A Word, A Value, Our Future
By John Kenneth Press
To my grandfather, Joseph Eugene Press, for service during World War
Two and Lillian Press, his wife, for maintaining the home front.
Culturism (cŭl-ch́әr-ĭź-әm) n. 1. The philosophy, art and science that values, manages and protects majority cultures. 2. A philosophy which holds that defining, protecting and promoting majority cultures should be legitimate policy considerations. 3. The study of culturism.
Culturist (cŭl-ch́әr-ĭst) n. 1. An advocate of culturism. 2. One who engages in the art or science of managing and protecting majority cultures. 3. Of or pertaining to culturism, culturists or culturist policy. - adj.
Culturism takes diversity seriously. Culturists recognize that some people would rather do drugs at home than go to school sober. This preference can have ramifications for our economy. It has often been noted that a strong middle class helps stabilize democracies. This means that if we do not maintain a strong economy, our democracy itself could be endangered. We must maintain our culture to maintain our nation. Islamic cultures do not celebrate free speech. Violence against very few reporters could undermine this lynchpin of Western democracies. The multiculturalist creed that suggests that we never judge cultures could be dangerous. Culturism appreciates diversity internationally. Theocracy in other countries should not concern us. Asian nations have a right to define themselves racially. But the more we realize how divergent cultures are the more we appreciate that the Western also has a particular culture it must protect.
Culturism does not mistake the Western love of democracy and rights for universally agreed upon truths. Other forms of social organization and even chaos exist. Mistaking our values for universal truths causes us to take them for granted. We think that they are so natural that they will exist whether or not we assert them. We are led to believe that our government can be indifferent and impartial in regards to our cultural health and we will survive. Our mistaken belief that our values are the universal default also results in our trying to export them to the rest of the world. We fail to realize that others have different visions for their societies and that democracies rest upon specific cultural attitudes. Recognizing that our culture is just one among many will help us avoid apathy and arrogance.
We must protect our culture. Ours is an optimistic culture. It rests on a faith in the few Western cultures’ ability to govern themselves without heavy handed cultural controls. Others have been following our lead. Yet, no supernatural or metaphysical guarantees of our sustainability exist. Just as debtors and alcoholics have their freedoms undermined by their inability to control themselves, our excesses can undermine our collective freedoms. Without our example worldwide diversity would increase for the worse. In our country, legal rights are used to protect anti-social behavior and the doctrine of individualism tells us no one can judge them. Multiculturalism undermines the belief that we even have a specific culture and the threat of being called racist bullies those who would discuss it. The word culturism needs to be adopted to foster badly needed values, policies, and discussions.
Definition by analogy
Using schools as an analogy for society will help the benefits and need for culturism clearer. If students are told that the reason they are doing homework has only to do with themselves as individuals, not doing it becomes a purely personal decision. When using individualism as the measure of all behavior, taking drugs, profanity, and scholastic failure can only judged by the effects on the individual. If the individual wants to mess up his or her life it is no one else’s business. Individualism can only provide us with a weak basis for teaching morals. Multiculturalism’s celebration of diversity provides no particular values. Culturism provides coherent yet flexible values and a reason to lead a positive life. That reason being: the maintaining of individualism, rights, democracy, and the culture we hold dear. Student’s and citizens do this by acting responsibly.
Excessive individualism can impair our personal and social mental health. Young people naturally want to join groups.[iii] Being a part of a team inspires joy and great effort. Being told that you and your work have no connection to the fate of others is not ennobling or inspiring. Isolation is depressing. If we do not give young people a sense of connection, they often find it in the form of gangs and other anti-social cliques. Culturism gives you a team to root for. Culturism provides a sense of motivation and belonging so that anti-social groups do not have to do it for us. Culturism provides collective mental health and a sense of community with those around you. As sure as loneliness hurts, culturism is more conducive to mental health than individualism.
A hypothetical culturist policy could require students who refuse to do homework being made to pay for classes they ignored if they wish to re-enroll. Unfortunately, student’s rights often incapacitate efforts to protect, promote, and even sustain schools as institution. Schools where students’ rights protect them from having to learn often cease to be schools in all but name. The same goes for societies in which citizens do not have to consider the public ramification of their actions. A nation of anti-social hooligan citizens cannot sustain its freedom. Our schools being zones of belligerence and ignorance threatens our economic leadership and solvency. Culturist considerations need to counterbalance rights if we are to effectively guide ourselves.
Such scenarios are not only hypothetical. Those with disabilities have rights to sue schools for not providing adequate educations if their individual needs are not met. More and more differences are being classified as disabilities and spawning lawsuits. Yet, schools may not be able to financially or physically meet every child’s individual needs. In such a situation the individual has been given all the rights and the school, none. The school loses the ability to choose which programs it wants to emphasize and could conceivably be bankrupted by such lawsuits. Culturism recognizes that all Americans have rights, but social and cultural contexts must be considered legitimate concerns in policy decisions.
Though not as easy to measure as lawsuits, we must recognize the importance of cultural dynamics. Individuals’ actions are, in fact, never entirely divorced from the cultural milieu in which they are performed. If only one teacher battles pervasive graffiti in a school, his remarks on the subject may be seen as the obsession of an individual crank. If a school has managed to create a culture in which vandalism does not occur, the individual who vandalizes the school will seem to be the bizarre one. Individual actions are nearly always evaluated against the background of cultural norms. Culturism recognizes that individual morals cannot be divorced from the cultural milieu in which they are enacted and that the cultural milieu must be considered important.
This book will remind us of many common sense culturist dynamics we know about but have been ignoring. For example very existence of public schools is predicated on the culturist truth that we have a common destiny. Reviewing
Culturism is meant to be a corrective against excessive individualism and rights. It is, however, not against individual liberty and rights. A lack of collective sentiment has been shown to undermine our willingness to fully fund public schools.[iv] This lack of collective sentiment thus undermines our ability to fulfill our individual potentials. Contrary to what individualists tell you, thriving economies are the result of collective community efforts.[v] If the overall economy declines individuals have fewer opportunities and talk of rights and individualism will start to ring hallow. Reminding people of the collective nature of our success reinforces both our individual and collective potentials. A sense of collective responsibility and destiny does not interfere with personal achievement; it bolsters it. Great schools foster successful students.
Parameters of Western culturism
Western culturism is more complicated than other types of culturism. Gambling, gang membership, white collar crime, pollution, children being raised in poverty due to bad parenting decisions, profanity, drugs, and prostitution negatively affect our culture. Other cultures can outlaw and violently punish all antisocial behavior without violating their basic tenets. Western culturism must be much more nuanced. We cannot throw out our tradition of liberty and rights to protect our tradition of liberty and rights. Sustaining liberty and rights in Western nations requires a nuanced understanding of our history, culture, and traditions.
Because Western civilization is progressive, Western culturism should seek to help
Yet ultimately, every value system holds that some behaviors are preferable to others. This cannot be avoided. Advocating peace implies a disdain for war. Saying that people should be thin necessarily implies that they should not be fat. Like all value systems, culturism disparages that which is disrespectful of our traditions and that which undermines our ability to perpetuate them. Western culturists need not concern themselves with the morality of female genital mutilation in other countries. Recognizing and appreciating diversity means accepting that people in other parts of the world are entitled to promote and enjoy their own cultural value systems. But Western culturism must strongly and clearly denounce female genital mutilation and other values foreign to our traditions in Western lands. Culturism cannot help but define some practices as being outside the scope of our traditional values.
Since a broad range of cultures exists, there are a variety of culturisms and types of culturist practices. Our mode of culturism will, naturally, be based on our culture’s history and shared values. Asian culturists value and seek to perpetuate Asian cultures. Muslim culturists should value and seek to perpetuate Islamic culture. While it would be inappropriate for us to force a dress code on our populace, it is not hypocritical for Muslim societies to do so. Each type of culturism uses techniques appropriate to the value system it represents. Korean culturists might be concerned with reminding people about the inventor of their alphabet, King Sejong.
People might reasonably raise the question of whether or not cultures can be discussed as discrete entities. After all, cultures are multifaceted and not everyone in a culture adopts all of the values. First of all, in some heavy handed cultures, the populations are much more monolithic. Secondly, as with criminals, just because a culture has nice elements does not mean we cannot discuss the elements that need change. Lastly, all policy decisions refer to groups. Advertising welfare – to – work programs makes more sense in some neighborhoods than others. Saying that it does not apply to everyone in the neighborhood is true. As our traditions would demand, we should try to think of individuals as individuals. However, such nuances cannot stop us from making generalizations; cultures are real.
The Germans’ actions in World War Two have made Western countries skittish about national pride. Nationalism is not a well-grounded philosophy and we should be leery of it. Western culturism’s parameters are set by traditional values which are older than our nation. Western culture has been against tyranny since the ancient Greeks first defeated the Persians. It has traditionally respected the advice of individuals in governance. Our sensitivity to the prerogatives of the individual is a longstanding and justifiable source of pride. No objective criteria exist by which to say that Western culture is any better or worse than any other culture. All people get formed by their cultures. As such, we Westerners cannot help but cherish self-governance, individualism, and democracy. Nationalism’s worship of the nation because it is the nation can be dangerous. Western culturism’s grounding in history and traditional values protects us from the sorts of illiberal tyrannies that Western nations fear collective pride can lead to.
People who love their cultures have reasons to be happy and proud. This is a very natural and healthy state of mind. Of course, excessive self-regard can be pathological; it can make a culture overly complacent. Our ability to endlessly repeat “We are number one” as we sink in educational attainment shows that self-regard must be grounded in reality to not be delusional. Equally dangerous is the fact that overly inflated self-esteem can led you to denigrate other cultures and ignore their sovereignty. Culturism advocates respecting all cultures within their own spheres of influence. As such it has a bias towards isolationism. Our culture is special because it is not the common default of societies. Excessive self-love can undermine your ability to be realistic; it can lead to complacency and arrogance.
While excessive self-love can be destructive, not having any self-regard is both sad and pathological. We tremendous accomplishments to proud of and that should serve as the inspiration for our protection of Western cultural heritage. Western culturism does not mean that you do not critically evaluate your society; success requires doing so. Culturism should create self-critical dialogue in our society, not stop it. However, our self-scrutiny must be done with the goal of perpetuating, not denigrating, our culture. Cultures cannot be sustained by chauvinism or self-loathing. Western culturism must be based on a realistic understanding of our history, traditions, weaknesses, and strengths.
Definition by contrasts
Currently, in English, valuing and prioritizing one’s culture is associated with the words “xenophobia,” “ethnocentrism,” “jingoism,” “patriotism.” “nationalism,” and “nativism.” Each of these words is problematic for reasons that will be explored below. None of them can be used as the basis of a practical and grounded value system with which to guide society. Overall, the use of these terms actually stops us from having rational discourse concerning vital social issues that we need to have.
Xenophobia (zěn΄ә-fō¢b-ēә) n. An undue fear or contemptuousness of that which is foreign, esp. of strangers or foreign peoples.
Xenophobia’s being “undue” makes it irrational. Culturism is a rational value system. In seeking rational discourse, then, culturism will be a better fount of dialogue than xenophobia. “Phobia” is word used in psychology to denote irrational fear. One cannot base positive policy considerations on irrational phobias. Xenophobia is useless as an organizational tool. Culturism is not based on irrational fears. It is a positive valuing of self and highly conducive to valuing the other cultures. Xenophobia cannot be the basis of rational policy analysis.
Culturism and xenophobia’s real difference, however, are not in their dictionary definitions. The main difference between the two terms lies in their connotations. Xenophobia is a slur. In common parlance saying that someone is xenophobic is tantamount to calling them a racist or small-minded. If they do not immediately deny that they are xenophobic, nothing they say will be considered worth listening to. The same racist and irrational connotations resonate from the concepts of ethnocentrism, jingoism, and nativism. These terms cannot instigate rational conversations. Whereas they are, at best, obstacles to discussion, the word culturism can provide a basis for useful cultural guidelines, values, and discussions.
Eth·no·cen·trism (ĕth¢nō-sen'trĭz'әm) n. 1. Belief in the superiority of one’s own ethnic group. 2. Overriding concern with race.
The problem with the term “ethnocentrism” comes from the fact that it not only connotes racism, it denotes it. The root, “ethno,” is very closely linked to ethnicity, and ethnicity is very often linked to race. Culturism cannot amount to anything if it gets confounded with the false, dangerous, and unfruitful concept of racism. Culturists must always be careful to explain their sincere disgust with racism. That being the case, an entire section of this introduction will be dedicated to denouncing racism. Ethnocentrism is a slur that shuts down conversation and undermines positive values and rational policy formulation. This word necessitates an alternate term such as culturism.
Jin·go·ism (jĭng¢o-ĭz'әm) n. Extreme nationalism characterized especially by a belligerent foreign policy; chauvinistic patriotism.
Here again we have a word loaded with negative connotations. “Extreme” and “chauvinist” are not attributes of a reasonable ideology. And while culturism does advocate protecting one’s own culture, it does not entail belligerence towards others. Chinese culturism dictates that the Chinese take pride in their culture. Iranian culturism advocates that Iranian culture be a source of joy for the Iranians. Culturism does not imply that you seek to destroy or dominate other cultures. Quite the opposite: culturism is appreciative of the Western allowance for both domestic and international diversity. Being appreciative of international diversity, culturism is compatible with isolationism in a way that the chauvinistic concept of jingoism is not.
Nationalism (năsh¢ә-nә-lĭz¢әm) n. Devotion to the interests or culture of one’s nation. 2. The belief that nations will benefit from acting independently rather than collectively, emphasizing national rather than international goals.
The concept of nationalism has the same problems as patriotism; it also suffers from a lack of content. Though the dictionary definition refers to culture, nationalism is normally thought of as just being in favor of one’s nation. Thus in common usage it is akin to “geography-ism.” Being for your nation because it is your nation is not a very deep philosophy. Nationalism provides no philosophical guidance.
More importantly, the boundaries of the concept are too small. Culture transcends nations. Western civilization is larger than any one Western nation. Thus culturism gives the Western world an equivalent to the Muslim concept of “ummah” (meaning the greater transnational Muslim community). Nationalism, as the dictionary definitions indicates, sees each nation as an isolated player. In fact nations often have shared affinities and histories. Culturism can address geo-political concerns and realities in ways that nationalism cannot.
Patriotism (pā¢trē-ә-tĭz¢-әm) n. Love of and devotion to one’s country.
“Patriotism” is an empty word because it does not convey why you value the country you value. It includes no more content than saying you are for your country just because it is yours. It is love of country regardless of that country’s merits. Claiming patriotism in an argument is often a trick used to claim the upper ground and slander all those who would argue with you. Like racism, it gets invoked to protect oneself from substantive discussion. Patriotism has rightfully been called the last refuge of scoundrels. Patriotism is, in fact, a fine sentiment, but it cannot foster policy as affectively as culturism.
Culturism implies historical continuity. Western history provides a traditional context within which actions can be judged as worthy or unworthy. Historical and cultural precedent means that McCarthyite tactics cannot be justified in the name of culturism in the way that they can under the banner of patriotism. In fact, McCarthy was denounced for violating our cultural tradition of free speech, not for a lack of patriotism. He was denounced on culturist grounds, not patriotic grounds. And where patriotism does mention history, it is limited to national history. Culturism, again, ties us to all of Western civilization.
Nativism (nā¢tĭ-vĭz¢әm) n. 1. A sociopolitical policy, esp. in the United States in the 19th century, favoring the interests of native inhabitants over those of immigrants. . . . 3. The re-establishment or perpetuation of native cultural traits, esp. in opposition to acculturation.
Nativism refers to a 19th century political movement that hated foreigners. Adopting this term for purposes of discussion implies inapplicable historical baggage. More fundamentally, those who would compare culturism to Nativism completely misunderstand our term. Nativism sought to separate the Native Americans from the foreigners. It was based on the simplistic and false evaluation of the local as good and the immigrant as evil, with no room for nuance or reconciliation. In a diverse society like ours such demonizing can only lead to disaster. Culturism’s goal is unity. Certainly culturism recognizes Western civilization as the basis for our society. But Western culturist values are inclusive and provide standards to which we can all aspire and by which we can all be judged.
Race (rās) n. 1. A local geographic or global human population distinguished as a more or less distinct group by genetically transmitted physical characteristics.
Racism (rā¢sĭz¢әm) n. 1. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others. 2. Discrimination or prejudice based on racism.
The West’s ability to meaningfully discuss its cultural virtues and vices has been greatly hindered by our inability to distinguish culture and race. We, rightfully, want to avoid discrimination based on race. But fear of being accused of this has compromised our ability to discuss values in general. We need to be able to advocate some behaviors and disparage others. Culturism is a rational basis for discrimination. Racism is not. Conversations based on cultural precepts can be very healthy. Conversations based on race are counterproductive and dangerous.
Racism, in essence, is discrimination based on race. Hitler’s policies were racist. He hated non-Aryans for many historical reasons. But he ultimately thought of the historical or ideological sources of his antagonism as having a genetic basis. Non-Aryans were ultimately considered evil because they were not Aryans. He hated them regardless of their achievements. Whether you were a doctor or a criminal, an artist or a beggar was not important. Racism, again, means discrimination based on racial characteristics. Closer to home, we discriminated against people who were thought to have “one drop” of “African blood.” The only criterion necessary to judge people under such policies was their race. Racist policies are not ludicrous and stupid, they are dangerous.
Education constitutes one of the many policy areas where much harm has been wrought by our not having a way to discuss cultural differences in a rational way. In a virtuous effort to avoid racism, we now emphasize race as a factor in education policy to the exclusion of other possibilities. School systems have been sued because they are said to be racist. Institutional and individual racism could conceivably be reasons that higher percentages of some cultural groups go to college than others. However, there are other possible explanations that merit consideration.
Culturism takes diversity seriously and thus affirms that differences in educational achievement could be the result of cultural diversity. Without being able to consider culture as significant, modern policymakers are thrown back to addressing what are termed “achievement gaps” in terms of race. They correctly acknowledge that there are no differences in the innate capacities of different races. Having eliminated both race and culture as significant factors, the only explanation for the achievement gap left is institutional racism. Such conclusions doom our schools to endless lawsuits and preclude successful reform.
