Thurston: Deconstructionism destroying our culture

Tracing the roots of Post-Modernism

Written in March 2003, this op-ed is still relevant in its description of the philosophical underpinnings of today’s political and social trend to the left.

By Monique Thurston, M.D.  

If we had to nominate the buzzwords of the year, the winners surely would be “diversity” and multiculturalism. ” 

Those words are everywhere: in the newspapers, in the school systems and the universities, in the town halls, in the mouths of the legislators and on the banners of protesters. After realizing that those words were used with a great variety of meanings and by a large number of special interest groups, I decided to research the origins of them. Also, I had observed over the past year that the word “racism” was often used near those words.

First, a few lines of personal history, as they are important to my interest, and then to my conclusion on the subject. When I emigrated to this country, at age 27, I spoke French as my mother tongue and Dutch as a second language. I knew a few medical terms in English but was unable to order my groceries at the store. My first duty as an immigrant was to immerse myself in the study of English and in the preparation of the test that would allow me to start working as an intern in an American teaching hospital.

After one year of study, I passed the entrance examination and was accepted at Mount Sinai Hospital. I was thrown into what would be called in today’s jargon the most multicultural mix of human beings this country had to offer. Including staff and patient population, a most varied human palette struggled daily in the very harsh environment of a Midwestern city teaching hospital that was close to a black ghetto. 

We were black Americans,Indians from India, Jews from Russia and America, Phillipinos, Belgians, French and Germans. We were immigrants and citizens, some freshly induced and some dating back to the times of slavery. We were men and women. We were profoundly ethno-racially diverse, yet I never thought about it in such terms. To me we were just human beings. 

Among my medical coworkers, there was Kathrina and John, both black Americans; Theresa from Manilla; Gupta from New Dehli; Ina and Felix from Russia; Chuck and Max, American Jews; and Heinrich from Germany. Whether natives or immigrants, we all had an accent, and we derived a lot of fun from our respective inflections. Political correctness had not yet paralyzed human relationship. On many occasions our funny accents were the only source of mental relaxation and laughter in the midst of the daily stress of our lives.

Together we were thrown in what would be some of the most grueling moments of our lives, the brutal training of the American physician in’the 1970s. We had no time, no need and no interest to categorize or to define each other in any form of ethnic profile. We were individuals who were working together 80 hours a week, relying upon each other when on call and when human disaster would befall us. We had to trust each other’s judgment, physical and mental capacities in order to survive our training. 

We were “multicultural” without either knowing it or caring about it. But at that very same time, some folks in higher institutions were working hard to make this very serious and political issue. 

Yes, multiculturalism was born in the academic milieu. Imported from France in the 1970s, a revolution of the mind – at least the academic mind – invaded the American universities. It was called Post-modernism or Deconstructionism.

These movements, in turn, gave legitimacy to “multiculturalism” and “diversity” as a political and social agenda and “political correctness” as a code of behavior. To help us understand the mindset of those movements, here are a few words about the founders of Deconstructionism,

two French philodophers, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, who started teaching in American universities in the late 1970s.

Their ideas were complex, and I know how terribly dangerous it is to attempt to summarize such work. However, when a philosophical movement has had such a profound effect on every aspect of the lives of the average American citizen, I feel compelled to take such a risk. I also worry that multiculturalism has infused a sense of superior morality in some of its proponents, who at times jump to shame and mute people whose ideas are far less liberal – often labeling them as “racist.”

So back to the founder of Deconstructionism, Jacques Derrida. In the late, 1970s, Derrida, together with prominent leftists, signed a text that would decriminalize illicit sexual relationships between adults and minors. It is hard to imagine that this guy would have such an enormous impact decades later on every aspect of American culture.

Deconstructionism is a way to analyze any written text. Its premise states that, in essence, the words don’t mean what you think they do; that there are hidden meanings; and that the words are not associated with any reality.

