Resistance is the postmodern way

Up in Manitoba Canada, a Star Trek fan has had to give up his personalized Borg license plate ASIMIL8 because it was judged offensive to indigenous people. The Borg, of course, are a fictional evil species that force assimilation with the clever marketing phrase “Resistance is Futile.” It has absolutely nothing to do with indigenous Canadians, but the suggestion that it does isn’t frivolous in the least. It has broad ramifications for Western culture and bears a few words as a post-colonial gesture.

You could say that the Borg represent the very essence of Colonialism, the demand that those being colonized assimilate into the culture of the conquerors, the colonists. This means everything from adopting commercial, legal, and language norms to religious faith. The conquering merchants are happy, because the colonies produce profit. The conquering churches are happy, because it means more members and their tithes. This, of course, is all completely disguised as the betterment of those being colonized, but that’s mostly just hooey. Self-centered gain has always been the real motive of the “civilized” colonists, which was brilliantly played out in the Starz television series “Black Sails.”

There is, however, another critical form of assimilation in Western history and that is the requirement that those becoming new members of the colony from the outside be required to likewise assimilate. This is the birthplace of the thinking that all who wish to be American must speak English, fully embrace American customs, traditions, laws, commerce, and submit to all forms of government. This was the basis of “The Jewish Question” or “The Jewish Problem” in Europe that began in the Nineteenth Century and ended in Hitler’s “Final Solution.” The issue was the refusal of the Jews to fully assimilate into the cultures they called home, instead choosing to remain fully Jewish, with their own customs, traditions, and beliefs. This is arguably problematic for the home culture, yet it’s seldom discussed as relevant to the evil of the Holocaust and in its wake, the creation of the Zionist State, Israel. The irony of Israel’s assimilative demands of Palestinians is not lost on observers of conflict in the Middle East.

At home, assimilation is a major concern involving Muslims, for the government of Donald Trump is demanding a rising degree of assimilation than its predecessors ever imagined. The message to Muslims in America today is xenophobic: assimilate or go back to where your appearances and practices are the cultural norm. Join us or go home. The same mandate is placed upon refugees from Mexico and beyond. Speak our language. Join our society. Pay your taxes. Or go back home.

So this business of the fictional Borg versus the indigenous people of Canada is more than appears on the surface, for one must ask the question, “Where does it stop?” At what point is it proper to demand assimilation and at what point is it not? In the early part of the Twentieth Century, the demand was made that refugee Catholics be rejected, because they couldn’t fully assimilate into mostly Protestant America. Were the Catholics offended? Did it matter? Is the patriarchy right to demand assimilation of women? Do we care if women are offended by such? It would seem this question is of lasting importance to our Constitution and the very things that Mr. Trump assumes make America “great” again. It is a fundamental matter for anyone attempting to govern diversity. Do you take the hard road of encouraging diversity or the tried and true method of demanding assimilation? They cannot fully coexist.

Milton wrote the famous line, “License they mean when they cry Liberty.” Those who would fall on the side of liberty understand the value of voluntary assimilation just as they do the right of free people to function as a colorful thread in the tapestry that America has become. Those who fall on the side of license, however, demand assimilation and seek primarily the freedom to take anything and everything that benefits their own demands.

We are at a crossroads with this matter, my friends, and we’re each going to be asked to be counted for our own place along this spectrum.

License they mean when they cry liberty

John Milton, courtesy Wikipedia

John Milton

It’s raining here in Dallas this morning, and pensive is my mood. I’m locked in thoughts ranging from my age to political assassinations to the future that awaits my children. The title of this post is a famous line from the 17th Century John Milton (Paradise Lost) poem, I Did but Prompt. It’s one of the most fascinating, pre-American statements, and it says a lot about human nature. “License they mean when they cry liberty” has been with me for decades, and it never fails to influence my thinking when I hear people spouting about that most important American word “liberty.”

Milton’s poem is about the uselessness of preaching the truth of freedom to a class of people who are, frankly, uninterested, because it will impact their place in life. “…all this waste of wealth,” he writes, “and loss of blood.” He refers to the Biblical wisdom of not “casting your pearls before swine,” an admonishment not to waste your time with people who refuse to listen, people whose own contempt for truth leads them astray.

And yet, as Milton suggests, these people are often loudly proclaiming their belief in liberty, often defending it with war and violence. Milton, however, sees through this and proclaims that what they’re really defending is “license,” a much different concept than that of liberty.

“For who loves that (liberty),” he notes, “must first be wise and good.”

I think this is being played out before us today in nearly every corner of our culture. Nobody wants the truth inherent in liberty, because liberty requires responsibility. We want license, the “freedom” to do what we want at all times. Milton wisely notes that there’s a HUGE difference between the two, and I think we need to talk about this.

The First Amendment, for example, is a requisite cornerstone of liberty, because the courage to tell the truth must be protected. However, when it’s used to protect license, it’s polluted and turned on its head, and that’s a problem. I think the Founding Fathers knew that liberty demands sacrifice (Milton’s view), but we don’t hear much about that today. The emphasis on truth is the differentiator, which is why I am obligated to support everything about WikiLeaks and at the same time curse the political discourse of today, like that which played at least some role in the murderous atrocity in Tucson yesterday. The former seeks truth, but the latter seeks self gain.

License they mean when they cry liberty.

Quote of the day

“It’s amazing that people have so much time to fret about today’s emergency but almost no time at all to avoid tomorrow’s.”

Seth Godin

Quote of the day

“…it’s worth noting that our cash flow margin was over 20 percent last year.” McClatchy & Company CEO and Chairman Gary Pruitt at today’s dismal earnings call.

Quote of the day

Slate’s Jack Shafer writes “Not Just Another Column About Blogging.”

If newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters don’t produce spectacular news coverage no blogger can match, they have no right to survive.

Amen to that, and I should add that this column is an extremely worthwhile read, an excellent summary of how personal media’s Gutenberg moment has disrupted the status quo of professional media.

Quote of the day

It’s never pleasant to face the truth about darwinian capitalism. The bad companies die. But that harsh fact forces all of us who want to survive to evolve, adapt, and innovate. Fred Wilson, Union Square Ventures