by Reid Fitzsimons
Bill De Blasio, the 56 year-old mayor of New York City, is a moron, and that’s okay. Many of his supporters are wealthy elite Manhattanites and they too are morons, and that’s okay: what is democracy about if not absurdly wealthy and culturally isolated people voting for their philosophical kin? Bill De Blasio, to those uninformed, is a progressive, perhaps prototypically so. He’s a white guy from a privileged background, Ivy League educated, and rich (net worth around 1.5 million-admittedly not a huge amount in his circle- obtained mostly through “public service”). He’s an environmental crusader/climate change warrior who was discovered last month to routinely take a motorcade to a gym 12 miles from the mayoral mansion. He justified this in part by declaring that some of the SUV(s) involved were hybrids- a Chevy Tahoe hybrid SUV gets 20 mpg in the city- and otherwise by stating the actions of one person are environmentally insignificant. One might reasonably think an exercise bike could be made available at the mansion.
More recently he decided it appropriate to fly to Germany to participate in the anti-G20/anti-capitalist protests/riots. Apparently he was invited to speak by a group called “Hamburg (Germany) Shows Attitude,” which covered the cost of his adventure. It’s always enjoyable to see a rich, privileged, white male celebrity stand up to The Man. One might reasonably think that his jet emitted more than a few molecules of carbon dioxide.
De Blasio, who twice during his adult life had his name legally changed (his original name was Warren Wilhelm Jr.), could well play in a Seinfeld-esque sitcom. How easy it is to envision him sitting in some mid-town ethnic restaurant thinking to himself, “I am a good person, I fight for the environment, I feel for the poor, I’m for affordable housing, I march for social justice, I love transsexuals, etc.”
De Blasio is a multi-culturalist in the most progressive meaning of the term, as demonstrated by excerpts from his recent speeches in Germany on July 8th, using the New York City subway system as a metaphor for a harmonious society: Riding the subways are “people of all faiths and people of all backgrounds,” he said. “You have the rich and the poor, people of all faiths and all backgrounds, cramped in close together.” “And I like it as a metaphor because it’s not perfect, it’s not necessarily the way you want to live, to be the sardine in the sardine can. But what you notice is there is a working harmony.”
Somehow I suspect not too many rich people ride the subway but, be that as it may, De Blasio’s concept of multi-culturalism is one of theater, where seeing people dressed differently and hearing different languages and accents is both soothing and exciting, like watching a Broadway play. Progressive multi-culturalism is an ethnic street fair, stopping at one kiosk to buy falafel, another to buy a burrito, and a third to buy pad thai. It’s all sensory stimulation, a feel-good experience, limited to the superficial- food, exotic smells, music, and fashion. Any deeper understanding of what culture is doesn’t go beyond the idea that “it’s different from mine so is must be better.” To truly comprehend the profundity of culture requires intellect, empathy, and cosmopolitan experience that simply does not come from taking a vacation to a destination that requires a visa. All cultures have favorable attributes, some greatly more or less than others, but there is so often an ugly side, a reality that is a serious bummer (I envision De Blasio wishing he was born 10 years earlier so he could have been a hippie, like Bernie Sanders).
The most basic definition of culture is learned behavior, with an inherent implication it is learned behavior with a commonality spread across a tribe, community, region, ethnic group, country, etc, and it is profound. For those who are clueless, which applies to De Blasio along with so many Americans, their ignorance is so great they have not an inkling of their cluelessness. I have been in the Army but never remotely involved in a war, and I have always found myself reluctant talk as if my limited military experience qualified me whatsoever to discuss war. I may have an opinion that any given war is necessary or even just, but it would be unforgivable foolishness on my part to act and talk as if I have personal knowledge. Nevertheless we, Americans, somehow feel qualified to discuss glibly or deeply matters of culture, and we haven’t even been in the peacetime Army, so to speak. Diversity this and multicultural that flow out of our mouths like diarrhea from a cholera patient, and we perceive it to be sweet and tasty.
