OK, here’s a tough one. Which of these, would you say, is the superior culture?
Produced Purcell, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Leonardo Da Vinci, Vermeer, Shakespeare, Goethe, Moliere, Jane Austen, Newton, Wren, Darwin, Einstein, Watson & Crick, Magna Carta, the US Constitution, and so much other good stuff that to list it all would be the work of days.
Combines the wisdom of the ancients, with Judaeo-Christian morality, filtered through the empiricism of the Enlightenment. Fundamental values include: property rights; religious tolerance; habeas corpus; universal suffrage; equality under the law; love thy neighbour as thyself; free-ish markets.
A notable feature of Culture A is that, while taken for granted by those who live in it, it is considered highly attractive – worth risking your life for, in fact – by those who live outside it.
Allegedly gave us the concept of “zero”; also produced the Taj Mahal, the Alhambra Palace, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and the Arabian Nights, but hasn’t achieved an awful lot else in the last 500 years.
Punishes apostates with execution; punishes homosexuals by burying them under walls or throwing them off mountains; punishes adulterers – women who have been gang-raped, say – by hanging them from cranes or stoning them to death.
Used to be mildly tolerant of other religions but that was a very long time ago; since then, not. Women often treated as second class citizens, increasingly encouraged to cover up their faces (because it’s what they want, of course, and it makes them more “free”) and given fewer rights than men in religious courts. Big on hospitality though.
Well Zimbabwe Ruins are interesting, apparently; there’s some interesting architecture in Mali – apart from the stuff that has been blown up by ‘extremists’ from Culture B; and Benin produced some lovely masks and ornate doorways in the Middle Ages.
But life is cheap, very. Property rights are rare. The rule of law is extremely patchy. Poverty and corruption are rife. And war – when it comes, as it often does – is spectacularly brutal, with widespread rape, torture, mutilation and no mercy showed to civilians, nor women, nor children, nor the babies whose heads are smashed against trees.
Economic growth is often non-existent, with many local economies even poorer in GDP per capita terms than they were fifty years ago.
Tough one, isn’t it? But I think, on balance – and probably betraying my white European arrogance and cultural imperialist tendencies – I’m going to go for Option A.
I’m pleased to note that in the Telegraph, Allison Pearson has reached a similar conclusion.
But we’re up against it, aren’t we? Consider, for example, this woman cited by Pearson.
Let me quote Myriam Francois-Cerrah, a writer and Muslim convert, who told Channel 4 News on Tuesday that she rejected calls by the Prime Minister and Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, for schools to promote British values. “In many ways, the problem is creating a hierarchy of cultures when you say you need to promote British values,” she objected. “What does that say to children in a classroom whose heritage harks from outside the British Isles? It says this country has superior moral values and you are coming from some backward culture whose values you … must not consider equal to our own.”
Look, everyone’s entitled to their opinion and all that. But why is this freak being given airtime to spout such unutterable drivel so violently at odds with what I imagine the vast majority of people in Britain – and the West generally – actually believe?
Before I make a suggestion as to the likely answer, let me first explain why it is that I’m confident that “the vast majority of people in Britain” actually believe their culture is superior.
Because it’s bleeding obvious, is why.
Shakespeare is better than even the finest flowerings of Ibo poetry. (And I say this with confidence, even though I’ve never read any Ibo poetry. I expect John Clare and William Blake are better than Ibo poetry for that matter. Probably Pam Ayres too).
Bach is a better composer than all the composers of all the non-European cultures there have ever been. There are lots of historical and cultural reasons why the West has the advantage here: more widespread literacy; early adoption of the printing press; the fact that, unlike some cultures we could name, it doesn’t try to ban music as haram…. But the fact that remains that what is is.
No amount of generous excuse-making or hand-wringing guilt will alter the truth that Western culture is the very apogee of global civilisation so far. About the only seriously major fault with it is that because of its inherent tendency to question everything and consider no idea or tradition wholly sacred, it contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction. Hence our bizarre – and otherwise, logically inexplicable – phenomenon of cultural relativism.
It is, so far as I know, unique to Western culture. I don’t think the Inuit spend much time beating themselves up about how awful it is not to have been born European. You won’t find a single school in Peking or Shanghai, where teachers moan about how rubbish the Chinese are when compared to the Americans. Yet in the West, this self-hatred and cultural embarrassment are considered by our left-leaning intellectual class a sign of sensitivity and sophistication.
I remember once interviewing the former director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor in which he agitated over the dangers of “privileging” one culture over another.
Worrying about this sort of thing is a luxury only spoiled intellectuals can afford. Out there in the real world, different rules apply and thank God they do.
For example, if it weren’t for the fact that the British Empire was markedly culturally superior to the Ottomans (who were using the Acropolis as a fort and burning marble statuary to make lime for building), we wouldn’t now be benefiting from Lord Elgin’s enlightened decision in the 1800s to ship the best bits of the Parthenon over to the British Museum, where they are preserved safely to this day.
It oughtn’t in any way to be outspoken or controversial to say this stuff. But amazingly it is because so much of our intellectual high ground – from the schools and universities to the museums to the publishing industry to the broadcast media – is dominated by cultural surrender monkeys of the MacGregor persuasion.
Which is why this Francois-Cerrah woman – and people like her – are continually being granted time in the sun by the likes of Channel 4.
In the eyes of your average commissioning editor with his or her valuable degree in Sociology, Ethno-guilt and Benin-Mask-Design from the School of Oriental and African Studies, there is nothing freakish in the idea that a culture which forces its women to dress like tents, bans them from driving and buries homosexuals under walls is any way inferior to ones where women get top jobs in the boardroom and paid maternity leave.
But these people are wrong; dangerously, lunatically wrong – and it’s about time somebody told them.