The ghost of empire and the origin of all repression

The New York Times published an op-ed, How British Feminism Became Anti-Trans, where India implicitly makes a showing:

It’s also worth noting that the obsession with supposed “biological realities” of people like Ms. Parker are part of a long tradition of British feminism interacting with colonialism and empire. Imperial Britain imposed policies to enforce heterosexuality and the gender binary, while simultaneously constructing the racial “other” as not only fundamentally different, but freighted with sexual menace; from there, it’s not a big leap to see sexual menace in any sort of “other,” and “biological realities” as essential and immutable….

These views are very common on the cultural Left. When progressive social activists make these assertions, and I argue that they are factually wrong, I’ve often encounter surprise and annoyance. There are two things I suspect going on here:

– These people are not genuine propagandists, they actually believe their own fictions. Faced with facts that are novel to them don’t know how to react. They live in a factual bubble where it is taken for granted that the idea of binary gender as a dominant paradigm was introduced by Westerners to South Asians, whose own conceptions were fluid, open, and tolerant.

– The facts of the history of non-Western cultures are fundamentally irrelevant because they exist only to support narratives relevant within Western cultures. Those narratives and the trajectory of Western culture is their true passion. Their fundamental Eurocentrism means that falsehood about non-Western cultures is not particularly of great concern. That is not “their history.” Minor details to be ignored and brushed aside.

Gibbon famously asserted that the Pope, and implicitly the Roman Catholic Church, was the “ghost of the Roman Empire.” A living, breathing, vestige of an institution and society long gone. Much of modern Western Left social progressivism, informed by critical theory and post-colonialism, is a ghost of 19th and 20th-century empire. It is the warped inversion and reflection of Western chauvinism and populism.

It is highly peculiar to me that on the precipice of the 21st Asian age Western intellectuals bask and wallow in the reflected glory of Victorian-era empires as if they are determinative of all the goings on today. Part of this is surely due to the reality that intellectual currents are lagging indicators, and empires always persist longer in memory and self-regard than in reality. And part of it is the human needs for “noble savages” and “pure” Others against which their own sins may be measured and contrasted.

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11 Replies to “The ghost of empire and the origin of all repression”

  1. “They live in a factual bubble where it is taken for granted that the idea of binary gender as a dominant paradigm was introduced by Westerners to South Asians, whose own conceptions were fluid, open, and tolerant.”

    Lol, i mean this ideas are like the staple food for the whole political spectrum of India. From the Left to the cultural right India is fed with this notion that we were all doing Kamasutra everyday in medieval India or something . Both groups then have a favorite villain who stopped this supposed “fluidity” , for the left its Brits and for the right its muslims.

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    1. Saurav, I take it you jest?

      The scriptures (Agamas), Tirumantirum, Puranas, Itihasas are full of Tantra and multi gender (more than 3) perspectives. It is ubiquitous.

      What you can say is that most people from the east did not read their scriptures and were unaware of them. But that did not mean that the culture was not deeply open.

      In India the left is now embracing the English. The left’s main enemy is eastern philosophy and those influenced by it.

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    1. ROFL! It is quite obvious that someone is quite oblivious to the Islamic High culture.

      Some googling about Malik Kafur, Khusro Khan, Malik Ayaz etc should gently introduce you to the Islamic morality of Delhi Sultanate.

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  2. “a long tradition of British feminism interacting with colonialism and empire. Imperial Britain imposed policies to enforce heterosexuality and the gender binary, while simultaneously constructing the racial “other” as not only fundamentally different, but freighted with sexual menace; from there, it’s not a big leap to see sexual menace in any sort of “other,” and “biological realities” as essential and immutable….”

    This is accurate, but perhaps not in the way intended. Marxism, structuralism and post modernism were created and imposed on “darkies” as part of an imperial project to colonize the minds of darkies with inferiority complex to damage self confidence. The goal was to keep darkies down. Karl Marx was intentionally used by the Europeans for empire and imperialistic purposes.

    Eventually the “weapon” Europeans created to use against their imperial subjects boomeranged and started destroying European society from the inside out too. That is the tragedy.

    Today’s imperialists (cultural left and progressive social activists) don’t understand that they are imperialists and don’t understand how their ideas are the definition of imperialistic. They also don’t understand how strongly “darkies” the world over oppose them. They are the text book example of the “Ugly American” and “Ugly European”. They are the largest but not only cause of global anti European and anti Western sentiment.

    “They live in a factual bubble where it is taken for granted that the idea of binary gender as a dominant paradigm was introduced by Westerners to South Asians, whose own conceptions were fluid, open, and tolerant.”

    It was the Islamists (note that most muslims are not Islamists) who brought these binary gender ideas to most of Asia, not the Europeans.

    Among Europeans, the Spanish and Portuguese were the most religious fundamentalists. The French were the medium fundamentalist. The English the least fundamentalist.