A year or two ago I was in our little village area in rural Honduras with an extremely accomplished, kind, and well traveled 40ish black American woman, for whom helping the poor actually involves her personal effort in real time along with huge amounts of her own money- for her a bumper sticker isn’t enough. She was lamenting the frustrations and difficulties in dealing with the Honduran culture, and prefaced a statement with, “These people!” I called her on it in a friendly way, pointing out that lumping entire peoples under the heading of “these people” is a benchmark of racism, supposedly. She herself is a little sensitive over race and not a single progressive person, nitwit or otherwise, could call her a racist. She went on to elaborate, saying, “You know what I mean.”
Indeed, I know well what she means, because there are hugely frustrating characteristics in Honduran culture that make it easy for people to fail and, conversely, rarely succeed. What she was referring to especially at that time was the pervasive parental apathy in regards to education for their children, and the pervasive culture of stealing. Regarding the former, she has spent years cajoling mothers to send their kids to school (admittedly the public school system is abysmal, but at least one can become literate) and providing the financial support, only to discover the kids never went to school and the money simply disappeared. Contrary to our romantic vision of poor people stealing from the rich to feed their hungry children, the victims are equal opportunity- friends, neighbors, family members, rich, poor, and extremely poor. People are robbed, approaching 100% of the time, in order to feed a desire to get drunk or high. There is nothing noble in this, despite our satisfying Robin Hood narrative. I received a frustrated e-mail from this woman recently and was informed the $125 she sent to help a girl finish the last half of high school was promptly stolen.
But it is much more. Years ago one of our volunteers visited the home of one of our regular project attendees and asked if we new there was a younger sister who was dying. We did not and went to investigate. Little Vivian was 2 and a half and weighed 11 pounds, no hair and covered with sores or scars. The poor mother seemed to spend her entire day shifting her from one dry breast to another. We took her to a physician who said she could not survive. Nevertheless, we began a intensive regimen with powdered formula and she not only survived, but thrived. I saw her a couple of months ago and she is a happy energetic 11 or 12 year-old now. The point of this is not that we are wonderful, but that there is something lacking culturally, something that doesn’t allow the neighbors or community to acknowledge this little girl needed help and do something. Similarly, a young woman was in difficult labor, which required a somewhat urgent trip to the hospital 20 some miles away. A family member with a car agreed to take her, but insisted on 500 Lempiras (roughly $50 today) in advance. Given an opportunity to do the right thing in an acute situation, self came first.
It’s not that Hondurans are bad people to any extent, but they are profoundly and negatively affected by this thing called culture, something that controls them versus being in control. Though many or perhaps even most would steel if given the opportunity, they don’t like being robbed anymore than anyone else, but they accept it as part of their culture. It just is. I’m not mentioning the excessive rate of murder and limited value of life because that would require too many words, but to an extent killing also is morbidly accepted, or at least perceived as beyond control.
Cultures in which self is not elevated above neighbor (which sounds suspiciously like the Judeo-Christian tradition, but we have to reject because it because it doesn’t always embrace and celebrate homosexuality and a variety of gender identities) are those that allow for the greatest chance of compassion, dignity, and ultimately success. Others, those centered on a “my needs and desires come first” mentality don’t, regardless of the exotic aromas of the indigenous cuisine. Obviously and sadly we a giving up the former for the latter.
The Mayor of NYC is like a philandering husband whose wife is kind, caring, and devoted but nevertheless he portrays her as a bitch to others as a ploy to find bedmates. He tries to have it both ways, of course, because he fully realizes what he has with his wife and wants to reap the benefits of that relationship but also hold on to his extra-marital titillation. De Blasio hates what he identifies as his culture but sure does love his hybrid SUV, gym workouts, and travel. For him and progressives in general, as long as multi-culturalism and diversity are nothing more than political and social arm-candy, reality never need be considered.