The Stench of Alterity, or “Let’s Have a Conversation…”

by Joseph S. Salemi

It would be easy to write an extended essay on the stupidities of modern pseudo-scholarship.  There is so much jargon-laced fakery being hyped and rewarded in our colleges that one would scarcely know where to begin: feminism, Marxism, queer theory, post-colonialism, historicism, race-class-gender fixation, deconstructionist obscurity, reader-response theory, and all the other protean absurdities that, like rampant weeds, have killed and supplanted genuine scholarly work in the American academy.  But let’s focus on one prominent facet of our predicament: the worship of alterity, or “The Other.”

The word itself is symptomatic of the larger problem.  It’s an ugly neologism created to disguise fraudulence with pretentious vocabulary.  There is no classical Latin term alteritas (putatively meaning “otherness”) though I suppose a tone-deaf pedant could coin it.  Why was the word “alterity” cooked up?  Simple—to give a bogus scholarly cachet to a sick and self-destructive impulse in contemporary Western society.

Obsession with “alterity” is now endemic in and out of the university.  The Western world suffers under a psychological compulsion to accept The Other, which is code for the non-white, the non-Western, the non-Christian, the non-normal, and the non-traditional.  This fixation on “alterity” is basically the worship of what we are not, and a drive to understand it, respect it, honor it, and abase ourselves before it.  In other words, “alterity” studies are simply the pseudo-scholarly expression of white guilt and self-hatred.

If academia were the stereotyped ivory tower, where twee little nerds talked only to each other, none of this would be of consequence.  But academia today is not completely isolated from society.  Every year the malign influence of academia grows stronger.  Today, academic theorizing fuels and justifies a great deal of the outrageous absurdity that marks modern life.  Literally millions of young people are forced to sit through years of vicious propaganda with absolutely no audible counter-voices.  Do you think all those stupid Millennials voting for the crypto-Communist Bernie Sanders came from nowhere?  They are coming out of higher education.  The black, festering core of what ails us is located in the universities, and in the diseased types who control teaching in those places.  Are there exceptions?  Of course.  But any academic who tries to deny that his profession is dominated by the worst and most extreme kind of left-liberal ideologues is a liar, pure and simple.  That’s why academics are devoted to what they call “diversity” on campus, but are unalterably opposed to any kind of real ideological diversity, which they fight tooth and nail.  Scratch a left-liberal, and bleed a fanatical heresy-hunter.

And the most prominent and popular fanaticism in academia today is alterity-worship.  It’s everywhere, usually masquerading under the false flag of “globalism” or “multiculturalism” or “diversity.”  There’s a glandularly driven passion for “The Other,” manifesting itself in an obsession with the foreign, the marginal, the perverted, the rebellious, the alternate, and the anti-Western.  Show contempt for any of these protected categories, and your career will stop in its tracks.  Moslems are sacred.  Non-whites are sacred.  Women (as long as they are lockstep feminists) are sacred.  Palestinians, criminals, and illegal immigrants are sacred.  Gays and trannies are sacred.  Asians are sacred (except in California, where left-liberalism considers them a threat to affirmative action for other more favored minorities).  The standard insignia for this emotional syndrome is the rainbow flag, a symbolic multicolored banner that shows the full spectrum, but without white.

A buzzword that facilitates this worship of The Other is inclusion.  Inclusion has become a mantra in colleges, and no official activity or function or gathering can occur unless it has been certified as suitably “inclusive.”  This is why there is a sustained and voluble attack on fraternities at almost every college in the United States (though not against sororities, which have artfully redefined themselves as “safe spaces” for women who claim to be victimized).  As a general rule of thumb, “inclusion” is interpreted to mean that any group or organization on campus that bills itself as linked to an identifiable ethnicity, religion, or persuasion is suspect—unless, of course, these categories are self-identified as non-white, non-Judeo-Christian, non-heterosexual, or left-progressive.  So, an association of Moslem students is welcome and generously funded; an association of Catholic students will be harassed and hampered in dozens of petty ways.  Jewish student groups are under severe attack, and this persecution is abetted and defended by the many anti-Zionist left-liberal professors in the humanities, history, and political science faculties.  An LGBT group will be lavishly supported by a school’s administration and by student government; a conservative club will be starved and slighted and barely tolerated.  In other words, inclusion only includes a certain favored few.

When you bring this hypocrisy up to your left-liberal colleagues, they always try to weasel out of it rhetorically—i.e. by means of semantic slight-of-hand.  They’ll say “Moslems are under threat—they need pro-active support!”  Or “LGBT persons are marginalized in our society; they need ‘safe spaces’ where they can gather!”  Or “Persons of color cannot be racist, only majority whites can.  Therefore persons of color must be treated as a protected class with unique privileges!”  In other words, the unequal treatment is admitted, but defended as somehow necessary.

All of this special pleading is pure chin-music, designed to cover up a conscious hostility toward and aggression against Western culture, except for those limited aspects of Western culture that can be safely traced back to the Enlightenment, Marxism, socialism, feminism, or any more recent liberationist ideologies.  Everything else in the Western heritage is deemed a fair target for corrosive critique, or outright abolition.

