David Thompson


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January 04, 2009


John D

"I happen to care a great deal about the oppression of women, in Afghanistan and everywhere else in the world."

He just cares in a way that means doing squat about it. And our armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are risking their lives because they're paternalistic cultural imperialists.



Well, avoiding any perception of sexism, paternalism and “cultural imperialism” would seem to make practical acts of heroism rather difficult.

A couple of days ago, I watched “Superman Returns” again. Aside from one excellent set piece involving the rescue of an airliner, it’s a pretty dismal film. But I tried to imagine a version in which Superman hesitates to save the stricken airliner while pondering the “paternalism” of his actions and the implied “cultural imperialism” of a Kryptonian do-gooder interfering in human affairs. Unfortunately, these mental adjustments only made the film worse.


Apparently, “it is our job, and everyone’s job, to fight injustice and to oppose those barriers which prevent Afghan women from empowering themselves.” Though how one might do this without seeming “sexist,” “paternalistic” or risking “cultural imperialism” isn’t entirely clear.

I have a horrible feeling it involves bumper stickers and consciousness raising, possibly even pop concerts. All completely useless to the poor victims of course, but at least we won't feel paternalistic about it.

Bob Sykes

Was the civil rights movement of the 60s, heavily supported by and often led by whites, paternalistic? Could Martin Luther King succeeded without the intervention of white lawyers, politicians and troops?

What barking moonbats


From the same guy later in the thread:

"The perspective of "helping" someone encourages the mindsets of pity, condescension, and paternalism."

I thought it had something to do with empathy.

James S

"I tried to imagine a version in which Superman hesitates to save the stricken airliner while pondering the "paternalism" of his actions and the implied "cultural imperialism" of a Kryptonian do-gooder interfering in human affairs."

Sorry Lois, you'll have to empower yourself. You can keep the plane from crashing can't you?


She could levitate the plane with her feisty journalism.

R. Sherman

Of course, we have now elevated the notion of "caring" to one which is higher than "doing." Thus, are we able to seize the moral high ground without the necessity of getting our hands dirty.



As it is not the role of westerners to be advocates for Afghan women, it is not the role of men to be advocates for women.

I'm sure the author would therefore have no problem with withdrawing government grants to women's advocacy groups. Advocacy includes dollars as well as speech, after all, and men pay the majority of personal taxes.

Jason Bontrager

Why is "paternalism" a bad thing?


Because paternalism is derived from pater which means father and fathers have penises that penetrate vaginas and all heterosexual sex is rape. Silly boy :)

Ken Hahn

This is the essence of intellectual elitism. "I care deeply about . I will write about how noble my sentiments are. Now give me your money and just accept my superiority." In the end, there is not a single university that has done as much to advance freedom as any platoon sized unit of the US military. Intellectuals think that we can dispose with force, usually until the barbarians burn them alive in a bonfire of their own books.

Bryan C

It's simple. He cares about women sooo much that he'd rather see them subjugated and killed than risk anyone think he's being "paternalistic". He cries every night about those dead Arab chicks and all, but hey, let's get real. What's the use of being a hero if your pals at the peace protests don't let you hang out with them anymore? Seriously, suppose that hot redhead in the kuffiyeh heard about this? He'd probably never find out if her drapes match the carpet. If you catch my meaning.


Because the sort of people who frets and chafes over other people's perceived crypto-paternalism is the sort of person who has never really grown up himself.


To the "paternalistic" man who confronted the large drunk who was frightening me on the train, I would like to thank you and your "paternalistic" Y chromosome.

...please don't stop being chivalrous...errrrr...I mean, "paternalistic".


Jesus, what a pussy.


If all the testosterone in this "man's" body were converted to antimatter, there wouldn't be enough to blow a gnat's nose.

The definition of wimp is this jokers picture.

Rocket Man

I think it's an awesome development, this worry about paternalism. I gather he is against all forms of welfare in the US as well. What could be more "paternalistic" than paying baby-mommas to stay single and produce children?

Joe Schmo

Let's get it straight: the guy is not for any action that could be interpreted to give credit to Bush. Of course, if it were Obama, his attitude would be totally different.


I am not, any longer, a particularly violent type, but this sort of crap really makes me want to put a fist in someone's face. Sorry if that's 'paternalistic.'

Steve White

I read what Mr. Ellis wrote. I read it again.

And I still can't figure out what he said. "We can fight sexism in Afghanistan without placing ourselves into a paternalistic position - but only if we are aware of the distinction I am discussing" ?

When the Taliban is willing to murder young girls for going to school, Mr. Ellis' grand distinction seems a bit self-indulgent. We can decide later whether to fight sexism properly but right now wouldn't it be better to stop the Taliban from murdering young girls?

