Ever notice that all groups have a tendency to create a mythology of superiority, complete with creation stories, cosmologies, and a prophesied ultimate victory?
“Western civilization” is a loose term generally referring to the culture of Europe, and by extension to North America and other European settlements. It appears to be a universal human trait that self-identified groups think, quite simply, that they are the best people on earth. Other people are therefore (obviously) inferior. If the inferior group is no threat, they are seldom noticed, but if they are perceived to be a threat in any way, it becomes a duty approaching the sacred that the inferior group be subdued or destroyed.
The Chosen People
It is a sacred duty because the superior group is the best example of humanity on earth, the benchmark all other people should strive toward, God’s Chosen People, and whether that phrase is used or carefully avoided, the actions and attitudes of the superior group betray that this is how they regard themselves. This attitude can be seen in Jews, Muslims, and Christians, mixed with and empowered by their religious ideology. It is not limited to any of these, however, or to any religion. Anti-religious groups, such as the Russian and Chinese communist regimes, displayed the same superiority complex and zeal-no, duty-to eliminate threats from inferior groups.
Eurocentrism Creation Myth
Eurocentrism is a tendency to interpret the world in terms of European superiority. The mythological Eurocentric creation story, endlessly repeated in history books especially in the past few hundred years, is that Reason and Democracy sprang up fully-formed in ancient Greece, sort of a miraculous virgin birth of the virtues that would then flow through the mighty Roman Empire to Europe and to North America. Africa, India, and the Middle East, those barbarous, dark-skinned, and backward peoples, not only contributed nothing to the advancement of civilization, but are even now languishing in need of the superior virtues possessed by us.
Writings abound betraying the Eurocentric superiority complex, but few are as revealing as Rudyard Kipling’s poem, The White Man’s Burden (1899) The first stanza:
Take up the White Man’s burden–
Send forth the best ye breed–
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild–
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.
Genocide and Sterilization
The poem continues for five more stanzas in this vein, but the first stanza is enough to illustrate several factors. For one thing, we are breeding superior stock, like conscientious farmers improving the herd. This may seem silly, but this is the idea behind the American Eugenics program, changes in U.S. immigration law, and the forced sterilization of over 60,000 “unfit” American citizens. That program was instrumental in and complicit with, Hitler’s plan to produce his blonde, blue-eyed superman and usher in 1,000 years of Amazing Aryan-ness. Ideas matter.
Serving the Backward
The poem also mentions that you will take captives in order to serve them. Your captives are sullen, half-devil and half-child. The Eurocentric worldview (and its child, American Exceptionalism) is totally blind to the possibility that when you invade a nation and take the people captive, treating them like half-devil and half-child, this might make them sullen. Why aren’t they grateful? You, the superior people have come to elevate their backward selves to something approaching the level of their own glorious civilization.
To be generous, this displays an innocence, a naiveté that is almost sad, and a blindness that does not bode well for missions to the strangely sullen. But I don’t feel like being generous, so I’ll say that this displays an arrogance and stupidity that can only end in tears.
When Will We Ever Learn?
This poem was written in 1899 and we haven’t learned our lesson yet. At a recent gathering I attended, an elderly man said that it was good that our troops were in Afghanistan, because our troops can show how nice and fair and kind Americans are. This will make the Afghan people want to be like us and so they will set up a capitalist democracy, which will make them prosperous and happy.
I had promised my daughter not to say anything radical at this gathering; these were her friends, and a promise is a promise.
Chinese Troops at the Mall
But imagine occupying Chinese troops wandering around town, patrolling the local mall, barging in to people’s homes and arresting them; treating everyone like inferior human beings. Some of the local boys in my neck of the woods would be taking pot shots at these troops. They would be called “insurgents” or “terrorists.” We would all (sullenly!) hate those troops, except for those of us who chose to collaborate, and most would secretly aid the insurgents. What we would want, with all our hearts, is for those funny-looking, heavily-armed, Chinese-speaking troops to get to hell out.