Unpacking Our Cultural Knapsack: Taking A Closer Look at the Attack on Western Culture

If you have ever taken a college course in recent years, or even have been through the public school system, you may have come across terms like “political correctness”, “social justice”, “diversity”, “systematic racism”, “decolonization”, “white privilege” and others like it. These terms while describing different things, all have an interconnecting thread: The argument that US society, politics and culture, and more broadly Western culture in general are deeply flawed and immoral at the core. In this worldview, we live in a society surrounded by systematic racism, white supremacy, colonialism, and every other negative word in the book! It’s a society where “black and brown people” are oppressed, subjugated, dehumanized and cannot succeed in a system stacked against them at every turn, and where some lives don’t seem to matter. Indigenous peoples were subjugated through colonialist forces, and the country was built on the backs of those we enslaved. In this cultural dystopia, the only winners are (gasp!) white people, and more specifically white males. For the privileged class, our stolen privilege permeates every fiber of our being and while the underclass feels its sting everyday, the lucky few go about completely unaware of how simply being born into this country makes them complicit in this horrendous affair. Or so we are told to think. 

But to use a metaphor from the Left, let’s “unpack” some of these assertions. For those unfamiliar with the metaphor, it comes from an article written by Peggy McIntosh called “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” where she compares one’s unearned privileges with handy items in a knapsack to help you get through life easier such as money, maps, extra snacks etc… She argues that white people have more items in their knapsacks than others, and made an extensive list of so called privileges only whites enjoy. That metaphor has now been extended to mean closely analyzing and critiquing what is seen to be taken for granted or is problematic. The Left says we need to unpack our cultural biases, but has anyone unpacked their assertions about our society? I want to help unpack a few major criticisms of our society and the West, (as in Western Culture) at large.

A common one heard echoed throughout the halls of academia and even at protests, is that we need to “dismantle” and “decolonize” the country and the Western World. They argue that the US was founded on stolen land, taken away by genocide from Native American peoples. In other places, they evoke the imperialism of many European countries. Because we conquered various peoples around the globe, and often treated them harshly, those who argue for decolonizing say we’re still oppressing them to this day and need to back off big time! Now, on its face it seems right, and many Western powers have let got of the vast majority of these formerly colonized territories. However, this decolonization movement has gone far beyond simply giving back certain places their independence.

Using the US as a case study, they talk about decolonizing school curriculum to tell a narrative of how evil and oppressive we were, assert that all white people are guilty of oppressing Native Americans to this day, that all of our country’s innovations are fruits of a poison tree, and academia being impartial or daring to undergo the anthropological and archaeological study of indigenous peoples, is forcing colonialism among other charges. Also, our founding fathers, the pioneers who settled the West, and pretty much every non-native American are actually immoral oppressors. Now to unpack this, no one denies we did some pretty brutal stuff in our history. The slavery of the past was wrong, and many even at the time thought so. The physical and cultural subjugation of Native peoples is also not our shining moment either.

No one is arguing we glorify these blights on our history. However, for as much as we were wrong in doing these things, have people honestly forgotten literally every human group partook in conquest and the subsequent domination over the conquered? From the great Roman Empire, to the Comanches taking over part of the Great Plains, humans can be tribal and territorial with a thirst for better resources, and power. Also, many human societies including many Native American tribes had some form of slavery. Why are these more easily overlooked? Hard to talk of “stolen land” when your group stole it from someone else. Also, calls to decolonize and reaffirm indigenous groups sound nice, but what substantive things would we do to dismantle our society for them yet still have room for us? Must we go so far as to have a self imposed exile over the lands we too now, have been on for generations? If not that far, then how far exactly must we go to atone? How much moral culpability do we have for the sins of our forefathers? Why does the West get double condemnation for what should be considered equally immoral for all who partake in it?

