From Tribal Europe to Western Civilization

Europeans were once simple illiterate tribal people with pagan religions and often matriarchal societies. Take for example the theory that philosophy was introduced into Europe from Egypt in North Africa:

“Henry Olela expands Diop’s claim of the significant African contribution to human evolution with his assertion that the birthplace of philosophy is older than the Greeks, to whom the Western tradition pays homage. “The ancient Greeks themselves often credited Africa with being the source of foundations of philosophical knowledge.” Olela asserts that regions of northern Africa and the island of Crete were inhabited by Africans who migrated north during the expansion of the Sahara Desert around 2,500 years B.C.E . The awesome magnificence of ancient Egyptian kingdoms Olela claims for the descendants of the Gallas, the Somalians, and the Maasai. According to Olela, civilization began in the interior of Africa and shifted northward, through descent and diffusion, to engulf the north of the continent and regions around the Mediterranean Sea. Ancient Egypt in all its magnificence is, for Olela, ancient Africa— the kingdom of Sais in Olela’s terms— and that places “Black Africa” at “the intellectual center of the world,” inventing the mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, science, and medicine that would be passed, through the Pre-Socratic philosopher Thales of Miletus (around 640 to 546 B.C.E.), to the secondary “cradle” of civilization and philosophy, ancient Greece.”
Savage Constructions: The Myth of African Savagery, Wendy C. Hamblet, Kindle Locations 1931-1940

Also, consider other things introduced from Africa and the Middle East.

Western politics wouldn’t have become what it is without the foreign introduction of imperialism along with large-scale monarchism and highly stratified, rigid class-based hierarchies. Monotheism was introduced from the Middle East. The North African Moors for a long time period forced Islam onto a significant part of Europe. Plus, the Moors also jumpstarted the Rennaisance. The Near and Middle East reintroduced much of Greek thought back into Western Europe.

Why do Europeans, specifically Western Europeans, get blamed for all of this? If everyone had left the European tribal people alone, the world would be a different place. Even Enlightenment thought didn’t emerge simply out of Europe, but was immensely influenced by non-Europeans, including such things as the printing press. I’m for Westerners taking responsibility, but why blame them for everything?

Also, consider that one of the major origins of Enlightenment thought was European contact with various native peoples:

“Many intellectuals and political elites argued that liberty inevitably leads to anarchy. The localized and oftentimes rather democratic-like self-governance of many Native American tribes put the lie to this claim. Radical thinkers like Thomas Morton, Roger Williams and William Penn sometimes went so far as to declare the Native Americans as more civilized than their fellow colonists. Also, these radical thinkers all had popular writings read in Britain where they themselves traveled back to, and when in England they all had close ties to and discourse with many of the influential Englishmen of their day.

“The New World became a screen onto which new social visions could be collectively imagined and a place where new social experiments could be tried. The contact with Native Americans and their societies, in challenging Western assumptions, helped shape English religious dissent and the English Revolution. The same radicals questioning religious establishment and slavery were also criticizing the cruel, unfair and dishonest treatment of Native Americans. They were able to see the commonality between the oppression of one group of people and the oppression of all people.

“This international and cross-continental web of influence continued for the entire history of the colonies and into the revolutionary era.”

 Western Civilization, as we know it, emerged out of a web of global influences. Western Europe had to be colonized by such people as the Romans and Moors before Western Europe could develop into colonizers themselves. Even racial slavery had to be introduced. The very word “slave” refers to the pale-skinned Slavs who were highly-prized slaves in Africa.

Europe was a cultural, political, and economic backwater for most of the history of civilization. The rise of the West is fairly recent event, in the big scheme of things. The West did not invent civilization. It merely took it to a new level. Even then, that new level was just an exaggeration and reformulation of what the West had inherited. The West did innovate some new ideas, systems, and technologies; but the West ultimately inherited more than it invented.

Western Society and Collective Trauma

I see Western society as possibly the most traumatized society on the planet.

