Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cultural Hegemony, comment moderation, and Laura Wood

I've tossed up a few posts in the past month or two referencing Laura Wood and her site "The Thinking Housewife." In general I think she's shooting at the right targets and therefore stay out of the way, but I recently got into something of a discussion with her that I thought I'd continue here for the sake of further articulating my differences with her.

About ten days ago (sorry folks, I don't always have time to blog the news as it happens) a post popped up on my Thinking Housewife reader feed that was submitted by a parent talking about educating his (her?) children in an atmosphere that encouraged critical thinking and reading in between the lines. He cited as an example the ways that liberals will often talk about Native American cultures - whitewashing some of their disturbing pagan rituals and using language that portrays them as victims instead of aggressors. An example he gave being "A massacre in the northern reaches of Colorado occurred and the entire Ute nation was threatened by whites" where a more accurate telling would have specified that the Ute nation was threatened after they massacred some white settlers. However, as this parent noted, liberals don't boycott these idyllic mountain resorts that were created by settlers carving out a home in the wilderness and in fact often flock there with their crystals and communes and their touchy, feely, pantheistic spirituality. All well and good and according to Laura Wood. However, in closing he made the statement that,"I will in no way excuse how Indians were treated in this country. It was shameful. But I also will not subject my children to this one-sided treatment of history, which is why we homeschool."

That last little bit, which I thought was only considerate given the broken treaties and piss poor treatment with Native American's received more than once from settlers and the American government, started a minor storm. At this point I suggest you read the comments on that post. There aren't many of them. It should be clear why I have real problems with some of what Laura Wood says and thinks. First off, there's a clear assumption of white Anglo/European cultural superiority. This won't be a popular statement, but I rather agree with her here. I like my culture (most of it anyway). I think we have a rich tradition of arts, justice, education, Christianity that has enriched us in ways that a primitive tribe in Central America can't even comprehend. Despite the downward spiral of Western Civilization we at least have the idea of cathedrals and great institutes of learning and glorious, edifying, challenging art. There's a real sense that we're falling from something and not just tripping over our boots. Concomitant with that view is that we have a certain responsibility to act with justice and mercy. To whom much has been given much is required.

Having ordered the Indian Nations about and disrupted (and in the case of forcible reeducation) tried to obliterate their culture we have an obligation to them that free health clinics and welfare don't even begin to cover. Let us suppose for a minute that in every case where the government moved Indians to reservations and made them essentially wards of the state the US government was perfectly justified and acted only in good faith. I don't believe that's true, but lets assume it for the sake of argumentation. Laura Wood says that I have infantilized Native Americans. What I have tried to do is point out that if white Americans had the right to move Native Americans about and tell them what they could and couldn't do then it makes no sense whatsoever to call Indian issues a tribal sovereignty affair in which the US government can't interfere because (and here's the kicker) tribal sovereignty only applies when the US government says it does. It's a shoddy cop out to blame Indians for becoming what the US people have essentially asked them to become - in many cases wards of the state clinging to the vestiges of their culture in the only ways available to them. I say this not to, as Laura Wood claims, universally condemn white Americans for what has happened to Native Americans but to call Americans to remember their responsibilities with regards to justice and mercy and the least of these.

However, I shouldn't have been surprised to see this move from Laura Wood because I've seen it before. I can't link directly to the post since it's lost in the archives, so you'll unfortunately have to trust me on this one. Basically there was a discussion of black American culture and its breakdown in the recent past - absent fathers, welfare, crime, and the like. In the discussion a black woman pointed out that most of the social policies that everyone was so loudly bemoaning were actually voted in by whites. You would have thought she questioned Mrs. Wood's paternity so great was the scorn brought down on her. But this woman had an excellent point. To put in bluntly, there are not enough black people in America to unilaterally bring these policies into existence. That's why they are a minority. There's fewer of them. In some municipalities they may be the majority, but nationally they are not. The point which should be staring you in the face is that even if black people wanted to enact some of these policies they couldn't do so without a substantial number of whites working alongside them. These whites are equally to blame for bad policies, and blacks today are, together with whites and other races, equally victims of bad lawmaking.

In case you aren't seeing how this ties in with Native Americans, I'll state that you can't both claim and deny cultural hegemony. Black issues aren't merely black issues when a majority of white congressmen voted in the offending legislature. You can't just stand over there in your white culture bubble and sneer at how bad things are in the ghetto. Who built that ghetto? Who writes the welfare checks? Who enacted policies that create financial incentives for fatherlessness. If the answer is 60%-80% white then you've got a problem going on in your own little bubble. When you drive Indians onto reservations and then say, "Oh hey, umm, we've decided we can't tell you not to run a casino even though we know that will probably further degrade your people." you've got a white problem. If white people can "give" Native Americans a piece of land and stick them on it and then yank their kids away to give them an "American" education I think they can put a simply zoning ordinance in place. National sovereignty has been blown to hell and back and is now raining down its smoldering ruin. Don't crook your pinky in the air and tell me what you can and cannot do because of some mythological rights that you've violated every single time it served your best interest.

Some people might look at this and say, "But they (whichever "they" you like) could have refused and taken the higher path." Well yeah. They could have. I won't deny moral agency. BUT! What have you said about these people? "Oh, they don't know any better." "They aren't civilized." "They don't understand work/marriage/diligence/thrift/insert pet virtue." So then you put them in a bad spot and expect them to take the high road. Yeah. You've got at least a thousand years of Christendom behind you informing your instincts, thoughts, and actions. Some of these people have a couple hundred years of sloppy evangelism and government mismanagement. By all means let's consider how they handle a difficult situation and then point fingers when they respond in less culturally mature ways. You could have helped them. Out of the largess that is Western Civilization you could have pointed to our stores of justice and mercy and the amassed learning of over two thousand years. You could have humbled yourselves just a little bit and learned to love a mountain like a Cherokee or love the blues like a Black. You could have, in receiving and appreciating the best in others, given the best of yourself. You could have taught a Gospel that didn't require people to be white (as defined by drinking tea or enjoying Chopin) and that instead redeemed their own culture and brought it into Christendom in the same way that Germany and England were brought into the Christendom of Rome and Greece.

But, as Allen pointed out, when it comes to culture wars I'm not the one out there on the front lines bashing people with a stick. There are other people who that, and some of them even do it well. I'm more behind the lines, trying to think two plays ahead. I don't just care about who we fight but how we fight. I want us to use the right words and clear thinking. Fortunately collateral damage from a blog post is rarely more serious than a few hurt feelings, but I dislike it when people like Laura Wood stop promoting the good in our own Anglo-European Christian culture and start bashing other people over an evil for which they are not wholly responsible. It does no good and only confuses the issue.

I'll close with this. Some people really appreciate Laura Wood's tightly moderated discussion. I'll admit it's a nice change from the mishmash you get on other sites. However, there's a question of transparency and integrity. I'm not saying that she lacks integrity but that it's harder to see it in that setting. My final comment on the post in question resulted from a private e-mail that Laura Wood sent me regarding the issue at hand. She didn't say she was going to post it, and she didn't ask. She also didn't include her question to me in framing my response. She posted one of my comments, her response, and then my response as if I were responding to her final comment. It's a minor issue I'll admit, but my respect for her abilities as a moderator fell somewhat. It didn't seem quite square to me. But that's an issue with bloggers anywhere. That's why I prefer not to take sides in issues of character between bloggers. If I only know you on-line it seems safer to just wish you well. I expect to no less from any bloggy friends should I find myself in some histrionic brouha.

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