Fifth graders in Taipei, Taiwan spend an average of 13 hours a week on homework; their peers in Minneapolis spend slightly more than four hours a week on homework. In Asian cultures not having completed one’s homework normally results in shame. Completing your homework is positively associated with academic success. Cultural differences provide a complete and satisfactory explanation as to why students in Asian countries do better at math. Culturist explanations can account for some groups doing better than others without resorting to discussions of race. In fact, the multitudes of successful minority students from every background show that educational success has nothing to do with race. Parameters of culture will be explored and defined throughout this book. At a minimum, though, culture includes the beliefs and practices shared by a group. One cannot claim to take cultural diversity seriously without believing that it may be strong enough to impact educational achievement.
Education is not the only area where we cannot progress until we have frank discussions about cultural values and their impact.. Teen pregnancy and crime rates have nothing to do with race. Different rates of such behaviors must, therefore, reflect cultural choices. Drinking a lot and eating fatty foods are often cultural choices. Such foods are enjoyable to members of every race. The resulting shortened life expectancy cannot be profitably discussed as being due to race. When we condition ourselves to always discuss such issues in terms of race we undermine our ability to address them affectively. People cannot change their race. Whereas discussing race can only result in animosity and helplessness, discussing culture can result in positive reform efforts.
Having only extremely volatile words to express the valuation of one’s culture has had a tremendously deleterious effect on the Western nations. Honest discussions of cultural issues degenerate into name-calling. Thus we are left with either hatred or silence. Neither hatred nor silence is conducive to a vital culture. Culturism’s cultural specificity focuses us on important tangible behaviors and problems in ways we can discuss rationally and fruitfully. Being free to discuss culture, as distinct from race, allows us to address many important issues where values, behaviors, and outcomes intersect. The term culturism provides a focus that can serve as a needed antidote in a country that finds itself unable to discuss diversity and values due to fear of racist implications.
Denunciation of racism
Culturism’s potential to be confounded with racism in some contexts necessitates a strong disclaimer. Culturists must do all they can to denounce racists and racism. Race is a biologically insignificant, dubious, and dangerous invented category. Individuals’ attainment in life has virtually nothing to do with their race. Racism can hinder people. But ultimately, peoples’ beliefs and the actions that do or do not result from those beliefs determine who they are and what they will become. Cultural differences are meaningful. Race is an invalid and inconsequential factor that does not deserve the honor of having attention brought to it.
Of course, it is obvious that significant overlap between culture and race sometimes exists. It is equally obvious that culture is not the result of race. Culture and race are only correlated with each other incidentally. People of Japanese descent who are raised in America speak English and have American values. The few people of non-Japanese extraction raised in Japan speak Japanese and live according to Japanese codes. To say that people are who they are because of their race is racist. Racism is wrong, constitutes definitive proof of ignorance, and a reasonable basis for disqualifying anyone from policy discussions. Race does not create or constitute culture.
Race is not even a real biological category. Biologically speaking, humans are categorized as a species. A species is commonly defined as a population that can interbreed within itself, but not with other populations. All humans are therefore of the same species. One does not ask about the race of a baboon; a baboon is a baboon. Similarly, a human is a human. Just as no two members of any species are identical, humans have superficial distinctions. It is biologically meaningless to say that cows that look different from each other are members of different races. Similarly differing environments have caused some differentiating of physical characteristics in humans. But these are not meaningful in a biological sense.
Racist books such as The Bell Curve are deplorable. This book purports to provide evidence that race and I.Q. are correlated. There is no reliable evidence that there are any mental differences between groups of humans. Even if there were some truth to such claims (which there is not), perpetuating such ideas can only lead to horrible results. Culture and behavior are malleable; this provides a worthy justification for discussing cultural differences. But racial characteristics are not profitable topics of discussion. World War Two proved that horrible results can come from talking about the concept of race. Books such as The Bell Curve cannot result in good and can result in a lot of horror. Racism and racists should be denounced at every opportunity.
Unlike the concept of race, meaningful conceptual distinctions can be drawn between cultures. Group values have material effects on the world those groups inhabit. Some cultures practice cutting off the hands of thieves while others temporarily lock them in large concrete buildings. Skin color does not chop off hands or build prisons. Race determining culture is as silly an idea as culture determining your race! Considering the dangers of racism, culturists must be very clear that cultures are not racially determined. Laws concerning behavior are necessary, but laws concerning race are reprehensible. Being able to safely discuss the importance of cultural differences requires clarity on the distinction between race and culture.
Western culture strives to oppose racism. Other cultures have a declared racial basis. Only those who are racially Japanese or are married to Japanese can be Japanese citizens. American culture does not have a racial basis. Europeans are wisely cutting loose from their racial moorings. Western culture was almost destroyed by Hitler’s racism in World War Two. Neither Jesus nor Plato would sanction racism or racism. In a multi-ethnic country like America’s making racial distinctions could be destabilizing and even destroy our country. The viability of Western nations is threatened by considering racial distinctions. We cannot afford to be divided by race again. If you value the survival of the West you should fight racism in Western lands. Racists would divide us, culturists seek to unite us. Western culturists must denounce all racists, racist sentiments, racist organizations, and racial discrimination in the strongest ways possible.
The organization of this book’s argument
This chapter has served as an introduction to the meaning, parameters, and potential usefulness of the term culturism. The rest of this book will flesh out the nature, basis, tools, and nuances of culturist understanding. Culturism is not new. It has a long history. The ways in which it actually manifests itself can be studied. We will look at all brands of culturism, but especially work towards an understanding of the nature of Western culturism. These investigations will suggest roles for citizens and social scientists, as understanding cultures’ effects in the world generally will suggest values and policies. By the end of this book you will be able to analyze a broad range of issues and disciplines from a culturist perspective.
Those who say that all restraints on the individual in the name of cultural health are un-American are wrong. From the Puritans to Prohibition to the G.I. Bill of Rights we have nervously tried to forestall the degeneration of our culture. Chapter Two will provide a thumbnail sketch of the meanings and methods we Americans have used to this end. Far from being un-American, the conscious management of our culture is an American tradition. In a very real way, it defines us; the phrase “self-governance” not only applies to individuals, but to communities, and the country at large as well. Our history contains many inspiring examples of culturism in action. Culturism is not an untried or revolutionary idea. Only after seeing this can we reclaim our role as proud American culturists of the traditional stripe.
Culturism is not only an American tradition, but also an ancient and hallowed tradition in the world. Most all cultures are and have been dedicated to their culturist mission. To understand the cultures involved in our current global conflicts you must understand their ancient heritage. Studying ancient heritages provides you with a deeper appreciation of cultures than studying recent national history ever could. World history reveals much about the ways in which culturist dynamics work generally. The third chapter will thus explore the role of such phenomena as the recent surge of nations, the rise and fall of cultures, and imperialism in world history. Amnesia is as dangerous to cultures as it is to individuals. Without memory we could not be successful individuals and we certainly cannot be successful culturists.
Fully understanding why we must adopt culturism requires a look into anthropology. Western civilization’s futuristic orientation often blinds it to the lessons of the past. And yet, much of how the West currently judges itself stems from a contrast with mankind’s supposed peaceful and environmental past; the myth of the noble savage is alive and well. The fourth chapter will set the record straight; before modern civilizations the world was much bloodier. Diversity is real. Uncritical tolerance of all human diversity within our borders would entail accepting human sacrifice, selling of child brides, slavery, and gang rape. These are or were human norms. Denouncing these activities domestically means modifying our embrace of diversity and adopting a culturist basis of discrimination. An unflinching look into the bloody and disturbing nature of the average pre-Western culture will relieve us of the guilt we feel concerning the domestic imposition and assertion of our Western ways.
After surveying the past we are ready to appreciate how special the Western culture we advocate perpetuating is. Western culture is real, but it is tricky to nail down because it is decidedly progressive. There are, however, strands that make our ancient story coherent. We have striven to liberate ourselves, in fits and spurts, from mental tyranny. We have worked to create a healthy balance of body and mind. Our pantheon of heroes, from Achilles to Martin Luther to George Washington, has been comprised of rebels. We value individualism, self-governance, and rights like no other culture does. These are the easy parts to explain. The West is also made up of both high and low culture. At some level a culture, and ours is no exception, is an ineffable complexity. But, Chapter Five will illuminate some of the Western characteristics Western culturists love.
Chapter Six will provide the ultimate grounding for culturism. The precedents of culturism in natural history show that culturism does not only reside in the minds of men. Of course, just because nature does something does not mean that humans should. We are different from spiders and apes. But we cannot entirely divorce ourselves from the natural world. Nature can suggest what some of the dynamics of a civilization might be. And it is only when we understand why and how cultures evolved that we can understand their general nature and our responsibilities. Cultures form working units out of otherwise unrelated individuals. They hold and pass on information. The primary function of brains is not to make us radical individual skeptics. We are built to absorb culture. Absorbing a human culture takes long years of nurture. These illuminating lessons a study of natural history can provide for culturists will be presented in Chapter Six.
It has been shown that the Western mind is very bad at putting things into contexts. We ourselves are one of the things we do not put into context. Philosophy, psychology, political science, and the understanding of individuals and communities are inextricably interconnected. Western psychology’s heavy emphasis on individualism is not a good basis upon which to create collective mental health. We have social needs. Our acceptance of the idea of absolute individualism has incapacitated our ability to improve the collective mental health of our culture. One way “culturist psychologists” can rectify this situation is by advocating that public space and laws recognize public standards. Creating events that increase our collective understanding of our commonality and consciously creating social organizations are other ways our collective mental health could be improved. As with individuals we must guide our collective habits and happiness by reminding ourselves of our ideals.
The seventh chapter concerns philosophy and its place in culturism’s past and present. Many people are allergic to philosophy because it has become synonymous with abstruse arguments having nothing to do with day-to-day life. This has not always been the case. Plato and Aristotle, for example, were both concerned with man in a social context. Philosophy’s focus on abstractions is relatively recent. The most recent sort of philosophical abstraction, post-modern deconstruction, is dangerous. This chapter is not included for the purpose of illuminating esoteric nuances. The ideas of abstract rights, abstract individualism, and supposedly universal standards have all had tremendously destructive consequences for the Western world. The absolutist versions of such propositions leave no room for philosophers to use tradition to guide us in our efforts to create policies that foster the best approximation of sustainable rights and individualism we can. Philosophy will have a very positive role to play when it returns to its culturist roots.
Inevitably, culturism will be narrowly seen as a reaction to multiculturalism. And, to be sure, much of its significance does come about via its contrast to multiculturalism. Consequently, the penultimate chapter contains a point-by-point comparison of culturism and multiculturalism. Such a comparison can serve as a model for societal discussions concerning the comparative merits and drawbacks of each. As the chapter on philosophy will describe, culturism is not about absolutes. Culturism hopes to help counterbalance our extremes. Diversity will always exist in America. But we can choose to emphasize culturism or multiculturalism. Our having accepted multiculturalism as the national dogma necessitates comparing the two isms before many people will be prepared to seriously entertain the culturist point of view.
The tenth and final chapter of this book will detail some culturist policies. As this introduction has stressed, culturism holds that cultural health should be seen to be a legitimate concern when making policy. Non-Western countries tend do this naturally. The West alone has largely forgotten the perspective that cultures have rights. However, the centrality of rights and individualism to our tradition necessitates our finding a way to pragmatically balance the prerogatives of the individual with the needs of the culture. This effort will be aided by realizing that there are no philosophical absolutes. Your right to be free of eavesdropping is, for example, counterbalanced by our need for reasonable security. Our culture must assert its right to discourage some behaviors. And while many culturists will disagree about what falls inside and outside of our traditions and which policies are justified by our current situations, no one, hopefully, disagrees with the goal of protecting and promoting Western culture in Western lands. Western culture is a great thing and it is our duty to honor and protect it.
One policy is advocated throughout this book: embracing the use of the term “culturism.” Using this word will help to reinvigorate our public discourse. The word culturism can remind us of our traditions and our place in the world. It provides a basis of beliefs upon which we can agree and unite. Culturism is a much needed counterbalance to the divisive philosophy of absolute individual rights that has undermined our ability to distinguish right from wrong and advocate values. Culturism can help reverse the sense of division and alienation from our compatriots that multiculturalism fosters in the culture at large. It can remind us that we are all dependent upon each other. Culturism can be the basis upon which we can pressure our politicians to put Western interests first in international negotiations. Politicians’ employing culturists policies can, in turn, rejuvenate our sense of place, mission, and pride. On top of all of this, adding culturism to our vocabulary can help to make our culture feel like a culture again.
Culturism is an American tradition
Many modern American’s first reaction to the suggestion of
culturism might be to call it “un-American.”
Many people mistakenly believe that
This quick survey will also help to flesh out what the term “culturism” denotes. Like most social science topics, culturism cannot be encapsulated easily. Social life being so variegated, the best descriptions of social philosophies often come from lived examples in the historical record. We shall see that culturism has mostly been based on popular movements. Culturist initiatives that find their way into the halls of power usually did not originate there. We will also learn that American culturism has tended to be more persuasive than punitive. Lastly, this chapter will acquaint us with the wide varieties of culturist techniques used by our populace to keep our country safe and strong.
When we use
culturism as a tool of analysis, many disparate and contradictory tendencies in
The Puritans were culturists
The Puritans did
not come to this country for unqualified religious freedom. That misunderstanding results from a poor
grasp of the basics of history and from a conflation of modern and historical
concepts of freedom. People who think
that the Puritans were purely dedicated to religious and social freedom have
forgotten about the
The Puritans were
strict because they were on a mission from God to create and maintain a “City
Upon a Hill.” They were determined to serve as a model for
the rest of the world by providing a highly visible example of excellence. Herein lay the roots of
As staunch culturists, Puritans realized that the upholding of their brand of civilization could not be achieved via giving people license to follow whatever inclinations they had. Like all cultures, theirs was based on presuppositions. Theirs Christian identity envisioned men as being tempted in a fallen world. Puritans thought excellence required self-control, and that self-control required communal control. Towards these ends Puritans utilized extreme measures. Culturist considerations justified, for example, that the penalties for adultery could include death, whippings, fines, branding, being made to wear the letter ‘A’ and standing in the gallows with a rope around one’s neck. Puritans were not squeamish about the methods they used to keep their culture strong. We moderns can agree that their methods were too harsh.
However, Puritans would, in turn, remind us that insistence that all behavior is purely private is also extreme. What we consider purely private matters today often have public implications. For example, Puritans would acknowledge that our choice of mates is a private matter. But once you decide to marry, your decisions have ramifications for your spouse and offspring. Your decisions are no longer purely private. Puritans realized that your family’s affairs also influence the wider community. Puritan matrimonial aspirants had to publish their marriage contracts. Marriage was a public act. It would create a building block for the community. You and your family were not separate from society; families were seen to be the stuff of which society is made.
If a husband did not provide, the Puritan community could divorce and punish him. Children who were not being given proper education and guidance were taken away from their parents. This was seen as a responsibility of the community. “For the Puritan mind it was not possible to segregate a man’s spiritual life from his communal life.” Indeed, if a person dresses in provocative clothes, gambles or leaves his wife and children behind it affects the strength and nature of the community. Apart from watching television, few activities can truly be said to only involve the individual. Even watching television has public import if you have not first taken care of your responsibilities. Though we should not return to Puritanical levels of strictness, acknowledging that private actions affect society helps us to understand culturist values.
We tend to consider all infringements on the individual to be imbued with punitive, irrational and despotic motivations. But such culturist acts were intended for the betterment of individuals as well as the community. Puritans understood that people are not angels and do not always do healthy things with their liberties. Furthermore, they understood that it is harder to be a good Christian in a community filled with sinners than to be a good Christian when surrounded by saints. Modern non-Christian culturists can appreciate the parallel contention that children surrounded by crimes and drugs are more likely to fall prey to criminal lifestyles. Enforcing community standards was always seen as being better for the individuals involved. The Puritans’ culturism was meant to be punitive. It was intended as a classic “win – win” situation.
Some of the culturist solutions and values the Puritans established still receive public approval. With honest reflection most people appreciate that many individual choices have public results. Approval of the practice, started by the Puritans of removing children from abusive homes reflects an understanding that communities should protect individuals. Being overly dogmatic about the division of the private sphere from public control can be dangerous. People that cannot resist driving while drunk need to be controlled. Their public actions can destroy their lives and other’s. The culture has a moral obligation to restrain drunk drivers. But these protections need not negate all the prerogatives of individuals. Culturism seeks to guide, not replace individualism.
Puritans were, despite appearances to the contrary, strong believers in liberty. They would defend your liberty to engage in any type of healthy activity you desired. You could be a doctor or a blacksmith. You would be encouraged to ether help the poor or be an artist. They would affirm, though, that your very ability to engage in these endeavors depends upon responsible behavior. Few personal inclinations could be pursued without health, financial independence and being able to call upon a social network that will supports your endeavors. Community support can help you realize your dreams and, ultimately, maintain independence from others. Communities underlay all successful attempts by individuals to fulfill their potential. Healthy endeavors strengthen your ability and the community’s ability to help you achieve your potential.
“liberty” and “license” have had very distinct and important meanings for much
of our history.
Puritans prohibited license because it robs you of your liberty. True liberty requires control over your bodily and fleshly desires. One will not master any craft or achieve success without restraining his passions. Drinking, gambling and having mistresses were not seen as real examples of liberty. These were seen as forms of slavery to passions. They lead to illness, indebtedness, distrust. Engaging in this sort of behavior for twenty years would greatly limit the choices available to you. Someone who spends their high school years indulging their passions will have far fewer options upon graduating than one who disciplines themselves. Laws against heroin use are not meant to curb people’s freedom, but allow them to avoid the trap of addiction. Cigarette laws provide a more subtle example that reflects our Puritan legacy. Puritans held, in a broader sense, that someone controlled by immediate passions was deemed a slave to them. A person’s crippling inability to control themselves could lead to actually lead to financial slavery. Such were the wages of license. Being able to control one’s passions and make long term plans were central to the Puritans’ definition of liberty.
Ultimately, the Puritans were not only interested in the practical communal or individual benefits of culturism. They wanted be a beacon light to illuminate the backwards Europeans. Thus the Puritan’s missionary zeal was fueled by a disdain for what the rest of the world and history had to offer. But they did not work purely out of disgust. They were inspired by the vision of providing a beautiful vision of the potential of man to posterity. Being an inspiring example of cultural perfection was a dominant aspect of their self-image. But Puritan efforts did not rest on pride. Rather than arrogance, this realization motivated close scrutiny of their personal imperfections. They realized that communal success would not magically result from self-satisfied individuals indulging in sloth. In Puritan culturism, individual excellence was based on seeing continuity between individual, communal and world salvation. The Puritans were altruists who were willing to work hard because they believed in the potential of mankind.