Europe was once a place of tribal people with polytheistic and animistic religions. Almost everything we think of as Western was introduced to the West from elsewhere, mostly from North Africa and the Middle East, but also from Asia: imperialism, colonialism, high art, philosophy, mathematics, astrology, science, etc. None of that originated in Europe.

Instead, Europe’s native society was destroyed through genocide. What was left was a wounded people. Europe is a war-ravaged land and the scars of violence have never healed. Even war-ravaged Africa has survived more intact with its original cultures than Europe has. The East as well has maintained more of its native culture. Few populations on the planet were as utterly decimated by cultural genocide as happened with Europeans.

The dysfunction seen in Western society is that it is a traumatized society. Trauma at that scale doesn’t heal easily, if ever. There is no way to turn back. The cultural genocide was so complete that almost all of the native traditions have been lost forever. When cultural genocide is committed, the soul of a people is murdered. Europeans are the walking wounded, the descendents of the victims of one of the world’s largest genocides.

I’m very serious about that. The past millennia of war and occupation really fucked up Europe. America then inherited that fucked up society. We Westerners are a maimed and scarred people.

“suicidal self-hatred of Western Left-wingers”

Over at WSJ, there is an article about The Late, Great American WASP by Joseph Epstein.

I won’t say much about the article itself. The author is essentially talking about an enlightened aristocracy as related to ethnocentric nationalism, plutocratic ruling elite, landed gentry, primogeniture and noblesse oblige. It’s an interesting topic, but the author simplifies and in doing so falsifies history a bit. Still, the topic should be discussed for its continuing relevance.

My purpose here, however, is simply to make note of a couple of comments. The two commenters were speaking to a more side issue that is another interesting topic. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this side issue, but I thought I’d share it because I found it curious.

Frank Pecarich, in his comment, offered a quote by Collin Cleary:

“Even within the most modern of Western men – yes, even within our politically correct academics – we still see some glimmer of the old, Indo-European thematic nature. One sees this, of course, in the polemical nature of Leftist scholarship. And, as Ricardo Duchesne has pointed out, their critique of the West embodies the perennial Western negativity about itself, and Western “self-doubt.” This may be the hardest point for Right-wing critics of the Left to understand. The suicidal self-hatred of Western Left-wingers is something that seems utterly mad, and defies explanation.

“Of course many Right-wingers do, in fact, have a ready explanation: the self-hatred that currently grips Europeans, and European-Americans, is a kind of plague germ spread by non-Europeans who wish to manipulate us for their own ethnic self-interest. But such manipulation would be impossible if Europeans did not already exhibit an innate capacity for ruthless, sometimes suicidal self-criticism. The anti-Western animus of the European Left may be foolish, dishonest, and disastrous – but it is not un-Western.”

I’m not familiar with Collin Cleary. I wondered what was the larger argument he is making, but the source of the quote wasn’t offered. Fortunately, a quick web search brought up the article which begins with that quote. Cleary is a neo-pagan of the neo-reactionary variety. His argument is basically that left-wingers take too far what is otherwise fundamentally true and good about the Western tradition. This he describes as our “tragic flaw”, individual freedom brought to its self-defeating extreme.

It seems a bit melodramatic with the author’s description of the “suicidal self-hatred of Western Left-wingers”. Still, I’m intrigued by the general idea of the “old, Indo-European thematic nature”. In this view, the Left isn’t un-Western and as such neither is it un-American. However it is described or judged, it can claim an ancient lineage of sorts.

In response to that quote, James Nedved wrote:

Very interesting. I never thought about that in relation to Leftist criticism of the West, that “even it” is really part of the Western “tradition” as it were.

We in the West when you think of it do have a penchant for self-criticism on BOTH the “Jerusalem” and “Athens” side of our patrimony: Jerusalem: search our hearts, find our sin and get rid of it. Athens: Socrates was the original asker of the question, “What is the right way to live?” (An aside: If he would have just shut up, he wouldn’t have had to drink the hemlock.)

Both sides of our patrimony ask us to criticize ourselves / our laws / our “way” to find and then to prove (in the sense of “test”) ourselves.