The next French philosopher, Foucault, added to this idea that the words were the reflection of the power of those who write. He believed that we should uncover any prejudice or bias that the author used with the goal of controlling the reader. Then, according to Deconstructionism, we should discredit that text and reject the authority of the writer.

For instance, a deconstructionist would read the Declaration of Independence and would reject the authority of its founders because it states: “All men are created equal.” Deconstructionists point out that the sentence does not mention women. While it mentions the word freedom, this too is unacceptable because it was written by a white, slave-owning male. Therefore, a deconstructionist would reject the sentence and the premise that “All men are created equal.”

These ideas infiltrated every department of academia – history, literature, social sciences – and attempted to destroy the validity of all traditional values in the humanities. And, make no mistake, all of this was done with a political agenda in mind. Indeed, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the Left realized that there was no more hope in pushing for an international struggle by the factory workers against world capitalism, Derrida called for a new world struggle. He called for a new international movement, comprised of what he saw as the culturally alienated – feminists, environmentalists, homosexuals, minorities – all united to combat what Derrida saw as American oppression and power.

This movement gave the activist basis for the globalization movement of the late 1990s.

Followers of Derrida and Foucault started teaching in American universities the idea that every aspect of Western culture was tainted by the political and economic interests of the powers in place – the white male – and should be discredited.  The universities are filled now with uncountable courses in cultural, multicultural, ethnic, feminist, diversity, African-American, Latino-American and Native-American subjects. This in itself would be a marvelous consequence of the movement.

But it came at a high price: the demonization of Western civilization and the assertion that all cultures are equal, a philosophy that is called “cultural relativism”.  

A current example of this assertion was demonstrated in the wake of September 11th.  As we were viciously attacked by Islamic fundamentalism and as Islam became a topic of interest on campuses, in the media and in political circles, virtually no coverage focused on the appalling and horrific treatment of women ad homosexuals in the Islamic world. The strict requirement of veiling women, the lack of civil, domestic and human rights and the genital mutilation of women, the avowed oppression of homosexuality – nothing made the news. This is called “cultural relativism.” To me, it is simply called hypocrisy.

It does not matter that for decades the multiculturalists fought what they considered the white-male power in order to free gays and women and minorities. That struggle targeted only the behavior of the oppressive, white, American male, not males in any other culture. Today’s mistreatment of women and gays in Islam is called a “cultural difference” by the multiculturalists. In the Judeo-Christian, predominantly white culture of the 1970s, it was called “imperialistic oppression.”

The multiculturalists also love to accuse America of creating a breeding ground for racism and homophobia. This always amazes me. If this is true, then why do we see millions of immigrants flooding our borders, hoping to obtain a green card and eagerly dropping the oppressive customs of their homeland, all just for the privilege of living in this country?

Far from being contained in the ivory tower of academia, this mindset has spread now into the mainstream. Teachers, social workers, journalists, advocates and lawyers have all been trained in those universities. They are the ones who now establish our social policies,  oversee the education of our children and write in the daily newspapers that we read. In our schools, the multiculturalists are teaching the young minds that Western civilization is defined by oppression and racism. Some social-policy makers insist that immigrants and minorities have no duty to learn English, nor should they be expected to assimilate into mainstream America.

As an immigrant and as an American citizen who cherishes a country that has twice delivered Europe, first of fascism, then of communism (Hitler killed 12 million of people; Stalin exterminated 20 million), I am extremely worried about this mindset and I see a very dangerous outcome. Indeed, I believe that advocates of diversity do teach to celebrate differences. But the differences they refer to are racial, ethnic and sexual. In an odd twist, they are actually glorifying race and racial identity, which in itself is a form of racism. 

When I go back to my own experience, I wonder how I would have reacted had I been raised in a multiculturalist curriculum. When dealing with Kathrina and John, my black American coworkers, I would have had to analyze their behavior and reactions, as well as my own demeanor, within the context of slavery. 

