Wednesday, 7 December 2016

What are you willing to kill for? [Part 2]

Hi everyone,

I've been trying to avoid doing another "big ideas" post.  I think I've said before that I think they're the laziest form of writing: take any controversial issue of the day and toss about a few very general principles and reach some conclusion or other.  It's little more than your own opinion writ large with an air of superiority (The Age and Meanjin have been filling their pages this way for years).  Despite this, I've had an idea banging around in my head that includes a conclusion I really don't want to reach.  This makes it interesting to me and maybe it will be to you.

Regular readers may remember that a while back I asked "what are you willing to kill for?" and decided my own answer was 'probably nothing'.  However, I saw on Instagram the other day an image that has obliged me to revisit that question.  The post was from a member of the French parliament, the Front National deputy Marion Le Pen.  Mme Le Pen noted that she was attending a memorial service for French people killed in the Algerian War, and her shock that most other groups had avoided such a rememberance.

The Algerian War, as I remember my history, was fundamentally about preserving French control over that province and (by extension) the French society that existed there.  Inevitably it was also about preserving a fairly unique culture that grew up there, when French civilization found itself on the southern shore of the Mediterranean.  This was the culture which created Albert Camus, whose ideas created a uniquely intense way of experiencing life based on knowledge of its limitedness.  Camus himself did not think the same set of ideas could have come out of northern Europe*.  It may not even have been possible for it to have emerged from another Mediterranean country**.  It was a culture that did not long survive Algerian independence.  This leads me to ask: can killing be justified to preserve a culture?

Uncomfortably, I have a hard time escaping the answer "yes" here.  It seems to me that any culture exists only as a mass of practices pursued by a given society in a given place at a given time.  If we take seriously the claims of cultures generally to matter (which I appreciate is begging a colossal question), then deracinating a society or place is a matter of the gravest importance: inevitably it also destroys the way of life that exists there and probably does so irredeemably.

I've thought about the counter arguments.  Only a monster could be comfortable rationalising the atrocities committed during the Algerian War.  Also, the conclusion I'm reaching doesn't need to go too far to morph into the "Fourteen Words" so beloved of white supremacists: "we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children".  This is clearly not a place I want my train of thought to reach.

What do you make of this, readers?  Sound line of thinking?  Evil line of thinking?  Discomfiting line of thinking?  Or am I making some error of logic here?


* Albert Camus, Lyrical and Critical Essays (Vintage Books: New York, 1970), p.191
** cf Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon (Arrow Books: London, 1994)p.233

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