With this comment, Nedved adds another layer of Western tradition from two other sources of the Mediterranean variety. Levantine Judeo-Christianity obviously didn’t originate in Europe, but it has become so syncretized with the “old, Indo-European thematic nature” that is impossible to separate the two. Protestantism is very much an European creation and Calvinism particularly embodies the attitude of self-doubt and harsh judgment. As for the Greek influence (by way of Hellenism and Rome), we have another strain of Axial Age influence that later fully bloomed in the Enlightenment Era. Combined, the doubting prophets and philosophers were overlaid upon the ancient dark imagination of the European pagans.

In a The Phora discussion thread about Cleary’s article, someone with the username Petr wrote:

I myself would be ready to acknowledge and celebrate the genius of Aryan peoples (as a non-Aryan Finn myself ), but yet I think that writers like this often overstate their generally correct case concerning the exceptional altruism and idealism of Indo-European peoples by over-generalizing and not noting similar traits in other peoples as well.

Here, for example, the brazen attitude of Leftist polemics is attributed to Aryan high spirits. But in other New Right writings, Jewish or Semitic fanaticism is blamed for that same thing…

The Jews had enough suicidal idealism to rebel repeatedly against the might of Rome, inspired by their messianic ambitions, until they were almost destroyed. On the other hand, the Asiatic Aryan peoples of Persia and India do not seem to have displayed that Faustian individualist attitude that writers like Cleary seem to consider as typically Indo-European.

That is a good point. Cleary is a true believer seeking to defend his conception of European traditionalism. His analysis, although interesting in parts, is ultimately apologetics and should be taken as such. Even so, I’m always fascinated by exploration of origins.

Is Reactionary Conservatism Conservative?

I’ve written about this topic quite a few times before. I don’t have any grand insights to add to my previous commentary. I just find myself constantly perplexed by American conservatism.

One particular thing keeps coming back to my mind. America has no tradition of traditional conservatism. This has been more or less true going back to colonial times, but definitely true at least by the revolutionary era. The Europeans who immigrated to America mostly came from traditionally conservative societies and communities, although modern liberalism was already beginning to take hold in certain countries such as Britain and the Netherlands. The important part is that these people were usually leaving traditional conservatism behind on purpose, sometimes even being forced to leave by the defenders of traditional conservatives of their homelands.

The Enlightenment eventually led to the demise of traditional conservatism in  the West. What replaced it was reactionary conservatism. This took hold earliest in America because there was no other conservatism to compete with it. But what exactly is this reactionary conservatism? Is it even conservative in any basic sense?

Traditional conservatives were the strongest opponents of classical liberalism, most specifically laissez-faire capitalism. Modern conservatives have come to embrace many of the major issues that classical conservatives opposed. Conservatives no longer even promote conserving such as the precautionary principle which goes back to the origin of the word itself.

They don’t resist change, but react against it. In reacting, they oddly end up embracing so much of what they reacted against. There is no core set of beliefs or values to reactionary conservatism. It just depends on what they happen to be reacting against at the moment?

Being predisposed to the liberal worldview, it doesn’t bother me that liberalism lacks any core principles. I’ve always thought of liberalism as more of an attitude, a mindset. Liberalism is all about changing with the times, all about embracing the new and different. But that isn’t how conservatives think of conservatism… which makes reactionary conservatism a very odd beast.

Am I not fully grasping what conservatism is all about? Maybe I’m doing what conservatives tend to do by pushing the idea of the idea of a genuinely conservative conservatism of the past. Maybe conservatism has always been reactionary. If one were to seek an origin of conservatism, one would have to look to the most traditional of societies which are hunter-gatherer tribes. Even the traditional conservatism that existed when the revolutionary era came was far away from tribal societies.

All of civilization was built on largely liberalizing forces. The merging of cultures and syncretizing of religions in such civilizations as the Roman Empire. Civilization is fundamentally liberal in bringing local people into an increasingly cosmopolitan world.

By following the strands of conservatism back in time, do we find a beginning point of conservatism? Or does the entire idea of conservatism simply unravel?