The Puritans considered service to the human race to be a way to both better the world and achieve their spiritual worth. Thinking selfishly, we may protest that we do not wish to be a part of a community of saints. Our vision of ourselves as independent individuals with individual rights means that we do not have to consider a social or global perspective. We need never consider the interests of our society. Puritans knew they had no choice. They knew their culture was in danger. Starving was not that far behind them and lawless frontiers surrounded them. The success that they helped inaugurate makes it possible for us to not think so much about our dependence on a healthy economy. We can take its existence for granted. As we prize our freedom to have both liberties and licensees, we should not embrace the extreme culturism the Puritans adopted. We would do well to realize that we cannot have liberty based on license individually or collectively.
The Puritans deserve to be regarded as our culturist role models
Puritans deserve to be regarded as our cultural founding fathers. “Puritanism provided the moral and religious background of fully 75 percent of the people who declared their independence in 1776”; possibly “85 or 90 percent would not be an extravagant estimate.” Ben Franklin noted in his autobiography that the two most commonly owned and read books during his time were the Bible and John Bunyan’s Puritan classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress. The Puritans’ influence on our formation is undeniable.
Our national penchant for self-scrutiny in
moral terms provides evidence of the longevity of the Puritan strain in our
Puritans wrote voluminous diaries searching for imperfections that might lurk in their characters. When they found imperfections they did not take them lightly. Puritans were full of anticipatory self-damnation for sins not yet committed in the name of their angry and unforgiving God. They spent half their lives looking for imperfections, half the time making up for them. Our positive characteristic of freely criticizing our society and government reflects this Puritan trait. The Puritans were at war with their consciences. Ironically and instructively, their self-berating values resulted in their being generally excellent people. Our penchant for criticizing our government on moral terms has resulted in their being relatively benign and corruption free.
support American’s traditionally seeing the Puritans as central to our
self-image as opposed to what were the racist and less educated Southern
regions of our country. Much of what makes
Puritans can also be legitimately claimed as culturist heroes on practical
grounds. They are inspirational. The Puritans built Harvard seventeen years
after they arrived in American and that half of their population starved to
death on a beach. They created the
Mayflower compact and thus deepen our identification with democracy. Taking pride in our having a meritocracy due
to their healthy obsession with rooting out corruption will serve us well in
Political science and culturism
use American history as a guarantee against all community standards and duty
nearly always do so based upon
The justly famous
phrase from the Declaration of Independence referenced above is the only one in
the document that can be construed as referring to individuals. This document’s independence and liberty
being for the group is bolstered by there being twenty-two references to bodies
of men in the plural.
Our Constitution’s preamble contains the first official words of our new government. The first three words are “We the people.” It does not say, “We the individuals.” The preamble goes on to say that the government is to “promote the general welfare.” That is a culturist goal. It seeks to “secure the blessings of liberty, to ourselves and our posterity.” Securing these things requires a collective effort. This goal necessitates our unifying our disparate political fates into one government. Our Constitution was made because we cannot have liberty when separated. The Constitution was not created to affirm that the individual is an inviolable sovereign.
The Founders did not
spend much time debating the Bill of Rights because they did not think it
applied to the Federal government.
Everyone knew that regulating the personal and private concerns of
individuals was the job and responsibility of the states. Alexis De Tocqueville said as late as 1835
that in the
Franklin, Jefferson and the other Founders had a healthy understanding of the
impact culture has on the body politic.
The whole concept of checks and balances was created due to an
understanding that a lack of public spiritedness was the one thing that was
most likely to undermine their new principle of a free government. Famously,
must pay an inordinate amount of attention to political science. This is because
This extended treatment of the Founder’s views on the legitimacy of the needs of the community was made necessary by the ideological extremity of our age. Requests for restraint on the part of individuals are too often met with belligerent and indignant legal defiance. These emotional and legal protestations are often based on the misconception that the Founders thought our country’s strength lay in the protection of licentious abandon without regard for the impact on the public. Such interpretations are new and inaccurate. The Founding Fathers created a government. They were not anarchists.
Manifest destiny, the
The lessons of the Texan war for independence and the subsequent Mexican- American War are crucial to informed culturism. These lessons were also taken to be common sense by earlier generations. They were common sense to the Mexican government. They are common sense in every other culture in the world. Dangerously, we have forgotten the lessons exemplified by these battles. We need to learn these lessons again. To do so we must first address a bit of historical revisionism currently budding.
Many people in the
Unlike any other
population, Mexicans can, and do, claim that our country should not only be
divided in opinion, but in fact. This
belief cannot result in anything but a grudge, hostility, and
divisiveness. It brings resentment from
those on both sides of the claim. We
must teach and understand the weakness of this claim if we are to have relative
harmony. The claim that we stole the
understand this issue we need to ask what “owning” property means.
Demographics are a
crucial part of ownership. People were
not eager to go out into these unprotected hinterlands full of Indian warriors
without protection. The Mexican
government knew that saying you own an area you have never settled and is
inhabited by a foreign and hostile population due to a piece of paper
constitutes an exercise in self-delusion.
As a result,
poured in and quickly overwhelmed the tiny local Mexican population. By 1830 there were approximately 25,000
Americans residing in
settler’s culture not matching the legal borders caused strain due to
differences in “economics, religious, political and social ideas.” The settlers expected a say in their
government (not a Mexican tradition), public schools to be built (not a Mexican
tradition), freedom of religion (not a Mexican tradition), laws in English (not
a Mexican tradition) and protection from Indians (the Mexican Army could not
control this area). Telling a people
with a foreign culture, institutions and language that you own their land is
futile. Realizing the gamble was going
officially won the technical sovereignty that had been theirs all along in
1836. Much of the rest of the previously
Mexican “owned” area was ceded following the Mexican-American war of 1845. Herein lays the claim that it was
“stolen.” But this claim has two major
weaknesses. First of all, it was largely
Indian land. Secondly,
epoch contains many important culturist lessons. Cultural demographics have enormous political
implications. Santa Anna invited in
Anglo settlers because knew that demographics determine ownership. He showed less savvy in his understanding of
the cultural importance of demographics.
The American settler experience showed that changing your cultural
identity does not result from a legal procedure. This episode also shows us that it is hard to
fill territory with a foreign population and still control it. That war and secession can result from such
attempts is the lasting lesson of the
Immigration and traditional culturist conundrums
Nativism was the
first American mass movement based on fear of immigrants. Particularly, they carried forth what had
been a longstanding Puritan fear of Catholics.
Puritans viewed their fiercely guarded right to follow their consciences
as being special via comparing it to the Pope’s claim to dictate Catholic
doctrine and conscience. Nativists saw
allegiance of the monarchical structure of the Catholic Church as incompatible
with a belief in democracy. In their era
the Pope ruled one-third of
effectiveness requires that it recognize facts as well as ideals. Wherever Catholics started colonies the
result has been oligarchy, low levels of education, corruption, poverty and a
poor distribution of wealth.
manifestation of the Nativist movement was the Know-Nothing political
party. On the basis for maintaining the
cultural integrity of our democracy, the Know-Nothings elected six State
governors, secured control of nine State legislatures, and had forty-three
representatives in Congress. Their
presidential candidate, Millard Fillmore, got almost 25 percent of the vote in
1856. Catholic participation in the Civil War
quelled all fears of their disloyalty and ended the Know-Nothings. These nativist political parties cannot be
sometimes racism and culturism overlap and thus become hard to
distinguish. The 1882 the Chinese
Exclusion Act suspended all immigration from
center stage when making such distinctions.
To appreciate them we need to look at historical setting of Chae Chan
So was the Supreme
Court’s upholding the Chinese Exclusion Act case unenlightened racism or
rational culturism? From one very valid
perspective it is wrong to kowtow to the tendencies of mobs when making
laws. Abstract morality arguments would
definitely argue against acknowledging such behavior. Then again, one has a cultural duty to keep
one’s civilization from chaos. During
the 1992 Rodney King riots in
fueled irrational civil chaos and disorder in each of these cases. The Supreme Court was certainly neither
ignorant of the demands of abstract morality nor the often brutal nature of
mankind. Accepting that people will riot
for irrational reasons, the Court had to decide if our domestic civil order was
more important than the rights of foreign people to immigrate into our
country. For most countries that is an
easy call. Does a universal right to be
excluding Chinese on the basis of race would be groundless. Chinese immigration no longer results in race
riots. Culturism’s being able to
vindicate one sort of policy in one era and exclude it in another reflects its
not being based on the existence of universal absolutes. Historical situations, international
treaties, ideological concerns, general social context and the effects on
individuals must always be considered when making policy. Trying to end discussions by invoking
“Culturism” or “Racism” as abstract absolutes will lead to inappropriate social
policy. In the absence of compelling
reasons, Western culturist values should not invoke any ethnic
information. To the extent possible,
race should be ignored when making policy judgments in the
immigration has been met with optimistic and positive culturism. “The
Americanization Movement” provides a positive culturist role example worth
emulating. Americanization was an
enormously popular movement that swept
Americanization movement protected the immigrant for culturist purposes. Between labor strikes, political radicalism,
and the oncoming First World War, Americanizers found reason to worry about the
Liberal Americans rightfully take pride in the Progressive movement being amongst their forerunners. Many who feel akin to them do not know about or take pride in the Progressive movement’s role in Americanization. They would do well to remember the Progressive Platform of 1912 proposed Federal action “to promote their assimilation, education and advancement.” Americanization provides a positive model of tolerance for the progressive minded to emulate. As World War One approached people passed discriminatory laws against immigrants and the calls for restrictive immigration laws got tougher. Some have noted that this negative agenda seeped into the Americanization movement. To some degree it did. But Americanizers still worked against restriction. The model was always one of opportunity. Americanizers always inveighed against discriminatory measures and injustice aimed at immigrants. By and large, in an atmosphere of increasing intolerance, the Americanizers kept their faith in the ability of all immigrants to become positive American citizens.
The Americanization Movement was one of the largest and longest lived public crusades ever. Possibly no other civic movement involved so many parts of the American society. The Y.M.C.A., industries, private citizens of all stripes, immigrants themselves, Federal and State governments as well as chambers of commerce, schools, myriads of organizations, presidents and social workers contributed. Events happened in churches, conferences, in print and in community centers. While some American culturist movements had been popular and others top-down; the Americanization movement provides the most widely accepted American culturist movement ever. The Americanization movement attests to vibrant history of positive and vibrant culturist civic involvement. Not only can those of the progressive ilk, but all Americans take pride in this emanation of our culturist heritage.
Sometimes culturism gives you clear cut answers. The 1882 Federal immigration policy restricted “lunatics, convicts, idiots, prostitutes, and person likely to become public charges.” In the following decades sufferers from tuberculosis and illiterates were added to the list of undesirables. Those who hold universalistic, absolute ethics might argue that importing all the sick peoples of the world into your country s the right thing to do. Culturism would not that such a stance is not universal, extremely eccentric, not (as these acts confirm) of our tradition, and likely unsupportable. On the other hand, not being about universal truths, if the idiots had family here we might want to allow them to enter our country. Maintaining our tradition of providing asylum for those facing oppression might dictate accepting a few people who are likely to become public charges. While these acts offer a little controversy, the 1924 Immigration Act warrants consideration.
Immigration Act set quotas for immigrants from each nation based on the ethnic
population proportions that had existed in 1890. Had this been purely racist, culturists would
reject it a priori. Were race a main
factor we would have to look at it with extreme skepticism. While some proponents of this Act were
textbook racists, we have to remember that this Act mainly targeted
whites. It was an attempt to exclude
Southern and Eastern Europeans. It is
possible to see this exclusion of certain types of “whites” as largely
culturist. Many Italian immigrants
“brought with them a hostile attitude toward the law” from
The right of a nation to control immigration in its own interest is
recognized worldwide. But at what point
a country with a welcoming tradition, like
Popular moral culturism
First and Second Great Awakenings were huge religious movements that swept
Standing six feet
two inches with blond hair and ice-blue eyes, Charles Grandison Finney was one
of the best known preachers of the Second Great Awakening. In an amazing show of culturist insight
concerning the connection between the personal, the social and the economic,
merchants and manufacturers called on his services to try to help combat
lawlessness and raucous behavior in the East Coast boomtown of
The Second Great
Awakening greatly increased interest in pre-existing organizations called
“benevolence societies.” These
organizations shared a common agenda with those who flocked to the Great
Awakening rallies. They also shared
Where looting and “mobbism” by gangs of young roughnecks were a problem this generation of culturists set up Sunday Schools. By 1836 there may have been 120,000 children in Sunday school because of the Sunday School Union. Between 1850 and 1860 the Tract Society sold and gave away between nine and ten million tracts a year. The American Bible Society had handed out 6 million Bibles by 1849. The Home Missionary Society assisted an annual average of 1000 ministers. At he end of the Civil War, Jay Cooke, the head of the Sunday School Union and railroad financier, gave money to start churches along the Northern Pacific line, for he was sure religion meant social stability and greater profit. These benevolence societies were huge and furthered the religious basis of our culturist heritage.
The Second Great Awakening and benevolence societies reveal the depth and breadth of American culturism. They were complimented Catherine Beecher’s army of women that went west to civilize the frontier via teaching school. These frontier culturists were not a matter of a single government agency trying to root out corruption. The Great Awakenings and the benevolence societies, the teaching missionaries were (as the Americanization movement) popular and widespread results of an active volunteering citizenry. Like their Puritan forefathers this generation of reformers knew that people often forget the difference between liberty and license. They continued our perennial and necessary culturists focus on the threats that spiritual and cultural corruption represent to self-government and our uniquely free society.
These popular moral crusaders led us to our apocalyptic confrontation over slavery. But these cultural reform movements were not out of energy. Before the Civil War ended northern teachers started pouring into the south to teach the soon to be free ex-slaves. Many know that this happened as a result of the federal government’s Freedmen’s Bureau. But most of the thousands of white female teachers were moralistic missionaries sent by grassroots organizations. These women went to teach morals as well as literacy. They wanted to share the outlook that said diligence was the key to uplift. The Federal government’s efforts did successfully implement social changes in the South. Unfortunately, they did not improve the white southern culture enough for the improvements to last. The message of uplift was not enough in this case. But for our purposes it is important to note that these women were called “culturalists.” They provide definite proof of the benevolence and existence of culturism in our history.
culturism continued its crusades for temperance, morality and literacy another
large threat to our moral order rose on the horizon. The emerging industrial revolution was
spawning class exploitation, child labor, massive immigration and environmental
degradation. These did not sit well with
our self-image as a godly new world that was to set an example for others to
follow. It violated our American
exceptionalism premise that our country would suffer from the same ills as
The Progressives differed from their predecessors in they spent more of their energies on regulating society from the top-down than the bottom-up. They took to trust busting, regulating labor exploitation, education, women suffrage, health and safety concerns, environmental issues and Prohibition by getting laws passed. They understood that the massive size of the new industrial enterprises meant that they could not be regulated by moral persuasion alone. Corporations have, famously, neither a body to kick nor a soul to damn. Culturist regulations were needed to keep our society decent, humane and free. Progressive efforts were also distinguished from the culturist efforts that preceded them by reliance upon science and experts. But beneath their dependence on experts and science lay the very Protestant agenda of rooting out corruption.
Progressives taking a more top-down approach than their predecessors did not mean that they were unconcerned with the impact of individual virtue on society. Progressivism, contrary to popular belief, reached its peak of popularity during an era of wealth. They were not only concerned with economic deprivation. They recognized that the moral underpinnings of our character were based upon the individual needing to overcome his evil tendencies to gain wealth and sustenance. Wealth undermines the self-control necessary to sustaining personal and social liberty. Progressives often came from old money. They worried that the newly rich would create a plutocracy of greed that would not understand the wealthy people’s role as exemplars of virtue in creating a sustainable society. Culturism is not just about the morality of the poor and it is not just important in times of poverty.
Other example of the deep grass root culturist understanding of the progressives comes from their community organizing. People have battled over what defines so broad a movement. One source of the confusion comes from their deviating from the traditional grass roots nature of our culturism. But they branched out more than they left that tradition. Progressives created an estimated 400 settlement houses. These were homes where immigrants could come and get help, comfort, education and affiliation. They generally were set up to help struggling immigrants adjust to their new cultural surroundings. Progressives also created social organizations to combat the isolating nature of the industrial age. Since youth, in particular, did not have any place to go they created such organizations as The Boy Scouts, Y.M.C.A. / Y.W.C.A. and the P.T.A. are just a few positive remnants of their grassroots activities. Their community building and interaction show that they did not abandon our long tradition of door to door culturism.
After the First World War was over
progressivism only had one last huge culturist victory: Prohibition. Those who say that
Culturism and Schools
All societies have to teach their young about the cultures they will live in. The religions, morals and rituals of tribes were taught via apprenticeship and initiation ceremonies. Without this indoctrination, the tribes’ cultural identity and existence would not last in to the next generation. Schools meet this cultural imperative for the modern world. It has been suggested that the fervor with which Puritans educated their youth was fueled by their distance from civilization. For most of our history schools were a local institution spontaneously created by settlers on a voluntary basis. This fact reflects the Protestant propensity for education, but also reflects the natural socializing function of schools. In time schools have been justified with appeals from everything to republicanism, the need to communicate with God and personal transformation to the need for voters to be educated, civilizing non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants and furthering hygiene. But through out it all schools have been concerned with cultural health.
Horace Mann is known to many as the ‘Father of our Public School System.” Few know that he took a demotion from the Secretary of the Massachusetts Senate to accept the Secretaryship of the newly formed Massachusetts State Board of Education. He deliberated for a month before taking the job. The factor that convinced him that he had to take the position was an anti-Catholic riot.  He saw the school system as a mechanism by which our multicultural society could be made more harmonious. He famously considered schools the “balance wheel of society.”
distinctive virtues of the majority culture has been the default method of
socializing since public education began.
Textbooks used in
This also meant that Protestantism was the basis of curriculum.  When, in the mid-1800’s our schools started becoming public this meant that public dollars funded Protestant education. Catholics resented this fact and the famous Catholic schools began. The fact that Catholics had to leave them to maintain their distinctiveness has been used to show that public schools are discriminatory agents of cultural imperialism. It can also be used to show that diversity interferes with common purpose and national projects. At any rate, both readings confirm that cultures naturally seek to advocate and perpetuate their distinction modes of life via schools.
