Samuel Huntington is once again blaming me, that is, those of us who are of different worlds, and who move between worlds, and who claim to be citizens of the world, for all that is wrong with the world. In Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, a book published in 1995 and subsequently translated into over 33 languages, Huntington warned of a coming Armageddon between the West and other civilizations. He said that the West needed to prepare itself for this coming clash by rejecting multiculturalism, bilingualism, and other threats to its ideological stability. After September 11, Huntington and the phrase clash of civilizations were everywhere. Now, in Who We Are: The Challenges to America’s National Identity, Huntington (2004) focuses on the US and the threats that multiculturalism, bilingualism, postmodernism, postcolonialism, cosmopolitanism, globalism, and, especially, Latino immigration pose to the US. He believes that these threats constitute the greatest challenge to our “existing cultural, political, legal, commercial, and educational systems,” and “to the historical, cultural, and linguistic identity” of the US. He even contends that Latino immigration threatens the territorial integrity of the US. He calls for immediate and drastic actions to neutralize all of these threats.
Such ominous warnings are in no way new. In fact, ever since the dawn of history, one group of human beings has warned about the dire threat that a next group of human beings poses to their well-being. It is probably the oldest of human dramas. Yet it is also the most violent of human dramas. For every instance of ethnic cleansing is about this drama. I therefore have no interest in Huntington per se. He is merely giving voice and legitimacy to thoughts, beliefs, anxieties, and suspicions that most of us already harbor. Still, what makes Huntington significant for analysis is that he has the academic privilege in being Chairman of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies and also The Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor at Harvard University, titles and affiliation which are always noted by the media as a sign of great authority, to unfairly impose his fears, anxieties, and insecurities on the world. Thus reviews of Who We Are begin with sentences like, “Samuel Huntington is one of the most eminent political scientist in the world” (New York Times), “Samuel Huntington is a distinguished scholar who always addresses important and timely issues” (Los Angeles Times), “In the course of a remarkable distinguished academic career, Samuel Huntington has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to realism” (Foreign Policy Journal), “Harvard scholar Samuel Huntington [is] the most important political scientist in America. His last book, The Clash of Civilizations, forecasted the civilizational tensions that became obvious to everyone in the post-9/11 world. When Huntington writes, people listen—or they should” (National Review), “Samuel Huntington, of Harvard University, has a knack for giving sharp voice to issues which have drifting inchoate in other people’s minds” (The Times-London), “Samuel Huntington is a professor of Harvard University, a noted scholar and the author of the global bestseller, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (The Economist), “Samuel Huntington is the author of the most important works of political science of this generation” (The Weekly Standard). What is more is that our own realities seem to fit Huntington’s dire warnings. We do seem, after September 11, to be in a clash of civilizations against peoples of morally inferior gods, religions, and societies. Just as dangerous is the fact that Huntington reinforces a simplistic worldview—one where something is either black or white, sacred or profane. However, what concerns me most about Huntington is that in a world already laden with horrendous cultural, racial, and religious conflicts, he only heightens our differences and puts us more at each other’s throats.
But what about me and people like me that pose such a threat to the world? What about us that is so terrifying? Why is Huntington blaming us for all that is wrong with the world? The answer, of course, is that we are supposedly morally inferior. This is why we supposedly have morally inferior gods, religions, cultures, and societies. This is also why we supposedly procreate without any regard to what we or the world can afford. Apparently, our moral inferiority resides at the core of our being. We therefore cannot be engaged as civilized human beings who respond to reason. We must be coerced, threatened, harassed, intimidated, and legislated against. We must, in other worlds, be dealt with like savages and barbarians.
But how did we become deserving of this characterization? For instance, I abhor any manner of violence and prejudice. I believe all communities and societies are morally obligated to care for those among them who are weak and vulnerable. I also believe in a god of infinite love and mercy and in a world where vengeance has no place. Yet Huntington still insists on portraying me as a threat to all that is good and just. He insists that I bear the burden of being morally inferior. But in reality, I am merely an artifact of Huntington’s deepest anxieties and insecurities. I am born out of his inability to deal with the world’s ambiguity, complexity, and mystery. He is therefore afraid of me. I terrify him. For within me he sees all his anxieties and insecurities. He therefore aspires to destroy my own ambiguity, complexity, and mystery by demanding that I fit into his binary and simplistic worldview. That is, that I stop being Brown—the color of creation.
