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Culture War Roundup for the week of December 5, 2022

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Last night I watched the absurdly stupid and awful-looking surprise hit movie of 2022, the Tollywood epic RRR. While slogging through this 3-hour parade of xenophobic melodrama, incoherent action, and kindergarten-level sentiment was a struggle, it did make me wonder about two ideas that I’ve always thought should be in direct conflict with each other but aren’t treated as such: “Anti-Colonialism” and “Open Borders.”

As I understand it, the principle behind “Anti-Colonialism” is that Group A is never entitled to move into Group B’s space and take it over, replacing Group B’s preferred culture and/or method of governance with Group A’s preferred culture and/or method of governance, thereby subjugating Group B as second class in their own space. However, this school of thought seems to be most popular among the same political/intellectual cohort that also champions very loose immigration controls, commonly referred to as “Open Borders” (even though that phrase suggests no control whatsoever, whereas the reality is probably something closer liberal immigration controls). With an “Open Borders” mindset, there is no stopping Groups B-Z from moving into Group A’s space and altering its culture or assuming control of its institutions if any of those Groups does so with enough numbers or organization. “Open Borders,” on principle, refutes the very notion of any group’s ownership of any space, which more or less dismantles the paradigm of “Anti-Colonialism.” How do these two ideas co-exist in the same mind without producing uncomfortable cognitive dissonance?

It seems uncharitable to suggest that the salve for this cognitive dissonance is simply racism; or, to put it how I suppose the “Open Borders Anti Colonialist” would think of it, “intersectionality.” That is, the principle behind “Anti-Colonialism” is not really the wrongness of generic groups subjugating each other but rather the wrongness of one static “Bad Group” (that happens to be largely defined by skin color/geographical origin) subjugating other Groups (of other skin colors), who by the nature of their subjugation and opposition to “Bad Group” are thereby “Good Groups.” “Open Borders,” too, is a policy only sought after when the same “Good Groups” are immigrating into the space of the same “Bad Group,” rather than vice versa. These are intended as strictly one-way ideological roads, and not as equal-use roadmaps for Groups A-Z.

I don’t get the impression that this intersectional solution to the “Open Borders Anti Colonialism” knot is oft-contemplated by the typical “Open Borders Anti Colonialist,” who rather thinks of both notions as having sprung from the same well of humanist good intentions. Is the racial/intersectional question actually essential to this paradigm, or is there some other less invidious key that unlocks the conflict between “Open Borders” and “Anti Colonialism?” in the progressive mindset?

I’ll hand this to RRR: It aptly confounds Western culture-warring by presenting its own set of ideas that may be difficult for some Western progressives to reconcile: It pits noble indigenous revolutionaries against the cartooniest of all racist villains and does so with a strident rallying cry against gun control. One of the protagonists has the stated goal of “putting a rifle in the hand” of every colonial subject, and suggests that a bullet only attains its true value when it kills an immigrant (or, in this exact case, any white person).

With an “Open Borders” mindset, there is no stopping Groups B-Z from moving into Group A’s space and altering its culture or assuming control of its institutions if any of those Groups does so with enough numbers or organization. “Open Borders,” on principle, refutes the very notion of any group’s ownership of any space, which more or less dismantles the paradigm of “Anti-Colonialism.” How do these two ideas co-exist in the same mind without producing uncomfortable cognitive dissonance?

The way out of this conundrum is just to incorporate open borders mindset as one of the key aspects of the culture. This battle over the identity of let's say Western World is the key component of the Culture War. It is a battle of multiple value systems raging from nationalism, secular humanism, religious systems as well as the new "woke" Critical Social Justice value framework.

But there is also more to it, I like an essay by Bruno Maçães, a former diplomat from Portugal. In the essay he states that:

The modern West broke with this mold [of different civilization organizing their societies differently]. From the perspective of what had come before, Western political societies had oddly misplaced scientific ambitions. They wanted their political values to be accepted universally, much like a scientific theory enjoys universal validity. In order to achieve this — we shall have occasion to doubt whether it was ever achieved — a monumental effort of abstraction and simplification was needed.

I think that this is largely true for many western moral elites. Be it people who endorse Effective Altruism or rationality and who fully believe that this is "scientific" and universalistic moral system that will eventually be adopted and/or enforced by AI. Or be it more liberal or even Social Justice crowd that sees their value system as basic human rights. Meaning their ideas of how the society should be organized is outside of standard political process, rights are inalienable and have advantage of being protected even against disagreement from majority. If they manage to enshrine themselves as new clergy that decides how the Declaration of Human Rights holy book is to be amended, they can manage the whole World. All these moral thinkers believe in some form of "grand narrative" where they are on "right side of history" which indicates a belief that history has some direction and that there exists something like "moral progress" in similar vein as scientific progress.

This is also highly cosmopolitan class that can be at home in New York, Tokyo or Buenos Aires. They do not have allegiance to the national state, in a sense this is too restricting. Effective Altruists claim to give equal moral value to all people who are living or who are going to live. They are proudly declaring themselves as new shepherds of the whole humanity, even if they have to drag these sheep kicking and screaming by the power of the new god in form of AGI aligned with these "universalistic" values.

Also you are not the first one to notice how the supposedly multicultural liberal values are highly colonial. In the wake of invasion of Afghanistan the new military government embarked on the project of instilling the current western values there. We see the whole western world recoil at football World Cup being held in Quatar, a society that let's say does not meet the current requirements when it comes to treating gays or women. I think that there is a little bit of struggle now in the West, where many people are starting to realize that maybe their values are not as universalistic, and that maybe they will not be implemented voluntarily. I think that is one of the reasons why we see the left turning authoritarian.

Their moral beliefs require them to be correct, as mentioned "being on the right side of history". So we see the classic return to mark those who refuse as reactionaries and bigots and extremists who fight against enlightenment and progress. In order to save this narrative the left engages in huge amount of editing and constant revisioning of history. For instance in the past the eugenics movement was huge part of progressive ethos. You had people like Karl Pearson who gave lectures with titles like Darwinism, Medical Progress and Eugenics with the same arguments as progressives of today: bigots and fanatics do not understand impact of science like Darwinism. They are stuck in 19th century so it is on us: scientists, politicians and experts who are armed with sufficient scientific knowledge as well as moral strength to bring humanity over into 20th century. And that vessel will be eugenics. For progressives of today, eugenicists were not "true progressives". They conveniently stuck the whole thing as rightwing coded - ah, it was Hitler who euthanized "undesirables". Pearson was probably cryptofascist posing as a progressive. He was definitely a white man.

So to conclude, I do not think that Open Borders is against many strains of thinking especially prevalent on the left. Colonialism was not bad because it destroyed local cultures, colonialism was bad because it interfered with the higher project. For instance you do not see much of critique of how ideas of certain mid 19th century white German philosopher named Karl Marx infiltrated thinking in countries like China or many African nations. It does not seem that there is a push to topple Marx's statues, quite to the contrary new ones are being erected. The belief is that there is going to be a moral end of history and the whole world will be part of one huge "multicultural" soup sharing the same value system. So in that sense open borders do not matter.