The Progressive educators brought culturism to a whole new level. They realized that they lived in a time when socializing youth to carry on traditions was not enough. They sought to adjust the young to the new constantly changing world of industrial society. John Dewey, the leading Progressive educational theorist, is famous for individualizing instruction. Thus he was instrumental in formulating the focus on individual achievement and actualization that now dominates schools. But he did so to ensure a “well-balanced, happy and prosperous society.” in order that “civilization can go on.” Dewey was not trying to liberate the individual at the expense of society. He just realized that success in a progressive society requires that individuals need to be able to take initiative and adapt. The Progressive focus on individuals was designed to facilitate their adjustment to society.
When the Great
Depression hit education was one of the main tools used to stabilize the
country. In the spring of 1935 nearly
five million youth were out of school and unemployed. The National Youth Administration (NYA) was
set up to help them find a place in society.
Showing a great sensitivity to the dynamics of culturism, Franklin
Delano Roosevelt decentralized the program.
Money flowed from the government, but the projects the NYA undertook
were decided upon locally. The youth
seeing that their work helped the local community endeared them to their
communities and their communities to them.
Showing even more culturist wisdom,
Another wonderful demonstration of schools being a wonderful culturist tool occurred during World War II. As the war drug on the need for soldiers was such that we had to start recruiting illiterate men. The Army set up what had to be the world’s largest successful intensive literacy program ever: the Special Training Units (STUs). Nearly a quarter million men gained literacy via this program during the two and a half years that it existed. Being both a boon to the individuals involved and a necessity to our nation’s survival, the STUs provide a stellar example of a culturist win-win. We need only regret that we had to wait for war to recognize this redemptive culturist power. Schools could also be used in ad hoc ways to remediate needs before emergencies arise.
The G.I. Bill, it is widely known, helped ease the transition back into the economy for soldiers returning from World War II. It is also widely known that this was a culturist triumph. It set the foundation for our post-war boom that solidified our status as a superpower. Less concretized in our collective memory is the fact that when the Sputnik satellite was launched by the Russians we responded with a culturist emphasis on the sciences in the schools. Duty to self and duty to nation dovetailed and augmented the foundation for our continued economic boom the G.I. Bill had laid. Since our earliest years we have used schools to the traditional end of stabilizing and perpetuating our culture. These goals have also been met by ad hoc educational programs in frontiers, technological transformations, economic collapse, war and peace. Schools are an especially invaluable culturist tool for dynamic republics.
Culturism during wartime
The extreme situation of war highlights vulnerabilities. Wars threaten our very existence. They often cause panic and result in emphasizing national unity. Things that would violate our basic cultural traditions and tenets become acceptable – if not necessary – at such times. Individualism fades in significance and culturist needs takes precedence. In a normally free society the contrast between lax peacetime traditions and constrictive wartime practices cannot be missed. The contrast shows the connection between culturism and security at its starkest. Knowing about the historic record of our society during war provides a necessary guide for successfully navigating such extremes.
has been used as a pretext for abusing our traditional liberties. The Federalists used the fear of subversion
by radicals who sympathized with the French Revolution to pass the Alien and
Sedition Acts of 1798. These gave
Federal prosecutors the power to apprehend, remove and restrain “all natives,
citizens, denizens, or subjects of the hostile nation or government” above
fourteen years of age and not naturalized.
But the Federalists only used the act to attack their critics. There was no danger. This law being passed shows that degrading
our freedoms in the name of national security is not something to which
Restrictions of freedom in the name of national security are not, however always unjustified. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and locked up agitators, draft disrupters, deserters and demonstrators during the Civil War. As is their intention, people who foment disruption and dissention during a war compromise its effective prosecution. Losing the Civil War would have greatly impacted our future. These points may appear too obvious to merit mention. But acceptance of these assertions is necessary to claim that during war individual liberties must sometimes be compromised. This does not mean that small wars excuse an abandonment of traditional liberties. The seriousness of the threat to our sovereignty must be weighed in making such decision. Basic rights are not absolute. Historical circumstance constitutes a traditional and legitimate qualifier.
At the start of
World War I, one - third of the foreign born were from enemy countries. As
In July of 1915, a U.S. Secret Service agent uncovered German - American plots to bomb an American Steamship and disrupt our munitions production. Fear of such acts inspired the Espionage Act. This law outlawed any “disloyal” or “scurrilous” talk about our form of government. During the War thousands of Germans were interred for charges as light as uttering pro-German statements in public. Charles Schenck’s case was the first the Supreme Court heard concerning the legality of this Act. Schenck had mailed some anti-draft pamphlets to draftees and others. Off the record Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said that the “squashy sentimentality” of those who did not realize a man’s destiny was to fight made him “puke.” Holmes believed that society had a right to defend itself. In his opinion, upholding the Espionage Act he said that speech could be restricted when there was a “clear and present danger.”
Was the distribution of anti-war literature during the war dangerous? We can now, the war long won, say that it was harmless. We must realize, however, that we can never know if the unfolding of this unpopular war would have been different had thousands of enemy sympathizers and agitators against the draft been free to spread dissent as it was being waged. Making value judgments without knowing how things might have turned out without the action being considered taking place can be labeled the “Unknown Futures Fallacy”. This fallacy tends to make us overly sanguine. In hindsight the outcome always seems ensured. Was it better to be safe or sorry at the time? The Court made it very clear that freedom of speech is situational, not absolute. Justice Holmes left it for us to do the hard work of figuring out when that speech presents a clear and present danger.
Those who disparage all forms of wartime culturism often point to the racist nature of the internment of Japanese and Americans of Japanese descent during World War II. The memory of our tendency towards irrational racism during war needs to be reiterated, they tell us, to ensure that such a thing never happens again. On this basis, Americans of Japanese descent have demanded and received multiple government apologies and repeated financial awards based on the unwarranted and racist nature of the internment. This rendition of history serves as a weapon against all who would talk of wartime culturist necessities in a realistic manner.
Our having removed British Citizens from the East Coast cities and interred them during the War of 1812 shows that such acts are an American tradition and not necessarily racist. Was the fact that it had been Americans of German descent that plotted to sabotage our steamships and munitions during World War I coincidental? Is it reasonable to suspect that recent immigrants might have more of an attachment to their particular homeland than random Americans? If a tendency to care about your country of origin is natural to all immigrant groups, regardless of race, the internment decisions can be said to reflect cultural, rather than racial, tendencies. If sentiments have an impact on actions, the relocations during war may have been rational.
During the Second World War we kept to our
tradition. Germans, Italians,
Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgarians and Japanese and first-generation American
citizens were expelled, arrested and interred.
We now know that Japanese had spy rings and tens of thousands of
loyalists on the West coast. Divulging the number and nature of our ships, let
alone sabotage would have hurt our war effort.
In the relocation camps many occupants formed pro-Japanese military
organizations, terrorized pro-American detainees and publicly prayed for
Those who would
decry all efforts at curtailing speech also invoke McCarthyism. McCarthyism also happened during war
time. If you add up American fatalities
Those who now say
that we would have won the Cold War without clearing the State Department and
Defense departments should keep the Unknown Futures Fallacy in mind. McCarthyism often gets conflated with the
actions of the actions of the House Un-American Activities Committee’s
investigation into the
During war the relationship of rights to freedom becomes starkly. Cultures cannot survive with absolute license. Violations of speech for safety tend to be popular. Zoot Suiters exercising their right to wear flamboyant clothes while material was being rationed in order that we might fight a war against two fascist governments reveals an astounding ignorance of culturism. We all need to recognize that guarantees of rights in a country that has lost a war do not exist. While the government was within its rights to enforce rationing of items necessary to the prosecution of the war, having dress codes or condoning riots would unnecessarily violate our traditions. It would, again, be hard to sustain that people wearing flashy clothes during a time of war threatened our security.
Just as attacking groups without cause or due process is wrong, tarring all attempts to control individuals in the public good as “racist” is wrong. During wartime individualism must allow considerations of culturism. During wartime discriminatory culturism sometimes becomes justifiable. Those who say our victory was obviously assured regardless of whether we relocated Japanese and Americans of Japanese descent from sensitive military areas are falling victim to the Unknown Futures Fallacy. War is a clear and present danger. Still, we must be leery of the tendency to be overly heavy-handed during wartime. As usual, history can be our guide to what is and is not acceptable. We should take heart from the fact that violations of rights have been successfully rescinded at the conclusion of wars. Adhering to absolutist standards of individualism during wartime could definitely present a “clear and present” danger to all of us.
Culturism is not just for wartime, however, and it is not just practiced in the face of clear and present physical dangers. We have traditionally believed that the greatest threats to liberty come from cultural corruption. A wide variety of means have been utilized to keep license from compromising our liberty. Legislation, political groundswells, education, celebrations, the Civil War, speeches, censorship and religious appeals have all played their part in sustaining our free and prosperous nation. Extreme circumstances, such as war, often cause fear. Such situations can cause panic and rash judgments. But our traditional culturism has been overwhelmingly positive. Persuasion has been used more often than coercion. Outside of times of war, coercion has shown itself to be much less practical than persuasion. Just because not all dangers are clear and present, does not mean that we should not be on the lookout for trends that portend declension. Our vibrant tradition of culturism provides our best hope for safely steering our country to a positive future.
Culturism in the world today
Our sense of
nation is special. The
are not racist. They are however very
culturist. Muslim countries are for
Muslims. A Muslim woman in
But the question is, “Do these societies have the right to define themselves?” Culturism is premised on the idea that cultures do have the right to define themselves. Up until recently, it would have been obvious to Americans that we have that right. The current fad dictates, however, that individual rights are a universal aspiration that precludes and distinctions being made on any criteria between anybody. Individual rights advocates frame all attempts and forging unity an unprecedented outrage. Culturism is designed to temper that extremist brand of individualism. In a world where our competitors have control of their cultures, our dedication to anarchy gives us a disadvantage. Nations define themselves and we have done so via connection with culture, histories, ideals and destinies. Maintaining our extremely high amount of individualism based on creed will ultimately require that we return to our historically normal levels of appreciation for our cultural underpinnings.
This survey of culturism in world history will make us better culturists. Basing much of our sense of culturism on race, like Asian countries, would be suicidal and stupid in a multiethnic country such as ours. Adopting the theocratic culturism of the Muslim world would run counter to our progressive nature, core belief systems and historical commitments. We are hurt by our cultural tendency towards disdain for the past and things outside of our borders. American exceptionalism has its costs. A quick study of world history will help us to understand what that means. Protecting our progressive nature requires that we are not totally blind to the longstanding culturist dynamics.
Birth of deep cultural roots
Cultures are not created easily. They evolve over long histories and through many battles. Great statesmen have to arrive and become luminaries in the cultural coin. Artists have to set the common tone of the people. Battles have to be fought for the culture to have a ground upon which to thrive. Philosophers must hammer these histories into moral codes. A sense of cultural honor has to take shape. Legends and rites must spread. Institutions must be created to perpetuate these elements of culture. This is not a process that can be willed in a generation.
World Cultures all start with stories. Islam has the Koran. Western Civilization started with the Homeric
epics. Our modern universalistic
traditions have their roots in the New Testament of the Bible. Hinduism has its Vedas.
Culturist history’s biggest lesson is that history matters. History creates peoples. The virtues and morals of these stories define a people. History sets the agendas for which they will die and so grounds their continuance. It is not a coincidence that all great civilizations have an intimate attachment to their own story as well as their own side of the story. Friedrich Nietzsche noted that objectively knowing your culture is one of many can undermine your attachment to your particular culture. But, rather than detachment, a deeper understanding of the relationship of founding myths and history to cultures fosters a deeper appreciation and attachment.
Modernism started with science and started the disintegration of our attachment to history. Nietzsche’s denigration of myth was borne of his applying scientific criteria to history. Science prides itself on its being able to distinguish ‘fact’ from ‘fiction.’ Science prizes that which is new. Old science books are considered out of date and of little value. At the same time science has strengthened our belief in universal principles. It has thereby loosened our attachment to the particular (our particular history being the pertinent example for this argument). This is a distortion of serious consequence to our sense of culturism. And, since we are so powerful, it is a distortion of serious consequence to the world. It would be a shame if our infatuation with science and its promised future eclipsed our love affair with our history.
The Western story starts with Achilles. He was our main warrior in the battle between the Greeks and the Trojans. But Achilles’ honor was slighted by a leader. He moped around wondering what the use of fighting for glory was when it was so easily taken away. When his best friend, and probably lover, was slain by the enemy he rejoined the battle with ferocity. His re-engagement and wrath spelled doom for the enemy Trojans. Significantly, Achilles knew he was going to die in this effort. He had been told that he could either live a long boring life or go out in a blaze of glory avenging his companion’s death. He chose the latter.
individual glory being gotten via struggle as a virtue for the Greeks. To this day Westerners dream of
distinguishing fame born of valiant efforts.
To the extent that you dream of fame and glory Achilles breathes. Artistic, political and athletic competition
permeated Greek life. Each having a shot
at glory, instead of just a King, was the basis upon which they founded the
world’s first democracy. It was the
awareness of their culture’s special dedication to their individual
explorations and identity that motivated them in their epic battles against the
great tyrannical theocracy of
When Athenian democracy killed Plato’s teacher Socrates, he decided that there was a truth beyond that of honor and glory so revered by his culture. Plato used literature to vindicate his teacher and to replace the values that had caused the mob to kill him. Socrates’ had followed ethics into a world where there were truths that were higher than those of the State. Socrates was the fallen Achilles in the battle for higher ethics. This development bolstered the right of the individual to question the State on higher grounds. Socrates died for our right to think, and the questioning and probing has characterized all of our progressive eras. Unfortunately his love of universals still blinds us to the fundamental reality of diversity to this day.
The collapse of
This traditional definition of the renaissance being based on a recovery of our historical memory has encodes important lessons. Without knowledge of a changing history and our past values we were stuck in a tyranny borne of amnesia. Knowing about arrangements, particularly from one’s own history, other than the one you currently know increases your flexibility. When we were sure that meekness had always been the only source of glory we were stuck. When we discovered that conquering and questioning had been used in the service of finding fame, new venues for action were opened. Collectively, understanding the variety in your past provides flexibility. In this case, it reconnected us with our love of glory.
Science has, in this regard, resulted in another sort of Dark Ages of sorts. Our past has become foreign to us. Science’s constantly bearing fruit has exaggerated our Christian tendency to locate our glory in the future. Early Western scientific practitioners were ruthlessly hounded and killed by the Catholic Church. This has caused a further disenchantment with all that is old. Thus our story and its relevance have been nearly extinguished from our conscious memory. Thus, as history is our guide, we should be aware that stability and flexibility might suffer as a result of this amnesia. Indeed our unquestioning individualism and incredulity at culturist values is a prime example of the inflexibility borne of amnesia.
Another culturist lesson to be learned from this retelling of the story of Western Civilization is how pervasive nature and depth of cultural tendencies. Though very few folks can tell you much about Achilles we still embody his fighting spirit that has been our constant secret to dominance. Individual glory and war against our destinies populate our advertisements. We are living Achilles’ dream. The Western world is unique in its constant struggle against the status quo. Status quo is a pejorative for us. As the Trojan’s chief warrior Hector found out, you can run from Achilles, but you will never get away.
Individual conscience is something we prize. This clearly shows our debt to history. Both Socrates and Jesus strove against the arbitrary nature of temporal powers. We, traditionally, have believed in a higher truth that transcends time and space. Socrates thought you could find this through questioning everything, Jesus thought you could get it by intuitively tuning into the higher truths emanating from God. Neither saw authority as being grounded in this world. These strains are so deep in us that only when confronted with radically different traditions do we realize that this is specific to our culture. Our tendency to believe in logically derived, self-evident universal truths is, paradoxically, very Western.
Herein lies another culturist lesson: if you do not delve deeply into your cultural heritage you are not likely to understand it very well. Our current version of our progenitor’s dismissal of authority has left us thinking that no moral codes can constrict us. No one can tell us what is right and wrong. While neither Socrates nor Jesus would have equated culturist consciousness with pure morality; neither would have advocated doing anything immoral. They were both notoriously strict moralists. The perversion of our traditional sense of individual truth into a license for debauchery stems directly from the shallowness of our understandings of our own traditions.
Another lesson we
shall see, if we venture forth out of the history of Western Civilization, is
that our values cannot be taken for granted.
Constant striving for glory against the status quo is not something
neither Asian nor Muslim cultures value.
Nietzsche was, in the long run, wrong. At first seeing that each civilization has its own stories and mores might turn you into a relativist. But once you come to understand that fundamental cultural stories’ morals are diverse, your preference for what you know reemerges strengthened. Asian elders do not need your opinion. The Koran’s principles are not to come up for a vote. We resent their refusal to consider what we think. This sort of encounter with cultures other than our own makes us more grateful than ever that our Greek forefathers came up with the idea of individual conscience and democracy.
Christianity and science, though they battle, do have a common strain. They both claim to expound universal principles. Neither claims to be a product that only applies to the West. Thus our historical ghost sends us out to convert others to our obviously universal principles in a way that other cultures do not. Failing to realize that our values are not universal means we do not have an appropriate feeling of culturist protection towards our own culture. If it is universal it does not require protection. Not realizing our truths are only ‘self evident’ to us, leads us to not valuing other culture’s sovereignty. Understanding that our tendencies are just ours makes us value our culture more and dismiss other’s less.
Chinese history and culturist pride
Chinese have described their country as the ‘middle kingdom’ or more broadly
‘the center of the earth.’ They have had
a reason to do so!
The seventy year old finds that it is self-evident that all men are created unequal. Babies are not equivalent to their parents. Parents are above children. Honor, peace and strength come when a child has the wisdom to respect and obey his parents. Doing your homework shows a more mature understanding than throwing temper tantrums and insisting on your right to do what you want. Rebellious and disrespectful children bring chaos, weakness and dishonor. Their long history has also told them that this formula of reciprocal duties that works in the family also works for the state and citizen. Continuing the analogy, they would note that a good parent would not tell a child to do anything that was not in that child’s best interest. Good citizens obey their government.
Here we see the importance of culture to statecraft. We admire youth as holding the key to a new future. Their view of the impertinent fifteen year old is not as indulgent as our own. We see a relationship between the child and the parent’s interest, but we value our individual conscience above all else. Westerners will only willingly consent to laws they have made for themselves. Asian culture sees much more of a connection between the glory of the family, the country, the culture and the individual. We need to see that our current ideas about the absolute nature of individual sovereignty in the face of all wisdom results from a poor reading of our own history. It needs to be put in international, as well as historical, perspective.