The paranoia found in Who We Are suggests that Huntington is becoming increasingly desperate. He no doubt believes that my victory is near. His worse fears are on the brink of coming through. The barbarians and savages are threatening to rule the world. The reign of anarchy and chaos is about to begin. Thus whereas Clash of Civilizations was about protecting the West from the barbarians and savages, Who We Are shows a fallback to now just protecting the US. Apparently, the rest of the West has been lost to the forces of postcolonialism and cosmopolitanism as a result of the “flood” of immigrats from Africa and the Middle East. For Huntington, we are now on the verge of the final great battle. He must therefore now write—in Who We Are—as a “scholar and patriot,” “deeply concerned about the unity and strength of my country based on liberty, equality, law, and individual rights.” We are to believe that the US, with its Protestant values and beliefs, is now all that stands between the rule of reason, civility, and decency, and that of ignorance, chaos, and anarchy.
It is unfortunate that Huntington understands the world in this dire way. It is even much more unfortunate that he has the means and access to impose this understanding on so much of the world, especially in the face of September 11 that has made so much of us vulnerable, even gullible. It constitutes such a tragic view of the world. However, more and more of us are refusing to bear the burden that Huntington wishes to impose on us. We actually believe in the possibility of new and different worlds. We are, as Gloria Anzuldua beautifully describes us, the new mestizas. Indeed, what distinguishes us from Huntington is that we believe that the world is potentially good, that it is laden with potentiality, fecundity, and beauty. We embrace the world’s ambiguity, complexity, and mystery, which is also to say that we believe that the world lends for multiple realities and possibilities. We therefore believe in a storied world. Through stories we frame, organize, and make sense of our worlds. We believe that we are shot through with stories and that stories precede and exceed us. In other words, human experience narrativizes. Yet for us it is the storied nature of the world that makes the world so compelling and fascinating. For no story is inherently complete. That is, no story lends for one meaning, one interpretation, one truth. Stories are inherently unstable and incomplete. They change and evolve. They even devolve and die. Stories are therefore inherently elastic. Yet because they are inherently elastic they are inherently (and potentially) democratic, in the sense of promoting multiple and diverse understandings, meanings, and experiences.
Religions, sciences, cultures, and paradigms are all stories. They represent various stories of how the world is and how the world should be. What Huntington is giving us is a story of the world. He is no doubt entitled to this story. But in the end, and though Huntington would like us to believe otherwise, his story is merely one story among many. Thus instead of focusing on the truthfulness of any other story, it makes more heuristic sense to focus on the implications and consequences that come with different stories, as well as the origins of various stories. For instance, Does this story expand our understanding and experiencing of the world? Where is this story coming from? Why are we creating this story now? What is this story’s appeal? Why is this story appealing to us now? To whom is this story appealing to and why? But again, Huntington would like us to believe that he is giving us more than a story. He is giving us the truth, the harsh reality. We are therefore to believe that his description of the world is beyond and outside of history, culture, ideology, and experience. It is unbound from all that is flesh and human. We even read in reviews of Who We Are that Huntington offers “clear thinking” and “a tough-minded evaluation.” “Huntington also convincingly demonstrates. . ..” “Glib, politically correct talk finds no place in Huntington’s analysis, and for that readers should be grateful.” “Huntington marshals a body of evidence to support his claims.”
Huntington therefore has no belief in culture. He believes in a finite world, where only one set of realities—that is, one culture—is ultimately permissible. This is why, for instance, Huntington champions assimilation and adherence to a fixed set of cultural and political precepts. For Huntington, culture is premodern and preenlightenment. It is inherently primitive. It is what you have before you have science and the various institutions that promote science and are based on science. It is presumably the embrace of science—which supposedly makes for the elevation of reason over passion—that what distinguishes the US and the West from the rest of the world. Thus Huntington wants to hear nothing about meanings and interpretations. He wants to hear of only truths and facts. He believes that it is the intrusion of culture—thanks to those he contemptuously refers to as postcolonialists and postmodernists—upon the hegemony of science that most threatens the integrity of the US by undermining our pursuit and belief in truth. As such, Huntington points again and again to what he views as the specious and incredulous claims of those whom he believes wishes to destroy the US and the West. He is appalled that such claims are actually coming from within the walls of the most elite academic institutions. But then again, such is the pending fall that the US apparently faces if it is unable to defeat those who champion multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, and postcolonialism.