You can always tell when another “alterity” or “diversity” or “inclusion” offensive is about to be launched in your school or department.  The usual progressive types will start braying that “We need to have a conversation about…”  If any of your academic colleagues says those seven words to you, immediately be on your guard.   This is a standard Gramscian ploy to ensnare opponents into a rigged debate, the terms and rules of which are always set up in advance by those who propose “to have a conversation.”  Rightist and conservative faculty should always answer “No, we do not wish to have a conversation with you about anything.  We shall act upon our opinions, just as you act upon yours.”  This kills a lot of incipient crap in the cradle, as a conservative department chair at NYU once confided to me.

This “Let’s have a conversation” scam goes on even outside of academia.  The poet Esther Cameron used to go on and on about how she wanted to “have a conversation about the world” with other poets.  That sounded nice enough, until after a few such conversations with Esther you discovered that all she really wanted was to convert you to her peculiar B’nai B’rith version of 1950s liberalism.  It was manipulative, as all such invitations to “have a conversation” are.  Esther would complain about how often she seemed to lose friends, but it never occurred to her that people resent the surreptitious manipulation that ropes them into an unwanted discussion.  It’s a distasteful experience—like being prospected by an Amway dealer.

Of course, left-liberals will seize upon a refusal of discussion as a way to claim that their opponents aren’t interested in “a free and open exchange of ideas.”  This is a lie, but an adroit and intellectually skillful lie.  The left’s opponents are perfectly willing to have a free and open exchange of ideas, but such an exchange—by definition—is one where there are no taboo topics, no restrictions on language usage, no politically correct niceties to honor, no unspoken assumptions of a shared basic ideology, and no browbeating or intimidation of opponents by expressions of aghast outrage.  Left-liberals are incapable of having a discussion of that sort.  It curtails the possibilities for the propagandistic and proselytizing manipulation that they desire in any “conversation.”  Progressives of every stripe do not want to have a conversation in any genuine sense.  The only want to have a platform to spout their rhetoric, and to lord it over their opponents.

It’s truly bizarre the way left-liberal faculty try to pretend that the worship of alterity doesn’t exist, and that the overt bigotry against white males, Christianity, Western culture, and traditional norms is purely an illusion in the minds of a few crotchety right-wingers.  Every sentient being on a contemporary campus is well aware of the situation, but left-liberals are either in a state of denial about it, or else (like Stalinists questioned about the Ukrainian famine or the Moscow Purge Trials) they feign that they don’t know what you are talking about.  For this reason I decline to discuss any subject with my so-called colleagues other than the few essential details pertaining to departmental routines.  I don’t need to waste my breath on mindless ostriches, or on hypocritical poseurs.

It bears repeating: alterity-worship is not just a recondite academic theory.  The disorder is fairly widespread in some parts of the general population.  Many years ago, a girl I was dating dragged me to a fatuous sci-fi film called “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.”  I had no interest in seeing the flick, but you know how it is when you’re a young guy.  I figured if I humored her and went along, I’d get lucky later on.

The movie (a silly Spielberg fantasy) had a climactic scene where the ugly and bony finger of an alien reached out to touch a human finger (accompanied, of course, by saccharine string music).  To me the whole thing was comic and loathsome, a hideous parody of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel.  But my date, in the theater seat next to me, had what can only be described as an emotional orgasm.  “Oh! OH!” she panted, squirming and twisting.  She barely suppressed a sob.  I could even sense a rise in her body heat.  A pang of fear shot through me as I wondered if other theatergoers might think I was molesting her.  But then I noticed that quite a few people in the audience were having similar reactions.  Many months later, I was told that that quintessential airhead, Princess Di, was also in tears when she saw the scene.

What was driving this insanity?  Well, nothing but alterity, or worship of The Other.  What else explains having an emotional seizure at the sight of an alien finger touching a human one?  You can’t get more “other” than some reptilian extraterrestrial.

Since worship of The Other is now a psychological pandemic in much if the West, there is little an individual can do about it, other than keep alive one’s sense of honor and identity in the face of circumambient debasement and cultural collapse.  Nothing else matters now except that.  And like the last few defenders before the barbarian onslaught, we can perish without fear, even if without hope.  Such thoughts bring to mind Lord Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome, with its fierce poem “Horatius at the Bridge,” which always moved me so much when my father would recite it to me.  I especially recall this powerful passage of bravery and acceptance:

Then out spake brave Horatius,
      The Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth
      Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
      Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
      And the temples of his gods?”

Like brave Horatius, who stood alone at the Sublician Bridge with sword drawn, spitting defiance at the enemy and ready to die for Rome, we can stand up to the worshippers of The Other, who come to us whining that we “need to have a conversation.”  Let’s just tell them to fuck off.  As far as we are concerned, they can talk to themselves.

 

 

 

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About Joseph S. Salemi

Joseph S. Salemi has published poems, translations, and scholarly articles in over one hundred journals throughout the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. His four collections of poetry are Formal Complaints and Nonsense Couplets, issued by Somers Rocks Press, Masquerade from Pivot Press, and The Lilacs on Good Friday from The New Formalist Press. He has translated poems from a wide range of Greek and Roman authors, including Catullus, Martial, Juvenal, Horace, Propertius, Ausonius, Theognis, and Philodemus. In addition, he has published extensive translations, with scholarly commentary and annotations, from Renaissance texts such as the Faunus poems of Pietro Bembo, the Facetiae of Poggio Bracciolini, and the Latin verse of Castiglione. He is a recipient of a Herbert Musurillo Scholarship, a Lane Cooper Fellowship, an N.E.H. Fellowship, and the 1993 Classical and Modern Literature Award. He is also a four-time finalist for the Howard Nemerov Prize.