Can diverse people of all cultures get along? Yes, but only if there is One Culture to Rule Them All.
Also, leftist compassion is naïve and unconcerned with outcomes.
It’s been a minute, but that’s about where we left off last time and the time before. Since then, the forces of the Left have lost their minds over the recrudescence of the Third Reich in the person of Orange-Hitler, whose stormtrooper battalions are putting immigrant children in concentration camps, or something.
Okay, perhaps a lot has happened in the month or so since our last installment. But the idea behind this column has always been the big picture, the wide-angle lens. Now that we’ve heard the case for hegemonism and taken a stab at unmasking liberal compassion, let’s take a look at the view from 5,000 feet—the reactionary view.
The reactionary view is conditioned by the idea that power exists, and power is reducible to force. Of course, the whole point of force is violence, which is equivalent, by some lights, to conflict plus uncertainty.
“But wait,” you say, “I’m a ‘90s-to-early-2000’s kid, and I distinctly remember all those girls screaming for the Backstreet Boys. Why, I’ll bet you if Howie had told them to, they would have fought to the death for the chance to become impregnated with his child—and that would have made for a much better music video.” You’re right, dear reader, it would have made for a much better video, not least because the idea of a Backstreet Boys groupie going full Red Sonja is really, really funny.
No matter what, in the end cultural power means some degree of control over physical power, and physical power is always the final argument.
This is easy to prove if you take a moment to think about it. If you hop in a time machine and try to fight Mike Tyson at his peak, you are going to lose because Peak-Quality-Mike-Tyson has a greater capacity to project physical, muscular force in a violent fashion. On the other hand, even Peak Mike Tyson is going to lose to a grizzly bear or a gorilla.
The point of this silly digression is that we can step around moral questions about who should win or who we want to win in order to see who will win. Not that anyone is particularly interested in dressing up a Tyson-fights-grizzly match in morality—but it is a good frame to keep in mind.
The more power you have, the more force you can bring to bear (pardon the pun) to solve a violent problem, which is simply a matter of conflict and uncertainty. Got it? Great. Now strap in, because we’re rocketing 5,000 feet up and hundreds of thousands of years into the past.
We’ll be taking a ‘Martian’ view of history, in the Dan Carlin sense: trying to make sense of history through a wide-angle lens, as if we were Martians—or trying to explain it to Martians, take your pick.
Five thousand feet is almost a mile high (it’s pithier to say than ‘The View from 5,280 Feet’), and that still leaves us in the troposphere, the lowest level of the atmosphere of the planet Earth, the third planet around the star called Sol, in the galaxy Milky Way—but 5,000 feet is high enough, and 300,000 years is far back enough.
As it so happens, 300,000 years, or a bit more, is how far back Homo sapiens seems to have been a going concern. Without going into our hominin ancestors’ much older and extremely fascinating history in the African continent (we weren’t always Homo sapiens, after all), we all lived in hunter-gather societies until the much later advent of agriculture about 12,000 years ago—and then only in a select grouping of societies in a part of the Middle East.
Self-control became an important feature for individuals who were reproductively successful. And self-control translates into conscience.
According to one incredibly intriguing theory, modern Homo sapiens evolved morality in the context of hunter-gather bands hunting for ungulates, hooved mammals. This early morality was rather concerned with the sharing of meat with a mentality of equity. It made sense for every hunter and his family to get a more-or-less equal share of the meat for every kill, because that kept everyone happy, healthy, and (one presumes) motivated for the next big kill.
Besides, in an era before refrigeration, the best possible larder for all-that-aurochs-steak-you-can’t-eat-in-two-days was your band members. If you feed them today, then they’ll feed you tomorrow, and the day after, and probably the day after that—however long it takes, until it’s your lucky day and you kill the aurochs again.
“People started hunting large ungulates, or hoofed mammals. They were very dedicated to hunting, and it was an important part of their subsistence. But my theory is that you cannot have alpha males if you are going to have a hunting team that shares the meat fairly evenhandedly, so that the entire team stays nourished. In order to get meat divided within a band of people who are by nature pretty hierarchical, you have to basically stomp on hierarchy and get it out of the way. I think that is the process.
