Saturday, March 25, 2017

Another Response to the Post-Conservative

The Post-Conservative has kindly responded to my recent post...which was a response to his own post....which was itself a response to my original post, Why I Am Not Alt-Right.

Here is his first response.

Here is my response to that.

And here is his latest response! 

First of all, I have to congratulate him on his pop cultural reference. "In the Year 2525" has always been one of my favourites. It's one of the rare examples of pop culture questioning "progress!"

Secondly, I have to acknowledge his astuteness in picking up what I left unspoken in my two examples. Yes, the internationalized, characterless Ireland I was projecting into the year 2217, in my first example, is an only slightly exaggerated image of today's Ireland. We're not there yet, but we're well on the way, and that deeply depresses me. And let us bear in mind that a lot of it happened post-independence and pre-globalization.

As for my other projection-- an Ireland of the future where only ten or fifteen per cent of the population are descended from today's Irish, but which has achieved the goals that the Gaelic Revival of the late nineteenth century only partly achieved-- I acknowledge that this is fairy tale stuff. It's not going to happen. I don't in fact believe in the "magic dirt" theory he critiques-- the idea that people (en masse) somehow absorb the culture and traditions of the host nation, just through standing on its soil.

But my thought experiment was just that-- a thought experiment. I was saying that the second scenario, impossible as it is, is one that I would find preferable to the first. And that says something important, I think.

I think the essence of my disagreement with the Post-Conservative lies in a paragraph where he compares my thinking to gender ideology:

It sounds like the kind of thing we’re hearing from Gender Studies departments about forms of identification which have no bearing on biology and reality. A man in a wig who disfigured himself is not a woman, he is a man pretending to be a woman. A hopelessly tragic and poor imposter. A Mexican in a Kimono is … lost or a waiter at a fusion restaurant.

But these examples are not on the same level. I don't believe nationality (or cultural identity) is as firmly rooted in biology as sex (or gender). No man has ever become a woman, no matter what gender studies or birth certificates might say. But is it really true that nobody has ever changed nationality, or (to put it in its most basic terms) "tribe"? I don't think so. In fact, I think it's pretty common.

As the left never tires of telling us, intermarriage and migration and cultural fusion has been going on since time began. The fact that they draw an untrue conclusion from this-- that cultural identity is infinitely fluid, a mere social construct-- does not negate the point itself. Cultural identity isn't infinitely fluid, but I don't believe it's as stark and absolute as sex.

In Irish history, we have famous instances of invaders who became "more Irish than the Irish themselves"-- the very phrase became a proverb. In terms of English history, who will say that the Normans and the Anglo-Saxons did not merge to become a true and distinctive people?

So is it a case of "there is nothing new under the sun" and globalization is nothing to worry about?

No, I don't think that, either. I think the world we we are living in puts national and ethnic and regional cultures in unprecedented danger. Communications, transport, international pop culture, economic globalization, and mass migration all come together to bring about a whole new ball game.

How can we preserve tradition and identity, while respecting the claims of our common humanity and the dignity of the person? I don't have the answer to that. I would like to see the (more or less) ethnic nation-state survive, but I don't rule out the possibility that this is not going to happen, and that we have to start thinking in terms of tradition rather than territory-- much like the Jews in the diaspora. Maybe the Jews in the diaspora will become the model of every people.

In terms of the public debate on these matters, I really feel that the pendulum has swung too far. I have been arguing about cultural identity with leftists for more than a decade-- I may even publish an interesting correspondence I had with just such a leftist, back in 2008.

And always, I had to answer the same charges-- you're an essentialist, you're a nostalgist, you don't accept the fact that cultures have always changed and intermingled, etc. etc.

Now I feel the Alt Right (and I accept that Post-Conservative does not consider himself to be Alt-Right, but they are the rising force on the right) seem to be confirming all those accusations. And that saddens me.

I've always found the "civic nationalism" of the liberal left to be insipid, uninspiring and even inhuman.

But I find the unabashed atavism of the Alt Right to be crude, simplistic and also somewhat inhuman. It's "magic blood" theory, rather than "magic dirt" theory.

l feel I should be honest and put it in a more personal way. I don't know how to do so without being suspected of appealing to political correctness or of virtue signalling, so I hope the Post-Conservative won't think I'm doing that. I'm really not trying to be emotive or sound virtuous.

But here is the thing. Could I tell a young guy who had been born in Ireland, but whose parents were both Nigerian, that I didn't think he could be Irish-- that he had his own heritage, and it wasn't Irish, no matter how he might want to be? Could I look him in the eye and say that?

No, I wouldn't say that. I couldn't say that. I don't believe that. And this is not a rhetorical tactic on my part-- this is a very real consideration, one that I've often thought about (I mean in general terms, not in that specific scenario).

There are examples of people who had no Irish ancestry but who identified with the country-- such as Erskine Childers, an Englishman who died for Ireland, and Micheál MacLiammóir, the English actor who became so enchanted with Irish culture that he changed his name from Alfred Willmore and learned the Irish language. It's rare, but it happens.

Then there are people who become Irish by marriage, by adoption, by immigration. (I mean individual immigration, not mass immigration.) Or children with one Irish parent. And so on. Any theory of nationality has to accommodate such cases.

I don't think it should be magic dirt versus magic blood. I think it's more complicated than that.

Well, I wrote more than I intended to-- because the arguments Post-Conservative makes are so interesting and (in my view) important. I thank him for engaging with me in this way, and hope my responses haven't missed too many points!

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