Where Does the Impulse to Vilify America and the West Come From?

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When I first took up my teaching post in 1968, a bright undergraduate said to me, “North American culture is the most corrupt in the world.” I was rather shocked to hear this, having just returned from a year of ethnographic research in the Middle East, where arguably there are many more serious problems. The only reply I could manage was, “Where else have you been?” Of course, he had not been anywhere else.

But my student had imbibed one of the themes of the 1960s counter culture, that Western culture had gone wrong. The counter-culture rebellion that saw many young people smoking dope,  “dropping out,” returning to the land, joining communes and cults, was the result of the confluence of at least two cultural trends: One was the rejection of post-war bourgeois order and work by those set free from want by a prosperity never before seen. The United States and Canada were, after all, the only countries still standing after World War II and had a monopoly over post-war industry. The other trend was the increasing opposition to the Vietnam war, and the unwillingness of young people to fight it. Many went into hiding or fled across borders to avoid the draft. Opponents to the war often sided with the opposition, the paradigmatic figure being “Hanoi” Jane Fonda. To some, Ho Chi Min, Mao, and Che, and their communist ideology became friendly symbols of opposition to the war.

One of the great post-war influences was the idea of “cultural relativism,” first articulated in the 1930s by foundational anthropologist Franz Boas and his student Ruth Benedict. Instead of judging other cultures in terms of one’s own values, the anthropologist should suspend his or her own value perspective in order to understand the world in terms of the culture studied. This approach was later called by Clifford Geertz, “from the native’s point of view.” The point was to get a better understanding of other cultures.

But the idea of cultural relativism did not remain static. Rather, it was taken up and expanded to mean moral relativism, in which someone from one culture cannot make a valid moral judgment about someone or a culture with a different morality. In 1946, the American Anthropological Association went so far as to reject the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the grounds that it reflected Western values and was thus ethnocentric. Then relativity was expanded to epistemological relativity, which means that a way of knowing in one culture is not more valid than a different way of knowing in another culture. Thus, for example, science is deemed to have no more validity than individual subjectivity, or prophets, or witchcraft doctors, or chicken oracles. Cultural relativism was a major step in undermining our cultural basis for judgment


The counter culture of teenagers smoking dope, “dropping out,” heading off to communes, and demonstrating against the war was but a minor ripple compared to the transformational tsunami of feminism. The Women’s Movement of the 1960s, consequent to the arrival of the birth control pill, modestly strove for equality for females. This seemed entirely reasonable to many because equality is one of the central values of American culture. But in less than a decade, the Women’s Movement became second-wave Feminism. Along with a change in label came a change in orientation, from striving for a universal value to partisanship on behalf of females vis a vis males. Quickly that feminist partisanship became female supremacism and a war against men. Some feminists contemplated a world without men, and the means to achieve that. Men were characterized not as supportive fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons, employers, and mentors, and fellow citizens, but as insensitive, brutal, toxic, and evil. The most recent slogans of feminism are “men are trash,” now set to music, and “kill all men,” also set to music.

Feminist ideology was systematized in proliferating “women’s studies” programs, which provided full-time feminist propaganda in colleges and universities, including the education faculties that trained school teachers, who were mostly females. Feminist ideology generated feminist strategies, which included special consideration and benefits for females. For example, women were to be given preferences in college and university admissions, in employment, and in government, as well as disputes over child custody. Feminist law professors championed laws benefitting females, at the expense of males, such as redefining both undesired advances and violent rape as “sexual assault.” Feminists argued that any consensual sexual congress that a female regretted was rape. Males, as always, hoping to curry favor with females, supported or remained silent about the feminist attacks on equality and fairness.

The feminist view of American culture ignored its basic values of freedom, equality, and democracy, claiming that American culture was a “rape culture.” Nor was American society deemed to be one of free citizens enjoying equality of opportunity to gain standing and prosperity. Rather, feminists adopted the Marxist model of society featuring a hierarchy of classes in which the higher class exploits and oppresses the lower classes. Feminists exchanged the Marxist economic classes with sex classes, the male patriarchy oppressing the subordinate females, discriminating against females at every opportunity. The alleged sexist American society was thus characterized as fundamentally unjust and corrupt, and salvageable only through the overthrow of the patriarchy and its replacement by feminist supremacy. As females make up half of all Americans and half of all voters, a movement claiming to represent all women could not be ignored, and, as we have seen, could not be resisted.

