Beginning when I was a young adult (or perhaps a little earlier), leftists have been determined to learn the perspective of people of the Third World, apparently in the belief that by doing so they will avoid hurting them through imperialism, whether literal or merely cultural. Often, leftists will point out that our media doesn’t tell the real story, that they leave things out. Yet, by this time, when one hears the supposedly suppressed perspective, one finds that it is nothing new. I read in the Economist the other day that there is an exhibit at some New York museum about Arabs, and of course one of the artists whose work is exhibited complained that Western media distorted the Arab world, but nothing in the rest of the review gave any indication of how the art in question corrects this distortion.
I believe there are several problems with the practice of perspective chasing.
1. By now, most of us have had these perspectives presented to us multiple times. We aren’t learning anything new at this stage.
2. We are being presented perspectives of the “Other” as if those perspectives were without flaw. Yet, these same leftists will insist that our perspectives are deeply flawed, if only because we are ignorant of the perspective of the “Other,” but often for other reasons (of racism or nationalism, say). But why can’t the perspective of the “Other” have its own flaws? Their perspective may reflect their ignorance of us, it may be the result of years of propaganda, or it may (or definitely will) encapsulate blind spots, which will be true of every perspective in every culture.
3. The perspective of the “Other” often hides conflicts among different groups of the “Other.” The current fighting between Sunni and Shi’ite in Syria and Iraq exhibits this problem in spades.
4. The perspective of the “Other” also hides the perspective of those internal critics who happen to lean toward Western culture. Among books that leftists neglect, my favorite is Karima Bennoune’s Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here, a horrible tale of atrocities by Islamists against liberals (especially women) in the Muslim world.
5. Leftists seem to think that having presented us with the perspective of the “Other,” we are then bound to admit guilt for what we have done to them. However, that just isn’t true. They have basically presented us with the defense, but when the defense rests in a trial, the jury is not honor-bound to side with them. At that point they leave the room and discuss the pros and cons of each side.
6. Leftists have presented us with the perspective of the “Other” so often that we now can recite it in our sleep, but are they knowledgeable about perspectives here in America? How many coastal elites can present the perspective of the average American here in flyover land?
7. When chasing a perspective doesn’t work – that is, when it doesn’t succeed in getting us to admit our guilt – because of inconvenient facts – for example, that the Gazans started the current conflict with Israel – the perspective chaser is inclined to double down instead of backing off. The chaser can waste an awful lot of time trying to find some even more elusive perspective, which is just as wasteful of time as those who waste their time chasing elusive evidence of Noah’s ark on Mount Ararat.
8. This leads to the last problem, the possibility that we in the West are sometimes or even often in the right but which the perspective chaser can never admit. I suspect that initially, the perspective chaser merely wanted to get Westerners to admit that sometimes the “Other” was in the right, but now having succeeded at that task, he is in pursuit of the further goal of showing that the West is always in the wrong. And that just won’t work. Anyone who can’t see this is already so far gone that nothing I say will convince them, so I won’t say anymore in its defense.
Perspective chasing no doubt started out with an admirable goal: that of giving us the perspective of those who had never had a voice. It’s gotten out of hand, however. Those who are oppressed are not necessarily completely sinless in all respects.