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An American Social Anthropologist Laureate?
5/26/2015 2:28:19 PM
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Professor Geoffrey Gorer, a well known social anthropologist who combined elements of psychological theory in his studies of human social behavioral interactions back in the 50s & 60s, presented many of his views in a series of papers that are contained in an anthology of his works published in 1966 (titled 'The Danger of Equality'). Catchy title, eh? You won't be disappointed when you delve into his concepts and opinions.
Our embattled, socially convoluted and befuddled nation, the Yewninety Steaks of Merca, clearly is on the threshold, however contentiously, of undergoing a schismatic process of radical cultural change. As ethnic, racial and social partisan interests all over the spectrum of political sentiment duke it out on national media every evening, the uncomplicated ‘good ole Mercan’ (like you and me, brother) is left scratching his head in perplexed uncertainty as he unconsciously reaches out for his Bushmaster assault rifle and wonders where the wimmin & kids currently are.
After recently uncovering Jonah Goldberg’s brilliantly penetrating insight into ‘liberal fascism’ (reference his book of the same name, ‘LIBERAL FASCISM: A SECRET HISTORY OF FASCISM, FROM MUSSOLINI TO THE POLITICS OF CHANGE’, 2007, ISBN-13 978-0767917186) and whilst still ploughing through those wonderful stacks of books to be found at Gold Beach, Oregon’s ‘Gold Beach Books’ mentioned previously in my blog, I stumbled across another superb gem of equally meritorious intellectual wisdom that deserves widespread recognition among pseudo-intellectuals (like me). I refer to English social anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer’s anthology of papers titled ‘THE DANGER OF EQUALITY AND OTHER ESSAYS’ (Weybright & Talley, NY, 1996, no ISBN).
In this collection of his essays, Gorer delves into a great number of aspects of social and cultural relevance through the course of 23 separate papers written over a period of time in the 50s and 60s, but more germane to my purposes in mentioning it here, he skillfully illustrates the direct mechanics of social interaction among world-wide national and cultural groups, and in the process rather convincingly lays bare a great many misconceptions that underlie America’s rather artificial view of the world and its understandings of other peoples and nations (‘misunderstandings’ would be a more apt word to use) of the so-called ‘non-Western’ nations we deal with.
Anyone familiar with the precepts of social/cultural anthropology (although they differ slightly from one another, I shall regard them as a unified entity here for purposes of simplification) is likely well aware that the United States has become a battleground of conflicting races, creed, religions and political partisanisms over the course of the decades that have passed since the end of WW2. And although most of us recognize the miserable failure of American foreign affairs management, and daily wonder about the palpably inept and inefficient relationships we seem to have forged with a number of other nations, most of us are left wondering why. Why does America fail so repeatedly in these diplomatic relationships when our hearts are undoubtedly (so the logic goes) in the right place?
One of the explanations for this increasing division of world views and outlooks in America (it may help here to visualize a massive Arctic ice shelf, with colossal bergs calving ponderously away from it) is the tenacious hold that political correctness sickness (that author Jonah Goldberg examines in his book ‘Liberal Fascism’) has on our society. Perpetuated and encouraged by the sort of cultural diversification sentiment that permeated outmoded turn-of-the-century ‘melting pot’ thinking that welcomed people of diverse origins (as long as they were exclusively of white ethnicity…no Africans or Asians need apply!), it was felt they would obligingly and gratefully acculturate themselves in their ‘eagerness’ to become model American citizens.
The fact that back in those early ‘good old days’ of post-industrial, early American multiculturalism almost all of those ‘groups of people’ came from Northern Europe somehow fails to register in the strait-jacketed minds of our ‘diversity is a blessing’ cheer leaders, as does the fact that despite the possible ‘national’ differences they posed, by and large all those people shared a relatively narrow racial & cultural spectrum that encouraged a uniform desire within their ranks to share the dream of Western (read: white America) civilisation.
Today’s updated, modern multicultural immigrants are far more diverse, far more politically, culturally and socially dissimilar (immigrants from Southwest Asia simply didn’t exist, back in that earlier age), with the result that instead of eagerly pursuing acculturation, they insist upon remaining essentially an enclave of their native lands & origins in the midst of America, and instead of trying to emulate the traditional socio-economic American model of capitalistic democracy, they largely retain and hew to the socio-economic & cultural affinities prevalent in their native countries (whilst benefitting from American economic ‘freedoms’). Thus, a sort of internal American ‘Balkanisation’ process has gradually taken place in America that merely heaps fuel on a smoldering pile of latent distrusts, misunderstandings and half submerged white Anglo-Saxon biases.
Add to this crucible of conflicting ideas, outlooks and emotions a far from quiescent Black American subculture, predominantly comprised of lower class, economically disprivileged and morally alienated Black youth, and you discover that pool of youthful radicals & nihilistas who embrace Islam (albeit a grossly distorted and doctrinally prostituted form of it) and can’t wait to make their ‘extreme’ mark in a world they feel totally excluded from (by joining radical Islam overseas, as jihadists). Since the desire to burn brightly and stand out is a characteristic of ALL youths, to some extent this dynamic is an understandable (if not excusable) dynamic of the rites of passage all young individuals pass through on the path to mature adulthood. Rebelliousness is, after all, a hallmark of adolescent youths.
