my essay--a bit long, but topical
CHAUVINISM AND DOCTRINES OF CONQUEST
Chauvinism is a group’s implementation of prejudice against others in order to assert its self-declared superiority and dominate. It is thus wider than the term prejudice in that it reflects more than an attitude or negative idea of another group; it expresses the rationalized intended power over others assumed to be inferior, often based on prejudices such as racism or communalism.
In this article, I use my knowledge as a holder of a graduate degree in anthropology, the study of culture, as well as my informal education as a long-time anti-imperialist activist, plus my personal experience as a resident abroad. Anthropologists generally agree that all communities tend to view themselves as an idealized whole and thus view outsiders in negative light. Without conscious efforts to understand and have dialogue, there is distrust of the “Other”, whose appearance and behavior is typically seen as wrong simply because it is different. We would call this a natural inclination. Communities desiring cooperative and peaceful relations find it necessary to frequently exchange gifts, share food and stories, provide compliments and express reassurance. Betrayal once this process has been going on extensively, of course, causes hostility.
In complex societies with multiple communities where peaceful and cooperative co-existence is necessary, it takes much education and discussion to overcome this problem. There have to be specific inclusive policies and practices. Therefore, education curricula should include a program of inclusivity and cultural exchanges. The prejudices of rulers, however, are more difficult to dislodge. For one thing, they may put on a show of inclusivity. Capitalist societies like to leave a gate at least partly open to indicate that anyone has the opportunity to ascend to fantastic wealth and high privilege through occupation, talent or investment. Some, especially the fortunate who have “made it,” find this arrangement satisfactory. They may grumble if their attempts to rise in society are frustrated that the gate should be opened wider or that there should be more than one gate.
It is not enough, though. More than education is necessary to uproot prejudice in those quarters; social structures have to be broken down and refitted in order to dislodge prejudice that has become part of policy and indoctrination in many forms including state curricula. Historical records have to be corrected. Ideologies have to be deconstructed and new discourses developed. Ceremonies and processes of reconciliation need to take place over time. New structures and procedures of decision-making and problem-solving must be consciously created to bring about democracy and empower wider swaths of the population to engage politically.
Dominating states and classes cling to chauvinist assertions to prop up and protecting themselves. Chauvinists try to make themselves strong by beating down others. Chauvinist states carefully work on the publicity to present themselves in the most favourable light and position themselves as the rightful ruling entities. Others not to be included are thereby negated. Anthropologists have enough evidence to assume that dominating clans and expanding empires in all four corners of the Earth throughout human history have broadcast great disdain and doubt about the people they have subjugated. Benevolent leaders have framed their role as helpers raising up others while malevolent ones have spewed hate and intolerance. Poverty and social problems are believed to be caused by inherent deficiencies that doom certain people to failure in the former scenario. The malevolent leader imagines others as evil and dangerous entities that must be forcefully controlled, even eliminated.
States thus construct a narrative about the state as one nation and develop policies based on the narrative. They justify violence against deviants from this norm inside and outside the state. They rationalize campaigns of conquest this way. Later empires developed this sort of ideology further, and created images, slogans, ceremonies and customs for it.
Part of the process of this type of propaganda is to bolster that natural tendency to assume that everyone in a preferred group is all the same, glossing over difference. The truth is that nationhood is never pure, mostly because of the movement of people and exchanges through trade and conflict. “Race” is a fallacy unproven by genetics. With the DNA technology and genealogy programs available today, we can easily see that pure heritages going back through a nation into the original clans are never found. Rare is it that anyone can claim more than 90% genetic make-up in one genealogical pool. However, people like to choose identities. Anthropology understands nationhood or any other group identity as a perfected socio-cultural idea that produces positive images of those who share the identity and negative images of those that do not. In the capitalist societies where individualism flourishes and progressive doctrines are suppressed, and decades or even centuries of displacement and conquest have occurred, authorities manufacture idealized national identities or racially and colour constructed community identities and promote them. They are hard to resist without very clear and powerful alternative, progressive understanding. So, people tend to buy into the mass media produced and enhanced views and opt for one or the other. They do not work, though; they give rise to despair and conflict and all the ills that go along with conflict and despair.
I lived on professor visas in South Korea for 10 years. Ethnonationalism, which is national identity based on an idea of one people with a single shared heritage, is quite strong still in South Korea. It serves the ruling class and clans well. It is projected by state rhetoric, the most celebrated arts and the school curriculum. They like to express nostalgia for the days of the Joseon Empire and manufacture a false Korean persona that ignores class structure, namely the peasants and large landowners of past centuries and the workers, displaced peasants and capitalist dynasties of today. In reality, most Korean people have suffered under the heels of nobility and corporate kings, oppression compounded by the mysticism taught by Buddhists and the patriarchy and subservience taught by Confucianists. The US facilitated the construction of South Korea by means of collaborators and profiteers, just as the Japanese occupiers had. As a result, many people are confused and experienced mixed emotions about the leaders of South Korean society and US imperialism, and they still engage in pointing fingers at each other: Seoul residents looking down their noses at the backward farmers and southerners, clans based in one district disparaging those in others, Koreans feeling distrust and doubt about foreigners, even Koreans raised outside Korea, and so on. Racialized descriptions are common in derogatory comments about the Chinese, the Japanese, Filipinos, “Whites”, Africans, South Asians and tribal people. Mixed families are deplored by many. Then you can consider the profound sexism and ageism entangled in the national consciousness.