“My hypothesis is that when they started large game hunting, they had to start really punishing alpha males and holding them down. That set up a selection pressure in the sense that, if you couldn’t control your alpha tendencies, you were going to get killed or run out of the group, which was about the same as getting killed. Therefore, self-control became an important feature for individuals who were reproductively successful. And self-control translates into conscience.”
Where did power lie in these hunter-gatherer bands—which, to be clear, were the default setting of human social organization for most of the time Homo sapiens have been around on this planet? Who had power?
If we follow Boehm’s ideas, power resided in the band. The members of the band united in a kin-based grouping, a grouping which probably would have happened anyway—primates do tend to be social creatures, after all—but a grouping which gained added and special importance as a result of human culture, language, and big-game hunting.
The greatest social threat these people would have faced was bullying alphas, the worse of these being prehistoric psychopaths who were capable of murder. On that note, we should probably acknowledge Steven Pinker’s magisterial work The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, which establishes in no uncertain terms that primitive societies were far more violent than modern civilized societies, and various civilized societies have undergone massive declines in violence in more than one context and time period.
The rest is easy to summarize. Humans invented agriculture, not once but on several different occasions in staggeringly different parts of the world, and that in turn allowed different agricultural societies at different times on different continents to evolve into advanced civilizations, with hierarchical class structures, priesthoods, and occupational specialization.
Those civilizations also set about trying to conquer the world, or at least their various parts of it, by military conquest and, with time, through religions that attempted to go beyond the purely local, the particular, and reach for a more universal vision.
We’ll use our time machine to barrel through thousands of years, taking snapshots of historical tableaux as they pass.
Alexander the Great battles Darius III at Gaugamela.
Roman legions and ships swarm across the Mediterranean and much of Western Europe.
Also, we learned to make bread out of air (we’ll come back to that).
Where did the power of an Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, or Genghis Khan come from? From their armies, to be sure, but also from the societies those armies were drawn from.
Let’s simplify: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, and every other conqueror, king, and princeling had power because of the rules governing power in their societies—rules that included inheritance, office, and personal achievement.
Our snapshots capture a few more images—the Albigensian Crusade, the Ottomans taking Constantinople, the Tokugawa establishing their bakufu in Japan, Louis XIV building Versailles, seizing Strasbourg, and expelling the Huguenots, his contemporary the Kangxi Emperor suppressing the Revolt of the Three Feudatories…
We note the ascendancy of faith in so many of these societies, and how it has changed the ways in which they organize religious activity. This seems significant, but as Martians observing it from 5,000 feet, we are detached from the elaborate thought-worlds of deities, saints, martyrs, and miracles, and the social, cultural, and political systems they permeate.
We skip over a few centuries, confident in our ability to make sense of what we are seeing with only a few snapshots.
A world in which the most powerful nation on earth is gripped with guilt over its racist past—oh wait, we landed in a New York Times series.
Or maybe MTV Decoded.
Or Huffington Post.
Or maybe even NowThis Politics.
Hey, Waka Waka (This Time for Africa).
Clearly something has gone wrong. We have somehow become stuck in a cultural milieu in which deconstructing whiteness is an actual thing, and Tim Wise has a career lecturing his fellow whites on their Whiteness and ‘White privilege.’
We descend from our 5,000-foot height to try to make sense of it all.
Through numerous conversations and some Martian mind-reading technology that allows us to abstract patterns of thinking into major themes, we make some interesting discoveries that only leave us more confused than ever.
There seems to be a conviction, among many but not all inhabitants of this strangely self-hating civilization, that the past until recently was more or less irredeemably evil. The nature of the putative evils seems to reflect patterns of gender and family organization, ethnic conflict, nation- and empire-building, invasion, and enslavement which we have been observing around the world to a greater or lesser degree.
And yet, not only do the denizens of this strange new world believe that their past is particularly to be reviled, in seeming ignorance of the rest of history, they insist on putting the blame on one particular group which has been historically dominant.
Monuments are toppled because they represent too offensive a reminder of said group’s historical domination. Business owners bend over backward to appease the demands of individuals belonging to particular groups that can claim ‘victim’ status. It even infects fringe movements ostensibly devoted to liberty.
All of this is incredibly baffling. How can a civilization be so gripped by the desire for abnegation and effacement?
The more we look and analyze and reflect, the more baffling it gets.