So once again Huntington continues to insist that we look at the world in a binary way. In this case, between those who believe in science and reason and those who believe in culture and passion. We must take sides and swear allegiances. But more and more of us refuse to do either, for, again, we look at the world differently to Huntington. Our view of the world is much more complex, much more layered, much more textured, much more nuanced. In fact, Huntington gives us a false and dangerous schism, and thereby pushes us to take sides in ways that only further alienate and distance us from each other.
There are only stories. But only stories we need. Science is a story and culture no less a story. But again, because every story is inherently unstable, there is never one story, and will never be one story. But Huntington succeeds in masking this diversity by casting the world in a binary way. He forces us into contrived positions that only distort who and what we are. What is more is that Huntington removes the complexity and diversity that naturally come with a storied world. He thereby makes believe that the world lends for simplistic descriptions. For instance, Huntington would like us to believe that the US is an Anglo-Protestant nation. It is one story. We supposedly reject this story at our own peril. But the US has never been linguistically, culturally, ethnically, ideologically, culturally, religiously, or racially stable. It is has always been richly diverse and complex, which is also to say that the US is richly storied. This diversity, in fact, is true of all communities, ethnicities, nationalities, races, societies, cultures, and religions.
Yet Huntington insists on making us believe that this diversity is absent. He believes that diversity and complexity undermine the stability and homogeneity that are supposedly vital for progress and social evolution. But diversity, rather than homogeneity, is the order of all naturally occurring ecologies. In fact, all naturally occurring ecologies evolve towards diversity and complexity. This is how they survive and prosper. Diversity and complexity make ecologies more resilient and creative. Still, Huntington, in the face of this truth and harsh reality, continues to believe otherwise. He therefore continues to see homogeneity where there is diversity, stability where there is instability, and simplicity where there is complexity. “The American people who achieved independence in the late eighteenth century were few and homogenous: overwhelmingly white thanks [!] to the exclusion of blacks and Indians from citizenship” (emphasis mine). Moreover, Huntington continues to believe that diversity poses a threat to the world. “The extent and nature of [Latino] immigration differ fundamentally from those of previous immigration, and the assimilation successes of the past are unlikely to be duplicated with the contemporary flood of immigrants from Latin America. This reality poses a fundamental question: Will the United States remain a country with a single national language and a core Anglo-Protestant culture? By ignoring this question, Americans acquiesce to their eventual transformation into two peoples with two cultures (Anglo and Hispanic) and two languages (English and Spanish).”
But this fear will never materialize. For there is no Anglo-Protestant culture, just as much as there is no Latino culture. There are Anglo-Protestant cultures and Latino cultures, and all cultures are inherently porous and ambiguous. Thus cultures are always penetrating and influencing each other. Yet this is how cultures evolve and become more inclusive. This is what, for example, Spanglish is about. This is also why Spanglish is a uniquely US phenomenon. Spanglish, as Ed Morales nicely notes in Living in Spanglish, “is a very universal state of being. It is a displacement from one place, home, to another place, home, in which one feels at home in both places, yet at home in neither place.” It also constitutes a “forward-looking race that obliterates all races” by embracing all races. In other words, Spanglish is “a call to end race” as we commonly understand race. “But in order to face down race, we must first immerse ourselves in it. In all of them.” It is “a space where multiple levels of identification is possible.” Spanglish is therefore more than a long-term racial miscegenation process occurring among Latinos in the U.S, and definitely more than the evolution of a language that fuses English and Spanish. It is, in fact, about the evolution of an identity that is finally disconnected—liberated, really—from one race, one place, one space, one language, one vision, one history. As such, “there is no prescribed form, no cultural norms involved in being Spanglish—the world of Spanglish is the world of the multiracial individual.”
