Wednesday, March 22, 2006

David Lowenthal is my kind of geographer

Lowenthal takes a distinctly un-PC position or two. Downright anti-collective, in fact. A professor emeritus at University College London, I imagine he must be rather on the outs with Tony Blair's sort.
What entitles stay-at-homes more than others? Why has Melbourne, the third-largest Greek city, no original classical legacy? Should Ghanaians have more say than African-Americans over the Gold Coast dungeons whence slaves were shipped to the New World?
That 'groups have rights similar to those traditionally reserved for individuals' is lauded by indigenous advocates as 'neo-Enlightenment morality'.
Possibly they do so laud, but I suggest that it might be more accurately described as Pre-Enlightenment morality, which is still all too common in Europe, and all too widely advocated by our self-designated superiors here.
But when groups are sanctified as fossil entities, the moral outcome is dubious. By what right should women today have to submit to the will of male elders? How many and which tribal members need to subscribe to the traditional view for it to remain authoritative? What of individuals' rights to dispose of things personally created or lawfully acquired? Have persons less claim than groups?
According to the Pre-Enlightenment types, of course yes. The group is the basis of the Collective, which trumps all else. Didn't much of Europe segue rather smoothly from the Divine Right of Kings to the Collective Right of the People?

Here in Hawaii there is a long-running legal battle between various "native Hawaiian" groups, all claiming to be the proper holders of scores of native Hawaiian artifacts found in Forbes Cave on the Big Island around the turn of the 19th century. Some groups want them put back in the cave, others want them returned to Bishop Museum for exhibition, so that people of Hawaiian descent and others as well may benefit from seeing them. Why is one group more legitimate than another?
Upholding a textbook's fictitious account of heroic Japan's war record, a Tokyo professor declared that 'all nations have a right to interpret their history in their own way.... That is a part of sovereignty'
Lovely. Still, the rest of us have at least an equal right to condemn that Tokyo professor's filthy lies as exactly that, and surely our collective has at least equal right to act on our collective cultural myths. I have long thought that the Japanese collective was very, very lucky, given the American public's attitude toward Japan between Pearl Harbor and the summer of 1945, and given the attitude toward sex criminals, that the US did not possess several dozen atomic bombs and that the existence of the Korean "Comfort Women" was not widely known here. The American people might just have lynched Harry Truman for stopping after Nagasaki. If collective rights are real, then don't we have collective right to hold the Japanese collectivly responsible and execute them all? Collective rights are a dangerous thing for they seem inextricably bound with collective responsibilities.

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