These societies seem to be possessed by a kind of Cultural Revolution against their own cultures, against the peoples that made them possible in the first place. This is, apparently, social justice and multiculturalism.
How can we get un-stuck from this frame? Let us scan our archives, spin the globe, and choose a non-Western country; and then construct a computer simulation of an alternate version of that country, in our Ship of the Imagination.
Our alternate version of that country will be an anti-country, in which the Cathedral, which is to say the mass media and higher education forces of Good and Correct Opinion-Making, will be turned against the dominant culture.
Our choice is the Islamic Republic of Iran. Drawing on our archives, we quickly realize this country has historically been known as Persia. It also has a rich and distinct cultural and historical heritage, and is very ethnically diverse.
We program our simulation, sifting through centuries and then millennia of information about history, culture, and everything else, and then we put on our VR glasses, push the button, and poof—we’re in Anti-Persia.
Since our purposes are rather specific, we’ll zero in on Anti-Persia’s Cathedral, the mass media and institutes of higher education that function as its organs of Correct Opinion-Making.
The first thing we notice is that the Anti-Persian Cathedral does an awful lot of complaining about ethnic Persians and ‘Persianness.’
Major newspapers amplify the grievances of middle-class college students from the Azeri, Gilaki, Kurd, Arab, Lur, Baloch, and Turkmen minorities. These ‘Persons of Anti-Persianness’ (PAPs) complain about how Persian everything is in historic Persia.
There are college courses about Persian privilege, many of which seek to ‘deconstruct’ Persianness as a myth.
“There’s no such thing as a real Persian,” the line goes. “Persian identity was a weapon created by the shahs to marginalize PAPs.”
Professional Anti-Persian activists rail against Persian identity, ‘Persian supremacy,’ ‘Persian privilege,’ and Persian historical figures.
The history of Anti-Persia reads as one long history of unending, unrelenting horror, persecution, and suffering, all of it meted out by Persians on a dizzying array of Babylonians, Lydians, Egyptians, Greeks, and other victims.
The Achaemenid Empire, the greatest Persian imperial state and one of the greatest empires in world history, is demonized and reviled for its imperial conquests.
Indeed, the movie 300 is practically required watching in college history courses across Anti-Persia, and is received not as a mythologized action movie but rather a heroic and stirring tale of anti-Persian resistance (‘anti-Persian’ with a small a, not to be confused with Anti-Persia the anti-Persian Persia). It is treated perhaps something like the TV miniseries Roots.
Persepolis in Shiraz, Iran. Ninara – Flickr
And on and on it goes. The Sassanids are reviled like the Achaemenids, but the conquering Muslim Arabs and the Umayyad and ‘Abbasid dynasties are actually talked up as a way to help Arab minority students feel affirmed and empowered beneath the suffocating weight of Persian privilege and Persian supremacy they must endure every day in Anti-Persia.
Worse, the peerless verse of Firdawsi is denigrated and attacked for its anti-Arab, Persian supremacist bent:
But for the Persians I will weep, and for
The House of Sasan ruined by this war:
Alas for their great crown and throne, for all
The royal splendor destined now to fall,
To be fragmented by the Arabs’ might;
The stars decree for us defeat and flight.
Four hundred years will pass in which our name
Will be forgotten and devoid of fame.
Firdawsi, writing in the late 10th to very early 11th century, wrote the above verses from the perspective of a Sassanid Persian general in the 7th century (think of it as historical fiction) facing an invading army of early Muslim Arabs. In Anti-Persia, they are deemed hate-speech, and trigger warnings are placed on literature courses teaching this most venerable classic of Persian literature.
Even this is not enough for the cultural Vandals, and a coalition of them organize to demand the complete removal of Firdawsi from literature courses.
In all of this, we notice a curious thing: Persians are not allowed to organize on the basis of ethnic Persian identity. The slightest whiff of Persian identitarianism produces screaming calls about ‘neo-Sassanids’ and ‘neo-Safavids.’
The Cathedral, of course, reinforces this at every opportunity. Not only are pro-Persian nationalists and activists labeled ‘neo-Sassanids’ and ‘neo-Safavids,’ they are branded as ‘hate groups.’
