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Call It Western Supremacy

02/27/2015 10:30 am ET | Updated Apr 29, 2015

The movie 300 (2006) pits 300 Spartans against a million Persians in the legendary Battle of Thermopylae. Herodotus -- the "Father of History" and more fair-minded than any other source for Greeks -- claims that there were five million Persians. Persia was the largest empire in history, to that point, but the movie presents us with some curiosities. Why were the barely-dressed Spartans physically beautiful, with Persians being unattractive, overweight and effeminate? Why was Persia's ruler Xerxes nine feet tall and gender-ambivalent? Why were Africans cast among the Persians?

Persians don't need help from Hollywood to make them seem alien and exotic. In Histories, Herodotus ensured that we would understand that Westerners were superior. The civilizations go by many names, but the struggle to prevail has continued into the 21st century. East and West are at war. Supremacy has been fought in the East for longer than any conflict known to humankind. For a millennium, beginning with the Greco-Persian wars until the Roman-Persian wars of the Middle Ages, East and West tried to best each other. One could arguably include earlier campaigns, especially the Trojan War.

At the Battle of Thermopylae, Spartan commander Leonidas declares, "The world will know that free men stood against a tyrant, that few stood against many, and before this battle was over, that even a god-king can bleed." The myth endures; our psychology and rationale have not changed. The East is ever our nemesis.

The mystery of anti-Semitism can only be understood within the setting of this age-old conflict. Judaism is Eastern, and Europe has never been able to process, nor embrace this. Christianity is Eastern, too, but not the Latin version, which prevails in Europe, along with Protestantism, even more Western than Catholicism. The State of Israel is the effect of European anti-Semitism. Because Europe has never dealt with it, it is beginning to rage once again.

East-West hostilities are played out around the world. The strife is sometimes camouflaged in the differences between North and the global South. On some levels, Eastern Christians have long found fellows in Muslims and Jews more so than Western Christians. In order for Europe to face its anti-Semitism, they need to face Western Supremacy. It would behoove the United States to do the same. Western-ism has given much good to the world, but its danger is when it becomes the "way of life" we unreflectively defend. Must we be better than the rest? Our philosophical tradition affirms individualism, in contrast to the collectivist tendencies of much of the world and we do not understand it as just one of the beautiful differences that can enhance us.

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream for America was for the healing of "black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics..." The most daunting chasm to traverse is not that between black and white, or between Jew and Gentile, nor is it a religious divide. Alexander the Great, tutored by Aristotle, was convinced that he could improve the world by making it Greek.

We rightfully call it white supremacy, but it is more accurately Western supremacy. People of color occasionally excel within this system. Some of them, after benefitting from the struggle of their kinsmen, turn their backs on the struggle. Like religious converts they proselytize others to a worldview of rationalism, hyper-capitalism and imperialism, while explaining away generations of colonization and justifying slavery in the spirit of Alexander. We in the West are beholden to celebrate our military heroes who subdue our less-civilized, even less-than-human enemies. We are historically and pathologically obligated to replay the dramas of the Spartans and Greeks against the "other." Feeling superior, we are free to disrespect their ways to sustain our own. In modern times, the "other" continues to include Persians, but not just. "Other" means, among "others," Haitian, Cuban, Panamanian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Mexican, Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, Grenadan, Afghani, Iraqi, Pakistani and Russian.

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