Jonah Goldberg makes a convincing argument in his book (‘Liberal Fascism’) that turn-of-the-century American Progressive Liberals (who over the succeeding 100 years morphed into today’s politically correct ‘leftist liberals’ that Republicans so greatly enjoy demonizing) set the stage for today’s modern American ‘culture of entitlement’ by adopting George Orwell’s axiom (found in his book ‘Animal Farm’, that “All pigs (people) are equal, but some are more equal than others”, which is also a functional precept of Stalinist Bolshevik communism). Thus we are today plagued with social programs that practice blatant discrimination (like so-called ‘Affirmative Action’) under the guise of ‘racial fairness’, and quota policies for employment hiring and selection of academic candidates in higher learning, that bizarrely flourish within a society dedicated (in theory) to equality. Of course, the founding fathers never anticipated that term being misconceived as a synonym for class equality. ‘Equality’ to the early American patriots merely meant ‘equality in the eyes of justice’. [It is indeed the height of irony that one of the entitlements enjoyed by Americans citizens is the ‘Right to a trial by one’s peers’. Given the extremely fragmented, culturally dissimilar nature of American diversity today and the wildly mixed national demographic, the term ‘peers’ has entirely lost its meaning, since the chances are good that only a trial of a Black suspect by 12 Black jurors (by way of an example) would satisfy that distinction of being judged by peers. “Equality”, even in the far stricter legal sense, is so far off the wall now that such an outlook is outright laughable in today’s diverse ‘melting pot’.]
In the past quarter century, the United States has been increasingly engaged in the self-fancied role of the world’s policeman, as the initial 1991 Gulf War to depose Saddam Hussein successively yielded to one conflict after another in that region. 25 years after Gulf War I (which now almost everyone agrees was an extremely poor decision to make, let alone a complete waste of time, money, effort with hardly any positive consequences), the only tangible result of this effort to ‘transplant American style democracy’ to Southwest Asia has been a gradual worsening and widening of the yawning chasm that separates America from the Islamic nations of that area. Given the relatively recent rise of ISIL (or ISIS, you choose), we now face the likely loss of all that was gained in our Iraqi adventures and more significantly yet, the fall of Syria to that extremist Islamic group known as ISIL looms large on the horizon. Further disturbing (and perhaps just as portentious, given its proximity to America’s immediate ‘back yard’), today’s iteration of the radical Islamic threat positions itself to become the new ‘youth cause’ of America’s dissatisfied Black underclass. Given the fact that America’s Blacks have now become accustomed to being perceived by the guilt-ridden leftist White intelligensia as superprivileged in all moral, economic and social contexts, the rising sense of “You OWE us, Honkey!” (for 300+ years of racial subjugation and exploitation, etc.) sentiment that co-attends each racial incident in America (no matter which racial group bears blame for causing it) creates an exacerbation of vitriolic polarization that far outstrips any inherent transcending logic that might have originally accompanied it.
In ‘THE DANGER OF EQUALITY’, Gorer takes a keen and hugely perceptive look at the assumptions underlying White America’s near-religious determination to plant the seeds of American style political-economic democracy in areas such as Southwest Asia, a region that has about as much in common politically with American principles as pregnancy has with abortion. As an interestng aside here, for those who have always wondered why (among many other things) an academic specialist in Soviet political and economic institutions (former Sec. of State Condoleeza Rice) was drafted to take the point in the political events that led up to Gulf war I, when she knew as little as anyone in the US government about the peoples and culture of Southwest Asia. The fact that she had a laudable background in understanding Soviet thought & doctrines made her about as qualified to engage the Arab culture diplomatically as Israeli Premier Netanyahu is to cultivate favorable relations with Iran. And yet, with a team of similar individuals in command at Washington’s highest levels of government, our nation blindly plunged into a costly adventure in Iraq that was doomed at the outset…not because we didn’t have the sheer firepower and might to pulverize that nation many time over, but because we were totally clueless about the broad socio-political and cultural substrata that lay just under the surface of life in this part of the world. In a nation that traditionally prizes principles over individual honor, we were hardly equipped at the onset to deal deftly with ANY Arab tribal peoples whatsoever!
