A regular reader of Hilltopics will know that I am a staunch opponent of the regressive leftism and the rising tide of illiberalism that has taken root in college campuses as well as its twin scourge, the alt-right. One area that I have referred to repeatedly is “cultural appropriation.”
The concept is a fairly straightforward one. Groups that have been historically marginalized are entitled to cultural purity in this view. Their norms, customs, dress, and even food and other cultural features cannot be replicated, experimented with, or integrated, particularly if the culture doing the appropriating is considered as belonging to a privileged group.
Such a concept is illiberal to begin with. Freedom ought to never be limited by accidents of birth. Rights are not a zero sum game, so long as there is no direct harm or risk to life, liberty, or private property. Unsurprisingly, whining over cultural appropriation is a mainstay of both the regressive left and alternative right. Neither group understands that culture is not a copyrighted artifact, that claims to legitimacy over lineage are as silly as claims today that accidents of birth entitle people to be heads of state—that monarchs should rule because of their birth, not because of the democratic will of a people.
In fact, under the principles that deem cultural appropriation “problematic,” it would be impossible for a Christian or Muslim to deride cultural appropriation without becoming a hypocrite, for both Christianity and Islam themselves appropriate Jewish beliefs. The Christian Bible’s Old Testament makes heavy use of Jewish scriptures. Islam takes a tremendous amount of inspiration from Judaism as well. The origin stories are virtually identical, all three reference a great flood and Noah’s ark, they share many of the same holy sites, refer to many of the same prophets, and there is substantial overlap on questions of morality. Christianity and Islam are, in some sense, rip-offs of Judaism.
Judaism is also a “marginalized minority,” like the groups today that are supposedly victims of cultural appropriation. Indeed, the Jewish people have been marginalized almost since their inception. This includes expulsion from their homeland and enslavement by ancient empires, pogroms and the Holocaust, and widespread discrimination still today. The only place on Earth the Jewish people constitute a majority, Israel, has repeatedly ceased to exist as an independent state.
In the present day United States, more hate crimes are committed against Jewish people annually than against any other group. Decades after the Holocaust, there is again a rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe. In the last caliphate, Jewish people could live only so long as they paid the jizya, a tax on non-Muslims. Anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories run rampant today in the Middle East.
Jewish people have been exploited and murdered on an industrial scale. It is hard to find a group in history that has been oppressed as routinely as the Jewish people. So why don’t regressive leftists decry the unceremonious theft and appropriation of the Jewish people’s most sacred texts by the religious institutions of Christianity and Islam?
While we are discussing the issue of culturally appropriating sacred religions, why are regressive leftist Christians not bending over backwards in self-flagellation because Christianity unceremoniously appropriates elements from the 3500-year-old religion Zoroastrianism, a monotheistic faith where the prophet is born of a virgin and there is a cosmic duality between good and evil? Perhaps regressive leftists are not as #woke as they like to believe.
Opposition to cultural appropriation is by far the most ludicrous component of both regressive leftism and the alt-right, which is saying something.
Culture is not sacred. Traditions are not sacred. Culture is useful for binding people together in tribes. This is an adaption that arose when people were in constant competition for access to hunting grounds and then access to arable land. Culture acted as a unifier that gave a competitive edge over groups that stood divided and driven by the self-interests of individual members. Culture is merely a tool, just as sex is merely a tool to ensure the continuity of a species, regardless of whatever special significance people choose to invent for it.
Social capital and interpersonal trust have always been important and will continue to be important. However, it is important to understand that there is nothing otherworldly about culture that grants it special importance. It is merely a natural adaptation. Just as we do not weep over the culture of hunters who made cave paintings in France, we do not weep over the culture of Incas who sacrificed their children so that the gods would ensure the existence of their world, and we do not weep over the culture of extinct tribes the world over, people will be fine and humanity will continue if we appropriate culture. Culture is not sacred. Culture is not property. Certain artifacts may carry significant weight, but culture is a set of ideas that cannot be owned, not even by a group.
While culture has been helpful historically to bind people together, it does no good when a cultural identity does not align with a national identity, which is today the only rational form of tribalism. In the present day, the obsession with ever smaller identity groups risks atomizing American society. We are a pluralistic nation and we should be proud of our particular identities. We must still always set aside our smaller identity groups for our national identity. Cultural appropriation and assimilation are necessary steps toward creating the social capital to ensure a broad-based harmony that cuts across demographic lines.
Cultural appropriation is good. Assimilation is good. And that is what will ultimately end discrimination and ensure equal opportunities so that all people may achieve by their own merit and live free of undue barriers to success.
This article was written by Fairooz Adams. Click here to see more of Fairooz’s work.