It’s been difficult for me, working entirely as an entertainer, to suffer without the capacity to make commentary on what I consider the most important issues of our time, which seem to frequently double as the most controversial issues of our time. Truth is, I’m not professor and neither am I some well-read media personality, but there are a few things I’m knowledgeable about hailing back to a time before the career switch to “starving artist” better known as “sleeps in doorways.” It is the fault of a post-colonial narrative that paints the breadth and scope of Western Civilization as something monstrous, as something terrible; it is the fault of people who know so absolutely little about it, and neither could they tell you very much about other civilizations either, owing to their permanently affixed red-red Marxist goggles that they employ categorically rather than as an interpretive tool. I intend to do something of a miniseries about this, an elucidation of Western Civilization focusing upon important works of Western Literature to important battles that shaped the western world. This will be my contribution to what should have been an orderly discussion. I won’t make any pretense of being unbiased, if I could even be capable of that, but I won’t make assertions that cannot be supported by the facts. These will be opinion pieces, not research pieces–frankly, with my workload, I just don’t have the time. So many people nowadays, doesn’t matter the race or the nation of origin, don’t understand the culture that made them what they are, their history, their legacy, and they don’t seem to possess any particular inkling to know, either. To shatter illusions you have to kill the conjurer, which is my very intention.
How would you go about describing “Western Civilization?” How would you go about elucidating the cultural values that denote, within the western consciousness, the distinction between us and them–our way of doing things versus theirs? I’m prodigiously read in the classics, and even I couldn’t give you a decent answer, not at least without some serious thought and consideration. The truth is, we live our lives subsumed in cultural forces so common and so normal that we’re hardly aware of their presence; in fact, when we use the term “culture” we err obscenely in attaching this merely to the colorful and the exotic–the distinct and the different. This has led to the common claim that “white people have no culture” spewed from the mouths of people who travel by trains and use hand-held computers, people who incidentally fail to realize the Western Culture has never been exclusively white nor exclusively European.
So how am I to answer this question? Well, as with all things when I’m out of my depth, I start at the beginning, start with the first inkling of a Western Culture that could be distinguished from its Asian counterparts, even Asian underpinnings, for the influence of the Phoenicians cannot be overstated, but that’s a conversation for a completely different scholar. It doesn’t take a genius to see the beginning lies in the rage of Achilles, in the Iliad, which laid the groundwork for what would later be termed “humanism” the belief best summed up in the words of Democritus that “man is the measure of all things.” Homer’s players suffer and strive as humans do, and the gods themselves are strikingly anthropomorphic, more crudely human than the fighters on the field. You don’t see this in Gilgamesh.
“Alright,” so you reply, “so Western Civilization is humanism? But there are elements of that in other cultures as well.” And you’d be correct in this respect, but Western Civilization also encompasses rationalism, in a very simple context I will clearly elucidate. Events occur for simple reasons–cause and effect, and these reasons can be determined purely from the existential world. As implied in Herodotus and later ascribed rightly to Thucydides, the Greeks had developed an interpretation of history from a purely rational perspective without necessitating the intervention of deities in human affairs. This thinking, thanks to the works of Anaxagoras and the like, would similarly spread to what became a predecessor to modern science, what they called “natural philosophy.” In fact, partly from the work of these thinkers and partly from the continued efforts of their medieval and early modern successors, what became known as the “scientific method” became a defining principle of ethical research up to the current day.
“So,” you again retort, “humanism and rationalism. Doesn’t that seem somewhat limited? Can you really define a cultural character based upon a pair of nevertheless interesting principles?”
In a way, but matters don’t end there. In the area of politics, Western Civilization is a veritable prize fighter. The same instincts that bade the development of a scientific perception of the world also led to the rise of the rights of man, freedom of expression, legal egalitarianism, and the tolerance and subcultures and political pluralism that is one of the central features of democratic party systems absent in fact from certain powerful nations that exist up to this very day. The uniting principle is that people have the right to self-determination, which implies the right of people to dictate how their government is run and orchestrated, which leads directly to the various different forms of democracy, with their various strengths and weaknesses, ranging from pure democracies to the rather more conservative and restricted representative democracies.
“I’m sleepy. You’re boring. If I wanted to be lectured, I would have had one of those terrifying nightmares where I’m in highschool again and I can’t find my penis.”
Goodness. Well, I suppose there’s more than I could faithfully relate, more than I have a right to tell, to my great fortune and regret, but I’d like to conclude with a simple principle, a sort of personal perspective that was the germinating factor in this flowering development, and its really quite simple. Repeat after me: “I am the author of my own franchise.” “What the hell is he implying?” you might wonder, but it’s really very simple. I own myself and my actions, and I own how others including the state may restrict me, and should these principles be violated, I own the means to bring them all to redress of my grievances. The underlying principles of Western Civilization are virtually summed in much of what constitutes the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.
“And why is this important?” I ask with a drum-roll from spooky scary skellingtons.
We’re in a strange place now. The various nations of the earth have adopted western principles to varying different degrees, and yet despotism is at an all-time high, including within the western societies of this cultural development. Not only is it essential for the foreigner to understand what lattice-work has been laid across his life, but it’s equally essential for the children of the West to understand where they came from, hence the importance of this work.
I do have more, much more to discuss, but I felt that before we could drive to the more interesting lines of inquisition, we ought to address the general. Comments are very welcome, but if you do make a comment, I actually have to authorize you before it appears, but after that you’re free to comment at your glee. I get a lot of spammers. It’s an unfortunate measure.