Race, Sexual Preference, Gender Preference, Indigeneity

The Marxist feminist model of American culture and society was quickly adopted by minorities aiming to improve their positions by claiming victimhood. African American activists replaced the feminists’ claims of sexism with racism, and patriarchy with white supremacism. Black Lives Matter’s fevered accusations that there is open season on African Americans by white police and white mobs portrayed American racism and thus American culture and society as homicidal and genocidal. And African American activists and their enablers point to the slavery of Africans 150 years previous as the fundamental characteristic of America.

The campaign of homosexuals, including gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and other varieties, for acceptance and equal legal status framed American culture as heteronormative, and bigoted against LGB++ individuals. It, too, adopted the Marxist model, with heteronormative oppressors and LGB++ victims. Trans activists claim to be victims of oppression by the biologically literate, and demand that they could be whatever sex they wanted to be, and that this become sanctioned by law.

Native American and Canadian First Nations activists claim to be victims of non-natives. In the U.S., Native Americans tend to be patriotic and moderate, and, notwithstanding a few activists, have not initiated a popular identity political movement. In contrast, in Canada, First Nations activists characterize Euro- and Asian-Canadians as “colonial settlers,” who are obliged to provide massive monetary and ongoing compensation for all past misdeeds and to return ownership of all of Canada to the First Nations, notwithstanding previous treaty agreements. The First Nations furthermore expect to have status as equals to the Government of Canada, but to live under beneficial laws distinct from those of the Canadian colonial settlers. As well, Indigenous Canadians claim that they, especially females, are abused and murdered at a shockingly high rate.

All of these minorities claim discrimination against them because of their origin or characteristics and identity. As proof, they point to “underrepresentation” in relation to their percentage of the population. Their argument is that in every field or organization, they should be represented at least in the same percentage as their percentage in the general population. The cover label for this demand is “diversity and inclusion.” The justification is labeled “social justice.”

These claims reinforce the Marxist identity politics vision of America as a bigoted, sexist, racist, oppressive society run by evil white male supremacists. The white majority is thus regarded as tainted, and the rights of individual members of the white majority are disregarded in favor of benefits for the “underrepresented.”

Problematical Claims

Many of the claims of feminists and minority activists are not supported by the facts. For example, the central argument is that any category of people who are “underrepresented” in an organization in relation to their percentage of the population are underrepresented due to gender, racial, sexual discrimination. But we know this to be false because two unpopular minorities, East Asians and Jews, are highly overrepresented in prestigious academic and professional occupations. As well, while African Americans are highly underrepresented and low in income, black West Africans and Caribbean blacks are highly successful educationally and economically in comparison to the majority, which claims of racial prejudice cannot explain. But alternative explanations, never considered by “social justice” advocates, can explain the discrepancies.

The central problem for African Americans is not racial discrimination but poor performance due to a weak family structure, with 70% of African American families being single parents, usually mothers. African American children raised in two-parent families do remarkably better, pretty much at the same average level as other Americans. In other words, the cause of African American underrepresentation and underperformance is African American culture, not racial discrimination. As well, the claim that females are underrepresented in STEM fields due to discrimination is refuted by the systemic discrimination in favor of females in the field, and the fact that females prefer the social sciences to scientific STEM fields. Internationally, the more democratic and egalitarian a country is, the fewer females chose to study STEM fields.

The claim that America is “racist” ignores the opinion polls throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, which show declining racial prejudice, until today it is minimal at worst. But not only people’s attitudes have changed, so have their actions: America elected a black President, unprecedented for a racial minority of only 13% of the population. At the same time, interracial marriages have surged in numbers. Today no television program is complete without a mixed-race couple, a prime sign of cultural approbation.

Another example is the doubtful claims of Black Lives Matter, an organization granted a high degree of credibility by the Democrat Party and the mainstream media, of a black holocaust perpetrated by white police and white supremacist gangs. The facts in FBI statistics are that almost half of all murder victims in American are black and that almost all the people that murdered them are also black. Blacks are overrepresented among murdered and murderers by 300% of their percentage of the general population. This is so well known that mentioning black-on-black crime is denounced as “racist” by black activists and “social justice” advocates. Another contrary fact is that more police are murdered by blacks than blacks are killed by police.

Feminists portray males as “toxic,” without acknowledging that most men spend their lives trying to please their mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters, in the overwhelming majority of cases working hard to support them. Nor do feminists mention that men do the dirty and dangerous jobs that society needs and suffer almost all of the industrial injuries and deaths.

The feminist claim that we live in a “rape culture” is false in every respect, because culture is what is valued, taught, and rewarded, and Americans do not believe that rape is a good thing, do not teach children to rape, and punish rape with stiff prison sentences. Feminists’ attempts to expand the category of “rape” to sex that is “regretted” make clear that cries of “rape” have become a political tool to subordinate males. So, too, with the ridiculous demand to “believe women,” as if females are not human beings who are never mistaken and who never lie.