Someone hand Mr. Ellis a white feather and ask him to step aside; the Marines will take care of things for him.

John Skookum

"I have a horrible feeling it involves bumper stickers and consciousness raising, possibly even pop concerts."

You forgot the papier-mâché puppets and drum circles.

Karen M

If I was being threatened by the Taliban just for going to school, I'd be willing to put up with a little "paternalism" from Western troops. But I'm funny that way.


Morning all.

If you follow the thread quoted above, you’ll see it’s a strange kind of “caring” and somewhat confused. The theoretical fretting about “paternalism” seems almost intended to rule out practical courses of action. I wonder if similar claims of “paternalism” would be made with regard to, say, overseas development funds and humanitarian aid?

In many arguments of this kind the focus is on “our” alleged wickedness and/or malign impact rather than on the people whose lives may be improved by being more like us. Wishing people to be more like us in certain ways - even if this would be enormously to their advantage - is apparently a terrible, terrible thing. Hence the pretentious rumbling about “cultural imperialism”. I suppose it’s what’s happens when a person has suffered prolonged exposure to a subset of leftist thinking – a kind of pathological vanity, in which “we” remain the centre of attention, albeit in the most unflattering of light.


A few thoughts

The above reminded me of a discussion at university about whether altruism was motivated by the desire to feel good about oneself and was therefore a selfish, not selfless action. It seems to share the convoluted logic as the commentator. The "feelings" have been elevated to take priority over the results of the act itself. The same occurs in the above. He acknowledges that help must be given but it's only possible having avoided the risk of paternalism. It's not what he does, it's how it makes him feel.

I wonder how he would feel about the act of donating school books to a girl's school. Or substitute any measure that doesn't involve munitions. It's impossible for even that minor act to avoid the taint of imperialism. In short it's impossible to conceive of any way of assisting female emancipation without saying, in effect, that Taliban/Afghan culture is deficient.

Another thought game that I recall from university compared the relative merits of sexism and racism. We create a hypothetical situation wherein a minority man who happens to be sexist is suffering racism. Do we fight the racism or the sexism first? Of course the pat answer is we fight both but the hypothetical is framed in such a way that we must prioritise one. The response from my left/SWP milieu, including the women, was that racism was the greater priority. Now of course this is anecdotal but I find that result mirrored everywhere today from the above comments to the attitude of the state agencies to the guardians of Victoria Climbié. Better to allow other evils to pass unmentioned than be thought a racist.

Of course your commentators who offer the suggestion of bumper stickers are way off beam. There may once have been a time when Free Tibet was an suitable epithet to relegate to the bumper but only environmental criminals would even own a bumper today. They'll have to find a different way to display conspicuous virtue.



It does strike me as a little knotted and self-regarding, in that much of the argument seems more concerned with how one might *appear*, at least to other people who think in terms of “cultural imperialism”. The same commenter later responds to the question of whether female fire-fighters are “paternalistic”:

“At any rate, your example is a bit contrived, it seems to me. That is an example of a situation of imminent danger, which alters the considerations. If I were to see someone about to kill a woman, and I were able to act, I’d act to help the woman and let the politics of it sort themselves out later.”


But the schoolgirls and their families can – and do – find themselves in “situations of imminent danger” (and the prolonged threat thereof) - a detail which seems to undermine his earlier fretting about being “paternalistic”.


Happy New Year everyone

I realize David's emphasis here is on the posturing and moral emptiness of the liberal commentariat. On that, I agree with him. The next question is, how do you actually win against the Taleban?

In the short term we could send troops to protect school kids there, but I doubt our governments or exchequers are prepared to do this more or less permanently.

Why have things gone so wrong in Afghanistan? I just don't get it. To me, what the Taleban are offering is so self-evidently awful I can't understand why a single Afghan would ever support them. I can understand why some Russians supported the Bolsheviks in 1917 (only the Bolsheviks stood for taking Russia immediately out of the First World War); why some Cubans supported Castro in 1959 (the Battista government was vile); even why some Iranians supported Khomeini in 1979 (the Shah's government was vile; plus everyone thought the aging Ayatollah would be a unitary figurehead who would only live a couple of years). Obviously many Afghans now think that the Taleban will win, so, however awful they are, it's better not to be on the losing side.

I'd welcome other people's thoughts on this.


"If I were to see someone about to kill a woman, and I were able to act, I’d act to help the woman and let the politics of it sort themselves out later"

Well give your experience in the shop here


I doubt he would intervene at all. I suspect by the time he had worked out whether it was "safe", the moment would have passed. Still he could still have used the experience to write a report berating the West for not stopping what he had witnessed.


