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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

On reflexive (Western) self-blame and judging the past by the standards of the present

"Life is an unbroken succession of false situations." - Thornton Wilder

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Dan Carlin's Hardcore History: Show 24 - Classical Hanson

"Victor Davis Hanson: The whole idea of globalisation, which is really a euphemism for Westernisation. The application all over the world of Western ideas of business, government, communications and science. And that, because it's the most powerful and it's the most self-critical, it also puts the greatest burdens upon itself to be perfect.

A lot of people who haven't studied the system that they participate in, but they do know it is self-critical, think that because it's not always perfect, then they don't think it's any good, they put impossible demands on it because they think that somehow we in the West must be Gods, rather than just mere human.

I think that's a fair rendering of what we mean in the historical sense of the word, and why it is that Westerners are so upset about our misdemeanors and they tend to think that the felonies that they see elsewhere - today, even - are either a result of some type of colonization, or imperialism, to see the others as victims rather than perpetrators of evil.

This Western idea of self-reflective criticism that puts such an inordinate burden upon us to be perfect. Unless we have leaders and scholars and moral, philosophical people of influence that remind us that this is a positive trait - within limits - then we become almost skeptic, cynic nihilists, and that's the danger that the West, whether it's 4th century Athens, or 17th century France, or 5th century Rome that lead to tear everything apart and examine it. Almost self-destructive

Dan Carlin: I think that there's a chauvinism that modern people have about our ancestors in the past, and I think that probably our ancestors (sic) 2,000 years from now will have about us. Where we just assume that people in the past were a bunch of superstitious folks, probably racist, usually sexist, not very knowledgeable about things like the Sciences. But you do a lot of reading of the popular material from the past. Tell me, are there any ways that the ancients who were our ancestors were our equals, or maybe in some respects, our betters?

Victor Davis Hanson: I'm not a, what the Romans call laudatore symphorevat (sp?), just a cheap praiser of the past. But by any fair token, what our great-grandparents had to do was so far, far more demanding than what we do. I mean, most of the people I know would be dead if they were alive in 1850.

I would have been dead at 23 with a major kidney operation. I would have been dead again at 51 with a ruptured appendix. I wouldn't have been able to live a very fruitful life. So the physical burdens that were put upon people up until just 50 years ago were incredible.

If we go back and we say that a family with 10, coming across the plains in a covered wagon and trying to homestead land and finding water that wouldn't make them sick, the food that they depend each day, and then we don't, we just ignore the physical demands and drudgery that they had to put up with, and then we say: you know what, they were not sensitive. They were not sensitive to people of colour. They were not sensitive to Native Americans. They were not sensitive to the environment. They threw bottles out the window.

Yes. May be true, but any of us who would go back into that physical environment would probably fail, because we've created, almost a very pampered populace who uses the standards of the present to condemn those of the past without giving them credit for undergoing great misery and sacrifice to create the foundations, the physical infrastructure that we of course enjoy. So we can talk all about this lake we didn't need, or this dam we didn't need, or this highway, but we we use it today. And we don't blow them up. So we use all of the contributions and the achievements and the investments of the past. We take it for granted and our daily life is so pleasurable. But then we also, sort of ingrate, say, well, they shouldn't have done that. But we don't just say: we shouldn't have done this, therefore we won't use it.

People in San Francisco are always talking about Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. National tragedy that they flooded this beautiful valley. But they don't say, it's a national tragedy, let's tear down the dam and let's not have any fresh water in San Francisco.

And that's the problem with modern man. Rather, modern post-Western man. That he has this strange attitude that he's trying to - we saw this with Senator Obama saying the other day that he might like to bankrupt the coal industry and make it so expensive to build a coal plant, which we have the world's largest reserves. We have to go solar and wind, but that would - at least for the temporary period - would say to Americans: okay, let's just use electricity 5 hours a day.

If I'm living in Chicago, I'm the Obama family, I'm going to tell the children: do not turn on television because it's not windy today, or we don't have enough sunlight today, and we want to be good citizens and not burn coal. But nobody does that. They want it both ways, or three ways, or four ways, and that's my greatest sense of disappointment in the present generation"
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