dismissed as a product of privilege.
It does not take much reflection to realize that the only real “privileges” in such conversations belong to those who get to dictate the terms on which these conversations will take place and can successfully bully others with whom they disagree into silence. If, as the allegedly oppressed and victimized minions contend, the apparent powers-that-be are really the ones holding the reins, why would they willingly accept this sort of humiliating comeuppance administered in daily doses, large and small? Why would powerful corporate and university presidents respond to “triggered” teens, overbearing brats and rude buffoons by cowering in fear, issuing mea culpas full of embrace-of-diversity doublespeak, disciplining ostensible offenders or even committing professional hara-kiri in the form of their own resignations? Why does the tireless, tiresome and hate-filled march of #BlackLivesMatter persist despite all the best evidence repeatedly indicating that the alleged epidemic of anti-black police brutality is little more than a small flame fanned into an inferno by an irresponsible, sensation-peddling media intentionally and unintentionally manipulating facts by underreporting incidents where unarmed non-black people, and yes, even white people, are killed or otherwise brutalized by police, ignoring the disproportionate propensity of poor people — and, thus, black people, who are disproportionately poor — to be involved in interactions with police in the first place, distracting attention away from any real discussion of the uncomfortable issue of blacks’ frequently all-too-adversarial attitudes towards law enforcement that result in needless escalation of situations and, above all, confirmation bias leading people who hear of an epidemic of police brutality against blacks to see any new act of white police violence against blacks as driven by racism (see http://www.copinthehood.com/2015/04/killed-by-police-2-of-3-race.html & http://www.nationalreview.com/article/429094/black-lives-matter-wrong-police-shootings for careful discussions of the real facts about police killings by race)? And why would these powers-that-be so interested in upholding white majoritarian values and disempowering people of color drop the prestigious National Book Award as the cherry on top of a layer cake of white-elite adulation heaped upon Ta-Nehisi Coates’ myopic Mein Kampf of vitriol, Between the World and Me (written upon the occasion of his young son’s failure to recognize that Darryl Wilson was correctly left unindicted for Michael Brown’s death, as the DOJ’s investigation of the incident confirmed), which aims to convince the reader that his own deep-seated race hatred is a germinal and ineluctable national condition?
The reason is that, despite the growing numbers of the religiously unaffiliated who comprise the ranks of the liberal elites, both here and in Europe, many have found it a bit tricky to let go of theology cold turkey and still cling instinctively to the atavism of original sin. The sin, in the U.S., is slavery; in Europe, it is colonialism (and, in both places, there are secondary sins, such as centuries of patriarchy and heteronormativity). These serve the same purpose: to instill in “the powerful” — and primarily, in meek white elites — an unvanquishable thirst for punishment and self-flagellation. “We,” the collective white “we” (in itself an absurd categorization), have sinned. The sin is enormous and inexpiable. Its very mention is enough to send white elites into paroxysms of self-destruction, as they become willing to compromise their nations and revered institutions for the sake of receiving some partial atonement, which, of course, never comes. Thus, in the U.S., like asylums turned over to whims of the lunatics, the keys to educational institutions get handed over to a cadre of vocal militants who are nominated representatives of the oppressed or “people of color” (perhaps the most absurd and overbroad categorization of all, positing, as it does, an implicit order of things in which all non-white life is oppressed and, therefore, morally superior) and who then set about transforming academic institutions from places where some manageable subset of “the best which has been thought and said in the world” is sought to be conveyed to young minds to places where young minds are variously categorized, color-coded and balkanized, some taught self-hatred for the centuries of oppression “their” culture has allegedly wrought (while, of course, playing down the fact that any such oppression was only made possible by that same culture’s monumental achievements), others taught uncritical self-acceptance to the point of self-adulation and the use of victimization narratives as a means of leaving larger footprints in, i.e., on, the world. The inevitable result will be — already has been — the progressive trivialization, devaluation and rollback of the very kinds of Enlightenment traditions that have brought many of the humanitarian and scientific advancements from which the haters, among many others, are now benefiting.
Meanwhile, Western Europeans’ original sin of colonialism now informs their otherwise mind-boggling open-armed handover of their nations to people who do not appreciate the Hobbesian/Lockean heritage of secular government, following upon centuries of religious wars and requiring a public sphere which preserves individual liberties of speech and religion through the creation of a more-or-less value-neutral state with the principal purpose of preserving collective security and providing for common material welfare rather than dictating right and wrong, true and false, sacred and profane. As a recent Arab Center for Research & Policy Studies survey revealed, 13% of Syrian refugees sympathize with ISIS, which is the same as the average for the overall Arabic populations surveyed, though among Palestinians, that figure is a whopping 24% (see http://english.dohainstitute.org/file/Get/40ebdf12-8960-4d18-8088-7c8a077e522e at 19). A 2015 Center for Security Policy poll reveals that, even in the United States, where the Islamic population is proportionately smaller than in much of Europe, 51% of Muslims would want the option of being governed by shariah law rather than the U.S. Constitution, and nearly 20% would support the use of violence to make shariah the law of the land: http://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/2015/06/23/nationwide-poll-of-us-muslims-shows-thousands-support-shariah-jihad/. Such people, as a French imam’s sermon on the day of the November 13th Paris attacks makes clear (http://beforeitsnews.com/opinion-conservative/2015/11/video-french-imam-on-day-of-paris-attacks-muslims-should-rule-france-3075408.html), aspire to avail themselves of tolerant Western rules and attitudes to take power and impose Islam, whether in the U.S. or Europe. They will have no qualms about taking advantage of the generous social welfare benefits Western Europe’s technological advancement has brought, out-reproducing and, hence, out-voting their European hosts and then, in time, imposing their theocratic values on one and all (those who think such values are only held dear by a small handful of Islamic extremists are advised to watch this short video to understand what “ordinary Muslims” believe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=5&v=nA3xN5ptZXM; those who prefer an actual poll detailing Muslim beliefs can find a good, sobering one here: http://www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-beliefs-about-sharia/). In the absence of a major change of course, the future is clear enough: these migrants’ and immigrants’ new societies will come to resemble the dysfunctional old societies from which they fled in the first place.