Changing gears a bit, one assertion a little closer to home for many is the argument that society is systematically stacked against people of color, and in favor of white people. Which means that people of color cannot achieve as much due to societal constraints while conversely, white people benefit from society’s inherent power structures so they cannot claim they “worked hard” to earn what they achieved.  I’ve touched on this one more in depth before, but I’ll summarize what I argued. Many of these claims of systematic disadvantage are rooted in historical oppression, much of which has been overturned legally and socially. For example in the past, black people were discriminated against in the job market and housing. However, there are laws now explicitly prohibiting such discrimination and programs like affirmative action and immense social pressure to hire a more “diverse” workforce and have more integrated neighborhoods. Getting denied a loan might be because you have credit card debt like the majority of America, not simply because they looked and saw you were a person of color, or someone was hired instead of you despite your stellar credentials because they were the manager’s cousin and you just didn’t know that and you concluded it was because they were white. You can’t blame every setback on “the system”.

To bring up a newer insight, many argue that white people are systematically privileged and do not deserve full credit for what they do achieve and that hard work as a way to success is a myth. The social system is the true controller of our destiny no matter what our race they argue. However, what happens when people of color do find success? They often say it was their determination and double hard work despite the oppressive forces, but wait! Isn’t that also the myth of meritocracy? That they achieved because of their individual effort, not that society allowed them to achieve success?

To highlight the absurdity and contradictory nature of this, I recently read an article written by a former minimum wage black security guard who was able to become a doctor at the hospital he worked for. Med school is super competitive, and there are countless white people for whom medical school is only a pipe dream. Yet, this lowly security guard had what it takes to climb that social ladder to a place of privilege and prestige in this country. What other countries could he have done so outside the West? And yet, the focus of his article was not on how he achieved his dream, his determination, or one iota of gratitude for the society that enabled this success, but on how he is still the victim in a society who thinks his life doesn’t matter. If social systems determine where we will end up more than our own free will, then couldn’t one argue it had to have enabled his climb up the social ladder?

On a related note, the last but definitely not the last thing to unpack is the assertion that Western Culture is built on white supremacy. The Left says that the White race built Western Civilization, and even invented the concept of race solely to oppress others, so they could twist my whole article saying I’m blowing some “white supremacist dog whistle” or something. Defending the West to them becomes about defending white supremacy. However, in that assertion, it is they who hold the racist assumptions. Ever heard phrases like the “Great American Melting Pot”? Or that historically, the vast Roman Empire was very cosmopolitan stretching from Britain to North Africa to the Middle East and of course contained people who looked vastly different from one another. My point in bringing up these examples is can you think of another non-Western culture that has such immense ethnic and racial diversity? Since the West has been so influential around the globe, people of all races and many ethnicities have been touched by it in some way, and many live in the cosmopolitan countries of today that make up Western civilization. Their stories too have helped influence and shape the West. Western does not equal White necessarily.

I’ll conclude by saying that in focusing so much on what makes our culture bad, we ignore what makes it good. Such as advanced technology and medicine. Scientific innovations. Lower mortality rates. Higher standards of living. A utopia compared to where some live and many risk everything to get here. Somewhere where hard work and determination get you further in life. Somewhere where everyone can belong regardless of class, race or any other label. No culture is all good, a perfect utopia where zero inequalities and disparities exist, but certainly no culture is 100% bad. Certainly not ours.

So why can’t some of us see it that way? Let’s unpack that… 

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I See You, but Do You See Me?: A Critique of the Left’s “Representation”

The issue which the Left calls “representation” has become a wider social phenomenon. It’s basic essence is to “represent” different groups, often racial minorities, but other groups sometimes as well such as women, different body types, disabilities, conditions, etc… in things such as movies and TV, literature, advertising, etc… to show a positive portrayal of those groups and that they are seen and matter in society. An often cited reason for its importance in addition to those, is to send a message to the next generation that people who look like them matter and can be role models and achieve everything anyone else can. They cite the importance of being able to “see yourself” in popular culture, ads, and such as if you don’t you feel marginalized or ostracized from society.

This may surprise many on the Left, but I’m not necessarily against this idea. Granted due to much that is utter lunacy coming from the Left’s collective hive mind, I look anything they say is good now with a huge grain of salt, however I thought about the idea of representation and thought that its core premise was a good one. I too have felt the relief, or the sense of belonging from “seeing myself” with other people. I honestly think that’s an innate human desire, to want to be around others that look like you, as a sense of belonging. Letting others also feel a sense of belonging in society is a good thing overall. Also, it is good for others to see you as a multidimensional person, and not just a stereotype or comedic foil, or some bad guy. Simply letting others see you as human, just like them.

However, this idea is not without criticism from me too. I agree with its most basic premise, but there are some messages mixed in with the positive messages that take away from representation’s ultimate goal. The first is regarding motives for having a more “diverse” character, or advertisement for instance. If a story can be told with characters where race is irrelevant, thus anyone can be any race and still make sense, then a multi-racial cast isn’t an issue for me. Same for advertising targeted at everyone. The issue starts where one race is deliberately substituted for another to push some agenda, such as a superficial diversity quota, or in essence, the “token minority” which to me in itself is insulting and belittling. For example, some stories traditionally from European culture who naturally would feature white characters were substituted with other races in which they historically were not present in the society at the time the story was written and the story clearly described the character as European.

“Re-writing” such a story with a different racial character then is not representation, but erasure of the original group’s ethnicity or race in their story about their people. To grasp the absurdity, imagine a traditional African folk story, or a Native American one, only all the characters re-cast as white people! Would you cast white people nowadays to play what originally was a role for a minority character? If not anymore, then why recast a white character as a minority, for example, when remaking another author’s work who originally created the physical description of the characters in their story? As “white washing” is a common accusation for movies and TV by the Left, erasing traditionally white characters recast as a minority does the same thing, only in reverse. Yes, sometimes people take creative licence to “cleverly” remake a story to have a new angle, but it’s really not so “creative” if your only motivation is to be more “woke”!

Same for gender. If you wouldn’t make an originally female character male, then don’t erase a male character in the name of feminism! And speaking as a woman, it insults women who can achieve great things in real life regardless of their gender, when you feel the need to artificially create women characters to achieve things for a superficial “token high-achieving woman” just to push a feminist narrative rather than have a strong female character emphasize her persistence, intelligence and work ethic as a human, and not just because she’s a woman. Also like many other edicts by the Left, it only seems to go one way: White people and men are frequently erased out of the mainstream media and such for minorities and women. What messages does that send to those groups about their value in society? True equality will be when things like race or gender are seen as irrelevant to a person’s ultimate success and potential. Representing everyone means everyone, not just your special interest groups.

My other major critique of representation by the Left is how strongly focused it is on physical appearance or physical aspects of oneself. I think that also sends a harmful message in that it implicitly says that what really matters in belonging is what you look like, rather than the values you have or what sort of person you are on the inside. You are not limited to only looking up to people who happen to look like you do. Isn’t that what “diversity” was supposed to be about? About relating to and gaining positive takeaways from others who are different than yourself? The idea a person of color can only truly gain inspiration from someone the same race as themselves, or girls only being able to be inspired by women is just as absurd as white people only being able to see white people as a role model or boys only seeing men as a role model for their future aspirations even if women have achieved what they want to in their futures as well. Some of the most influential people in my life and from history don’t look like me in terms of race or gender. What I truly care about is their ideas, their brilliance, and their success.

Which leads me to this point: What about ideological representation? Especially for groups the Left overlooks or doesn’t seem to want to represent. I know the importance of being “seen” by society and the sense of belonging in seeing people like myself firsthand. But for me that more importantly includes people who not merely look like me but think like me. Ideologically, the Left dominates the mainstream media and literature. Conservatives are often reduced to a stereotype of an ignorant hick, or an outdated bigot, or used for a comedic foil in contrast to more “woke” characters. Shows like the Rosanne reboot tried to make a more well rounded portrayal of  conservatives as human and multidimensional. We need more like that who portray conservatives as fully human, with real and complex motivations behind their opinions even so if you still disagree, you can understand why they may feel as they do, rather than imply it’s “because they’re bigots!”. After all, what messages does the next generation absorb when they see people who think like their parents, friends or relatives mocked and derided for their beliefs? What do you think they’ll think if they dare explore those ideas which are mocked, satirized, and demonized for themselves? Why not a positive multidimensional portrayal of a conservative? A devout Christian family? A pro-life character? What about representation for conservative women? Conservatives of color as well? Conservatives are not just one gender or phenotype either! This doesn’t mean you can’t have any liberal characters, or criticize conservative ideas, it just means giving the other side fair and equal representation too free of the stereotypes and mockery you wouldn’t like to see people who think like you subjected to.

Ideological representation also is especially significant in representation within academia, where the usual focus has been on physical appearance or gender. There’s a need for academics, scientists, researchers, scholars etc… of color or women, says the Left, even to the point of deliberately excluding white male academics from the table such as at conferences, or whose research gets to be displayed or whose ideas get to be featured as a growth in the discipline. However, needless to say that too discredits the actual achievements of women scholars or scholars of color by focusing on their phenotype as the main important focus rather than the merits of their ideas in of themselves, we need ideological representation within academia as well, not just physical! What about works by conservative leaning authors being featured? Or more conservative professors in higher education, or letting conservative students have a voice in class? What about featuring research whose implications support conservative ideas ? Research in of itself should be politically neutral and impartially carried out, but the implications for many findings are used quite often to influence policies with ideological and political impacts, and we need more than just one side’s perspective on how we use those conclusions.

Representation is good in its basic premise, but carried out in a way that has many major flaws sending mixed messages. Physical characteristics are not the most important thing in deciding if you belong, or who you can look up to. Nor is the idea that you can only truly relate to those who look just like you. More significantly, it like many other things the Left likes to do, is a one way street. Represent who we want, but not anyone else. The erasure of positive portrayals of conservatives, white people from their own narratives, men being substituted for women for no other reason other than to be “woke” for examples. This hypocrisy and double standards ultimately erodes the vast majority of the positive messages representation entails. Representation overall can be a very positive force, but when it’s done for the right reasons, not just some superficial agenda to push, and when it’s done for EVERYONE, not just who you pick and choose deserves to be represented in society.

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Several Reasons Why We “Resist” Political Correctness

Many on the Left are still puzzled as to why conservatives like myself and many others are so resistant to their new PC “innovations”. After all to them, being politically correct is simply common courtesy, or not being offensive or disrespectful. Why would people not care if they hurt others’ feelings or are callous and indifferent to people’s struggles? Are conservatives just a bunch of big bullies? Of course that isn’t true, and countless conservatives are just as kind and considerate as the rest of humanity! So why then, aren’t we just going along with every declaration the Left throws at us in terms of what’s socially acceptable?

Among several answers that come to mind, a major explanation is an inherent criticism into political correctness in itself as a “moral” thing to do. Political correctness asks us to be considerate of other’s feelings, and be conscientious of how our words and actions affect others. However, this lofty moral aim only applies to select groups which the Left chooses, and not everyone. Is it really just me, or does anyone else with some observational skills notice how it’s a-okay to mock, belittle, demonize and deride men, white people, and old people, especially if all three are combined into being an old white male in ways completely unacceptable to do so if the genders and races were reversed? Why is it acceptable to say there are too many white people or too many men, yet not for minorities or women? Why does no one bat an eye when people openly declare they feel threatened by white people yet a white person saying such a thing about a racial minority is a racist bigot? Why are men told to shut up about issues affecting women yet women face no such restrictions on issues pertaining to men? This hypocritical double standard of reverse discrimination chips away at any moral high ground political correctness presents itself as and many see it as dishonest and lacking integrity. 

Another reason also relates to practicality and safety. Many politically correct edicts are simply dangerous, to put it bluntly. The idea that cis-gendered male predators who will prey on women won’t take advantage of now transgender laws allowing trans women in bathrooms or locker rooms for women won’t happen is absurd. I’m not saying that genuine trans women committed to living as women are the threat, but regular men can pretend to identify as a woman merely to gain access to women and no one is allowed to question their true motives. Not acknowledging the risks to women and children in these spaces puts countless people at risk for being leered at and harassed, not to mention sexual predation and molestation! Another major example is how we treat rape prevention advice to women.

Any attempt at safety tips for women is construed as victim blaming, despite the fact the same tips generalized for other non-sexual crimes is something no one equates with victim blaming nor bats an eye about. The idea we can teach young women to brazenly and carelessly get completely wasted, walk alone in sketchy areas, wear revealing clothing and not be sending the wrong message if they don’t want sexual attention and live in the world as it should be rather than as it really is, no matter how unfair or unjust puts them at immense risk for victimization. Of course we shouldn’t live in a world of predatory men hurting women any chance they get, nor does a woman ever “deserve” to be assaulted, but the reality of the situation is there will always be rapists no matter how much “education” you give the male population, just as we teach our kids not to steal, and yet there are still thieves. “Just don’t rape” isn’t the one all encompassing answer to preventing women from becoming victims, and the idea that it’s now socially unacceptable to acknowlege that truth is a direct assault on women’s safety.

An additional reason relates to matters of identity and culture. I’ve heard it argued before by the Left that if something is fairly inconsequential to you, that is you personally have nothing to lose in changing something you do or say, and it matters a great deal more to someone else if you do, then why not just do it? For example, if changing a term you use is of no tangible consequence to you, but means the world to someone else for you to change, why not just do it rather than make a mountain out of a molehill? On it’s face that sounded fairly reasonable. It seems like, okay? Why not? Got to pick your battles sometimes…

The issue in this type of politically correct issue is based in more abstract ideas, so I’ll give a concrete example of a case. One such case was over the renaming of a place in Arizona called “Squaw Peak” to another name because some consider “squaw” to be offensive, thus politically incorrect. There was major push back against this however by the locals of the area, a they have always known it by its original name. Other similar examples involving re-naming include changing namesakes for colleges, buildings, streets etc… from historical figures now deemed “un-PC” for their historical views. Or going beyond places, what about those sports teams the Left decided needed a re-do? On its face, these name changes seem inconsequential. Admit it: What tangible harm will that do to you personally? Unlike many of the safety issues or moral hypocrisy targeting you personally, changing the name of something unrelated to your direct life is not the same as targeting you. Having the sign read “Piestewa Peak” instead of “Squaw Peak” is not the end of life as you know it. Thing is, maybe there are some more significant implications…

It’s really not so much that isolated incident in of itself, is it? It’s really about a much bigger idea: Changing the name changes some of the essence of that place, what its significance is, and part of that community’s identity. Places are meaningful. Imagine the name of your town were changed. Or this entire country for example! Does it matter to you if we change the name of your favorite spots, or places that signify a part of your community’s identity? What about your favorite sports team? Would you root for it under another name? Even if you did, would it feel exactly the same? If you’re honest with yourself, probably not. Changing the name of something significant to your life or your community changes the essence, the identity of that place or thing figuratively as well as literally, which in essence, changes the culture. Even speech is a huge example. The way we talk is a direct reflection of our culture, and in that light, changing one term to another speaks volumes. For many, a seemingly insignificant change implicitly sends the message, you need to change who you are as our culture is superior to yours… 

The last but certainly not the last example I want to bring up as to why conservatives are very critical and resist political correctness is obvious, but not as thought of: We’re simply tired of never being able to please you no matter what we do. Yep. Even if an issue truly is inconsequential in the truest sense of the word for us, maybe we’re just tired of being in a society constantly telling us everything we do is offending someone, and no matter what we may do to fix it, there’s always the next thing, and the next, and the next etc… We address one issue, it’s onto the next, or even if we come up with some solution, it in itself is considered offensive! For instance, people of color complain white people don’t give them a voice on racial matters. Then when white people ask them about a racial issue they are often met with the angry retort “I’m not the spokesperson for all people of color! I’m tired of everyone asking me this stuff…” But, wait a second! Isn’t the reason a white person asked you about your perspective on the issue because you’re a person of color, thus better suited to give an answer on racial issues as opposed to the white person just assuming what you might think??? In essence, you’re given a voice on an issue relating to your race, then get offended because someone asked you because of your race… This just highlights the catch 22 of the Left’s edicts, as well as that many are just plain ridiculous! Banning saying “holding down the fort” because it might be vaguely offensive to Indians is absurd, when there’s no definitive evidence it’s referring to Native Americans for just one example. You know, maybe if it were like one to two major issues that were declared solved and case closed once something was done, many conservatives would have been more willing to oblige the PC ideas. It’s when it’s complaint after complaint after complaint our ears get numb to it and our patience drains away completely.

Overall, an environment where breathing is probably offensive in some way, not being un-PC is an impossible challenge to anyone who has common sense, reason, and a sense of fairness! What’s not to “resist” about it? To leave you with one final thought: Is political correctness really about doing what the Left sincerely thinks is the right thing to do, or is it just yet another tool to push their agendas? 

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