The Confessions of St. Fred
Acknowledges Vertebrate Privilege
May 24, 2004
I am done for, and damned. Yes, a poor sinner who has strayed from the path of righteousness, and now sits brooding over a bottle of Padre Kino, Mexican rust-remover marauding as red wine, for I have done the unpardonable: I have said--I cringe with shame--that some cultures are superior to others.
It gnaws my soul.
Please don’t misjudge me. I am in most respects a good American. I have nothing against brainless, passive-aggressive, narcissistic sanctimony, nor preening academic mediocrity, nor intellectual vacuity. No. I tell you, I love all of these things. I am devoted to our traditions. I believe to the roots of my teeth that bovine complacency is the bedrock of democracy. Indeed, the only criticism I can make of our national intellectual life is that it would embarrass a microcephalic box-turtle.
Oh god. Wait. I didn’t mean to imply that microcephalic box-turtles are in any way inferior. They are just otherly abled. I apologize, and acknowledge my Vertebrate Privilege.
Let me recount my fall from grace as a warning to those that will hear. Long ago, a callow youth, I was reading the Huffington Post (this column has no respect for chronology), which informed me that no culture is superior to any other: They are just different. To think otherwise, it huffed, was to concede oneself to be among the Fallen, and perhaps a Republican.
I read this and the scales fell from my eyes (though I had no interest in going to Damascus, where they were using nerve gas). I thought, Yes! It’s true! Hosanna! All cultures are equal! Jewish culture is not superior to Nazi, just different. Why hadn’t I seen it before? The culture of Switzerland is not better than that of North Korea, and the South of Bull Conner was in no way inferior to the most dappled, liquid-eyed liberalism of Massachusetts!
For years I believed this, enraptured, and prattled like a jaybird. I was among the Saved. Then…Woe! Woe!...Padre Kino got the best of me. Oh, Demon Rum! Drink has ever been my downfall (and uplift, and maybe side-straddle. After a couple of bottles, it’s hard to tell.)
Anyway, I was in my cups and, prompted by the Devil, thought: All cultures equal? Exactly how is a pack of nekkid savages in the rain forests of Papua-New Guinea, who eat weird pasty white grubs and each other, who speak a language consisting of seven word none of which means anything, who have never even heard of Carlos Santana—how could they possibly be the equals of Europeans who brush their teeth and wrote Hamlet’s soliloquy? Equal how? In the eyes of God, maybe. If so, I figured the Old Boy must need glasses.
So low had I sunk.
Floating in the vile effluvium of the corrupting grape, I engendered worse thoughts. Regarding Islam, for example. How equal was this medieval horror? Here is a faith that will not let its girl children learn to read, and indeed holds them down screaming and mutilates their genitals with a razor blade and no anesthetic. Equal? To what? If to anything at all, I decided to avoid both. I have daughters. I don’t care how dry a Moslem’s head may be, if he came near my kids, he would eat a baseball bat.
You see. Wine. Booze. The Great Purple Father was making me lose all devotion to equality. Shun strong liquor, I implore you, lest you start to favor the death penalty for such victims of intolerance as Ted Bundy, who was misunderstood by society.
But back to Islam. Before, alight with the equality of all cultures, I had thought clitoridectomy to be a minor surgery, not much different from sending girls to Wellesley. Actually, Wellesley had seemed worse, as on campus girls underwent forced exposure to oppressive dead white men like Plato, while Moslem girls faced nothing worse than gangrene. But suddenly I wasn’t sure. My Huffington-flavored faith wavered.
I even reflected at one point that European culture had invented everything that kept many of the rest from living in the animal shelter. Where they would probably eat the animals.
It is what drink does.
The seeds of heresy, once planted, grow like welfare budgets. Curious: Cultures that really were in a league with European—Japanese, Chinese, Korean—were too busy making Toyotas, smart phones, and money to worry about it. Cultures that obviously weren’t equal, that couldn’t pour piss out of a boot with the instructions written on the sole, were making noise about Privilege, This Privilege and That Privilege. In this they were joined by delicate white sociologists, splashing pridefully in the cultural birdbaths of the universities.
Why was it, I wondered, that all cultures were equal, but that all cultures were superior to white European culture? This seemed illogical. In my earlier state of virtue, I had understood such considerations to be the result of Male Linear Thinking, which had earlier been called “thinking” until it was noticed who was best at it.
I reached bottom, moral Quisling that I am, when I found myself reflecting: If those who chatter about oppressive European culture had ever contributed anything to it, of to much of anything, instead of holding out their begging bowls, and expecting Euro-Americans to be their freaking mother—we would live in a better world. Or at least a quieter one.
My maternal instinct was reaching its limits.
The thing about Padre Kino is that it grows on you, first removing tartar from your teeth and then most of the fillings. Having decided that some cultures were superior to others, I fell deeper into error, and wondered whether maybe being smart was better than being stupid. Before, I had understood from the Washington Post that being illiterate and borderline retarded was a sign of Authenticity. Well, I certainly wanted to be Authentic, though I thought I would pass on eating the pasty white gurbs. (Authentic what was never mentioned, but it didn’t seem to matter. If Salon was for it, it must be good.)
I began dressing like the contents of a dumpster, with butt-hanger pants and a baseball cap on sideways so as to look like an idiot. I petitioned the Educational Testing Service to have my SATs lowered, and began Vocabulary Limitation Therapy. I considered lobotomy. Such was my desire for Authenticity.
It did not work. No. No amount of abasement, no embrace of degradation can overcome Vertebrate Privilege. But, like a sociologist, I could revel in being an earnest aspirant to degeneracy. Small compensation, but better than nothing.
But alas! Alack! I am ruined. Having lost one’s faith in the transparently absurd, one may never go back. I will never again believe the Iroquois the equals of the Finns. I am lost.