August has turned out to be a very busy month for me. I have a short piece, Morningside Heights, being read by Core Artist Ensemble on Sunday. The week after that, I open in another short play called Village, My Home at the Dream Up Festival, at Theater for the New City. I’ve just finished reading Falstaff in Henry IV Part 2 for a friend’s reading series. Before all of these gigs materialized, I had two drafts of dramatic projects in various stages of completion, to say nothing of my existing scripts which I’m looking to have produced.
And I’m not going to write any of that today, because actual freaking Nazis are running amok in my country right now. This takes precedence, I should think.
Note that I used the term “Nazis” rather than “white nationalists” or “white supremacists.” The thought’s by no means original with me, but it bears repeating: when you describe villains like this in terms of their stated goals, you make those goals seem legitimate. It’s the same reason counterterrorism experts caution against referring to ISIL as the “Islamic State,” since it accepts their ridiculous claim that they’re speaking for Islam. They’re not, any more than the domestic terrorists down in Charlottesville are speaking for “white people.”
In that regard, I’d like to go about debunking another one of these stated goals, the one that falls within my area of expertise. It’s the one these knuckleheads whenever they say they’re defending “Western Civilization” against its many enemies, both at home and abroad.
Really? Western Civilization?
That’s funny, because I’ve never once heard these idiots quote Shakespeare.
Or Victor Hugo. Or Charles Dickens. Or Tolstoy or Chekhov or Moliere. I’ve never heard them mention Michelangelo or Rembrandt or Picasso. I’ve never heard them play Beethoven or Mozart. Hell, I’ve never heard them hum a Wagner melody, and you’d think he’d be relevant to their interests.
It’s not surprising, of course, because the great theme of Renaissance and post-Enlightenment Western art is one of universal brotherhood. The notion that our common ideals transcend boundaries of nation and race, and if nobly and industriously pursued, can unify us all in harmony. It’s not a theme that Western governments have always been good at realizing, of course. It’s a theme that can easily be perverted into dreams of conquest. And it’s a theme that’s evolved over time to cover a broader range of the human experience than even the greatest of those original artists could have forseen (as anybody can attest who immediately wondered why I didn’t say “sisterhood.”) But it’s still the ideal. Still our great hope, still the reflection of what’s best in us, still that glorious vision of utopia that blares forth when the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth begins to play.
And it’s completely at odds with what these Nazis believe in. It’s at odds with what any fascist believes in – you can’t try and exert control over your little corner of the world, can’t extol your petty little tribe, if you believe all the tribes in all the corners are all in this together. It’s no coincidence that high on the to-do list of every dictator and would-be dictator – Hitler, Stalin, Cromwell, take your pick – is wiping out or controlling the arts. They can only survive if these higher ideals are belittled and stamped out.
And again, I’m just talking about the arts here, because it happens to be my field of expertise. But you’ll find the same hostility and contempt when it comes to the other great components of “Western Civilization.” Science? These guys refuse to believe in climate change, even as catastrophe looms. Half of them are going around saying that the earth’s really flat. And when you call them on it, they make some bizarre argument about how their beliefs are justified by the fact that Neil deGrasse Tyson said something that sounded arrogant. (Ooh, “arrogant” – wonder what that could possibly mean.)
Philosophy? Politics? These guys threw a temper tantrum on July 4th when NPR tweeted out the words of the Declaration of Independence. They assumed they were being insulted. And these would-be defenders of America have honestly come out against the Statue of Liberty. (It’s got a poem on it, after all.)
They can’t possibly be the defenders of Western Civilization when they’re so intent on dismantling all of its component parts. So call them what they are.
They are the barbarians.
Actually, that’s not fair. Barbarians had to rough it, survive under the stars without benefit of technology; these clowns want to be barbarians who still magically have access to smart phones and indoor plumbing. But they have the same fundamental contempt for our values. And they’re every bit as willing to use violence to dismantle them.
Our civilization isn’t built on a race or a “folk.” It’s built upon values. Upon ideas. Upon humanity’s capacity for creativity and search for justice. And yes, this civilization, and certainly this nation, makes a habit of falling short of those values. Indeed, whole chunks of it are built on systematic denials of those values. But the response of the civilized person is to acknowledge how we’ve fallen short, and continue the work of extending those humanist ideals towards all of us. All creeds, all colors, all genders. All of us. Because the good things, those cultural values and the achievements, do indeed belong to all of us.
If you choose to reject that, then you’re choosing to destroy our civilization, not safeguard it.
So if you’re one of those types who’s chosen to ignore everything of actual value about our country and our civilization, if you’re one of those louts screaming “blood and soil!” – let me finish by saying this. If you honestly can’t see this nation as anything other than your tribe’s own private clump of soil, then kindly stop contaminating it with your blood, or any other aspect of your presence.