Pacifiers, Individualism & Enculturation

I was visiting my brother and his family up in Minnesota. My sister-in-law at one point brought up the topic of pacifiers. She had taken the pacifier away from her daughter a while back because there can be problems if pacifiers are used for too long. I commented that pacifiers aren’t even necessary since babies have been fine without them for millennia.

My sister-in-law gave a response that got me thinking. She said that it helps babies to learn self-soothing. It instantly hit me that the pacifier is a tool of enculturation. It is used to create self-independence and thus create the sense of individualism that is so highly prized here in the West, especially the US.

I’ve often thought that individualism, in particular hyper-individualism, isn’t the natural state of human nature. By this, I mean that it isn’t how human nature manifested for the hundreds of thosands of years prior to modern Western civilization. Julian Jaynes theorizes that, even in early Western civilization, humans didn’t have a clear sense of separate individuality. He points out that in the earliest literature humans were all the time hearing voices outside of themselves (giving them advice, telling them what to do, making declarations, chastising them, etc), maybe not unlike in the way we hear a voice in our head.

We moderns have internalized those external voices of collective culture. This seems normal to us. This is not just about pacifiers. It’s about technology in general. The most profound technology ever invented was written text (along with the binding of books and the printing press). All the time I see my little niece absorbed in a book, even though she can’t yet read. Like pacifiers, books are tools of enculturation that help create the individual self. Instead of mommy’s nipple, the baby soothes themselves. Instead of voices in the world, the child becomes focused on text. In both cases, it is a process of internalizing.

All modern civilization is built on this process of individualization. I don’t know if it is overall good or bad. I’m sure much of our destructive tendencies are caused by the relationship between individualization and objectification. Nature as a living world that could speak to us has become mere matter without mind or soul. So, the cost of this process has been high… but then again, the innovative creativeness has exploded as this individualizing process has increasingly taken hold in recent centuries.

Self-Enclosed Stories, Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

I often watch the videos of Stefan Molyneux. I highly admire some of his insights, but I’m also highly critical of the conclusions he bases on these insights. Here is a very high quality video he just made to which I have a mixed response.

He tells a compelling story. It’s not unlike the story told by Alex Jones and other right-leaning libertarians. Stefan is essentially an intelligent conspiracy theorist which I don’t mean as an insult. It’s just an apt description.

I have a cynical nature with a bit of intelligent paranoia thrown in. I’m quite fond of criticizing the government and the established system of modern civilization. So, I resonate with the general attitude of questioning as seen with Alex Jones or in a less bombastic way with Stefan Molyneux. I resonate, but I also feel repulsed by a tendency towards fear-mongering. At worst, this kind of fear-mongering leads to a dark sensationalism as portrayed in the above video.

My own sensibility is not any less dark, but I lean leftwards away from this rightwing way of portraying a cultural narrative. I’m not sure exactly what the difference is. Liberals seem less prone to use overt emotional persuasion/manipulation. A particular kind of right-leaning libertarian makes progressive leftwingers such as Michael Moore seem like moderates.

Noam Chomsky is no less critical of the government than Molyneux, but Chomsky would never make a video like the above. As another example, Derrick Jensen easily competes with Molyneux on the level of cynical analysis of our present society… and, yet, there is a difference. What is this difference?

Both Chomsky and Jensen have a more open-ended analysis. They’re less likely to come to an absolute conclusion, less likely to tell an ideological narrative. Derrick Jensen explicitly says that no ideology is right, no single answer will solve our problems. Molyneux, however, is selling a specific ideology: anarcho-capitalism. So, the story Molyneux is telling leads to a specific ideological vision of how society should be.

In this, I sense something like naivette. Molyneux believes in his ideological vision. He has faith in the theory of anarcho-capitalism even though there is no real-world evidence supporting it.

The story told by Stefan Molyneux and by Alex Jones could be true. I have a strong suspicion that parts of it are true. My worry is that there are elements of truth mixed in with massive amounts of speculation. Alex Jones is particularly bad about ungrounded speculation, but even the more moderate Molyneux dangerously courts with the paranoid vision. The specific danger I see is that stories have a way of becoming self-enclosed worldviews which can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies.