Notes On The Tribunal: Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation is a thoroughly Western notion. Therefore, every non-Western intellectual or activist who declares cultural appropriation in defense of his own society’s exclusive rights to its local customs, fashions, or language is actually committing cultural appropriation in so declaring. For, on the premises of the progressive argument, he is employing ideas to which he has no right, grounded in intellectual concepts and traditions which are not his own.

As a corollary, we must also observe that every Western intellectual or activist who employs the concept of cultural appropriation in defense, or on behalf, of the “rightful claims” of non-Western cultures is engaged in imperialism — seeking to foist (progressive) Western ideas and moral judgments on the rest of the world. Lording it over the locals.

As evidence that the concept of cultural appropriation is a purely Western idea to which the rest of the world has no right, I would note that the primary purpose and effect of this notion, wherever it is applied, is to delimit and denigrate the practical success and global pervasiveness of so-called “Western ideas,” which suggests that cultural appropriation is a concept born of, and suited to, hatred of the West. But hatred of the West is itself a fundamentally Western idea. No civilization has ever been so deeply mired in self-loathing and suicidal thoughts as the West.

Further proof lies in the fact, noted above, that the concept is generally applied only one way. No non-Western societies would ever seriously consider giving up any of the political structures, artistic tastes, and social customs they have adopted from the West, even while their academics and activists  — under the direction of their Western intellectual masters — obediently demand that Westerners stop “stealing” their culture. 

We used to think it a wonderful thing that men from different societies could learn from one another, enliven one another’s curiosity and enthusiasm, and find areas of surprising compatibility amid so many apparent differences. We used to enjoy sampling others’ strange ways as a means of broadening our horizons, as well as delight in the sight of others sampling our “strange ways.” Westerners have become increasingly fascinated with the duty and “selfless” self-discipline of Confucianism and Buddhism, even as the Eastern nations which were developed on those models have increasingly been attracted by the charms of Western individualism, rationalism, and liberal political structures. 

The “junk Chinese food” (egg rolls, chow mein, and the like) that has become such a flashpoint of outrage among perpetually angry Western progressives for its appropriated inauthenticity, was in fact developed entirely by Chinese immigrants to North America trying to earn a living by adapting the most marketable skill they had — cooking unique food — to the tastes of their new neighbors. Those immigrants, often poor, uneducated, and lacking basic English skills, developed a huge and thriving industry out of nothing by working endless hours in a challenging environment to get some of their home cuisine’s flavors “appropriated” by the West. But today’s progressives, rejecting the diligence and ingenuity of those immigrants, now condemn such cuisine as racist.

Plato’s Republic — the founding document of political philosophy — begins with Socrates commenting, about the religious festival from which he was returning, that he thought the Thracian procession was as impressive as the Athenian, thus casually undermining men’s conventional parochialism with a dash of natural objectivity. That simple observation may be cited as perhaps the first recorded thought in the development of so-called “Western political theory.” Today, by contrast, nothing less than parochialism itself — everyone must cling to his own, and allow no “mixing” — masked in the pseudo-sophisticated jargon of cultural appropriation, has been established as the final goal and ultimate wisdom of Western intellectual progress. Twenty-four centuries is how long it takes to grow a magnificent idea from seed, and then thoroughly kill it.

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