But Huntington sees none of the beauty and hope that comes with our different cultures mingling and converging. He is unable to even once escape his anxieties and insecurities. He demands, regardless of such historical truths as slavery, Jim Crow, the near extinction of Native Americans, and other such evils that remarkably find no mention in Who We Are, that “Americans . . . recommit themselves to the Anglo-Protestant culture, traditions, and values that for three and half centuries have been embraced by Americans of all races, ethnicities, and religions and that have been the source of their liberty, unity, power, prosperity, and moral leadership as a force for good in the world.” We must, in other words, remain beholden to the past. We too must be afraid of the world’s ambiguity, complexity, and mystery. We too must believe, even in the face of our own historical misery, that without this Anglo-Protestant culture the US will descend into chaos and anarchy. We too must therefore concur that “There is much that is valuable in Mr. Huntington’s work, which represents a real effort to address threats to social cohesion and to recover useful knowledge about a culture all but eclipsed in our time” (Washington Times). We must also be “glad that a scholar like Huntington has raised these issues, since they deserve serious consideration” (Slate). For “Once again, Huntington is arrestingly right about the challenges facing liberal democracy that many liberals have been loath to acknowledge” (Los Angeles Times)
But evolution unfolds towards the future, towards the unknown, towards the edge of chaos. This is why evolution requires courage—the willingness to risk life. Yet without evolution, life perishes. For what evolution constitutes is possibility—the possibility of something new and better emerging from within the world’s ambiguity. Huntington makes believe that the US is up against various forces that threaten its ideological and cultural integrity. But the US is really up against the forces of evolution—forces, again, that are ultimately pushing the US to become more expansive and inclusive. We can no doubt interrupt and harass these forces. But such a project damns us in the worse of ways. For evolution is beyond us. Its impulse belongs to life itself. In the end, Spanglish is better for us than either English or Spanglish, and Spanglish, regardless of Huntington’s paranoia, is what more and more of us will speak and embody.
The world is doubt on a march towards more and more diversity and complexity. Our commonly held notions of race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, spirituality, and geography are all collapsing and imploding, and as a result, making our world increasingly diverse, complex, and ambiguous. Indeed, the world has never before seen so much diversity and complexity. We have always been able to fit each other into various boxes and categories. But now the world, in every which way, is becoming more and more Brown. Moreover, more and more of us are determined to defy boxes and categories, a practice, of course, that Huntington finds most vexing. We insist on moving between worlds and residing in the borderlands. However, for us, moving between worlds is much more than simply physically moving between worlds, or even embracing the different worlds from which we originally come.
To move between worlds is to move beyond the worlds that are behind us as well as those that are before us. In other words, to move between worlds is to move towards new conceptual, epistemological, and theoretical worlds—those which we have only begun to imagine. This is why David Rudder labels us the children of the frontline, “the children of a brand new day.” In this regard, Huntington’s fear of me is legitimate. My loyalty is to other worlds. I do seek to undermine his worldview because I believe it threatens the world and impoverishes our understanding of what being human means. It also diminishes our understanding of the world by blocking us from recognizing, much less appreciating, the diversity and complexity that constitute the world. Moreover, Huntington’s worldview sustains educational, social, and political institutions that undermine our moral development. So whereas Huntington wishes to homogenize, to assimilate, to separate, to simplify, I wish to do otherwise. Moreover, whereas Huntington sees a world that is inherently finite and fixed, I see one that is inherently infinite and emergent. Ultimately, Huntington and I have different visions of the world. My own is obviously much more expansive. But the origins of worlds really begin inside of us. That is, the worlds we envision begin with our beliefs, values, hopes, biases, prejudices, anxieties, and insecurities, all of which come from our histories and experiences. This is why history and ancestry are increasingly so important to more and more of us.
