Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Be a Cultural Elitist

The standard by which to measure cultures is this: the extent to which they produce people who lead good lives and are not likely to harm others. Some cultures are better than others in this regard. Therefore, it makes sense to be a cultural elitist.

A cultural elitist is not a racist. Race is a biological category. Racism is the belief that there are races with inherent deficits in intelligence, talents, and health. Maybe this is true, maybe not. Cultural elitists have no dog in that race. They espouse the best culture and intend that everyone of every race be given a chance to achieve it. Frankly, whether racism is true bores the cultural elitist as much as the observation that some people are born retarded. Those who have achieved the best culture include members of every race. Cultural elitists desire only to promote the best culture for anyone capable of achieving it. They are colorblind. (And here we should point out the astonishing fact that today it is the conservative who is more likely to be colorblind, not the leftist.)

A cultural elitist is not a snob. You’re a snob only if you reserve the best culture for some and deny it to others because you like to maintain a pretense that they are incapable of achieving it. Don’t be a snob. Extend the elite culture to everyone with kindness and patience. Recommend and explain it to them, and show them how to go about achieving it in their own lives.

Cultural elitism requires a clear-eyed devotion to the truth. It requires the intention to label a culture as "bad" if it is found not to measure up to the standard of producing people who lead good lives and tend not to harm others. One has to be ready to take abuse from anti-elitists, who will mistakenly think that a disparaging view of other cultures is snobbery or racism. Clearly, some cultures are bad, and extreme moral relativism isn’t true. This means that anti-elitists are off track. They need to be told this, and doing so requires the courage to face their enraged replies.

The key is to explain to the anti-elitists where they've gone wrong. They fail to recognize that culture is more than the superficial things people do: having parades, showing soccer on TV, having birthday cake on birthdays, wearing wedding rings, cutting the hair short, etc. These things are a matter of taste in the most superficial sense that whichever of these things you choose, your chances of having a good life and becoming the sort of person who is likely to harm others remain unchanged. It is silly to be elitist about these things.

But culture is more than that. It runs downwards from this superficial level, through whether to have arranged marriages, whether to inculcate self-reliance in children, the value of literary and historical education, value placed on science and technology, work ethic, whether to have a sense of tragedy about life, and all the way down to whether all little girls should have their clitorises torn out, whether people who question the ruler should be killed, and whether it is okay to enslave others. It is ludicrous to be relativistic at all of these levels of depth. Therefore, cultural elitism clearly makes good sense, and one can overlook this fact if one fails to recognize these levels of depth. This is leftism: a postmodernist lack of depth.

Also, people end up rejecting cultural elitism because they incorrectly think that, other than the duty not to harm others, the only moral value there is is the duty to eliminate gaps in wealth by redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor. This leftist view of justice sees no connection between culture and morality; it ignores the plethora of moral values embodied in the various practices and ways of life cultures espouse. It sees the goal of each human life as the individual's fulfillment of his desires in whichever cultural mode suits his taste, a goal utterly distinct from moral life. Moral life having been reduced to the mere duties of avoiding harming others and maintaining absolute equality in wealth, the utopia is one in which each person has the same amount of wealth and uses it to fulfill his desires in the cultural ways of his choice. If this were all true, then it would wrong to be a cultural elitist. For as long as the two moral values - egalitarian justice and non-harming - are fulfilled, every culture has equal moral standing and should be acknowledged as such.

But since the modes of desire fulfillment in any given culture usually embody moral values, the leftist picture of morality is radically incomplete. Indeed, many of the practices and ways of life that a given culture recommends will embody values incompatible with economic egalitarianism and with the principle of not harming others, to wit: self-reliance, art, science and scholarship, the duty to kill those of other religions, the value of the products of a free imagination, and the value of cutting clitorises out of little girls. This is leftism: a philistine incomprehension of the nature of culture and a mere shell of a morality.

Both culture and morality are a rich arrays of norms, and they are usually inseparable from each other. Leftist anti-elitism ignores this human depth. Its rejection of cultural elitism, as you can see, is as monstrously absurd as the values that support the cutting out of the clitoris of a little girl. It’s PC regime has scared most Americans into accepting this monstrous absurdity that cultural elitism is wrong. The result is that Americans’ will to promote, protect, and champion the best culture has been debilitated by the fear of treading into the territory of racism or snobbery, or of being labeled a racist or snob. This has probably caused serious damage to the course of human history. We have been hoodwinked into deeming it wrong to promote what is good. It is time to bring this travesty to an end. The inheritors of any good culture should re-immerse themselves in it, pass it on to their children, and recommend it to others as preferable to many alternative cultures, and especially to the obviously bad cultures. It’s time to start acknowledging and openly discussing the goodness of certain cultures and the badness of others.