Chinese group orientation comes as much from an appreciation of their storied history and the historical depths of their cultural precepts as it does from reactionary racism. The Shang dynasty, that spread the system of writing that they still use today, was founded in 1650 BC! Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism each date from the 6th century BC. Creations of the Han dynasty of 206 BC to 220 BC include the invention of civil service exams, textbooks on zoology, botany, chemistry and astronomy and the creation of acupuncture. The Tang dynasty lasted from 618 AD to 907 AD and left a tradition of literature and art as a legacy. The Song lasted from 960 AD to 1279 AD. It added gunpowder, landscape painting, moveable type and porcelain to the list of creations that fill Chinese with pride.
Knowing this we can start to appreciate the pride Chinese feel in their civilization. Would anyone with such an illustrious background not be proud of their forefather’s accomplishments? The answer is “Yes.” We fail to appreciate our forefather’s accomplishments daily. Your accepting the age analogy at the beginning this section (assuming you accepted it) provides an example. While our history is obscure at 1650 BC, the Homeric epic starring Achilles likely dates from 1100 BC. We created democracy in the fifth century BC. Our philosophy and arts from that time are astoundingly beautiful. We also invented the flying buttress cathedral (1200 AD), modern physics (1600 AD) and television (1927 AD)! This is not to take anything away from the glory of the Chinese. It is only to show that you lose a tremendous source of pride and solidarity when you forget your history.
Personal and cultural memory
You may have
noticed gaps between the dates of the Chinese dynasties that were listed
above. As every civilization,
This is one of the most important culturist lessons the Chinese can teach us. Our one renaissance should teach us the culturist lesson that reconstituting and going forward requires remembering our past. Crawling out of our dark ages was done by remembering our Greek and Roman heritage. Caution should be wrought from recognizing that the reason the Dark Ages were called the Dark Ages is because they were a time in which we lost historical consciousness. Our great advances being based on our reconnecting with our past was mentioned before and we get safer every time it is repeated. The Chinese have less of a danger than us of disappearing because they have not forgotten the necessity of historical consciousness to getting rich civilizations out of Dark Ages.
The Chinese even
have culturist heroes to serve as role models for those trying to forestall the
ravages of the culturist cycles between golden ages and dark ages. Zhong Huamin was an expert Chinese culturist
who worked in the
When civilizations are trying to reestablish themselves they can expect their art to be iconoclastic. This static art stabilizes the national identity. Once stabilized, the culture begins to bear original fruit again. Renaissance did not produce much new in cultural thought. Much of the art is stiff and iconoclastic. But this step cannot be avoided. You cannot expect freeform originality and innovation to come out of periods of historical chaos. The renaissances’ greatness comes from a conscious attempt to emulate the glories of the past. And it is, as a result, much more dynamic than the arts of the Dark Ages. Their writing was non-existent at first, but soon exploded too. Alighieri Dante’s mix of classical and Christian iconography is astounding. Cultural vitality is always based upon a historical foundation.
The molding of
character was the main point of ancient
Our current assumption that glorifying the country leads to a diminution of the importance of the individual is a very immature view. It assumes that there is no relationship between people and the country of which they are a part. Great nations take pride in their history and accomplishments. Our valuing individual glory, originality and conscience should not be thought of as being in opposition to our civilization. Our current refusal to advocate and sacrifice for our collective greatness is disrespectful, ignorant and unappreciative. Pride in culture can be a great source of pride and inspiration to the individual. If we studied history we would know this. We are collectively and individually greater for immersions in our culture’s histories.
Culture has consequences
When the Greeks
and Romans fell the Catholics took over
The Catholic Church responded to Luther’s challenge with a two pronged approach called the counter-reformation. Prong number one was an intensification of the war on all non-sanctioned doctrine. This included killing people that translated the bible into local languages and suppressing science. Prong number two was the creation of beautiful, inspiring works of art meant to bring you back into the fold via an emotional attachment. Michelangelo’s art is the prime example. The mixed results demonstrate the futility of culturist suppression and the beauty and power of what we might nowadays dismiss as artistic propaganda.
Protestant movements of the North reacted to the Catholic efforts to secure their turf by smashing all art. Furthermore, they spread literacy and translated the bible into local languages. In translating the Bible into German, Martin Luther is said to have created the Modern German language. Gutenberg’s printing press was heavily used in this effort. And whereas the Pope jailed Galileo Galilei for his disagreeing with the Pope, the North eagerly printed his smuggled texts and used them to achieve a personal understanding of the lord through science. This demonstrates another culturist tendency: Cultures in opposition differentiate.
historic background one cannot understand the Puritan’s hatred of
Catholicism. They wanted to purify their
church of all remnants of Catholic artistry, ornamentation, ritual and
hierarchical doctrine. They wanted to
focus purely on a personal relationship with Jesus through private
reading. They were super Protestants
reacting to the still fresh schism with the Catholics. The culturist lesson of this paragraph is
that you literally cannot understand your own country’s particular culture
until you understand its deeper historical roots.
the world’s biggest social science experiment.
What would happen if you go around the world and plant Catholic and
Protestant cultures? The experiment was
done and the results are very interesting.
Wherever Protestant England and
The importance of
culture to a wide range of indexes has been shown to be true over and
over. In countries with mixed
populations, Protestants, Chinese and Jew’s economic roles are disproportionate
to their numbers. Many poorer countries
will assert that the reason they are poor is that they were exploited by the
Protestant colonies. But recourse to
Protestant interference as an explanation only begs the question.
This section has shown some cultural absolutes. Economic success is a result of cultural norms. Clean government and low crime rates are other cultural manifestations. Cultural and individual values reflect deep, deep historical roots. Valuing such things is, however, totally culturally relative. Catholic cultures have tighter families and better art. Neither culture’s aesthetics can be shown to be objectively better or preferable. When cultures divide they differentiate. That is not to say that one heads in a bad direction and the other in a good direction. We can only show that differences occur with major concomitant consequences. Our preference for our culture’s ways only reflects the depth of cultural programming.
Social Darwinism holds that cultural and individual competition will result in the extinction of the deficient and the preservation of the efficient individuals and races.  This is horrific vision. It is also wrong. Reality is worse. It is not necessarily the most efficient (or fittest) institutions that take over. Cultures willing to sacrifice much of their youth to incessant warfare have a good track record. Unfortunately, the horrific part of Social Darwinism cannot be faulted. As with animals, the extinction of cultures happens. We cannot objectively say which cultures are better, but extinction being a bad thing we should investigate its causes in an effort to avoid it.
mechanism by which one culture supplants another is demographics. We saw the importance of demographics in the
case of the Mexican loss of
Tibetans no longer
have the numbers for a successful insurrection.
Even if the Tibetans, got back “their land” they would be a minority in
it. Were they to establish a democracy,
they would lose every election. Not
speaking the language of the majority of the population, their choices are
limited to struggling in ghettoes or adapting to the majority Chinese
culture. Their culture is greatly
endangered and has, to a real extent, gone extinct. The complex vibrant dynamics of their
original culture cannot be preserved in disparate small settlements in
Cultural continuity requires cultural transmission. Within a few generations all memory of cultural traditions can be extinguished. What we know of the indigenous religions comes as a result of a few chroniclers and anthropologist. No one would know how to recreate these cultures if they wanted to. Latin American Catholics consider Catholicism to be their nation’s historic religion. Apart from some idiosyncrasies buried in the local practice of Catholic rites, the indigenous religions are extinct. Cultural extermination via ruthless reprogramming can be very effective.
The popularity of a culture greatly affects its viability. The Catholic conquest of the region was facilitated with discontent on the part of locals. Conquistadors successfully exploited this discontent by pitting kingdom against kingdom. Hernan Cortes exploited myths that painted him as a savior of the locals from this suffering. Cultural resilience is affected by the level of satisfaction it engenders in the population.
Not all cultures galvanize resources to the same level. The Greeks were fighting for a culture that would allow them to freely follow their individual consciences. Persians were a theocracy and would not respect individual conscience in decision making. The Greeks, unlike many modern Westerners, appreciated how rare a cultural flower their culture’s esteem of individual conscience was. Nowhere in their world was there anything other than theocratic monarchies. Their losing to the Persians would mean the death of the most precious thing in existence: mental freedom. This realization resulted in loyalty that would not allow defeat.
Greek culture also gave them an advantage in battle. Our propensity for local rational democratic power sharing was reflected in our style of fighting. Whereas the Persians had to wait for orders from above, the Greeks depended on autonomous fighting units. When isolated they collectively decided upon their plan of action. Self-governance created a more flexible and effective army. Thus democracy was not only able to inspire martial sentiments, it was crucial to our securing our land. Cultures inspire different behaviors in peacetime use of human capital. Cultures also affect cultural security by the wartime behaviors they evoke.
effects can be seen in American history.
The settlement of our country was done under the banner of ‘Manifest
Destiny.’ Americans filled the continent
because they felt an ideological imperative to extend the land mass in which
Survival of the fittest includes ethics in that the doctrine being promulgated must be able to galvanize enthusiasm. But ethics and popularity have a tenuous relationship. Early Christianity’s spread was greatly facilitated by its glorification of defensive martyrdom. Islam engenders offensive martyrdom. This is conducive to outright conquest and the destabilization of enemies. Catholicism’s tenets result in high birthrates and high levels of respect for enshrined authority. Cultures exist in the heads of people. One way to make your culture spread is to have enough people to occupy a large area. Asian cultures engender the type of diligence that leads to economic viability. Western countries appeal to individual disregard for cultural considerations in a way that can lead to selfish decadence. Fittest cannot be taken to imply an ethical superiority.
Culturist realpolitik lessons
Whatever the mental content, cultural existence absolutely requires heads and land. Cultures only exist in heads. If no one remembers your culture, it will cease to exist. Heads nearly always require land. No food, no heads, no memories, no culture. Jews have been unique in that their cultural propensity for literacy (heads) has allowed them to become ingrained in other people’s land. Still, even their culture is not supernatural. Even though it spent epochs without its own land, it still required land. Without this level of physical grounding your culture will be relegated to scholar’s history books.
Culturism thus requires thinking in realpolitik terms. Cultures are not metaphysical entities built upon bedrock of universal truths. They live in geographic space in the minds of living humans. If other cultures occupy your land, your values occupy that much less space. They have moved closer to disappearance. Were there enough land for all the cultures of the world that wanted to live to exist, they would all be here. There is a scarcity of that which sustains the heads. That means that there is competition between cultures.
Beyond land, cultural survival requires that those heads be filled with the stuff of cultures. If you do not teach your cultural values with pride they will not inform the world view of the people living on your land. If all Islamic cultures stopped teaching the Koran and started delivering a purely secular curriculum Islam would cease to exist in three generations. Even if formerly Islamic continued to hold vast and heavily populated territories, their culture would cease to exist. Heads stuffed with secular cultural proclivities, do nothing for Islam. Once your ideas are not in the heads of a people sustained by geography, they do not exist. Cultures require land, but ultimately exist in heads of humans.
The lesson to be learned is that if we do not value our culture’s distinctions and thus concern ourselves with heads; if we do not propagate its special features that lead to success and thus maintain land; our culture will cease to exist too. It is not the case, as those who advocate a laissez faire attitude towards culture, that secular humanism and democracy are the universal default that those uninstructed tend towards. Many competing models have and continue to exist. Historians try to appreciate what the Hittite and Tibetan cultures were like, but they cannot make them come alive again. Being overly free with heads and land shows a failure to appreciate that American Exceptionalism has its limits. Cultures disappear.
Mistakenly believing our civilization is universal is largely due to our failure to guard the land and heads that sustain it. In an era of blind post-Cold War triumphalism we feel immortal and as though our conquering of the world is a done deal. Our willingness to believe this probably reflects the insulation from war and cultural protection our geographic isolation gave us before modern transportation. Such arrogance reflects an appreciation for our culture, but a failure to appreciate that others exist. The history of the world shows that cultures are proud of their heritage, seek to expand and do not give up easily. There is no universal agreement that Western ways are the best and the future that every culture strives towards.
The Chinese would
love to reassert their perceived rightful place as the ruler of the world. Though they are aggressively expanding their
military capacity, they could not overcome us militarily. Theirs would be a soft aggression. Gaining control of us economically is well
under way. From this position they will
increasingly be able to have influence in our political system. Culture follows power. Chinese military aggression will likely only
Islam’s threat to our way of life is much less subtle and much more immediate. Their cultural precepts decree that they will not stop at our acknowledgement of their superiority. They need us to submit or die. They have already shown that their tactic is to destabilize cultures via terror attacks. They also seek to shut down freedom of speech by killing and intimidating politicians and writers that disagree with them. Western media and the Pope have been put on notice that their speech must conform to Islamic guidelines or result in international crisis. Fending off such attacks has already caused a compromise of rights and civil liberties in Western countries. Success breeds confidence. Those who expect this aggression to diminish are naïve.
already know that control of land and heads are weapons of competition. The Catholic churches’ support for open
borders and high birth rates in the United States is an overt attempt to gain
more land and heads.
Imperialism and culturism
Cultures that are
successful have unity, pride and a sense of mission and confidence that borders
on arrogance. Chinese civilization is a
fantastic example of this truism, Islamic civilization is another. Countries that have internal divisions fall
apart during war time.
British imperialism provides an example that a righteous sense of mission and entitlement are conducive to power. At the top of their game, the British felt a sense of nobles oblige, that is an obligation to share their values with the less developed. They practiced what has been called “Gentlemanly Capitalism.” The gentlemen that led this were long trained in social and religious values to a code of honor which placed duty before self-advancement. They felt, much as we saw Americans traditionally have, that altruistic communal virtues were a prerequisite for the self-governance they called liberty. Their mission was based on, not devoid of, values.
Secretary declared in 1833 that
self-interest and the general good were seen to be interchangeable
categories. If all of
We now snicker at
such an idea. Certainly, the British
attempts to export their way of life was racism at worst or a reflection of
ignorance concerning the dignity of indigenous ways at best. Feelings of cultural pride are said to be
born of a lack of relativism. The
British arrogance was unjustified and led to harm, beyond reparation, to the
local ways. Unfortunately, the
self-deprecating stance of moderns undercuts our willingness to study our
past. This failure is likely both the
cause and effect of
Though it is hard to validate that our culture’s enshrining of rational and efficient administration combined with a zeal for progress results in a more satisfactory life, the Western world should still be able to take some real pride in its accomplishments. Planes, television, radio, light bulbs, film, cars, mass transit and the modern economic system are Western creations. If not the quality, we have facilitated a radical explosion in the quantity of life. However much the countries that were colonized by the West resented our presence, they are not refusing those cultural intrusions.
Without us, most of the world would be living in mud huts without electricity waiting for the witch doctor to tell us what the thrown bones dictate. Those in more rationally organized civilizations would still largely be huddled defenselessly in huts; captive to the whims of weather and unable to leave the village into which they were born. The life expectancy would still be thirty to forty years long and childbirth would be an extremely dangerous undertaking. In a real very real sense, the Western world’s arrogance led to the creation and diffusion of all that is modern.
I am boasting. But it isn’t idle. These achievements lend support to the notion that our culture deserves culturist protection and perpetuation. Our invention of modern industriousness, originally applied to every problem on this earth, is not the default of human consciousness. Tribal reversion into unscientific brutality is rife in the world. Western consciousness is still special and should be cherished as an achievement. Much of the world still lives in a pathetic trap of superstitious darkness, informed by no hope or system of getting hope. The Western enlightenment vision coupled with a belief in action and individual initiative still provides the only hope in an otherwise dark world.
We also extended
our largely Christian value system. In
Ours is still a fantastic vision. The Athenians fought against the Persians for just such a conception of an autonomous individual. Ours is a strong and noble history that has benefited a wider scope of the world than any before it. Some may say that our noble sentiments of “the white man’s burden” were just window dressing for avarice. But we alone among imperialists have felt a need for window dressing. Other cultures just subjected cultures they were able to subdue to rape, slavery and destruction. They were proud of the plunder they achieved. To the extent that one thinks that we should be ashamed of our plunder, they are using Western values. To the extent that we are ashamed of our imperialism, the advance of human rights and Western countries’ strength are undermined.
Civilizations and barbarians
When the Western world finally crashed the Chinese party they were in the low part of their dynastic cycle. They, nonetheless, still considered us barbarians. The opium wars happened because we had to get them to buy something from us. Outside of opium addicts, they declared that they didn’t need anything from us barbarians. They would sell to us, but they refused to import our gimmicky products. Even then the trade was unbalanced in their favor and we were bleeding silver. Even, and perhaps especially, in the worst of times the Chinese are culturist to the max!
What did they mean
by the term ‘barbarian’ that they applied to us? Theirs was the common meaning that identifies
a barbarian as a person who lives outside of a known civilization. What did that imply? It implied that we did not have enough of a
shared history to know who we were. We
had no institutions that told us to respect manners and appreciate
institutions. We were a band of
conquering folks that would never be able to stabilize our gains without
them. The Mongols, they had rightfully
predicted, would have to adopt the Chinese civilization’s ways if they hoped to
rule an area as large as
Who did the
Mongols learn about civilization administration from? Who taught them about accounting? Where did they learn the ways of ritual that
could get the leaders followed? What
history could they identify themselves with that would make them permanent
instead of an occupying force? The
Chinese. Lacking a culture that could
sustain a civilization of their own, staying in
Translating the Chinese term for barbarian was not hard for us. We had, despite our disdain for history, emerged from a fairly old and coherent civilization ourselves. The Greeks also called all peoples outside of their realm barbarians. Those without cultural memory do not imagine things outside of their lifespan. They neither build upon a rich tradition nor seek to add to it. There is nothing outside of themselves they are trying to enhance. The Chinese saw us as just another loose band of voracious bandits trying to fill the void with fleeting moments of gorging. We did not seem to have the refinements of those wishing to make contributions to the ages.
Even if we were the new conquerors on the block, it was clear to them who would end up on top. Not seeing our cultural forest through our individualistic trees, the Chinese saw no culture or common cause we would be able to impose. We would disintegrate like the temporarily united group of rogue barbarians we were. They assumed they would inevitably sink to the level of a neophyte slapped-together, basically barbarian culture would sink. Not having any culture to bond us, we would have to either accept theirs or return to being barbarians. And their long view of history showed that, whether we adopted their ideas or fled, they would once again rise to the height that a culture of their depth, belongs.
Unfortunately for them, we are not barbarians. Our forefather the Greeks were well aware that theirs was a civic body welded together by deep collective traditions they could build upon. Greeks saw themselves as having cultural characteristics that collectively distinguished them from the Persians. We were not going to disintegrate easily. Having such a history implies a concern for the honor or disgrace one’s actions shed on that past. If you have nothing in common we cannot feel any common cause with our fellow invaders. We came in the name of a well structured Christian civilization. A lack of caring for the collective fate of a body politic by its members means your group will disintegrate like the barbarians you are. We did not.