Scanning the brains of every person in Anti-Persia, we have to admit that we do find flickers of ethnic in-group preference, much of it subconscious, in the Persian population. However, they are not exceptional in this, and other groups appear, if anything, to have stronger in-group preferences—or at least to be far more vocal about them.
These preferences are certainly associated with some antipathy toward other groups, but the curious thing is that despite the Persians being demonized, they are not particularly given to antipathy toward Arabs, Azeris, Balochis, and the rest—on the contrary, they are desperate to ensure that they do not say anything that might smack of pro-Persian bias, or of prejudice against other groups.
They use a curious word for such prejudice, aryism, which we eventually untangle to mean ‘preferring one’s own people’ and also ‘disfavoring other peoples.’
Can other groups be aryist, either to each other or to Persians? Opinion is divided, with some claiming there can be a sort of ‘reverse aryism,’ but many others—and certainly the most respectable—all agree that aryism is particularly a sin of Persians against everyone else in Anti-Persia, because Persians, and Persians alone, possess power and systemic advantage, which connects to the structural and systemic aryism under which PAPs suffer.
The third thing we notice is that despite all the demonization and complaints hurled at them, the Persians seem to be necessary for keeping Anti-Persia running. They are well-represented in political life, even in the media and higher education (the Anti-Persian Cathedral), business, the skilled trades, all of it.
They also foot a disproportionate share of taxes—yes, even though they are the largest group—consume less welfare than many other groups and have relatively high rates of law-abidingness.
Yes, Persian guilt is quite the phenomenon, but what’s the logic behind it? Why are so many Persians gripped with this overpowering need to feel guilty for the (putative, arguable) ‘evils’ of their forefathers?
After all, as some brave Persians point out, it is hardly as if Anti-Persia has a uniquely brutal history—have you heard of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the conquest of Mexico, and the American Civil War? Other countries and cultures have done great evil too!
If we want to explain why Anti-Persia is Anti-Persia instead of Persia, we need to really look at the ruling ideology and see how it benefits the power structure.
Of course, we’ll also want to try to understand why Anti-Persian society accepts this narrative and goes along with it.
True, people do not like to incur the anger and displeasure of their peers, but why do their peers believe it? Ultimately we have to come up with some kind of answer for why this set of ideas, instead of some other, more pro-Persian set of ideas, rules Anti-Persia.
The declaration of Shi'ism as the state religion of Iran in 1501 by Shah Ismail - Safavid dynasty
When we look at the politics of Anti-Persia, we notice that there are two major political parties, each of which uses quite distinctive language. True, Anti-Persian citizens often grumble that they are too much alike, but everyone knows they are playing two different games.
The first major party claims to champion the average person, no matter who they are or where they come from. They believe in something called hamsar, a concept we might translate, in our questionable Anti-Persian, as “everyone should receive what everyone else receives.”
We’ll refer to them as Party H for now.
The second major party (also) claims to champion the average person, no matter who they are or where they come from. However, they believe in a couple of different things. While they pay lip service to the Hamsar Doctrine, they’re more concerned with something called taarof. While this might be more literally translated as “manners,” for this party—Party T—it essentially means “doing things the way they have long been done."
This belief in taarof intersects to a degree with a belief in something called azadi, a peculiar idea that means “acting in a manner one has willed to act.”
How do Party H and Party T manage to run Anti-Persia between them? How do they engage with the dominant ideology of Anti-Persianness, and what is their stake in it?
For Party H, the doctrine of hamsar is politically important because all Anti-Persian citizens should receive what everyone else receives, but they do not. Again, Persians generally do better than other groups, although of course not all Persians manage to do as well as for themselves as other Persians, economically speaking.
Best of all, Party H has held enough power—sometimes overwhelming power—at high enough levels in the past in order to put into place a set of arrangements in which the government takes some money from everyone who earns money and redistributes it to those who do not earn above a certain level, or at all.
Party H sells this set of policies to the voters as mehr, meaning “strong positive affection.”
As a consequence, Party H’s voting base includes most of the non-Persian groups in Anti-Persia, who usually vote overwhelmingly for H candidates. However, it also includes many Persians. These Persians tend to see Persianness as an elitist concept, one they associate with the departed shah and the traditional landowners and tribal chieftains who composed much of the pre-Anti-Persian elite—and with the heads of the major businesses who, in effect, replaced them.