Though the face of contemporary US-led imperialism may be the white male as a representation of the Anglo-American hegemony on the world stage today, bullying and power-seeking interests all utilize any form of chauvinism at their disposal, whether based on fantasies about colour, “blood” lines, language, nationality, religion, gender or other prejudices and ideologies. Racism, slavery and colonization are not unique to Europeans and not all Europeans were interested in conquest or had the means to conquer because the majority of them, as are the majority of any people anywhere, are the exploited and oppressed. Hindu chauvinism is deployed against “adivasis” (tribal people), Muslims and Sikhs on the Indian subcontinent, while Christian fundamentalism combined with racist chauvinism is deployed in certain European countries and their settler satellites.
Christianity was woven with monarchy as soon as the late Roman Empire, upon giving up its battle to quell the Hebrews engaged in a Christian liberation movement, institutionalized Christianity, becoming the Holy Roman Empire which gave birth to the Roman Catholic Church. As Rome disintegrated into the Papal States, wars among the European states sparked again and again, but French and other kings finding the Church a useful ally as publicist and police in their schemes to expand territories and gather wealth. Though kings were overthrown and republics favoured secularism eventually, the Church has left a far-reaching legacy that permeates thought and deeds of what remains of the European empires and what created the new empires of monopoly capitalism. It was British colonialism that was the strongest and longest lasting, not only because of its industrial and technological advantages, but also because of its meticulously designed language of conquest, the its doctrine of conquest and rule.
British ideology to explain and justify colonization built on the discourse of moral duty to rescue and convert the savages in the 16th and 17th century evolved into a diabolical plan for resource extraction and industrial expansion for the enjoyment of the old landed aristocracy and new bourgeoisie. Seeing themselves as more technologically gifted and morally correct compared to the “barbaric, primitive” peoples they encountered, they thought they had a lot to teach others, whom they urged to become Christians and abandon their supposed hedonistic ways. Queen Victoria brought that mission to a new level, escalating the rhetoric while extending the fine-tuned machinery of colonialism and colonialist war, which Winston Churchill tried to emulate and update in the early 20th century. By the 19th century, the British colonial doctrine was a refined science enforced by well-equipped armies for which scientists, including the anthropologists of the day, were employed. Like all the early sciences, however, it was based on faulty assumptions and methodology. More than that, it was corrupt from the start. They all knew what they were doing, and they knew it was criminal. They knew that mass murders were being committed. They knew about the spread of disease, the fragility of culture and the dependency of local people on the land, but they kept on ravaging the people and the lands.
As the British Empire sank into the sunset of history, the Anglo-American empire rose with the new day. It inherited the doctrine and pre-existing power arrangements where it took over. While slavery was rejected by some morally and politically, the burgeoning industrial center of North America required new work relations, that of mobile worker who needed wages to survive. The new arrangements forced displacement and caused migrant workers from conquered regions of Mexico, new and old, the southern and Caribbean plantations, the mid-West farms. The losses and inadequate livelihoods cause dissent again and again, but racial and other divisions including natural catastrophes and continuing inter-state as well as business rivalries, divert and distract the people, many of whom have kept guarding false hopes of becoming landlords and business tycoons themselves, despite the record of failure after failure. Class struggle guided by socialism has met similar obstacles, as well as the force of regional and local military might and reactionary political opponents.
Racism and other forms of chauvinism are forms of ideological invention used to cover up the real dynamics and history, to incite fratricide and divert the oppressed from targeting their masters to fingering a false enemy. Opportunists use it to climb the social ladder. There is enough awareness through the halls of educational institutions and the meeting rooms of politicians and community leaders for lots of people to know about the real dynamics, the lived power relations, and what sociologists call “the intersection of class, gender and race” where power plays. It is hard to believe that media personalities and elected politicians in the US and other Euro-settler countries are just now discovering the pain and defeats caused by racist attitudes and language. As I have explained here, though, the problem runs very deep historically and socially, and is a weapon in the arsenal of conquest and domination in the hands of any conqueror or ruler.
Beware of those denouncing pointing fingers at others, the ones who are actually vying for high social positions, who like palaces and seek to walk the halls of palaces freely. Beware this notion of freedom. It is a betrayal of the working peoples’ historic role and mission to take power and transform their societies in one that serves all equitably without plunder and exploitation, without slavery of any kind, one free from the outdated structures and power relations that cause oppression and deprivation.
While some reforms are worth pursuing in the short term because they alleviate some suffering and facilitate longer term and substantive change, peace loving and democratically minded people who wish to rid their societies of racism and all forms of bigotry and chauvinism, must face imperialism and a class-based, exploiting system as the source of most violence and social injustice. They must give voice to each other and listen and learn well. They must unite, adopt the anti-imperialist analysis to share the understanding of the causes of oppression, and unite with all the oppressed in the struggle to overcome empire-building and all its institutions, ideologies, owners and policies and build a new way to all-round social liberation.