Then there is the much-repeated claim that the between female and male income is due to discrimination against females. Uncontrolled in this claim is the different jobs that females and males work, and different qualifications required. Even within comparable jobs, uncontrolled is the hours, days, and years worked, which are in all spheres substantially higher for men than women. In a recent claim about the “wage gap” at Google, it turned out that female engineers were paid more than male engineers at the same level. Were the feminists happy? Of course not, they then moved the goalposts, claiming that female engineers were not given positions at high enough levels.

Canadian First Nations activists have understandably denounced the high rate of Indigenous women murdered. But they do not mention that Indigenous men are murdered at a higher rate. Or that Indigenous women and men are, in most cases, murdered by family, friends, or neighbors — in other words by other Indigenous natives. These unfortunate events are blamed by activists on non-Indigenous Canadians, deemed to be “colonial settlers,” although exactly how they work their evil magic is never explained. As with many “social justice” claims, there seems to be a rapid movement from legitimate concern to far fetched claims with no foundation in fact.

Hating America

Segments of the American population with partisan interests bolster their claims by assertions of victimhood, and in so doing, vilify America as a sexist, racist, bigoted, intolerant, and unjust country. As Beckeld puts it,

“Diverse interests are created that view each other as greater enemies than they do foreign threats. Since the common civilizational enemy has been successfully repulsed, it can no longer serve as an effective target for and outlet of people’s sense of superiority, and human psychology generally requires an adversary for the
purpose of self-identification, and so a new adversary is crafted: other people in the same civilization.”

While feminist and minority claims have not been ignored, because equality is a central value of American culture, feminists and minority activists have greatly exaggerated their victimhood and the evil oppression by men and by the white majority. Partisan activists and their supporters strive to gain power for their group, as well as power and status for themselves. Those on the political left see the campaign for “social justice” as a path to greater government centralization and power. The call for “social justice” is often joined by a condemnation of capitalism and a plea for socialism. The left’s tendency for totalitarianism is seen in the increased control of thought and speech, for example, in universities’ “diversity and inclusion” apparatus, including “bias detection” committees and re-education committees, a la Communist China.

The great success of “woke social justice” ideology can be attributed in part to the capture of America’s education system by grievance partisanship. From the grievance fields of women’s studies, black studies, indigenous studies, Chicano studies, etc., “woke” ideology and virtue signaling spread rapidly to anthropology, sociology, political science, English, and other “humanistic” disciplines, social work, and education. From radical “social justice education faculties, “woke” feminist, anti-American teachers spread across the land to shape the minds of America’s children. But no one was quicker to adopt grievance “social justice” than university administrators, who have hired thousands of “diversity and inclusion officers,” including at the highest levels of administration for salaries up to half a million dollars a year, to police thoughts and speech among students and faculty. A sideline is enforcing Obama administration Title IX demands that they persecute male students that any female complains about. With their “social justice” police force in place, administrators have gone on to establish racial segregation in housing, eating facilities, and university salaries, and well as to admit, fund, hire and promote on the basis of sex, gender, race, and ethnicity. Every American criterion of merit, universal values, democracy, and due process has been thrown out by just about every university administration.

Thus, in order to advance partisan interests, feminist and minority activists have distorted facts of history and sociology to portray America as a wicked and evil country. At the same time, educationalists have striven to divide Americans according to sex, race, sexual preference, and ethnicity, while canceling the rights of members of the American majority. To quote Beckeld again,

The historical development of oikophobia [hatred of one’s own society] has had a debilitating effect on many aspects of our society, on its culture, politics, and military. It is a nation so fixated by internal squabbles that it is no longer capable of effectively projecting outward, unified force.

Clearly, Russian and Chinese conspiracies are not needed to destroy America; partisan activists, educators, and the media are doing their best to argue that America should be destroyed and thus destroy it themselves.

Where Does the Impulse to Vilify America and the West Come From?

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Philip Carl Salzman

Philip Carl Salzman served as professor of anthropology at McGill University from 1968 to 2018. He is the author of Culture and Conflict in the Middle East; the founding chair of the Commission on Nomadic Peoples of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences; the founding editor of Nomadic Peoples; and the author of Black Tents of Baluchistan; Pastoralism: Equality, Hierarchy, and the State; Thinking Anthropologically, Culture and Conflict in the Middle East; and Understanding Culture.

Read all stories by Philip Carl Salzman