He also doesn't seem to know Afghan history. Before the Taliban only 20 years ago women didn't wear head coverings, they could dress how they wanted and take up professions. Now they've been thrust back a thousand years. So no, it's not us trying to impose our cultural values - our values are closer to the Afghan peoplee's than the Taliban's are.

In the long term, of course the men and women of Afghanistan have to believe. There is a certain amount of truth. However, when girls are being shot or stoned for going to school is not the time to worry that their mothers truly believe that they are equal to boys.

This is not about whether Apostolic Christian girls are being held back in modern America, these are girls being killed.


Surely school age girls need a father to protect them- sure they outgrow that need eventually, if the father's job gets done properly- but in the meantime they need someone paternal looking after them.


"I just don't get it. To me, what the Taliban are offering is so self-evidently awful I can't understand why a single Afghan would ever support them."

The answer is obvious: Islam. The Taliban represents itself as true and authentic enforcers of Islam, and points to their compliance with Koran, Hadith, and Sunna as evidence of it. What you see as awful the population sees as greater fidelity to their religion.

"Now they've been thrust back a thousand years"

You say that as if a Muslim would have reason to object. Muslims see the past as superior to the present, because it is closer to Muhammad.

"our values are closer to the Afghan people's than the Taliban's are"

No, they aren't. Afghan values are Islamic values, which are 180 degrees from our values.

J. Peden

Ellis seems to have a very troubled Fantasy Life. And, apparently, that's all he's got so far - excepting that he says he would actually try to help someone in danger if the situation was occurring right in front of him, perhaps as some kind of especially nightmarish reality for Ellis.

But otherwise, who in their right mind would want to go around in life solely trying to align themselves with the "correct words"? Or justifying anything and everything on the basis of "good intentions" or feelings....Those, of course, along with blaming/demonizing some either projected or conveniently concocted Other.

For me, those kinds of approaches to life would be physically self-contradictory. I either wouldn't exist, or else I'd be as troubled as Ellis is.

J. Peden

"Why have things gone so wrong in Afghanistan? I just don't get it."

I don't see things as having gone "so wrong" in Afghanistan, but rather as having gone within the realm of what could be expected. There were almost certainly never going to be any miracles.

I believe the strategic thinking was that things would have in fact gone worse in Afghanistan had we not gone into Iraq as a priority, thus forcing AQ to fight us where we wanted to fight them, and thus defeating them there first, as well as establishing a [non-landlocked] base for further operations in the area.

With Iraq looking somewhat stable and useable, now we take on the Afghan situation, probably just as planned - though never guaranteed, just as most things never are.

Roderick Reilly

It's all about elevating cowardice to the status of a virtue.


What makes me laugh is the contrast how generous they are to the Taliban (several commentors tried to paint it as the fault of one Taliban commander and not the Taliban as a whole) and how ungenerous they are to American conservatives (who they openly stereotype as mysogynistic abortion clinic bombers).

Basically, one of these groups are their real enemies and one is the enemy of their enemy. Their choice as to who each of these groups are shows how fundamentally unserious they are about the world.


Sooo ... sending humanitarian aid to Gaza is paternalistic, isn't it? As well as trying to help them by marching and making speeches at the UN?


This kind of tying together of one's intellectual shoelaces falls naturally out of the belief that everything is political, which is held by a certain stripe of liberal thinkers to be as self-evident as gravity. If you can't suffer a claim to truth without examining the political bent of the claimant, then everything starts to look suspect, even one's own impulses.

For all that premodern peoples, like the contemporary proponents of Sharia Law, have in common with postmodern peoples, like this Ellis character in all of his knotty struggle with himself, is that the former put greater stock in action. In the realm of action, all of this sorts itself out rather clearly - threatening schoolgirls with violent death, for any reason at all, really, justifies the use of force in their defense should it come to that.

Alas, improving the lives of Afghan girls falls outside the mandate of our Constitution. Sadly, we abetted their oppression by funding Afghan military concerns to the tune of $6 billion during the '80s when they were fighting the Russians, which also falls outside the mandate of our Constitution. Even more sadly, we could eviscerate Taliban finances in one week by decriminalizing the narcotic derivatives of the poppy, whose perennial illicit status likewise has no Constitutional basis. So there's a place for self-criticism here, but not in the form imagined by Ellis et al.


"...the difference is that the former put greater stock..."


Hi Aynrandgirl

I agree that "authentic", back-to-the-7th-Century Islam is what the Taleban claim to be offering. Unfortunately they don't confine themselves to 7th Century weaponry, technology & communications. If they did, they'd be really really easy to defeat.