Huntington and I will never share the same vision of the world. But neither do we have to. We merely need the opportunity to articulate our own visions of the world and to challenge each other’s visions. But of course hegemony is inevitable. So those of us who constitute different ways of understanding and experiencing the world will always have to be fighting for our lives. In other words, my issue with Huntington is about his position being hegemonic, the one that is commonly held, the one that appears obvious, the one that shapes legislation and policies, the one that counsels government, the one that tends to intrude violently on my life. I am therefore forced to reckon with him. For when hegemony enters the equation, we are no longer merely dealing with differences. Now we are dealing with institutions and matters of domination, subordination, and subjugation. We are also dealing with legitimacy and the ability to control our own lives. Moreover, hegemony has nothing to do with truth. It is about fear, anxiety, and suspicion. It is about our ability to impose our anxieties and insecurities upon others. Thus trying to undermine Huntington’s hegemony by showing how his position is false and my own is true is futile. Huntington merely enjoys the privilege to invoke truth to justify his hegemony. Yet such are the privileges that come with hegemony. You can set the criteria by which different worldviews will be legitimized. But of course what we deem to be true and false can never be divorced from how we understand the world. Nevertheless, Huntington continues to use truth as a weapon against me. He accuses me of seeking to change the rules of the game because I am apparently unable to deal with inconvenient truths. Such again is the privilege that comes with hegemony—one can make false claims. But of course I must seek to change the rules of the game because these rules, and the game itself, have been set by Huntington. On the other hand, I also expect Huntington to resist my efforts to do so. In the end, hegemony always come down to struggle. We will never remove it without turmoil and struggle. Such fallout is simply inevitable.
But as much I am born out of Huntington’s fears, insecurities, and anxieties, Huntington is also born out of my fears, anxieties, and insecurities. I therefore understand the deep fear I strike in him. I know his desperation. I too am seduced by political frameworks that promise to spare us from the world’s ambiguity, complexity, and mystery. As such, I cannot aspire to destroy Huntington, for in doing so I would only destroy myself. Just as well, I must refrain from demonizing him. Huntington constitutes the primal side of being human. The side that is deeply afraid of the world’s ambiguity, complexity, and mystery. The side that is seduced by homogeneity, stability, and simplicity. The side that believes in competition and aggression. The side that focuses on self-preservation. But this primal side merely constitutes one side of what it means to be human. We possess other sides—sides that are moral, cultural, existential, emotional, historical, relational, social, sensual, and, yes, even spiritual. Huntington, of course, never speaks to these other sides. He insists on portraying us, especially those of us from Third World ancestry, as being no better than animals—driven by purely primal instincts and impulses. He has no faith in our capacity to act decently without elaborate structures of order, control, and coercion. He believes hierarchy is inevitable because we lack any innate capacity for moral development. He therefore expects and sees only the worse in us.
But we can control our primal instincts and impulses. Hierarchy is no way inevitable. We can be more merciful, more compassionate, more selfless, more tolerant. We can create communities and societies that distribute resources more evenly and generously. We can also create communities and societies that are much more diverse and democratic. But Huntington says nothing about our better experiences in being human. He continues to see in us only that which is ugly. He even demands that we stop deluding ourselves that we are capable of being better. Indeed, there is much within that is ugly, and much of history seems to make a compelling case about us being devoid of any moral capacity. But just as well, history also shows that there is the potential for beauty in us.
So whereas Huntington would like us to believe that we are in a struggle with other peoples, other cultures, other religions, other civilizations, we need to keep in mind that this framing only serves to deny the real struggle that is before us and has always been before us. What is more is that this diversion encourages us to deal with the struggle in ways that are ultimately catastrophic. For if the struggle we face is within us, and against an opponent that we can never really destroy, then aggression no longer becomes a viable option. We must do something else, and something else quickly. As such, if there is any theoretical possibility at all of us ending hegemony, it will only occur by us reclaiming all of our humanity as all hegemonies ultimately begin (and end) within us.
But Huntington believes that history is on his side. It apparently speaks to real conflicts between civilizations and peoples over moral issues and involving considerable stakes. For Huntington, these moral issues are fundamentally embedded in the world rather than within us. For instance, Huntington would probably ask how could one stop ethnic cleansing without engaging in a real struggle involving the loss of probably thousands of lives? Or how could one stop discrimination without passing legislation? In other words, how could one stop these evils by merely reclaiming one’s humanity? Huntington, of course, would contend that this is merely another instance of some of us being unable to face harsh realities and inconvenient truths, such as in this case the necessity of war and violent conflict. He would contend that we can only stop certain evils through war and violent conflict. Thus if we are really against, say, ethnic cleansing, then we must support measures that are contrary to that of merely reclaiming our humanity, such as military intervention and all that comes with such intervention. But what of the other harsh realities that history points to? Different peoples, different civilizations, and different religions have been waging war upon each other throughout history with no end in sight. In fact, our wars have only been increasing and becoming more destructive. Any day now we can possibly erupt into a war that will end all wars. History therefore seems to suggest that we begin to do something differently. Indeed, what history seems to be suggesting is that we need to come to some new harsh realities that are devoid of war and violent conflict.
