Reflections on Cultural Revanchism, Past, Present and all too Likely, Future
A number of articles have been published during the last two days concerning the mob hysteria orchestrated by opponents of the current United States president attempting to paint him as a racist, anti-Semite because he is opposed to the orchestrated destruction of monuments dedicated to the losers in the American Civil War as well as to all public violence associated with related riots. One very brief but pointed example among several that caught my eye was “Australian Prime Minister says attempts to replace statues of English colonialists is reminiscent of Stalin: A little sanity coming from Australia” written by Alex Christoforou on August 25, 2017 and published in The Duran. Among other themes briefly touched on was the attack by purported liberals, probably animal rights activists among them, on Robert E. Lee’s long deceased horse, Traveler, and even on an Asian sports announcer because he shared parts of General Lee’s name. It led me to the following reflections.
I’ve found the trend very disturbing both because of its toxicity and because its virulence will most probably result in non-productive reactions, then counter-reactions, and in the end, civil strife likely to result in more martyrs, a probable goal. Perhaps even more disturbing is the probability that the current “movement” does not seek resolution of existing problems but rather, their politically productive exacerbation. It is ironically reminiscent of Nazi anti-Semitic rabble rousing during the 1930s.
The world needs heroes, real heroes, especially now. Every demographic, racial or religious group, every ideal is motivated and incentivized by its own heroes, heroes who look and act like them, who speak their languages and share their values, who have survived the worst that their oppressors have thrown at them. Martyrs play a similar role, but not nearly as effectively. As Joan Baez sang in “Winds of the Old Days”, while “heroes are a nuisance to live with at home”, “martyrs most certainly die too young”.
I’ve long written that the oppressed, whether as minorities or majorities, whether black or female or Latino or now white, all have heroes but need to have them recognized. However, recognition of our heroes ought not to equate with denigration of the heroes of others, or of their symbology, especially when orchestrated with the goal of polarization for cynical political purposes. Currently the case in the United States and, virus-like, quickly spreading elsewhere.
We have villainous archetypes, some rather oxymoronically modern, like newly minted classical music. In the United States these include, in addition to pinko-communists, the Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacists and racists. Those labels are very convenient when we want to denigrate others and their beliefs, tarring them with infamy’s all too well worn brush; in all too many cases, targeting them unfairly. Calumny has become the norm in the mainstream media and among current Clinton — Obama Democrats, defamation normalized into a kind of perverse art form.
The phenomenon has a quotidian equivalent, one with which we are all too familiar, those unpleasant people who in order to build themselves up, as much in their eyes as in the eyes of other, belittle and ridicule others, believing that doing so results in a comparative rise in their own status. I think of that concept as “the losers’’ crutch”. That is what is occurring via a form of dystopian cultural terrorism; we are seeing a disturbingly growing trend demanding the destruction of monuments dedicated to others’ heroes because some find them too offensive to bear, such destruction ironically being undertaken, all too frequently accompanied by orchestrated violence, in the name of tolerance and harmony and peace.
The solution to too little recognition of our own heroes on a comparative basis is not the destruction of the cultural heritage of those we might oppose but rather the creation and expansion of our own culture through monuments and songs and poems and movies, etc.; cultural homage dedicated to our own heroes, to the persons we would immortalize as role models for others as well as ourselves.
Unfortunately the role models being created right now are primarily negative, destructive, too reminiscent of Inquisition and Nazi and fascist book burnings, of the cultural destruction wrought by conquerors who felt compelled to obliterate traces of other beliefs in the names of Jesus, or of Mohammed, or Marx. Crowds of black clad, armed vigilantes instigating violent confrontations with those with whom they disagree, protected by a mainstream media and politicians who insist all blame for any resulting casualties must be heaped on those they targeted. And that any who don’t agree must be destroyed. All in the name of purported liberalism and human rights and human dignity.
Poor Traveler, he lived in confusing times, violent times, desperate times, hypocritical times.
I wonder what he would think of all this.
Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen). Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at www.guillermocalvo.com.