It used to be that those who consciously chose backwardness as a willed policy inevitably fell behind until they collapsed. They were terrible to those they ruled, but not a problem for the rest of us. Even, say, the Khmer Rouge of the 1970s. Taking Cambodia back to Year Zero ultimately made the country wide open for Vietnam to invade & conquer.

Now, those advocating backwardness have money, weapons & gadgets aplenty - mostly derived from the "jizya" the west pays the Muslim world for its oil.

Still, I wonder. How many Afghans really want a return to the 7th Century? I know quite a few Iranians, & my impression is, only a small minority want continued hardline clerical rule. Most know it just doesn't work. But most are also proudly nationalistic. They don't want America to be the agent of their deliverance. They've seen the bloodshed in Iraq, and don't fancy something like that happening in Iran.

The Afghans I've met - all living in the west - tell me their country has massive regional and ethnic-linguistic divisions. It's more like 7 countries in 1. The most enlightened government it ever had - in terms of religious freedom and women's rights - was the Communist PDPA government.



“This kind of tying together of one’s intellectual shoelaces falls naturally out of the belief that everything is political, which is held by a certain stripe of liberal thinkers to be as self-evident as gravity.”

I fear it’s also widely regarded as a measure of sophistication, whereby the more inhibited, conflicted and culturally self-loathing a person is, the more morally elevated that person is deemed to be. At least by others who’ve learned to think in similar, emasculating terms.

“So there’s a place for self-criticism here, but not in the form imagined by Ellis et al.”

Well, despite the waffle about “cultural imperialism,” ours is a fairly self-critical culture, perhaps uniquely so. And some have taken self-criticism to pathological, paralysing extremes. Such that disdaining one’s culture and history as uniquely malign appears to be the *objective*.

J. Peden

"Such that disdaining one’s culture and history as uniquely malign appears to be the *objective*."

Which is unbalanced, boring, anti-intellectual, and wrong.

Related anecdote: once I got trapped at a dinner amongst friends by two such hypercritical characters, both of whom are very good people when it comes to anything other than thinking politically, at which point they seem primarily obsessed with repeating vapid memes. One started it with a complaint about American "Imperialism" and a disdain for the "American lifestyle" - he lives in Los Angeles. Dealing only with the latter complaint, I simply shot back with, "That's subjective", and he actually agreed.

But the funny thing was that this dinner was taking place in a beautiful owner-built, hand-made log cabin with the logs having been taken right off the property, which itself is virtually surrounded by legal, mountainous Wilderness, in a large remote County whose population is only about 7100, etc., etc., a set up to which the complaintant has essentially full and unlimited access. Anyone else can access the general area, too and avail themselves of the very large Wilderness and other legally protected areas and BLM holdings, and many do exactly that.

What "American lifestyle" was he talking about?

Clyde Barrow

The U.S. intrusion into Afghanistan was driven by urgent U.S. national security considerations. If the Taliban has not hosted their expensive Al Qaeda houseguests, no foreign troops would be there now.

Improving conditions there is pursued as an adjunct to that, following the belated realization any lawless outland can be exploited by anti-Western violent haters who have cultivated a long reach.

For the above reason, the moral writhing of this douche-bag is academic regarding Afghanistan. But in general, this hothouse orchid is advocating pulling the chain on human beings for his own good, not for their own good. It is an abstraction conceived in a comfortable bubble.


Purely in the case of the Afghan girls/women then yes, it is paternalistic. The argument therefore is not, are we paternalistic?, but rather, should we be? To which I'd answer, yes. Because in this case we (The West) do know better, we are in this case morally superior, we are right and we should impose this particular moral value.

Perhaps the author of the article would like to review several other paternalistic practices around the world: aid to struggling countries (Why its like an allowance/pocket money! The cheek. Stop it right now and let those starving Africans avoid being patronised.), the UN (A group of paternalist's sitting round deciding what is and isn't right! Huh! Cultural imperialists!), Abrahamic faiths (Only one true faith/moral code/belief system? That must be spread across the world? Cultural imperialism darling!) and Governments (making the law and deciding what's best for us, who do they think they are- our parents?). Chuck 'em all!

Why stop there? Schools- paternalistic! Television- cultural imperialism! Smash them all until all that's left are are Stone Age hunter-gatherers. And if anyone tries to be Chief or Village Elder or Shaman we'll murder the damn paternalists. Of course all this needs organisation...

I think Dave Spart has a little stiffy.

Mary Jackson

I've been horribly busy at my day job and missed this little gem.


Let us not forget that Afghan women have "culturally variable meanings of personhood":


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