America’s Self-Appointed Ministers of Culture
They disdain our values yet ignore anything backward beyond our borders.

Soviety history in the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony


Jonah Goldberg

Editor’s Note: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Hey look at me! I don’t have to change the gender settings on my salutation! Take that Facebook),

So, imagine you’re a young Saudi guy logging on to Facebook for the first time. It asks you to state your gender. It then gives you 58 options. You take out your fingers — the simple man’s calculator — and start counting along. Male, female, whatever uncle Ahmed is . . . okay three. I count three.

What are these other 55 things?

You might think: Maybe those burkas don’t just cover women?

It’s not often I denounce Western cultural imperialism. And I’m not really going to here. But you have to have some sympathy for people around the world who don’t necessarily want their gender horizons broadened on Mark Zuckerberg’s timetable.

In fairness, as of now, Facebook hasn’t said whether it will make these options available on sites worldwide yet, but it’s probably coming. If Facebook would yield to the 58-genders lobby here, what is the rational argument for not yielding to it for Mexico or Dubai? Canada, I gather, is already gender-neutral. But you get the point.

Interventionist at Home, Laissez-Faire Abroad

It’s hard for Americans to fully appreciate the fact that America really has a culture as real and specific as France’s or China’s. Immigrants get this. Foreign tourists get this. But normal Americans tend to think the way we do things is simply the way things are done. I don’t mean this in a condescending or critical way. Rather, one of the great things about American culture is that most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about culture. (While we have a lot of ridiculous bureaucrats spending money on artsy stuff, if anybody proposed a national “Minister of Culture” like they have in Europe, most Americans would be horrified.)

Not surprisingly, the further left you move the more the attitude towards American culture becomes hostile; that it needs to be changed, reformed, broadened, folded, spindled, and mutilated. Meanwhile, the conservative view is that American culture (i.e. traditional culture, broadly speaking) is pretty great, with a few rough spots here or there.

What I find fascinating is how these attitudes tend to be reversed when we look past our borders, particularly on the left. The Left is forever sensitive to the idea that we not “impose” our values on other societies. At home, we need to extirpate every last hint of traditionalism. Indeed, being a traditionalist in America — which makes you quite modern by global standards — makes you a backward yokel in the eyes of the academic Left.

Campus lefty to normal person: “Heh. You probably think there are only, like, 13 genders! What are you, a caveman?”

(It’s hard to appreciate how thick this campus bubble is. Watch Melissa Harris Perry explain (from a college campus, no less), how we need to junk “the idea that kids belong to their parents, or that kids belong to their families.” I have no doubt she thought she was explaining — womansplaining? — common sense and was shocked to discover that in our culture we actually think our kids really are our responsibility. And when people start talking about “collective ownership” of our children, we start re-watching Red Dawn for practical tips.)

But if I condemn the backward attitudes or customs of some foreign country; if I talk about how maybe it’s a good thing that some tribal peoples are giving up a subsistence lifestyle; if I ridicule the habit of covering your women in burlap; many of the same people are suddenly like “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Who are you to judge?” Or, “Like America is perfect?”