Professor Gorer’s subsequently offers insightful examination of the motivations behind what he terms our ‘national character’ in being so resolutely determined to carry the ‘fruits of American style democracy’ to Southwest Asia and explains in some detail that we (as a nation) make a fatal assumption that the entire world thinks, feels and behaves exactly like we do. He partially attributes this to the fact that we are a ‘Christian’ nation, or one that incorporates the distinct theology of Christianity (with all its proselytizing missionary enthusiasm) into our national persona. In support of this notion, he makes mention of the strongly Anglo Saxon traits that those who founded the United States brought with them from England, not least being a vigorous sense of fair-play and ‘sportsmanship’. In describing our (American, nee ‘Anglo-Saxon’) predominant values to include safety, justice and a modicum of prosperity, we believe that if these goals are achieved for all, or at least for a majority of our people, we shall all voluntarily be contented, law-abiding, self-regulating (responsible) individuals who will supervise our own conduct (and that of our neighbors) with a lively conscience and internalized standards of right and wrong that we shall apply uniformly to all, and in all circumstances. Gorer attributes these qualities as being unique to the Christian English speaking peoples, but makes a strong point out of saying that while unique to England (and to America, as an English colony), this characteristic is also strongly untrue of almost all other peoples & cultures on the planet. Thus, this failing that we (and English speaking peoples) share is in fact wholly out of place in just about every other region in the world. “Invalid assumptions of national validity” is the phrase Gorer might use to characterise this feeling.
[Further, Gorer goes on to state his opinion that this belief that all peoples share one’s own motives, values and aspirations underlies the two ‘great secular missionary movements’ in the world today (‘democracy’ and ‘communism’), as they have all missionary movements of the past (Christianity, Islam, et al). In particular, Gorer postulates that, with regard to democracy and communism, Russian communism assumes that people are unable to control themselves and feel safest and most secure when they are strictly controlled & supervised, whereas Anglo-American democracy assumes that most people are capable of controlling themselves, of regulating their conduct, and feel safest and most secure when the apparatus of external control and supervision is kept to the lowest possible level. Gorer goes on to say that in his opinion, neither of these two broadly shared assumptions has any ‘universal validity’!]
Assuming one agrees with this, it becomes a bit easier to see why the United States, as the principal heir to basic Anglo-Saxon socio-political philosophy, blithely (perhaps ‘naively’ would be a better term to use here) determines that exportation of basic ‘American socio-economic theory’ to areas such as Southwest Asia is perfectly appropriate. This mind-set completely ignores, of course, the entire and highly nuanced social & cultural fabric of Middle Eastern that goes back centuries. And we wonder why all our trillions of dollars, thousands of lives sacrificed and other ‘investments’ over there have been utterly in vain?
Gorer goes on to explain further why Anglo-Saxon ‘national character’ is so anomalous in a modern world (regardless of our massively influential power and economic clout), as he also does with Soviet communistic national character in the same passages. The alacrity of these insightful examinations of national behavioral character is both illuminating…and frustrating…because had the United States more fully understood things from the viewpoint of social anthropologists like Professor Gorer, and employed specialist consultants in areas of social psychology, cultural anthropology and ethnology (etc.), instead of listening to powerfully vested political partisans with purely conventional economic understandings of the world before acting capriciously in Southwest Asia, we would not likely be in the midst of the sort of highly polarized ‘diversity’ crisis that we are today.
Keeping in mind the fact that Professor Gorer was writing in the midst of what we oxymoronically designate as ‘the Cold War’, his observations remain absolutely as valid today with regard to American vs Islamic relations as they did then, regarding US and Soviet contentions.
There is SO much more substance of equal validity and relevance in the rest of Gorer’s profoundly illuminating opinions that comprise this anthology of 23 of his academic papers, but so rich is the relevance today that each area he explores in the book could easily catalyse dozens of tangential reflective excursions (at least on my part). One in particular stands out as an attractive subject for my own personal ‘bully box’ exhortations and that is the one titled ‘The Danger of Equality’, which further explores the mistaken assumption on the part of not-very-complicated thinkers that American ‘equality’ means exactly that: equality in all things, from legal entitlements through the full range of economic benefits and social liberties all American citizens (and even NON-CITIZENS) enjoy today. The danger implicit in this very simplistic set of understandings (that heavily underpin our modern leftist liberal culture’s dogmatic doctrines) become quite clear; unfortunately, understanding generally comes too late, in fact well afterwards, since hindsight is 100% acute and foresight is merely a ‘guesstimate’ wager made against imperfectly known odds.
Perhaps for starters, viewed against the foregoing backdrop, we should advocate that America adopt a national ‘Social Anthropologist Laureate’ to sit on the President’s cabinet and form a key part of his special advisory teams? It would certainly be a step forward towards gaining better understanding of the playing field we adventuresome, naïve Mericanos consistently love to frequent (better known as ‘the home planet’)!
Ah well, by all means do some due diligence on the subject of Professor Geoffrey Gorer (who passed away in 1985) and his astutely shared wisdoms (Wikipedia would be a good start!). At the very least it will keep your brain cells primed!
[Those interested in reading this timely tome may find it on the Amazon Books website, here:
http://www.amazon.com/Danger-Equality-Other-Essays/dp/B0000CN7Y5/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1432681752&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Danger+of+Equality%2C+Gorer ]">http://www.amazon.com/Danger-Equality-Other-Essays/dp/B0000CN7Y5/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1432681752&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Danger+of+Equality%2C+Gorer">http://www.amazon.com/Danger-Equality-Other-Essays/dp/B0000CN7Y5/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1432681752&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Danger+of+Equality%2C+Gorer ]
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