Beyond a cultural heritage that gives you connection, not being barbarian requires that your sense of unity and cultural history provides you with institutions that coordinate your action. Roman law provided us with bureaucratic habits that could maintain enterprises over a long distance. We knew about record keeping and infrastructure maintenance and reporting back to the home office. We had codes of trust that allowed informal agreements to stick. From the authoritarian perspective of the Chinese, our lack of centralized control must have looked like anarchy. But the enterprises like the British East Indian Trading Company were well integrated into their homeland bureaucracies and cultural contexts.
Chinese cultural history also told them that, lacking a vision beyond just sacking and pillaging, barbarians can have no lasting impact on a culture. We were, however, there with what we considered to be a fully exportable world view. Europeans had happened to stumble upon scientific concepts and modes of thought that all manners of humans could use to emancipate themselves from ignorance, superstition and material want. But there was no reason that others could not apply them. It had worked at home and we were sure it could work abroad. Furthermore, we had ancient religious truths and cultural treasures to confer. We had lessons based on cohesive world views and artifacts aplenty to export.
Western culture’s confidence during our time of time of greatest expansion was such that we called the creation of our new viewpoint ‘the Enlightenment’. Not an enlightenment, the enlightenment. Not the ‘modern thought construct’, the Enlightenment. This modern viewpoint was correctly seen to be a creation that got its favorable estimation in contradistinction to the Dark Ages. Superstition, oppression and wars over invisible things (religious beliefs) were being replaced by the rational application of man’s mind to the problems of this earth. This is still how much of the world defines progress. Our faith in progress and rational principles turned out to be gifts that are still improving the world.
The Enlightenment program does have, it turns out, some self-destructive bits of code embedded in it. First of all the Enlightenment based much of its work on science. Science sees itself as dealing with universal principles. Thus, the Western ideals of progress and modernism it fought for were not, after a point, seen to be special. This meant that our triumph would be our defeat. Once everyone had adopted science and progress we would cease to have a distinguishing characteristic. One does not need to fight to prove physics equations or show the benefits of a spreadsheet once it has been widely adopted. Success would undermine the sense of distinction so necessary to cultural flourishing.
Secondly, the Enlightenments cult of progress saw no value in the past. So the Western traditions were only acknowledged to be derided. Thus it unintentionally cut off the branch from which it bloomed. We do not attribute our successes to our unique past. We attribute them to science and the natural tendency to want to progress. We no longer have a sense of needing to judge ourselves worthy of our Roman and Greek progenitors. We have, therefore disintegrated into individualism for individualisms sake. Our individualism no longer includes a sense of vindicating the Western vision of the worth of the individual thinker. We are behaving like individual plunderers with no connection to a rich past. In a word, barbarians.
And lastly, not realizing it is a temporal creation, we assume that our truths are universal truths; we then use these universal truths to judge our forefathers. As a result, when the Western heirs of the Enlightenment see that we had slavery, we do not simultaneously remember that it was universal trait of agricultural civilizations and cannot be used to condemn our forefathers. Instead of taking pride in the fact that our Enlightenment was the key to ending slavery around the world, we condemn ourselves for having not having adhered to the Enlightenment’s universal standard of right and wrong before it we invented it. This increases our disdain for what little of our past we still care to remember.
To the extent that
we do not remember our past, the Chinese were right. We will disintegrate into barbarianism. We will not, as the Greeks did, see our
culture as unique. We will not cohere
and esteem institutions that extend beyond the self-indulgence of raiders. And we will no longer have a coherent world
view that can project itself into the future.
We fulfill our wants, as all pirates do.
But consumerism is not something that can unite a civilization. It is a universal. And consumerism does not teach any ennobling
or ethical codes. If we do not take
pride in our long and deep historical roots, we will disintegrate like all the
barbarian raiders that had tried to take
The Enlightenment has also had other corrosive influences on Nationalism. Currently many scholars consider nations to be modern inventions. In some respects they are right. Nations in their current form were constructed by conscious efforts. But these efforts were built on historical foundations that predated, to differing degrees, the creation of these nations. Their failure to recognize the deep culturist roots results from the Enlightenment presupposition that all things can be categorized and understood rationally without any context. A failure to recognize the cultural roots plagues the arguments in this arena. And, beyond these scholastic issues, their failure to put nation and nation building in a culturist perspective undermines Western civilization.
Those who say that nations are merely modern inventions, again, have a point. Political unity does not require cultural homogeneity. Segregated diversity, not cultural homogeneity, was the norm agricultural societies. Ethnic enclaves would control their own economic sector: one ethnic group would do wheat and another do public works. In such societies military service was the prerogative of those in the ruling culture. The militarized elites did not care what you spoke or did as long as you could communicate with the tax collector. Agricultural monarchies do not require cultural homogeneity to stay unified. Force works. All such nations had priests and gods, but varied in the extent to which they expected all sectors to pay tribute to them.
Industrial democracies cannot run on this basis. Modern economies require that business orders written in one part of the country are understood in another. Modern economies are most efficient when each citizen has total social mobility. This cannot happen when peoples are separated into linguistic islands. Furthermore, it is destabilizing for a democracy to try to house two distinct cultures. The two cultures will try to out vote and thereby dominate each other. This can lead to hostility and instability. If instead of having two large groups your country contains a great multiplicity of cultures the threat of large scale divisiveness is reduced. But containing many differing ethnic enclaves remains, again, incompatible with an integrated industrial economy that has social mobility.
stress that modern national cultures were born from conscious attempts to
address just such difficulties. Kings
did not care what languages the peasants spoke, but modern nations require
unity. Often the need for modern nations
to have cultural unity resulted in wars.
Before these wars, however, statesman, politicians and poets laid the groundwork to create the national consciousness that “the people” fought over. Sometimes these efforts took the form of romantic exhortations depicting the beauty of the unifying cultural sentiments. Sometimes it took the form of an advocacy for national agreement on the rational requirements of a good polity. For their part, historians contributed to national unity by writing odes to king, tying together local myths or whatever served the national purposes. Artists constructed monuments to as solid testaments to these new national entities. And everywhere, language standardization was as much a part of this process as deciding where borders should be. Nations have been, to a large extent, the result of conscious design.
effort being involved leads many scholars to conclude that all national
cultures are artificial. As such they
are false and to be debunked. But such
blanket statements obscure subtleties.
One example is the distinction between nations that took a lot of
contrivance and those that did not. As
Failure to make
such distinctions leads to the failure to recognize that to be viable national
cultures have to have elements of truth.
British and American historians will teach different versions of “The
American Revolution.” But neither will
report it as a Muslim conspiracy. The
sources of national cultural unity are not arbitrary. Shakespeare may have been popularized because
his Julius Caesar facilitated teaching the lower echelon about
Furthermore, your nation being a conscious choice does not constitute a reason for degrading it. Consciously choosing is a Western virtue. Whereas it might be a shock to traditional cultures to find out that their culture was made up, we are not a traditional culture. To the extent that our culture is made up we can say that it is traditional to be consciously in control of your culture. Our culture’s being a contrivance makes culturism a Western tradition. Western civilization has been able to embrace and adapt to change because of our protean and conscious nature. Knowing about this traditional ability should serve us well as we create the coordinating myths of tomorrow. To the extent that our culture is consciously created, we should be proud of it.
A poor understanding of science and bad science worship underwrites much of the academic efforts at debunking. Such efforts assume that science occupies a neutral territory that it does not occupy. Academic’s desire to be seen as objective, ironically, reflects their own culture’s parochial worship of the cult of science. To be scientific is to be a part of the Western heritage. All social scientist reflect the interests of their times. To try to occupy a theoretically neutral space that no one has ever occupied is unscientific. It is scientific to recognize that being part of your culture is part of the natural order. Unlike those who say that the science of creating our culture makes it false should recognize that scientists would never say technology is unscientific because it is applied.
Knowing that some
cultures are contrived does not lead to relativism. Just because cultures change greatly over
time does not mean that they are less substantial. Ultimately all moral judgments are
cultural. Whereas we would find the
ending of slavery noble; others currently headhunt and enjoy slaves. There are no universal standards or cultures;
there are only created standards and cultures.
Rather than berating ourselves for failing to live up to supposedly
universal standards, we should study how we created the evolution of
understanding of those standards in historical time. We can then be proud of a system that
developed and was able to implement those values. Such an approach is culturally honest and
History can be a destroyer of faith. Again, it is hard to realize that your creation myths are only one of many. National cultures having been constructed as much as found disillusions many. But they were created as a process of birthing an order more fluid than the agricultural ones that preceded them. These efforts were not evil. People construct meaning. That is not artificial. We are a culture that celebrates creation and the gains made through critical study. Gains garnered through study of the past are a source of honor. Western countries are marvelous things. Finding out that they are not conscious creations makes some cynical. Celebrating them on this basis is a more logic reaction. History teaches us that historians have had a real and important role in creating, guiding and perpetuating society.
The Western world has been “mallicized.” That horrible neologism is meant to indicate that we live in an intellectual shopping mall. Malls are ahistorical. They give no hint as to where they have come from. They are opaque. They engender no worries about the future. Everything in a mall is compatible with everything else. They ask no questions about the outside world. No challenges are foisted beyond whether or not things match. No real differences exist in a mall. Other than idiosyncratic tastes and complexions, aren’t all shoppers the same? There is nothing to strive for in a mall. Can a malls anchor the West as it faces struggle and challenges? Does the mallicized West provide a meaningful life? To the extent that malls disengage us from the outside world and the past, they endanger us.
The sad thing is that if we don’t have a sense of culturist dynamics, the torch will go to a culture that does. Muslims know that their culture is the best. God told them so. Their culture provides a satisfying ideology that is a source of fanatical enthusiasm. Asian cultures are invigorated by the prospect of their ascendancy. A feeling of cultural superiority with a historical basis and more than a hint of racism fuels their sense of mission. Both cultures largely measure their success in opposition to ours. As the Muslims attack us and the Asians fanatically outwork us, we seem less determined than ever to struggle. The reassuring characteristics of the mall have induced a sense of lethargy about our fate.
Sadly, self-deprecatory attitudes of opinion leaders have a negative effect on the individuals inside the society they inhabit. Self-loathing leads to apathy about one’s efforts. Many intellectuals and subcultures see themselves as militantly (and ignorantly) against Western Civilization at worst and mildly apathetic at best. Talking about Western greatness and the mission that implies have ceased to fire up more than ironic annoyance. Immigrants seem to be the only ones that still see this as the land of promise anymore. But they largely come here for economic opportunity, not a sense of cultural mission. Slacker clothes, boredom and apathy are our responses to the challenges our competitors mount. Achilles is sulking.
The Chinese may be shown to have right about us when they said we didn’t have enough of a heritage to make us anything but barbarians. It may be worse than they supposed. We may have degenerated from fiery looting barbarians to obese shopping barbarians. Our sense of glory, meaning and connection with our pride are not present. Our work ethic, meaning, traditions, connection with our neighbors, willingness to defend our borders, our language, celebrate our arts and feeling of responsibility for our government are greeted with the indifference of a consumer who is used to their being nothing good on television, but keeps watching.
James Joyce’s character said that “History may be a nightmare from which we are trying to awaken.” The Greeks fought, died and struggled for mental freedom. The terrors and mental tyranny they fought against were real. And they did not fight for something as shallow as the consumerism of a mall. The Greeks realized that sustaining freedom requires dutifully upholding responsibilities. They also realized that these duties are only fully undertaken when one has a sense of community with their fellow citizens. We have to find a source of commonality deeper than consumption of the newest trends. Freedom will not be preserved by vainly trying to escape the nightmare of history.
Dr. Livingstone I presume
As Henry Stanley, the famous British explorer of uncharted areas of
The shock to British imperialism was that peoples did not readily take to the British system. They had underestimated the power of culturism in rousing men to rebellion. The locals did not want the British culture more than they hated being ruled by foreigners. They used the British rhetoric about self-determination against the British. If all were to be free and have rights of autonomy, why not us? If all are rational, why not treat us as such? The locals chased the British out. They were repeatedly drawn back to organize themselves based on their traditional cultural values and groupings. Rationality does not constitute a default to which all things naturally move.
Tribalism undermines the impartial code of fair play upon which modern Western meritocracies are predicated. Absence a tradition of meritocracy, people cannot get access to the education required for the utilization of a population’s talent. Other cultures get their meaning from a different source than rational applications of their talents based on personal calculated gain. Having many wives, enslaving your enemies and having kings is every bit as normal and satisfying as the world the British were trying to build. Not every culture is satisfied by dry pursuits and clothed women.
In retrospect, the British naiveté in believing that, all men being rational and impartial, tribes could just band together in arbitrarily chosen boundaries on the basis of mutual gain is amazing. They thought this would work because, to them, the infrastructure and ideals that were to weld various tribes into one seemed to be self-evidently preferable. Just as nationalism beat out imperialism, culturist tribalism undermined the new nations that followed decolonization. British naiveté is outdone by moderns who, with the benefit of this hindsight, still think that all cultures of the world will eventually unite under the banner of Western values.
Developing nations are largely figments of the imagination. They are only nominally nations (effective government, taxation and border enforcement are lacking). It is also a culturist error to see them as developing. They are living their lives on their terms. To judge them by how far along the Western path to modernism is to fail to see that our values are not everyone’s. Of course the phrase represents a truth at some level. But it would not be less accurate to see us as a failing tribal culture. We have forgotten the rites of our ancestors. Cultures are criteria by which to judge nations which are every bit as legitimate as development.
know that cultures predate and outlast nations.
We judge the places where European imperialism happened as wretched and feel guilty. We assume that our sense of rationality is universal and that our consumerist goals are natural. This shallow specter of multiculturalism does not really acknowledge diversity. And to the extent that we conceive of other’s lot in life as living hells, we feel a mix of impotence and guilt. Our efforts to help were fruitless and possibly just window dressing for avarice. To the extent that these nations are not like us, we blame ourselves. This entire assessment is predicated on an ignorant Western myopia.
Islamic countries are not pining to be the West. They have a different value system. They are quite sure, apart from a skill for acquiring money, that we are arrogant, ignorant and shallow. Asian culture is not in a huge hurry to emulate the West’s barbarian sense of self. And they certainly are better at making money. People in other lives live by different codes. Our guilt about not having been good school masters shows that we are ignorant of the fact that historically superpower guilt has centered on a failure to sew fear into the minds of those they vanquished. Our value system does not constitute a universal code by which all can be judged.
Our naiveté about
the real world means that we do not realize that we are not unique in that we
have had some wars of conquest for pecuniary interests. We are unique for having had so much power
and not having wielded it for absolute despotism. We are unique for having felt the need to add
window dressing to our naked conquests.
Atrocities were committed in
Ample precedence exists for our ignorant and our arrogance. All great civilizations have assumed that they were superior. Knowing that yours is an ancient and powerful culture is empowering. Belief in your greatness may be a prerequisite for success on the world stage. The Catholics would not have converted South America, Rome would not have controlled Europe, China would not have absorbed Tibet, Islam would not have transformed the Middle East and America would not have manifest its destiny without fulfilling cultures and a bit of confidence. We are complacent and guilty because we assume we are the cultural default to which all aspire. Measuring other cultures by our standards has convinced us that we have failed them. In the following chapter we are going to see what the world we inflicted our imperialist vision on looked like. If we put Western civilization in historic and world wide perspective we end up prouder, humbler, healthier and safer.
The noble savage
In learning about
superstition and living in
The Swiss-French philosopher and author Jean Jacques Rousseau was the bad boy of the Enlightenment. He had less reverence for our advanced world than he did for the ‘noble savage.’ One of his famous quotes, “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains” implies that we in the modern civilized world are corrupt. Man in his natural state was much like Adam and Eve were in the Garden. They were free and innocent. Despite a lack of science and civilization, the so-called primitives were said to live in a better world. Rousseau’s supporters held that the Western world was a mistake.
Asked about the Native Americans, the average American will confirm Rousseau’s beliefs. Common
opinion holds that Native Americans were peaceful and ecologically-minded. They would venture to guess that war, hatred
and crimes against humanity were not vices from which natives suffered. Certainly, they would assume, such vices are just the results of
civilizations like ours; Hitler, Mao and Stalin all reflect uniquely Western ideals and
sentiments. The average person intuitively accepts the common sentiment that we have a
worse culture than that of the Native Americans we replaced. Our basically replacing their culture was not
progress, but a crime. Many would suggest generalizing that evaluation
to the impact on
We are no longer entirely sure about the Enlightenment’s faith that in our way of life is better than that of prehistoric man. The suspicion that the simple and natural life of people with no nuclear bombs or freeways was better causes us to question modernity’s value. This view accounts for much of our negative assessment of the impact of imperialism. In the words of the famous ‘60s song, “We paved paradise and put in a parking lot.” Having invented both democracy and nearly every technological invention in existence, we might, instead, look around the world with great pride. If Rousseau is right, however, our influence should serve as a deep reservoir of collective guilt.
Margaret Mead and culturism
Rousseau’s attack on pretensions is appealing
to Americans. But while focused on the
backwards nature of
Young Margaret Mead did not decide to go to
movement was huge in the
Mead’s dispelling of the stupid concept of racism was a wonderful triumph. However, she went way overboard in selling the gentleness of the Samoans. Her work was highly inaccurate. Worse yet, from a culturist perspective, the implication of her inaccurate work had some unintended consequences. The belief in the pacific and environmental nature of these indigenous people gave rise to cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is the belief that you cannot judge one culture by the standards of another. In its pure form this is a fair assessment. But Mead’s emphasis on the Samoan’s gentle ways has resulted in our prohibition against judgment having a caveat; we are committed to not judging any cultures, except our own.
Mead portrayed the Samoans as a sexually liberated, jealousy-free peaceful people. If natives could be this peaceful, our not being so was not natural. All imperfections imply culpability. Her pollyannaish portrayal of them convinced us that all of our social pathologies and stressors reflect unique cultural defects. We went from a positive American Exceptionalism to a negative American Exceptionalism. We now hold that our views are not only not superior; but fail miserably in comparison to the blemish free lifestyle of the Samoans . By this reckoning it is improper to advance and affirm our own values in our cultural sphere of influence. Multiculturalism is an instantiation of this view.
