The Perfectibility of Bunting

Madeleine Bunting. What does she mean by it.

Why is it that a significant section of liberal and left-leaning opinion has signed up with such relish to the “clash of civilisations” argument? Its champions in the media may not phrase it as such, but you can hear the creak of the drawbridge being pulled up: they believe they are surrounded by enemies – Muslims and their dastardly non-Muslim apologists – and must defend to the last man the checklist of universal Enlightenment values that sustain their mission.

That’s quite a high proportion of rhetoric to argument or straightforward factual claim. That bit about not phrasing it as such – what that means is that the argument she’s talking about is not in fact a “clash of civilisations” argument, it’s just that she chooses to call it that because it’s a pejorative. And the silly use of ‘Muslims’ as if a significant section of liberal and left-leaning opinion thinks of all Muslims as enemies. And the remarkable sneer at universal Enlightenment values – yeah, like the ones that allow her to leave the house, and that allow her to have a job, and that encourage the existence of newspapers to have jobs on, and that create large literate audiences for newspaper columns, and that forbid the government or the churches or mosques to censor her columns. Those universal Enlightenment values. What kind of life does Madeleine Bunting think she would have without them, exactly? I’ll tell you what kind of life she would have: she would be married (whether she wanted to be or not), she would have a lot of children (whether she wanted them or not), she would spoil the boys and deprive the girls, she would would go nowhere without permission, she would do nothing but tend her husband and children (boy children especially), she would have no job and no one would know or care anything whatever about her opinion on any subject. The idea that Enlightenment values should be universal simply means thinking that if other women would like to try to live the way Bunting and millions of women all around her live, they ought to be able to. I don’t think that is anything to sneer at.

How do British values look to an African? Perhaps they might see through our illusions quicker than we can, and see the brittle, episodic relationships which constitute many lonely lives; the disconnectedness whereby strangers live together as neighbours, colleagues, even friends and lovers, with little knowledge and less commitment to each other; our preoccupation with things; our ever more desperate dependence on stimulants from alcohol to porn.

Which ‘African’? Which African do you mean, Madders? Do you mean for instance the women of that corner of northern Niger where the men control the food storehouse, even when they have left home during a famine and their wife or wives and children are starving? Hmm? Or the children in Congo and Angola accused of witchcraft and tortured to death by way of exorcism? Do you think they would ‘see through’ our ‘illusions’? How about the children conscripted into armies? How about the children desperate for an education who can’t get one? How about the vast numbers of people dying of Aids? How about the people whose market stalls and homes and lives were smashed in Mugabe’s ‘urban renewal’ program? How about the lucky, lucky people of Darfur? What about their neighbours and their commitments, eh? Do you really – really, seriously – prefer whatever values cause those dire situations to flourish to the ones around you? Really?

So an elite squabbles about Islam’s take on gay rights and gender equality in a charade of moralistic grandstanding.

A charade of moralistic grandstanding – unlike, for instance, speculating on how British values would look to ‘an African’. That’s not moralistic grandstanding at all, while thinking women and gays should have rights everywhere in the world and not just in our own privileged section of it – that’s mere showing off.

Here is a quick list of some of the Enlightenment legacy that we need to keep working on: the relationship of reason to emotion and faith (of all kinds, not just religious, most particularly our faith in humanity); a broader account of human nature beyond the bankrupted belief in the perfectibility of man; more meanings of freedom than the freedom to shop…

The perfectibility of man? Is there a liberal in the universe, whether muscular or flabby, who believes in that? I’ve certainly never met one. (It’s also amusing that that jibe follows immediately on the plea for faith in humanity. Well which is it, Cookie?) And more meanings of freedom than the freedom to shop – oh, the hell with it, that’s too stupid even to bother contradicting.

Bunting could do with some enlightenment herself.

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