It is said that one of the strengths of Western Civ is our capacity to engage in self-criticism. Coming from the religious background that I do, I am well familiar with this activity. I was taught a method of examining my conscience from the time I was seven years old! And I am also familiar with its distortion. In Catholicism, which has absorbed a great deal of Aristotelian attitude, virtue and vice are often seen in terms of moderation and prudence. (Along with justice and courage, these four Cardinal Virtues of Aristotle's ethics were taught as if they'd fallen from the mouth of the Holy Spirit.)
When it came to humility or the sense of sin, the extremes to be avoided were laxity, which let you off the hook too easily, and scrupulosity, which tied you up in knots of useless guilt over past or imagined infractions.
The Scylla of presumption and Charybdis of despair. Hearing the confession of a scrupulous person is a trial, lemme tell ya. Sort of like trying to calm a paranoid.
Anyway, watching the History Channel, it is clear to me how Western characters, especially those connected with Christianity, are routinely debunked and non-Westerners get a whitewash. In its series on the Barbarians, all the conversions to Christianity are reduced either to pressure from a politically ambitious and usually bloody king or fear of a now-chaotic world. While we are tsk-ingly corrected for imagining that Islamic jihad is a holy war, holy war is the central to the narrative of how Europe became Christian. It is part of a deep trend among the intellectual classes to negatively reframe our entire history, especially insofar as it has anything to do with Christianity, in the most reductionist and ethically dubious of categories. Like the loudmouth sinner at a revival meeting, whoever condemns himself the most gets the spotlight and the ovation.
One of the ironies is that these enlightened bien-pensants resemble nothing so much as the very Christian flagellants who roamed through Europe during the Black Death, hoping by their masochism to appease God's wrath.
What is absent, however, is any sense that these university-bound experts might have some issues themselves, sitting on their asses in libraries, doing moral autopsies on men who actually acted in the real and complex and dangerous world. I have known a lot of academics in my time; they are not a pretty crowd. What's the old saying? Politics in academia are so vicious because there is so little at stake.The lack of nuance of which conservatives are supposedly guilty is in abundant supply in the ivory tower and the History Channel.
Part of the trouble with this noble self-criticism, based as it is on the multiculty prescript that one may critique one's one people but not another's (especially if brown), is that the other groups are not doing this. While Westerners flagellate themselves in this ongoing and interminable White Lent, the other tribes are flexing their muscles, singing their virtues and heartily agreeing with us that we do not deserve to live. This is a part of why Obama's repentance and apology tours provoke me so much.
A lot of liberal behavior reminds me of two particularly female psychopathologies: bulemia and self-cutting.
Liberals, especially the comfortable classes, alternately gobble up the pleasures of the West and then, guilt ridden, vomit them out. And it seems that they are happiest when they are cutting up their own bodies.
What's the likely outcome, if a civilization succumbs to scruples --with its bizarre paradox of self-absorption and self-loathing--and all around them the others are dancing?
Read any history lately?