    This said, English common law became the law of the land across the empire. And with it a very Biblical understanding of the law and social norms.

    My own understanding (correct me if I am wrong) is that the pre Christian Arya European culture was more open than what existed under Christiandom. Therefore it might be more accurate to say that Abrahamic ideas supplanted more open European and global ideas on gender.

    The reason that people from the east won’t say this openly is they feel deeply uncomfortable critiquing a religion. The “all religions and spiritual masters being honored and true” bit.

    I would be interested in learning the Egyptian and Sumerian understanding of gender say circa 4 K BC.

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    To Razib’s point on gender, the ancient Eastern understanding was very different from both the Abrahamic one and the current marxist post modernist intersectional one. Too bad most post modernists don’t understand the ways ancients understood and interpreted gender.

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  3. “– The facts of the history of non-Western cultures are fundamentally irrelevant because they exist only to support narratives relevant within Western cultures. Those narratives and the trajectory of Western culture is their true passion. Their fundamental Eurocentrism means that falsehood about non-Western cultures is not particular of great concern. That is not “their history.” Minor details to be ignored and brushed aside.”

    Very well put. This is one of the greatest reasons that darkies disagree with post modernists. Post modernists look at the universe through a very western ethnocentric post modernist lens. They almost never look at the world through a native American, African, or eastern perspective. To look at the world through another perspective requires a deep intelligence (Buddhi).

    “Gibbon famously asserted that the Pope, and implicitly the Roman Catholic Church, was the “ghost of the Roman Empire.” A living, breathing, vestige of an institution and society long gone.”
    I do not agree with Gibbons about this. I think the Church represented an Abrahamic frame of understanding the world.

    The “ghost of the Roman Empire” was the Eastern Roman Empire. It was influenced by eastern orthodox to be fair, but was more than that. Or “Eastern Orthodox” plus.

    There were significant differences between the Eastern Orthodox and Catholics which I don’t feel like elaborating on here. Milan feel free to chime in if you wish.

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    “Much of modern Western Left social progressivism, informed by critical theory and post-colonialism, is a ghost of 19th and 20th-century empire. It is the warped inversion and reflection of Western chauvinism and populism.”
    Agree. However it is both an inversion and actual imperialism directed internally as well as against foreign cultures and civilizations.

    Razib, I have had the fortune of meeting many native American religious practitioners. Their largest concern is post modernism and marxism for trying to culturally genocide native American culture and faith. This is true of native indigenous peoples the world over.

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    “It is highly peculiar to me that on the precipice of the 21st Asian age Western intellectuals bask and wallow in the reflected glory of Victorian-era empires as if they are determinative of all the goings on today.”
    Foreigners are deeply offended when post modernist baizuo continually insult foreigners by under estimating their great potential wisdom and power.

    “Part of this is surely due to the reality that intellectual currents are lagging indicators, and empires always persist longer in memory and self-regard than in reality.”
    True.

    “And part of it is the human needs for “noble savages” and “pure” Others against which their own sins may be measured and contrasted.”

    Where does the idea of the noble savage come from? Rousseau? Before? Do they understand how offended darkies get when called “savages”?

    This is all deep ego and pride. “I matter. I am important. I am powerful. I am wise. Everything that happens in the universe is because of me. Others do not matter, are not important, are not powerful, are not wise and do not affect the universe.”

    Foreigners and darkies can smell this contempt. And they don’t like it.

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    Scholars and thought leaders in the 1970s and 1980s use to read these ancient philosophers and deeply reflect on them. These new “thought leaders” don’t seem to have understood the ancient philosophers they are critiquing.

    Even worse, our new post modernist “intellectuals” have little humility despite knowing almost nothing.

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  4. The funny thing is that the Raj was a pretty weak state. The idea that it could have forced such a large shift in these concepts is really odd.

    The colonial state talked a lot about its power/influence with Durbars etc but the reality was that it couldn’t do much given the limited resources it had beyond policing and some investment in infrastructure. The post-colonials believe the lies the colonial state told its self!

    One of the benefits of independence was that the state, thanks to additional political legitimacy, could raise taxes and have more control over people in order to boost investment/better perform state functions.

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  5. Hobbes said it first, AFAIK: “And if a man consider the original of this great ecclesiastical dominion, he will easily perceive that the Papacy is no other than the ghost of the deceased Roman Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof: for so did the Papacy start up on a sudden out of the ruins of that heathen power.” This is part of an extended comparison of the Catholic Church with Fairyland.

    Perhaps it’s necessary to make precolonial cultures a reflection of modern Western culture in order to ‘respect other cultures’ and have ‘multiculturalism’ . If you can’t even treat a Republican like a person, how are you going to accept a genuinely different culture? How can your country actually be multicultural, when you are dedicated to suppressing any variation in fundamental values? Only by replacing them with your own culture in a hijab.

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