A culturist reading of the anthropological record can allow us to find a healthy balance between extremes. Anthropology has shown us just how great diversity is. Appreciating diversity means recognizing how special our culture is. And, from a Western point of view, our culture is fantastically unique and valuable. But our perspective is ours alone. Appreciating diversity means allowing other cultures to develop and judge themselves, if they wish, from their own unique perspective. An accurate reading of the modern anthropological record keeps us from radical and imperialist notions. Anthropology’s findings make the boundaries of the Western world, and Western culturism clear.
Cabeza de Vaca was
the first European explorer of the
De Vaca was enslaved. He was the first to document the fact that not only did Native Americans have slaves, but they were cruel about it. “Not content with frequently buffeting them, striking them with sticks, and pullout out their beards for amusement, they killed three of the six for only going from one house to another.” Slaves were kept without clothes and worked so hard that their fingers bled upon being touched. One was killed on account of a dream one of their captures had had. Cabeza de Vaca had to stay with them for over six months. If he were suspected of trying to escape he would have been killed immediately.
In another tribe De Vaca learned that Native Americans were not all feminists. “The men bear no burden. Anything of weight is borne by women and old men, the people least esteemed. The women got only six hours rest out of twenty-four, spending the wee hours heating the ovens to bake roots. They begin digging at day break and hauling wood and water to their houses, etc.” They rarely let daughters live. They tossed female infants to the dogs. This was done because marrying them broke the incest taboo and sending them to another tribe would mean the birth of their enemies and slavery. To get a wife you had to buy them from your enemies. The price of a wife was a good bow and two arrows.
Such information might be shocking to modern
Americans, but it would not seem strange to an anthropologist. Anthropologists have long been aware that
Native Americans and other indigenous peoples were not angels by Western standards. Native Americans had slaves from the Pacific Indians
One group of Native Americans found Cabeza de Vaca’s lost group on the verge of
starvation. They left with
promises to return with food. By the
time they had returned some of Cabeza de Vaca’s crew had died. Upon
seeing this they “lamented for half an hour so loudly they could have
been heard a long way off.” Thanksgiving
stands as a reminder to their importance in the creation of
Native Americans, like all indigenous peoples everywhere, were flesh and blood humans with all the foibles that implies. And being human implies a great more diversity than we are accustomed to believe in. To view Native Americans or Western civilization as innocent embodiments of virtue blinds us to the real nature of human beings and history.
Western males and war
Among modern feminists there is a belief that all war is due to the
incursion of patriarchy on the normally peaceful female-led population starting in the year 4200 B.C. These warring invaders were Aryan males. This telling
of history chalks up all war and evil to these proto-men of Western
civilization. Before the so called Western ‘patriarchy,’ the story goes, humans were peaceful
and ecologically-minded. This
reading of history is a basic tenet of the new-age practitioners of Wiccan
Goddess worshippers. Denunciation of
Western patriarchy is axiomatic in many women’s studies departments. Thus
this variant of Mead’s vision permeates large clusters of the future leaders of
Because of such intellectual trends it seems counterintuitive for us to learn that the century that featured Hitler, Stalin and Mao was the most peaceful in the history of the world! In anthropological parlance there are four basic types of social organization: the band, the tribe, the chiefdom and the state. Whereas states, such as ours, have full blown “wars,” bands and tribes raid each other. These raids usually result in the killing of a person or two. Because only a few people die in such raids, many anthropologists have regarded them as small potatoes. But when you consider the percentage of the population that die in such raids, they are colossal.
The commonly agreed upon statistic
indicates that approximately 25 percent of people died violent deaths prior to
the emergence of chiefdoms and states. Approximately 1.5 percent of males in the
Eighty-six percent of Native American tribes
were raiding or resisting raids more than once a year. War often results from scarcity caused by
overpopulation. Archeologists have found
that in times of scarcity the number of arrow heads embedded in skeletons,
broken arms from deflecting blows and crushed skulls goes up. Evidence of violent death found skeletons in
The world order launched by Western civilization is the most peaceful ever. Relatively few Westerners know anyone who has been to war. Furthermore, we have created an ethic that is against war. Many cultures, including those of our Viking predecessors, relished war. Peace is a modern creation. Perhaps some readers will think this is hyperbole, but it is clearly supported by archeological and anthropological statistics. Those who think things are bad now underestimate the amount of diversity in the world. Rather than feel guilt for the wars we have had, we should recapture our feeling of pride in having turned against the enjoyment of blood, gore and war.
When Western culturists use Western individuals and cultures as sources of pride bias is involved. But it is rational bias. Our civilization is safeguarded when we see it as special; and more likely to be seen as special when bolstered by an appreciation of those who created it. It would be silly for Westerners to expect that the celebration of the founders and achievements of the Chinese and Muslims would make us prouder of and more invested in our culture. No civilization, past or present, outside of the West has spent much time extolling other’s virtues. This common wisdom is also recommended by the fact that there is often wide divergence between the values of the civilizations in question. This divergence can be used as a source of pride for us.
Diego de Landa’s Account of the Things of Yucatan is an amazing little book. Diego de Landa himself evokes a strange mixture of gratitude and reprehension. On the one hand he collected and arranged data about the history and customs of the Mayan peoples he encountered. His documentation provides our richest source of information on the Mayans. On the other hand he destroyed articles, codices and monuments that were obstacles to the implantation of Catholic doctrine. In his own mind he saw only one right culture replacing a wrong one. He only collected information on the Mayans in order to better undermine them.
Arriving in 1549 De Landa spent nearly thirty
years in the Yucatan, a peninsula in the southeast of what is today
Mexico. After learning the Mayan language, he began to travel throughout the
peninsula in order to convert the inhabitants.
His zeal led to quick promotions. His cruelty and his usurpation of powers of the bishop and the inquisition, however, got him a trial date back in
The locals did
have government, literature and a working economy. Every civilization has things to be proud of. Mayans also had slaves. When giving confession to the
Their religious practices were a little more extreme than run-of-the-mill slavery.
“The men made sacrifices of their own blood, sometimes cutting into the edges of their ears at intervals all around, and they left them like this as a sign. Sometimes they pierced their cheeks or lower lips, made incisions in other parts of the body, or would pierce their tongues from side to side and run straws through the hole.” A person dedicated to the proposition that all cultures have equal worth could still hold their own. Modern multiculturalists could still defend them. Many Western youth now get pierced and barbwire shaped ‘tribal’ tattoos just to show their sympathy with the indigenous.
Of course, they were more hardcore than most of those who have endured the modern tattooing process. De Landa wrote that, “Sometimes they carried out a foul and laborious sacrifice. Those who were performing it assembled in the temple and, standing in a row, each made a hole through his member from side to side; they then passed through the greatest quantity of cord they could, and so all were threaded through.” We do not stigmatize much anymore. Sadomasochism is accepted as healthy. So even after finding out that they used chords to get blood from their private parts for an idol, multiculturalists could still defend them.
sacrifice is not an action that can be reconciled with modern humanism. As a part of their regular sacrifices De Landa wrote, “. . . they took hold of him [the one to
be sacrificed] and bound him, as they all danced and watched him.” “Then the unholy priest came and wounded the
victim, whether man or woman, in the private parts. He drew blood, then came down and with it
smeared the face of the demon.” In the
end the executioner would tear out the living heart and the priest would use
the blood to anoint the faces of the idols.
This is gruesome stuff. We prize
freedom of religion. But culturists would prohibit human sacrifice
It gets worse! “Sometimes they performed this sacrifice on the stone on the top step of the temple and then would set the body to roll down the staircase. At the bottom, the officials took the body and flayed it completely except the hands, and feet, then the naked priest wrapped himself in this skin and all the others danced with him. This was an occasion of great solemnity for them. These victims were commonly buried in the courtyard of the temple or, if not, were eaten, being distributed among the chiefs and those they were sufficient for. The hands, feet and heads were for the priests and officials.”
These practices were not only relegated to the Mayans. The Aztecs were constantly battling their enemies to get bodies for sacrifice. These were called Flower Wars. One reason Cortez defeated the Aztecs was that they sought to take their opponents alive in order to to sacrifice them instead of killing them outright. And these sacrifices involved no small loss of life. At the dedication of the main temple to Huitzilopochtli as many as 80,400 captives were sacrificed. After being sacrificed by the priests the happy captor could take the body home, eat it and hang the bones as a sign of prestige. It was normal for certain priests to wear the skins of those sacrificed for twenty days. Diversity includes such behaviors.
If you are not to judge cultures you
have to accept human sacrifice and the wearing of the victim’s skins and the
eating of their bodies. Our worst serial
killers are thought mad when they do the same thing. You have to condemn some cultures or stop
judging serial killers. Such rites are
not acceptable by any modern standards.
We do not even impose such barbarous spectacles on convicted serial
killers or rapists. If you think that
our outlawing ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ is good, you have to denounce
widespread premodern practices. If you denounce sacrificing humans and wearing
of their skin, in
In the name of contrition for our crimes,
providing esteem to those descended from Mesoamericans and being respectful,
multiculturalists must distort history, archeology and anthropology. From a Western point of view, we can only see
the cultures of
The depth of diversity
Captain James Cook had many first encounters with foreign cultures. He found people were generally quick to trade. But in conjunction with this tendency was a nearly universal desire to steal. Conceptualizing this ‘stealing’ as sharing would be the obvious justification offered by defenders of the natives’ innate morality. However the fact that they would only do so when they thought no one was looking runs counter to this interpretation. Cook’s bylaws prohibited retaliation. But sometimes, for example when his oars were stolen, this theft necessitated his involvement in deadly reactions.
He was puzzled by
one such encounter. A child was taken
aboard immediately following the killing, by muskets, of his comrades. He seemed quite cheery. The child did not want to return to shore,
for fear of being eaten by his enemies.
This, he thought, might just be an excuse to stay aboard. The child’s protests continued until he was
let ashore. On shore he was greeted
friendly by his comrades. Such
encounters defied his understanding. He could not fathom what this boy was
thinking. That may be why Cook was
eventually killed and eaten by the natives of
Diversity is not confined to behavior. We cannot appreciate what it means to enjoy skinning someone for the gods as the Mesoamericans did. Our rational biases might cause us to miss the radical depth of such diversity. Stop and imagine the mind set of the person torturing children to propitiate the Morning Star before killing them as the Pawnee did. Try to imagine what it means to kill sleeping children you come across to pass on your sorrow as some Northwestern Native Americans did. What is the mindset behind the joy of headhunting? To think that these behaviors just represent a misapplication of our detached application of calculating reason is to underestimate the diversity implied by these actions.
It has been found that Western dichotomies of mind versus body and natural versus supernatural and the corresponding division between psychiatry, medicine, ethics and religion rarely hold in other cultures. The creation of these mental styles is done early and is, interestingly, invisible to us. Children sleeping alone in a room communicates messages of autonomy, individuality and a private world to our children. Asking a child what they want to eat means that individual taste, regardless of magical implications for the tribe, is to be considered. We finish our preverbal children’s sentences for them. In doing so we assume the existence of, and thus mold, a rational pattern of thought in the mind of the child.
Ilongot are headhunters. They are not assumed to have sense until having taken a head. Names bestow consciousness. The baby is not given a name because, not having sense, a spirit could call it away if it had one. If a child falls, the mother may spit on its head and call it back so that it does not go away. When they can speak they are not thought to have sense yet. So they are directed by threats of death if they do not comply. Names are still avoided as they mean the individual can be called out. Rather than the Western inner viewer, but the disturbing feelings born of the situation guide them. A farmer may thus be made dizzy by the vitality of her crops.  The world has many disturbing energies that pull them. The build up of this disturbing energy is released when they take a head.
De Landa thought Mayan thinking patterns were very different. He said their “. . . men do not wish to be guided by the light of reason that he [God] has bestowed upon them, they begin to be tormented in this life and to feel part of the Hell they deserve in the difficult rites they continually perform to the demon god, with lengthy fasts, vigils and abstinence, with unbelievable offerings and gifts of their possession and property, with the constant shedding of their own blood, with severe pain and wounds to their bodies and, what is worse and more serious, with the lives of their fellows and brothers.” Anthropology has confirmed De Landa’s findings. If nothing else, anthropology asserts that men unmodified by culture do not exist and could not exist.
In many indigenous traditions youth have to go on a quest in which they find spirit guides. This usually involves fasting and often also involves ceremonial mutilation and torture. Kwakiutl youth had, like so many other Native Americans youth, had to spend time with their spirit to be initiated into their society. No one could use each other’s names during this period. In the woods the aspirant ate corpses. When they came back they went into frenzy, bit mouths of flesh from those trying to restrain them and ate the bodies of slaves who had been killed for them.  Only after being treated with menstrual blood could they start to come back and be a real member of the cannibal order of the Kwakiutl.
In many other cultures menstrual blood is treated as a horror. Yanamamo believe it to be a danger to the whole community. If the woman does not refrain from normal activities subterranean dwarf spirits will transform her into a rock and destroy the whole village. Such attitudes are inculcated. An unconscious and emotionally disturbed space underlies this sort of widespread ‘logic’ that we are not acculturated to. Neither treating menstrual blood as magic, biological or dirty is natural. Diversity is such that we would likely vomit soon after starting to cut someone’s head off. Our lives, instead, revolve around acquiring nice homes and pursuing careers. Such attitudes are not the default of mankind. We should not be surprised that when we neglect conscious socialization bizarre and cruel behaviors appear. Diversity is deep and shaped by cultural patterns.
Our truths are not self-evident
There is no objective basis upon which to say that one culture is better than another. Were our way of life inherently more satisfying than others, Western culturism would not be needed. The triumph of cultures dedicated to rights and efficiency would be just a matter of waiting for natural practices to occur. Anthropology shows that people are accustomed to endure long suffering before changing directions. In fact, inefficiency and pain being bad reflects Western assumptions. Female genital mutilation is not naturally resented by those in the cultures that practice it. Our existence offers others a choice that can result in a negative evaluation. But such an evaluation is not apparent. Indigenous practices offer us choices. Maintaining our unique values keeps the greatest worldwide variety of choices available.
The Yanomami live in
One Yanomami woman, Yarima, got married to a
visiting Anthropologist. He fell in love
with her and felt anxious knowing that she might be raped there (she was). He married her and took her home to
The previously mention Ilongot headhunters of the South Pacific provide an interesting case. Westerners did not find some of these people until well into the 20th century. There are many of them. The Ilongot kept headhunting until the 1970s. The Ilongot life cycled around sad feelings of the heart that could only be quelled by beheading someone. It is hard for the Western mind to understand the joy and lighthearted feeling that comes from cutting off another person’s head. After cutting off human heads the Ilongot seek out flowery reeds to wear that signifying lightness and come home singing. Whether or not we get it, cutting off heads remains a joyous spiritual event.
Since headhunting was outlawed many Ilongot have become Christian. This new religion was taken on to relieve the pain created by the inability to hunt heads. The major study of the Ilongot relates that elders prefer not to be reminded of this loss as it pains them to know that the young will never know the glory of headhunting. Recently headhunting has had a resurgence. It can be blamed on the centralized government’s failures to modernize the local people. But it is also a triumph of the traditional. The local Dayaks recently took the heads of 400 migrants in one raid and said it really felt good. We cannot assume that the Western world provides a more appealing lifestyle.
Female genital mutilation happens in over 25
African countries, among some minorities in
“Female genital mutilation” is a Western phrase. Without a doubt the indigenous terms for the practice would not imply such condemnation. So called female genital mutilations are often performed by grandmothers who had the operation themselves. To prohibit such an operation means that you are condemning their offspring to being unacceptable women in their communities. Some cultures love headhunting. Others consider rape and drug use to be proper. Some wear each other’s skins after sacrifices. Many other practices that are disgusting from a Western perspective are integral to traditional pre-Western traditions. Such practices are problematic for both culturists and multiculturalists.
Culturism holds that dominant cultures should celebrate and protect themselves. From the Western vantage point, headhunting and female genital mutilation are ugly and reprehensible. Culturists realize, however, that this is a Western bias. This is a very difficult realization for Westerners. We love our values. These practices are repugnant to us. But they are only repugnant to us. There are different variants of culturism. Yanomami have a right to their culture. Western culturism is for the Western nations. We are not the world. We need not celebrate child genital mutilation inside of our borders as this is not a Western practice. But if we wish others to respect our right to define ourselves, we must be willing to respect other’s right to define themselves.
Such indigenous practices present different challenges for multiculturalists. Culturists have a hard time tolerating such practices in other countries. Multiculturalists must have an even harder time celebrating them. Those dedicated to celebrating diversity must praise human sacrifice, drug use, head hunting, slavery and female genital mutilation. Usually this ideological difficulty is surmounted by imagining diversity to be less diverse than it really is. Once you start to pick and choose which practices you are and are not going to tolerate, you are no longer celebrating diversity. You are judging by Western standards. Many multiculturalists have been driven to trying to end traditional practices and celebrating them within the same organization.
Internationally, anthropologists will tell you,
promoting “human rights” means promoting the modern Western lifestyle. It is wrong and arrogant for us to tell the
Koreans that they cannot preference Korean values and persons in their
laws. When you outlaw headhunting, you
outlaw a way of life. To go to the
Middle East and insist that they adopt separation of church and state or
Cortes told a Mesoamerican king that he must “Give up your sacrifices and cease to eat the flesh of your neighbors and practice sodomy and the other evil things you do.” He wanted to leave a cross, but his comrades thought it too early to leave a cross in their possession. They feared that the locals might do something degrading to it. They probably would have. It was rude for him to suggest leaving his symbol in their world. It was a crime for Cortes to destroy the Aztecan culture. If a culture wants to follow another’s lead, it should be purely voluntary. The impetus for cultural changes can only come from within the cultures that live them.
We are special!!!
Some cultures have practices that are morally repugnant to us. Native Americans of the West coast used to allow rival chiefs to land boats on their slaves to display their wealth. This would kill the slaves. Having slaves, killing them and (traditionally) conspicuous consumption are all things that leave a bad taste in our mouths. But within the framework of their logic, one had to do such things or suffer ignominy. Telling them that they could no longer do such things would strip their lives of meaning. Basic truths are culturally bounded.
Western style ideals of justice are not universal. For example when a member of one Northwest Native American tribe died, they did not mourn. Instead they would go out and make someone else mourn. Famed anthropologist Ruth Benedict wrote about this taking place when a female of a tribe died. No one knew how she died. Having left and not come back, she could have still been alive. That was not important. They were sad that she was gone. As custom dictated the men went searched until they found some strangers sleeping. They killed everyone including two children. They had transferred their sad feeling to someone else. They felt good about what they had done.