Gupta, my Indian friend, would have had meaning to me only when I was able to see her through the oppressive prism of the British colonization. Max and Chuck would have existed only through the trauma of the Diaspora and the Holocaust. And Heinrich, my German friend, would have had to be careful. His association, even indirectly, with one of the worst crimes of the 20th century, would have certainly been evident in his language (only, of course, when you understand Deconstructionism).

Finally, what about me? A white woman with a pathetic accent, trained in a foreign medical school, an immigrant with only a green card, working in a high-powered, predominantly Jewish-male institution – what a fertile ground for victimization! But I was not raised in a politically correct school system, I do not have a fear of pre-judgment, and I carry no form of guilt nor any form of victimization that was supposedly imposed on me by the multiculturalist crowd.

Eroding the strength of our individualism by connecting our very essence only to our ethnic group, the multiculturalists present in the post 9-11 political climate a real threat to our security. By preaching that America is nothing more than a collection of ethnicities and by not encouraging immigrants to learn English, the multiculturalists are rejecting the idea of our country as a united nation. 

By dividing us into a collection of tribes, the multiculturalists most certainly are not developing a sense of allegiance to the pluralist idea that is America. Look on the Great Seal of the U.S. The eagle holds in its beak a ribbon that states, “E pluribus unum,” which is Latin for “Out of many, one.” (You can also see it on a quarter.) 

Pressure by the multiculturalists to divide us into separate tribes will become more and more dangerous as we face an enemy determined to destroy us, as it demonstrated on September 11th. 

If we do not consider each other a united people, loyal to shared values and to a common way of life, if the basis of allegiance is toward our ethnic group and not our nation, if the only thing we have in common is our diversity, rather than the common ground of hope, thought and country, then our foe, both present and future, will have a field day, and our hope for survival will be endangered.

I applaud multiculturalism as an appreciation of our diverse ethnic backgrounds. I reject multiculturalism as a synonym for anti-Americanism, anti-Western civilization and cultural relativism.

Of course, from the point of view of the activist, multiculturalist and/or post-modernist, I wrote this piece from my position of power as a college educated, white female.  But on their victimization/oppression scale, I should in fact score a tie, because of my immigrant status and the fact that, coming from humble origin, I was the first one to go to college in my family.

Finally, I shall also remind the P.C. police of the Northern Europeans, those nasty “Eurocentrists”,  as they are called by our academics, those tribes from which I descend and who were blamed in the 1970s academic circles as the perpetrators of every horror ever visited upon this planet. Once upon a time in history those Northern Europeans were enslaved in the arenas of Rome or on the shores of the Mediterranean after being sold to African slave traders or by the Moors and Ottomans.  We were all persecuted at one time of history; let us move on! Let us teach what is great about America and what is good in every one of us as individuals. 

I did not come in this country to spend my time celebrating my Belgian heritage, music, literature, food or language. I came here to become an American and to add my own individual experience to the great melting pot that is this country.

Categories: Commentary

6 replies »

  1. E pluribus unusual used to be enough.

    Fostering separate identities yields a separate society. That may work for food but not for a people .

  2. I hope this gets posted an all papers across the state and country. Good job!

  3. Bravo from a second generation American of Irish/Swedish/Lithuanian Jewish decent.Very well said. I never went to medical school. but I did spend most of the 70s and the early 80s two hitches in the USCG, we were Black, White, Hispanic, Filipino, South Pacific, Asian, not that we ever thought about it, we enjoyed each other’s ethnic food, and sometimes traditions, and in a way that few who have not served can appreciate, we were family. Those who seek to divide us do not have our or the nations best interests in mind. E pluribus unum out of many, one. It’s not just a motto, it’s an aspiration, even a mandate. There is no more diverse country in the world than the US, and no country offers a better opportunity to succeed, regardless of race, creed or color.

  4. This is Marxism. Reduce all the richness of human history into one group oppressing another.

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