Ward Churchill Guilt Trip
Part III of five parts of an interview with Ward Churchill just appeared on the Dissident Voice. Joshua Frank draws out Churchill in a sympathetic voice giving him full rein to express his amazingly intricate weave of self-justification. The man naturally speaks in a language that Noam Chompsky can merely articulate on paper. I had him pegged as a Post-Modernist, but I must admit to surprise. He not only verges close to the boundaries of comprehensibility, but he actually seems to have something substantial to say. And this is it: Guilt is fungible. Since every white person benefits from the old sins of our forefathers, and the ongoing sins of Nike and Wal-Mart, all white people are culpable. Innocence is an obsolete concept.
I realize that there is some question concerning his standing to argue the issue, but he seems to stand firmly by his status as an American Indian. The confidence with which he speaks indicates to me that he does not believe that this ocean of white guilt washes up on his own shore. Perhaps he is shielded by more than ethnicity. The prophet at the city’s edge, excoriating those within for their sins, is protected by the warmth of God’s affection. Churchill is a difficult man to like. Will Rogers would have had trouble with this one.
I also find this guilt doctrine objectionable, but it does deserve a direct rebuttal. The fact is that we are all survivors descended from survivors. If there were people in the past who consistently chose the noble course over the profitable, they were unlikely to be represented in the ranks of our ancestors. Don Quixotes do not pass on their wealth. The genetics of the species suggests that race is largely a social construct, and that even the social construct is blended and folded in places and time, as exemplified by Churchill himself. There are no levees mighty enough to prevent the spread of guilt from all the Adolph Eichmans, all the Andrew Jacksons and all the Joe Sixpack McDonalds’ diners to the most inaccessibly politically pure population on the planet. Judging from the fact that we are all equally alive, we are all guilty. This argument is an incarnation of Original Sin. Whether you accept it as true or not, it becomes useless as a means of imposing justice on a troubled world.
Another aspect of the Churchill’s generous guilt attributions is the assumption of innocence on the part of races other than the white one. My answer is that every continent but Antarctica has seen its share of massacres, enslavements, conquests, wars and genocides. There is even some suspicion that the forerunners of the Clovis peoples were eliminated on this continent as completely as the horse and mastodon. As I see it, the so-called "white" European culture and associated democratic institutions, whose memetic components have spread to large parts of the world, while perhaps no less brutal in origin, is unique in its capacity for ethical self-correction. That is something worthy not of guilt, but of great pride – to those who contribute.
10/11/2005 7:52 PM
UPDATE: Speaking of Chomsky, by the way, check this important interview from McSweeney's.