The notion of us being storied beings in a storied world is quite heuristic. It allows for a highly expansive description of the human condition and all of the complexity, diversity, and mystery that comes with being human. Yet this notion does more than describes. It allows us to reframe and revision what it means to be human in a world that will always be larger than us. It is also a deeply organic and human notion. Through stories we make sense of the world and order our lives. It is also through stories we trade our experiences and organize that which seems unorganizable. In fact, our story-creating, story-consuming, story-trading proclivity reveals a lot of what it means to be human. No other species possess the capacity to construct the complex kinds of stories we are capable of constructing, and regardless of how sophisticated technology ever becomes, no machine will ever—ever—be able to produce stories that are remotely textured, nuanced, and layered as ours. I therefore believe that our redemption resides in our stories, as through stories we retain the ability to help complete the world.
We can impose any story on the world. Yet the fact that we can do so in no way means that all stories are morally equal. Indeed, what is probably most appealing about a narrative stance is the recognition that the world does possess a moral capacity. Some stories promote life, others promote death. It is therefore our responsibility to identify which stories promote life and commit ourselves to the promotion of those stories. For one, such stories are richly interpretive. Meanings are multiple and diverse. Moreover, stories that promote life lend for elaborate interpretations—interpretations that expand our understanding and experiencing of the world. This, in fact, is where Huntington’s story collapses. It makes no demands on us. It constitutes the same narrative we have seen throughout history again and again with the same catastrophic result. It is a narrative of fear and suspicion, and neither pushes us into the world. Its interpretive elasticity is quite narrow. But such narrowness comes with real implications and consequences.
We are of a world where change and evolution are status quo. As such, stories that lack the ability to change and evolve puts us at odds with the world. This is what Huntington’s story does to us. It blocks us from appreciating the good that comes with a more interconnected and interdependent world. Yet such evolution is irreversible. Out fates are intertwined. This is what elaborate narratives push us to realize—we are much larger than we have long held to be. However, because we are much larger, that is, much more of a larger world, we have to engage the world in much more expansive and inclusive ways. Our well-being is inseparable from everything that is of this world. Of course with sufficient resources we can still attempt to impose on the world a story that makes believe that our fates are unconnected. But how this story will end is all but foretold. Yet, as evidence by Huntington and others, this is exactly what we continue to do.
I have no grand narrative to offer the world. In fact, any attempt by anyone to impose any one narrative on the world should be strenuously challenged. On the other hand, the evolving and changing nature of the world will never allow any narrative to possess such stability and continuity. There will always be new stories, old stories, emerging stories, converging stories, and disappearing stories. Our redemption resides in communities and societies that are laden with all kinds of stories and promote all kinds of stories. I am therefore committed to the celebration of stories and the conditions that promote new and different stories. But of course I am most committed to those stories that promote life. These stories will always be inherently unstable and, as a result, inherently diverse and incomplete. For what most distinguishes these stories from others is that they embrace this instability and diversity. This is how they survive. In fact, this is how they flourish, by possessing the elasticity to bend and twist to all of the world’s rhythms.
But we are stories. We all articulate a story of how the world is and how it should be. In every moment of being we articulate this story. Indeed, I believe the world, as a result of our collapsing spaces and distances, is upon the dawn of a new breed of stories—stories which are different in many ways to the stories we have seen in the past. I am referring to the complexity, universality, and hope found in these emergent stories—the ones that are increasingly being generated by those of us who move between worlds. These stories are different. They look forward and unfold towards the world’s ambiguity, complexity, and mystery. But those who insist on imposing one story on the world remain at our throats. Our struggle is a struggle for stories. Our only recourse is to remind ourselves that we are stories, living texts, and as stories we carry within ourselves all that is potentially good and beautiful in the world. Our ambition must therefore to laden the world with stories that are worthy of our lives. Let us be stories that tell of different worlds and demonstrate the real possibility of these worlds.
Huntington, S. (2004). Who are we? The challenges to America’s national identity. New York. Simon & Schuster.
© Electronic Journal of Sociology