As for Party T, a big part of their game is playing off of Party H. They claim allegiance to some form of hamsar, but also claim Party H has gone too far and neglected taarof, doing things the way they have always been done.
Something struggles to reassert itself in our memories.
To be sure, Party T also believes in azadi, “acting in a manner one has willed to act,” but even this seems to be almost a reaction to hamsar, since after all, “everyone should receive what everyone else receives” rather conflicts with the notion that everyone should be able to act in a manner they have willed to act.
What in the world is going on here?
We dig into our archives, our thoughts flickering through hundreds of years of historical events and personages. Entire centuries dissolve and are abstracted into historical patterns and narratives in the blink of an eye.
In passing we note the Axial Age of 800-200 BCE, the great transformation of belief from the particular to the transcendent across so much of the ancient world, including Persia. Interesting, but not quite what we are looking for.
We note the great revolutions of the period sometimes called ‘modernity,’ and realize that a major theme here is the involvement of the people—conceptualized as a super-organismic whole—in political life.
We note the Industrial Revolution, and note in particular the leveling effect of moving from a world in which 19 out of 20 people on Earth lived on less than $2.00/day to a world in which fewer than 1 in 10 do so.
We note in particular the spectacular development of the Haber-Bosch process for converting atmospheric nitrogen to fertilizer. Thanks to this process, without which about 40% of the world’s population would starve to death, obesity is a growing global public health problem.
Something struggles to reassert itself in our memories.
Social levelling… hierarchy… food…
Christopher Boehm’s words:
“In order to get meat divided within a band of people who are by nature pretty hierarchical, you have to basically stomp on hierarchy and get it out of the way. I think that is the process.”
Have we solved the riddle of Anti-Persia? Let’s see if we can construct a reasonable narrative. Traditionally, Persian society was hierarchical and built on taarof, “doing things the way they have long been done.”
But then a revolution, or a series of them, turned Persia into Anti-Persia. The older revolutionary rhetoric centered on the idea of azadi, “acting in a manner one has willed to act,” but with time the Hamsar Doctrine, “everyone should receive what everyone else receives,” took root and has grown and grown ever since.
All of this was fundamentally possible because of the changes in economic organization and technology which resulted in large concentrations of people gathered into the cities, where they could put pressure on the nerve centers of power to a degree unprecedented in traditional society.
With the throne vacant and the altars toppled, Anti-Persia became a mess of ethnic and class tensions. Over time, the tyranny of rising expectations meant that the focus of revolutionary efforts moved from ‘merely’ abolishing class distinctions and establishing reasonable working conditions in Anti-Persian rug factories to abolishing Persianness itself.
Anti-Persianness and anti-aryism caught on as a power-strategy because it could weaponize ethnic, class, and gender grievances against the old Persian elite and the businessmen who effectively replaced them, and Party H was born. This power-strategy now operates as a feedback loop between Cathedral and populace, who agitate for ever more hamsar and claim to be ever more oppressed, even as the industrial technology and the alchemy of air allow poor people to become fat.
Party H has not been able to dominate political life entirely, however, and the result is a never-ending tug-of-war between the party of more-or-less permanent revolution and the party of putative resistance to said permanent revolution. The tug-of-war provides some measure of stability, but over time Party H has moved the dial of Anti-Persia decidedly toward the Hamsar Doctrine of “everyone should receive what everyone else receives.”
As Anti-Persia becomes ever more anti-Persian, it also becomes ever more multicultural. After all, if Persia was an oppressive historical monstrosity, and if hamsar should replace Persianness, why not import people from foreign lands beyond Anti-Persia, the better to dilute Persianness?
On the basis of this logic, Party H colludes with big business interests—despite its officially anti-business rhetoric—to import large numbers of Hephthalites as cheap labor. The Hephthalites vote for Party H to give them ever-more lavish benefits paid for by the Persians, justifying this as reparations for past Sassanid aggression.
One may choose to believe that Anti-Persia will progress toward a multicultural utopia. Another possibility is a socially fractured country, paralyzed by ethnic and class conflict and a wave of uncontrolled Hephthalite crime it cannot bring itself to be honest about. (After all, to call out Hephthalite crime would be aryism).
The world dissolves around us, and the simulation ends.