It is critical to recognize that here and in Europe, we are facing a challenge of the same general sort. The have-nots are rising up, holding our feet to the fire and claiming we owe them something for the sins of history. People who are contributing comparatively little while benefiting from all the enormous advantages of first-world civilization, for all its many faults, are gradually undermining that civilization from within. As per Plato’s Callicles, as echoed by Nietzsche, the “weak” come to coopt the societies of the “strong” by imposing their slave morality, now taking the form of victimization narratives to exact political and economic concessions, which then, in turn, lead to total civilizational collapse.
The true story — exactly the reverse of the one being foisted upon us by the “downtrodden” and their elite sympathizers — is that the hosts are freely conferring privilege after privilege upon their own parasites. I am in no way suggesting that all or even most Muslims, Arabs, women, sexual minorities, African-Americans or any other “people of color,” whatever that means, are parasites; rather, I am speaking here of the much smaller minority of opportunistic and ultimately nihilistic ne’er-do-wells and rabble-rousers who are screwing up our society for each and every hard-working, responsible person of every creed, color, shape and size. It is upon these destructive dolts that we are conferring parasite privilege, the privilege to suck out our civilizational lifeblood slowly but surely while getting us to spout masochistic thank-yous for the favor. It is the privilege to intimidate, bully and silence, to run amok unpunished, to terrorize, to rule from below like a horse that, by refusing to budge, by repeatedly rearing and bucking, has turned its rider into a coward limply holding the reins with shaking hands and making a show of steering only after he already senses his animal inclining in a direction of its own choosing.
The question being posed to us all with increasing urgency is one the British critic and novelist D.J. Taylor, following Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945), has aptly characterized as the classical liberal dilemma: “how far can we tolerate something that, if tolerated, will cease to tolerate us?” Must we, in the name of tolerance and diversity, allow those who resent us for historical slights, ancient and modern, real and concocted, to invalidate our viewpoints, silence our voices, stigmatize the teaching of our great traditions and, when all is said and done, imperil our very existence as a civilization? The answer is, or should be, obvious enough. But to translate that answer from theory to practice, it is imperative that we stop pointing accusatory fingers at ourselves for things “we” did years ago. We cannot allow ourselves to be enslaved by history. We cannot allow those who do not have our best interests at heart to use our history as a handy whipping post to lash us into submission. Slavery and many aspects of colonialism were sins, but they are not ours. The past is the past, and we do well when we remember its lessons, but we almost invariably go astray when we base present policies and practices on well-intentioned but quixotic desires to undo errors that cannot be undone. When we are so busy fighting the last war that we cannot recognize our true adversaries in this one, we are destined for defeat.
This means that we must let go of collective guilt. If someone wants an apology or handout for slavery or colonialism, their only option must be to go find a former slave-owner or colonial administrator and try their luck. If we recognize present or past injustices, let us be sure not to perpetuate or repeat them, but we must jettison the destructive notion that we have any moral obligation to atone for the sins of our ancestors, for that the child must be punished for the sins of its fathers and forefathers is a morally dubious proposition in all events. If valid claims recognized in our courts of law exist for those aggrieved by past injuries, let them pursue such redress, but where the reach of our courts ends, we should, in all but the most extraordinary circumstances, decline to interfere. We must end all talk of restitution and reparations and turn our exclusive focus upon our present problems. If, when we look with refreshed eyes, we still find present suffering, as we will, let us do what we must to combat it. Real racism and other forms of present discrimination must be opposed. Historical considerations aside, the present plight of a racially, ethnically or religiously marked underclass is a serious one, and creative solutions are needed to address and integrate these disaffected agglomerations of poverty, for ghettoes are tumors in the body politic.
And yet, a just society not enslaved by history treats each person as an individual, not as a possessor and purveyor of historical stigmas or sundry group identities; such a society does not have the hubris to overcorrect for past injustices by resorting to present discrimination against one group in an attempt to remedy past discrimination against another. Such a society, while remaining vigilant about its blind spots and avoiding the excesses of chauvinism and jingoism, embraces its traditions, retells without shame the tales and myths that convey its values and virtues and does not cower before those who would unravel the fabric of its greatness. It proclaims loudly and clearly to one and all: here, the majority will not be bullied; here, we do not play host to parasites; here, we strive as best we can to aspire toward a society where all privileges are earned but where the privilege to silence us and the voices of our civilization’s eternal muses is one we will never recognize.
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Alexander Zubatov is a practicing attorney specializing in general commercial litigation. He is also a practicing writer specializing in general non-commercial poetry, fiction, drama, essays and polemics. In the words of one of his intellectual heroes, José Ortega y Gasset, biography is “a system in which the contradictions of a human life are unified.”
Some of his articles have appeared in Acculturated, PopMatters, The Hedgehog Review, The Montreal Review, The Fortnightly Review, New English Review, Culture Wars and nthposition.
He makes occasional, unscheduled appearances on Twitter (https://twitter.com/Zoobahtov).