Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fearing The Powerful Other

Tribalism

"Fear is the path to the Dark Side. 
Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering."
YODA, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

It seems that today fear dominates; I am not here talking about rational fears but the irrational kind. To put it simply and plainly, many groups made up of like-minded individuals point out that they feel threatened by a larger dominant majority of powerful Others. There are many examples, but here are a few that I know well:  in the Middle East, Muslim/Arabs outside the state of Israel who feel threatened by Israel's existence; in Quebec, francophones who say they are threatened by being an island in a sea of North American English; in the West, feminists who continue to feel threats from white males and any success they continue to have; and perhaps the most pernicious, the Religionists everywhere who vocalize threats from increasing secularism and modernity.

There are many other examples in which a distinct group rallies around a common cause, idea or belief  and views themselves as a "minority" despite holding much political, economic and social power. Although the groups differ in many ways, the common sentiment is the sense of "threat" that each feels comes from the outside and becomes a harm to their culture, ideas or way of life. This often translates as a need to further safeguard ways and traditions, often by either gaining more political power or by erecting more barriers against the Other who are its chief identifiable threats.

Let's briefly look at the cases I cited above. Muslim/Arabs are hardly a minority in the Middle East. Israel is, in fact, surrounded by many hostile neighbours, 22 in total, which regularly and routinely call for the tiny Jewish State's destruction. Resentment, more than politics, plays a role. The presence of a strong, democratic and economically successful nation is an affront to Arab/Muslim sensibilities, who view their lack of political, economic and social success as a setback to their own ambitions to be a regional and world power. Much has been written on this subject on this blog and others, so the views here are both well-known and well-established.

In Quebec, where I was born and resided for most of my life, its French majority suffers from similar resentments, although in this case, the English language is an affront to their French sensibilities. The majority French-speaking population has increasingly become more radicalized by the idea that things would be better if it were a sovereign nation, masters of their domain. Although the province of Quebec has benefited greatly (notably economically) from being part of Canada and has been granted a number of powers from the federal state, such is not enough for Quebec nationalists. The nationalists, who form a small minority of Quebecers but a large majority of its influential intellectuals, writers and thinkers, have faith that all will be well in a sovereign Quebec.

The western-trained feminists, who since the 1950s fought for rights and freedoms, are somewhat still dissatisfied by the gains they now enjoy. They are still fighting for more, still bemoaning that pure equality has not yet been achieved. The target of their wrath is the western white male despite having gained all kinds of victories in the last few decades, including fighting in combat units. It might be time to look to other causes outside their usual easy targets. Feminists, however, are surprisingly silent on the discrimination routinely taking place in non-western nations. Where is their outrage against female genital mutilation, practice common in many Arab/Muslim nations? Where is their outrage against foeticide, infanticide and human trafficking common in India? Where is their outrage against girls attacked for going to school in Afghanistan? Where is the outrage against the murdering of women who give life-saving polio vaccines in Pakistan?

These are all troubling, but the greatest threat to western liberal democracy comes from religious extremists, or Religionists, namely, a small but vocal cohort of individuals whose aim is to return society to a period before the European Enlightenment (or the Jewish Haskalah). Religionists generally feel threatened by modern western secular society, notably its social mores and conventions. Followers of all three Abrahamic faiths, to some degree,  have voiced dissatisfaction with modern ways. Despite the many differences between Jews, Christians and Muslims, the most conservative and militant members argue that modesty and purity laws need to be instituted, at least for its followers. It's a losing battle, no doubt, but the Religionists keep on trying; and, in the most extreme cases use violence (i.e., Islamists, Taliban, etc.) to persuade any doubters as to the need of following their biblical-inspired interpretation of traditional ways.

These are only a few well-known example; there are many more. Such is the result, to a great degree I suspect, of the West's determined effort to undermine its own culture and traditions. What took hundreds of years of development, thinking and implementation through the process of democratic political evolution has now been undermined by a few decades of both cultural relativism and moral relativism in an attempt to avoid ethnocentrism, the idea that the group one belongs to is superior to others. Or that one nation's culture is better than others. Words like Imperialism, Colonialism, Hegemony, Racism, Patriarachism, Guilty White Males joined the lexicon of academics determined to "right the wrongs of the past" and re-engineer society toward equality, tolerance and multiculturalism—enviable qualities that eventually became state-established laws. In other words, instead of fiats from the Church, decrees from the State. Different Authority. Similar Result.

Some might not like to admit it, but the liberal western democratic tradition has been and continues to be the best political/social/economic model for humanity. That immigrants from around the world would want to move to a western democratic nation says much and offers sufficient proof to support that argument; that this still remains the case is a testament to its attraction  even if only for economic and political freedoms—such freedoms are rare in non-western nations. It used to be, certainly up to fifty years ago, that new immigrants would come to Canada and the United States (or Britain and France) and have a desire to fit in to the greater culture, at least in keeping with its prevailing general ethos. Immigrants would generally maintain their cultural ways, but do so in a less demanding manner, seeing the importance of becoming American or Canadian or British or French.

But then radical ideas challenged the prevailing world-view  Starting after the end of the Second World War, in the late 1940s, academics, notably anthropologists, sociologists, linguists, political scientists, literary theorists and others in the humanities or "soft sciences" questioned the prevailing ideas, seeing in them vestiges of parochialism colonialism, racism and all things negative relating to judgement and criticism of non-western ways [for some insight see post-modernism and its rejection of objective natural reality]. This led to the idea that western culture was not superior in any way, despite evidence to the contrary found in the arts, science, economics and politics. This opened up the idea that all cultures have something positive to offer, and that what's important is the formation of personal identity (and self-esteem); this has led to individuals forming smaller tribal groups for purposes of self-identification.

In many ways, we have become a nation, at least here in Canada, of smaller identifiable groups (i.e., tribes)—and politicians use this knowledge to win elections— sometimes coming together to become Canadian. This is most evident during sporting events, another tribal event, or on national holidays. To belong to a tribe is not necessarily all bad, it can lead to a sense of  belonging, purpose and identity and a shared history—all good and beneficial things. But it can also rob a nation of a national identity, and, moreover, divide individuals into smaller tribal groups who see in others a threat to their well-being and a sense of being. In other words, tribalism can often lead to resentments and a foreboding sense of grievance against a powerful "Other." This powerful entity, so to speak, is responsible for dashing hopes, thwarting ambitions and robbing national dreams.

So, here's the rub. If many have divided into smaller tribal groups, it begs the question of who is the powerful "Other" many say they fear. Of course there's an answer. It seems that for each self-proclaimed minority group, there has to be an accusation levied against a powerful entity for its own lack of success or development as a people or nation. Such thinking is common today between nations and within nations, between peoples and within peoples, and, undoubtedly, is best served at the United Nations (and its satellite organizations), whose original idealistic and noble purpose was to limit tribalism and promote peace and understanding between nations. Its chief purpose today, however, is to work assiduously to delegitimize the west in general and the State of Israel in particular. Truly, the UN has had great success in that program.

Yet, anyone who has studied its resolutions will quickly see it is a dysfunctional organization that does little to advance the purposes of democracy and freedom. Yet, the U.N. in many ways reflects the prevailing worldview, one dominated by tribalism, fear, resentment, suffering and death.