What is the great lesson of Anti-Persia? Is there a lesson, or is it simply an incredibly silly exercise?
Anti-Persia may well be preposterously silly—surely no society could be that self-effacing, after all—but as silly and unrealistic as it is, it points us toward an important truth. If the people hold power through the Party H-Party T system, that power-strategy is every bit as much a question of control over force, over conflict plus uncertainty, as all the other historical scenarios we have engaged with.
It is the nature of all revolutions to denounce the past. Anti-Persia poses as a new dispensation, aggressively brandishing its curious revolutionary doctrine of hamsar and its anti-Persian culture of critique, but it is nothing more than a power grab. History has not ended, only turned over a new leaf.
From this perspective, multiculturalism is simply a part of an anti-hegemonist power-strategy. It provides cheap Hephthalite labor to big businesses, and discourages ethnic tensions and in-group preferences, particularly on the part of the slim Persian majority, which could conceivably get in the way of anti-Persian ethnic tensions and tolerance of non-Persian/PAP in-group preference.
Multiculturalism, and the broader complex of Omni-Compassionism, relies on division and lends itself quite readily to animosity. It pits poor against rich, women against men, and non-Persians against Persians. It also pits everyone against Persian nativists and identitarians who want to revive Persian identity, take pride in Persian history and culture, and end the mass migration of Hephthalites.
Opposition is dangerous for Omni-Compassionism, because it requires so many people to make so many sacrifices. From the vantage point of 5,000 feet and 300,000 years, it is easy to see that in-group preference and between-group conflict, whether at the level of the band, tribe, kingdom, ethnic group, or religion, constitutes a much more common and easy to understand pattern than universalism.
The fact that Omni-Compassionism and its Hamsar Doctrine creates winners and losers means that there will always be an incentive to reject it.
Perhaps Omni-Compassionism will yet triumph over those who would reject it, girdling the globe with a monoculture that is equal parts secular humanism and “social justice.”
Perhaps… but perhaps not.
In the end, the greatest weakness of Omni-Compassionism may be the way that it encourages identity when it is against the hegemonic identity of any given country. Not only does this ultimately incentivize some Persians to fight back against anti-Persianness and the Great Hephthalite Replacement, it also requires Omni-Compassionism to keep pushing, long after it has worn out its welcome.
Omni-Compassionism has gotten much mileage out of branding the Persian resistance, the nativists, nationalists, and identitarians, as “hate groups.” It is likely, however, that if Omni-Compassionism ever managed to eliminate all Persianness in Anti-Persia, it would immediately run into challenges keeping its diverse coalition together.
Meanwhile, endless Omni-Compassionate demands—for Persian gold, for Persian culture, for Persian identity itself—are breeding a new generation of awakened Persians.
Perhaps the future of our imagined Anti-Persia is not yet written. Perhaps it will defeat Omni-Compassionism and reclaim its identity, culture, and sense of self-determination and destiny.
Can multiculturalism work? This was our original query.
From the vantage point of 5,000 feet and 300,000 years, we have to admit that we cannot claim, with perfect knowledge, whether multiculturalism of the anti-hegemonist sort can work. Perhaps it can be made to work.
However, we know that Omni-Compassionism, including multiculturalism, is not the first effort at a universal unification of humanity. The great universalizing religions of Christianity and Islam constitute two of the more successful attempts from the premodern world. The histories of both faiths are riddled with sectarian fighting and bloody wars even between nations of the same sect.
Looking down from our lofty height, our eyes piercing the veil of time and taking in three hundred millennia, we admit we cannot know for sure—and yet, we can see the many fault-lines and fractures, the many aspects of human nature and human social nature that Omni-Compassionism must paper over in order to be made to work.
On the other hand, we have any number of examples of societies with a dominant culture and identity of some kind working very well. Some of them, such as the Achaemenids, Romans, and Ottomans, were sprawling hegemonist multicultural empires.
The wager the multiculturalist must make, then, is that the ideology of Omni-Compassionism will be able to outweigh the many forces that oppose it—conservatism, tradition, nationalism, patriotism, and simple in-group preference. It must continue to do this even in the teeth of a demographic situation which is projected to be increasingly unfavorable to it.
A utopian ideology versus the weight of three hundred thousand years… now that is an interesting bet on the future of a civilization.