GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

August 1, 2017

Roots of PC (continued)

Filed under: GA — Q @ 6:47 am

In a book written 28 years ago, David Pryce-Jones critically examined contemporary Arab societies, their pervasive violence and lack of economic-political progress. He also analyzed how the West enables Arab corruption by our tendency to self-criticism, what is sometimes called “white guilt” (The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs by David Pryce-Jones [Ivan R. Dee, 1989]).

In the following passage, Pryce-Jones looks at the international context for the emergence of the PLO in the 1960’s: their rise to a political importance radically disproportionate to their objective significance on the international stage:

At the onset of industrialization in the nineteenth century, a sense took hold in Europe that a wrong turning was at hand. People of influence believed that in factories and cities the masses were being submitted to a life more abusive than the customary ways. Consequent attitudes of willful pessimism can be seen with hindsight for the romanticism that it was.

After the Second World War, once again people of influence questioned values everywhere in the West, creating another climate of pessimism which was contrary to the evidence. The West, it was widely argued, had acquired scientific and manufacturing power on a scale that was dehumanizing, irresistibly eroding other cultures and even threatening its own progress. In this view, those who opposed the West were to be encouraged and welcomed, no matter what their purpose of motivation might be. Defined simplistically as an assertion of Western power, colonialism was hastened to its close in this climate.

Citizens of democracies incline to attend to their critics and to accommodate through intellectual speculation even the most hostile views. Elements of doubt, therefore self-doubt too, must always be in play within democratic societies in the process of opinion-forming. With hindsight again, the West since 1945 can be seen in reality to have entered a new industrial age of exceptional vitality, leading to increasing choice and freedom. Temporarily, the unexpected confrontation of the Cold War had proved unnerving. To applaud experiments in collective socialism or communism alien to democratic traditions and values, to praise the China of Mao Ze-dong and the Vietnam of Ho Chi Minh or the expedition of Che Guevara into the Andes, to conceive that the “winds of change” detected by Harold Macmillan in Africa were autonomous and beneficial to Africans, to listen either with fear or joy to Khrushchev’s threat that the Soviet Union would bury the West were facets of latter-day romanticism. Imminent doom had its Byronic fascination. In any case, to believe that the blame for the ills and barbarities of other nations or cultures lay with the West was another instance of Eurocentric self-importance, a gratuitous posture.

The Palestine Liberation Organization was a phenomenon of this aberrant period. (280-1)

Pryce-Jones calls this an “aberrant period,” but the tendencies he describes have proven to be a veritable juggernaut in Western society in its relation with any group that differs by race, ethnicity, and so on. He traces the roots of “white guilt” to Romanticism, which is accurate I believe, and the connection could be explored further.

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