Friday Ephemera

Cultural Confidence

The following extract might be of interest. It’s from a speech given in May by Theodore Dalrymple, titled The Paradoxes of Cultural Confidence. Dalymple touches on a range of issues, including the absurd denial and fragility inherent to Islamist belief, and the denial within Islam more generally; but I’ve highlighted a few passages that relate to recent discussions here on contrarian posturing and misplaced rebellion.   

“If you believe that the history of your culture is nothing but a catalogue of horror, massacre and the oppression of others, then you will not be very assiduous in its defence once it comes under concerted attack. Among intellectuals, at any rate, the history of crimes and catastrophes is more popular than that of achievement; and this view eventually communicates itself to society at large, to the point when it is not even realized that there is any achievement to record. In any case, there is a natural tendency, at least in the modern world, to take progress for granted the moment it is made, but never to accept problems as being an inevitable part of human life… 

Strangely enough, complete scepticism about the possibility of reaching truth – this denial that there was any truth independent of human interests to be reached – was not incompatible with the strongest moral views, though these moral view were always in diametrical opposition to established moral traditions. The connotation of the notion of transgression changed from negative to positive. It was a moral duty to challenge everything, and to overturn as much as you could.

This resulted in a very odd psychological and philosophical attitude. It was accepted by many intellectuals as an unquestionable assumption that, in its confrontation with the rest of the world, the Western world was always in the wrong, ex officio as it were, because of its superior power; that because there was no such thing as truth, the claims of Western civilization to have developed methods for discovery of the truth, organized science for example, were merely a mask for its greed and power-hunger; and that therefore a sympathy for those outside the Western tradition who claimed to know the truth, moral and religious, was a sign of virtue, provided only that the moral and religious truth they claimed to know was in conflict with Western power. In other words, the test of virtue became the degree to which one was prepared to reject and revile one’s own society…”

The full speech can be read here. More Dalrymple here. Related, on “cultural cringe.” The notion that the ability to defend oneself denotes villainy and that weakness denotes virtue by default is also addressed here.

(H/T, Daimnation!)

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