Native Americans of
There is no universal idea of justice. Western Justice exists, but other senses of right and wrong exist independently. Knowing about both Western and other standards of appropriateness is useful. If we want to judge the Puritans, for example, we can condemn them for their witch burnings. But we must realize that our condemnation is invoking Western, not universal, standards. The Jalé of New Guinea regularly had festivals where they ate those they had killed in war. They would close the eyes, mouth and nose with bat bones to keep the spirits in and then eat. When we compare the puritans, using Western standards, to the diverse spectrum of possibilities that exist their transgressions seem pretty tame.
We should be conscious of when we should be judging by Western standards and when we should not. It is appropriate to judge the Puritans by Western standards – they were Western. It is not appropriate to judge the Jalé by Western standards. Cannibalism is a very widespread phenomenon. We choose not to eat human flesh. That does not mean that others should not. We do not believe souls escape through the nose and mouth. What others believe is not our business. But we can take pride that, according to Western values, we amongst the most agreeable people ever. Seeing that there are various standards should not lead us to abandon our standards. From our vantage point increasing our affiliation with our mores does more for our causes. We are the culture that does not eat humans.
Using a dual system of values helps us understand who we are. When antebellum Southerners killed their slaves it was a bad thing. Why? What was the ethic that violated? It was bad because we respect the individual and their lives. North pacific Native Americans killed their slaves to impress rival chiefs. Use of the death penalty is not a time for parties with clowns for us. Unless we knew about the diversity of cultures that exist we might not realize that our way of life is special. We are a culture that considers the taking of a human life as significant and solemn.
We judge the killing of children to displace mourning more harshly than Puritan witch killing. Why? The children killed to escape mourning had nothing to do with the supposed death being mourned. The puritans killed for a bad reason, but at least the supposed crimes were attributed to those who were killed. We are a culture that believes in the value of individual life and a sense of justice based on rational attributions concerning culpability to individuals. Again, we learn what is special about us when we realize that alternatives exist.
We would have probably questioned the assumption that gang rapes lead to fertility rather than buy children from others. We scrutinize our own culture for defects. Our using the scientific method to find fulfill our secular goals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is a wonderful Western contraption. The West does and should judge itself by Western standards. We have a coherent value system (coherence is important to us). We should apply our standard to ourselves in order that we might improve (improvement is important to us). But just as it is fair and necessary to blame ourselves for our violations of our ethics; it is also fair and necessary to give ourselves credit for having created our ethical system.
We are special in that we have chosen our values. The extent to which we really do things out of an application of rational standards is debatable. Halloween does not make sense. We hide Easter eggs because we hide Easter eggs. There are historical precedents, but that is not why we do it. Much of our culture is not chosen. Love of peace is just assumed to be a virtue. We do not experiment with headhunting to confirm our hypothesis. But we instinctively know that we cannot choose to love headhunting, but the experiment would so violate our ethics that we do not perform it. But within limits we consider questioning our culture to be a virtue. We may not be continuously doing so at a deep level. But to the extent that we consider rational self-scrutiny a virtue we are special.
It is fine and fun to have public holidays that do not make sense. They are a big part of what builds collective memories and identities that support cultural viability. But our public policy, reflecting our unique cultural tradition, should be decided upon rationally. The goal that they should seek to accomplish is securing the blessings of liberty to our selves and our posterity. These are decidedly Western goals. Our goals are ours and should be celebrated for this reason. Western policies best protect our values when they reflect the fact that our beliefs are not the universal default. Our belief system is special.
Diversity, culpability and responsibility
Dr. Hector García was the founder of the influential Latino rights organization, the G.
I. Forum. Among other incidents, Dr. García was motivated to start this organization
by his visiting Mexican citizens living in
The common view that such poverty can only be
the result of oppression is based on the idea that American levels of attainment
and aspirations are the norm. This is
not true. An anthropologist found a community in
Were the lifestyles of these communities
the fault of the
The government of the
This is not racism. This is culturism. Culture is not created by race. Making any sort of human accept the dominant culture’s way of life is an active one. Only language was going to make the Spanish speaking group harder to assimilate than the English speaking group. It is the job of the government to monitor the cultural assumptions of the people within its border because no people are naturally reflective. If a white woman is raised in a community where people think it is okay to beat women, her whiteness will not afford her any protection. She will assimilate the dominant mores of the cultural milieu she finds herself in. It is because culture is not build into people generically or into their race, Western values require active protection and propagation.
Self-scrutiny is healthy for Western cultures. Doubt in our basic competence is not. Our doubt in our greatness and the progress we have brought the world is reflected in the silence that follows the question, “Who are we to judge?” Within our sphere of influence we are very competent to judge. The archeological and anthropological scholarship is overwhelming in our favor of saying we are competent at implementing our values. We have created a world where a person is freer from terror (a Western goal). We have created a world where the Western goals of life, liberty and property are protected. We have done so by discouraging sloth, violence, sexual assault, irrationality and many other natural propensities of man.
Modern anthropology does not use the word “primitive” as it implies too much judgment. This prohibition is upheld despite the clear evidence that some levels of social organization necessarily come after others. Such judgments would run counter to anthropology’s determination to be as objective as possible. As a science, this practice makes sense for anthropology. You cannot appreciate the values of people you have already judged as wanting. Judging a culture in which you are a guest could also cause your invitation to be revoked. However, the general public’s judging by Western standards within Western countries is not only appropriate, it is necessary.
Judging ourselves by our standards is integral to our culture. Science is the basis of our vision of progress. Science is based on doing experiments and judging the results. Judging based on rational criteria is not the default behavior of mankind. Decisions being made on the basis of divination and shamanistic spirit journeys remain widespread. We are the first culture dedicated to improving the world via scientifically applying our powers to constantly improving world. We must, however, recognize that this is special. Rather than consciously advancing, it is the natural default of cultures to be conservative; even when this involves a lot of pain.
Protecting our culture means consciously judging. If you wanted to methodically investigate which facets of your culture were consciously chosen and which are ruts, you would not start by looking at matters that your culture already consciously questions. The facets that are ‘self-evident’ and beyond questioning are likely to be widely accepted falsehoods. Culturism holds that the inviolability of individualism instantiated in rights at the expense of the culture is one area where we have ceased to utilize our critical faculties. The unqualified acceptance of any and all behaviors in the name of celebrating diversity is another. Our resulting inability to judge behaviors within our borders provides another example.
deference to Native Americans generating revenue from the traditionally condemned practice of gambling reflects our misreading of the Anthropological record. Gambling was previously relegated to
We cannot assume that our way of life is preferable. Given a choice, many people choose killing and drugs. To encourage unqualified diversity is to condone and advocate more than variations of rational lifestyles. Our celebration of individual rights and self-governance only represents a cultural proclivity. Denouncing certain behaviors is a part of promulgating our unique way of life. The criminal justice system cannot celebrate diversity as anthropologists understand it. It is anthropologically ignorant to think that the ways of an English gentleman are what the result of never judging behavior will be.
Some cultures have
died out because people no longer saw them as worth the hassle of sustaining. Roman culture has been thought to be an
example of this. The
Our technology has allowed the world population to flourish. Due to Western technology our life expectancy is nearly twice that any primitive tribe ever attained. Our life expectancy is triple what many achieved. Our civilization has lowered the world wide bloodshed, enslavement and brutal male dominance that used to be (and still is in much of the world) the status quo. We invented democracy and rights. Other cultures having tolerance for diversity within their countries is largely a result of the pressure we exert as a successful country. The best tactic for those who wish to see a world with rights created is to make sure that a strong progressive culture is living within our borders. If that involves telling Native Americans that encouraging the irrational, addictive and bankrupting habit of gambling in our culture must stop, there are clear culturist reasons for doing so.
Humans have been and are an environmental disaster. Moderns also feel guilty because they assume that have been taught that indigenous peoples were environmentalists. At sometime in their lives most Americans were taught that Native Americans used every part of each animal they killed out of respect for the sacredness of nature. Alas, in this section Western civilization cannot be vindicated. We, as all other populations, have had a huge negative impact on the environment. But the best hope for turning this around lies in applying Western science to the problems we face. In the meantime, the naïve belief that indigenous were great environmental stewards does not help; it undermines our sense of efficacy.
Native Americans were not careful to
preserve the environment at a cost to themselves. Two-thirds of the large mammals present when
humans first arrived in
The Anasazi and their neighbors
occupied much of what are now the states of
Humans are not primarily the rational
analyzers of their situations Westerners take them to be. We, as we shall study later, are built to
absorb and practice a culture. If you were
going to see evidence of people being able to control their fates as a
collective, it would be on islands. On
islands people know the extent of resources available. They can see that there is no vast expanse of
unused resources to exploit beyond what is visible. On
The Maoris of New Zealand drove a
dozen species of large birds to extinction six centuries before the first
Westerner got there. The heavily forested
man destroys more than his predecessors because he can. Facing that honestly (not idealizing the
past) is the only hope we have. Much of
the West’s self-definition centers on our ideal of ourselves as a scientific
culture. The destruction of the ozone
was halted by monitoring and a rational reaction that no indigenous culture
would or could have done. The West is
also defined by not just blindly accepting traditional ways. As such, we are very adaptable. During World War Two we became an
environmental nation because that was what was needed for the war effort. Had the culture of the inhabitants of
Westerners erroneously believe that indigenous peoples were wise environmental conservators. It is also, however, widely known that Indians killed buffalo by stampeding them off of cliffs and then spearing the top layers. Simultaneously holding these two views bolsters this chapter’s contention that integrating facts is not a human priority. Because of our scientific bent, if any culture has the wherewithal to think and adapt their way out of our environmental crisis it is the West. Abandoning our engagement with the Western tradition of scientific engagement with the world out of a false sense of comparative guilt is dangerous. Now is the time for Westerners to recommit themselves to our efficacious culture. Human sacrifice will not solve anything.
Back to the garden
celebrity outside of the academic anthropology community had tremendous
cultural impact. A basic hippie
counterculture tenet was that we needed to go back to nature. The chorus of the 1960s hit song “
The full historical record shows that Mead’s peaceful Samoans were nearly always at war until European enforced peace. Between 1830 and 1832 one Samoan village had 197 battles. From 1865 to 1871 11.7 percent of the adult male population of a group of islands was killed in war. This round of protracted warring was started because the wrong person blew a conch shell! The losers in Samoan wars had their food supplies and villages burned. In one war hundreds of men and women were thrown into a fire and many small boys were cooked and eaten. Those slain on the battlefield had their heads chopped off and carried away in triumph to be shown to the chief.
Derek Freeman did a methodical follow-up investigation of the
Samoans in the 1960s. What he found is
more representative of what modern anthropologists would expect. Samoa’s assault rate in the mid 1960s
was about five times higher than that of the
rape has symbolic significance. At their
weddings the female is disrobed in front of the assembled guests. The groom-to-be sticks his
fingers into her vagina and breaks her hymen in order to ensure that she is a
virgin. If there is no blood her female
relatives fall upon her shouting insults and beat her with stones, disfiguring
and possibly killing her. Mead mentions this in her books, but minimizes
the impact of such attacks! The real meaning of surreptitious rape is
that the girl must now either elope with the fellow that broke her hymen or
face this unbearable fate on her wedding day.
If you include this type of rape the Samoan’s rape rate was over five times that of the
Those who are unaware of anthropology take the Western sense of life to be the universal default. This fallacy can is manifest in our determination not to discriminate based upon creed or religion. Naiveté about the range of diversity is apparent when be people are do not realize that some cultures might be more inclined to value a life of study more than others. Mankind is as apt to value macho wife beating, headhunting, killing for god and shamanistic trances as he is to value ‘fair play’ and rational pursuits. Cultures are not only more diverse than we imagine, they are more diverse than we can imagine.
The indigenous Samoan way of life might be very satisfying. Our ethical problems with it are purely based on cultural bias. There is no way for us to prove our way of life is better than their traditional way of life. It is not our place to do so. However, cultural programming is such that we Westerners cannot but believe that rape and genocide are bad things. That means that our living in a world that does not include these values would be unpleasant for us. In this diverse world, our partiality to Western culture makes it important that we protect and promote a space where our particular culture can thrive.
Western Civilization exists
The phrase, “a
nation of nations” contains a logical error.
This assertion is meant to indicate that the
One reason for this confusion is that we, falsely, take our culture to be the universal default for humanity. But as we saw in the previous chapter, many diverse ways of life and value systems have thrived. Our culture is but one of many. Our culture neither makes decisions based on shamanistic journeys nor wears the skins of sacrificial victims. We consider the first as irrational and the second grotesque. These judgments come so naturally to us that we do not see them as culturally specific. But in the post 9 -11 world it should be apparent to us that not every culture shares our values.
culture, for example, does not hold that the rights to wear
and say what you want are self-evident.
Much of the Muslim world sees it
as moral to kill women who dishonor their families. Killing to impose religious uniformity is
something Muslim cultures celebrate and their governments support.
Even when we had a considerable economic and technological advantage
Much confusion over our version of life being universal is born of the fact
that the demands of large states create pressures to adopt some common
institutions. Governments and schools
are a part of all countries. But both
the Aztecs and NAZI Germany were states.
Similarity in institutions still leaves room for quite a bit of
diversity. Furthermore, history shows us
that nations not only come into being, but dissolve. Nowadays states that are dissolving are doing
so based on claims of cultural distinctions.
Statewide claims of hegemony that exist are very often very thin. Many states are more aspirations than
realities. It is questionable how much
Rights, as we understand them, currently exist
Our tolerating subculture and dissent makes us unique. Much of the world suppresses dissent. We allow little ‘nations’ inside of our
nation. Much of the world does not like
having diversity in their neighborhood.
They are heavy handed culturists.
Islamic states do not take kindly to apostates.
Deep and subtle cultural distinctions
Part of what makes any definition of a culture so difficult is its subtlety. The distinctive pieces that go into making up a whole culture are not the culture itself. Even as cultures disintegrate or assimilate other culture’s contraptions, they retain a distinct ineffable essence. The institutions of a culture are not the culture. There is a sensibility that permeates cultures that transcends these institutions. Cultural essences are not easy to delineate in simple catch phrases. None of the cultural attributes listed in the rest of this chapter will convey the totality of Western culture’s essence.
One way to get an inkling of the differences between cultures is by imagining their founders having conversations. Think of the difficulties that would emerge in a conversation between Socrates and Mohammed. Socrates’ Socratic Method wouldn’t get far with this violent apostle of revealed faith. Islam is violently opposed to questioning its fundamentals. We do not understand fatwas. But putting a price on someone’s head for printing dissenting views is not foreign to them. Socrates, as one of us, believed that defending the right to rationally philosophize on every subject was the best way to attain truth.
Christianity does, of course, have revealed truths. But even within our revealed tradition there are very distinctive characteristics. Jesus refused to let Peter use the sword against his Roman captors. Muhammad killed hundreds for not converting. Muhammad was a warrior. He was wounded in battle and did not retire. You would have to have had an army to get Muhammad on a cross! Jesus’ valued the lives of even the fallen and the lowliest dissenters amongst us. He would not strike back at his enemies. He did not even, in a very deep sense, consider them his enemies.
Confucius and Jesus would have also had difficulty with each other. Jesus’ insistence upon individual conscience and defiance of authority and tradition would have seemed anarchistic to Confucius. Our cultural icons are often rebels. Achilles, Jesus, Luther and Shakespeare were all great in contradistinction to the traditional norms they faced. Ours is not a culture of that celebrates faithful recreation of the previous generation’s values. We do not seek harmony with the nature of the world or the ways of our ancestors. Confucius would have calmly praised the past while Jesus was busy condemning the so called leaders of our society.
Imagine a conversation between Henry Ford and the Yucatan Mayans! Their bloodletting and human sacrifice would have horrified him. Along with our constant rebellion against the past a view of human efficacy pervades our world view. We believe in the rational use of our powers to efficaciously reach our goals. Ford might have appreciated the technical aspects of the Mayan assembly line methods used in their human sacrifice. Beyond that he would have seen their killing people to propitiate supernatural forces as a waste of human potential for improving the world. Similarly, the Mayan men might have seen his aversion to killing for Gods as unmanly. Real men fast, get drunk, and kill.
The very modes of our conversations reveal much about us. Plato’s use of debate showed a love of controversy that would have been unwelcome to Confucius. In ancient Asian philosophy books questions are rare and are not confrontational. When the wise master gives his answer one is to be satisfied. Continued interrogation would be seen as disrespectful to his age and wisdom and destructive of the very harmonious state being sought. Western discourse ends in stalemate after reveling in the clashing of ideas. Harmony is not the goal. We would not vie for a uniform stagnancy. It is in our love of unearthing the tranquility of the past via progress that our rebellious and rational tendencies meet.
Much of the subtleties of a culture lay at a level below the words we use. “Teacher” does not have the same resonance in Western, Asian and Islamic cultures. An entire worldview informs the use of the word. We use the term as a job title more than a term of veneration. Teacher does not connote religious authority in our world view. Relational names are found in most cultures. But what it means to be a father in every culture varies greatly. “Father” has a familiarity and sense of equality in Western thought. This list of differing interpretations of common words could be extended indefinitely. The point is that there are preverbal assumptions that form a world view that the upcoming list of Western attributes will only skirt.
A culture is as much a matter of temperament as a matter of tightly delineated rules. Just because these worldview differences are subtle does not mean that they are not important. Our sensibility has lead to the West being the creators of dreams for the future. It is that visionary quality that has inspired others to want to join us. Others often see the products and not the world view it is predicated upon. We make the same mistake when we consider it a coincidence that our culture has generated so many spectacular inventors. Our competitive and anti-historical sensibility sees differences as par for the course. Our failure to notice our large, but subtle cultural similarities is one of the reasons we are failing as culturists.
Protestant Work Ethic
Perhaps more than any other Western country,
Our economic success famously results from the Protestant Work Ethic. The relation of this ethic to economic success was first formulated by Max Weber in his 1904 book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. His explanatory schema has withstood the test of time. As one economist recently put it, “The correlation between the growth of economic institutions and the growth of Protestantism seems inescapable.”
Weber’s relatively short book is essential reading for American culturists. That is because, unlike most modern social scientists, he takes belief systems to be a primary explanatory factor. He relates the doctrines that several brands of Protestantism hold in common in great detail. The fact that this culturist reading of historic causality has been supported in so many ways provides strong backing for the concept of culturism. It also provides a beautiful analysis of the presuppositions of our sensibilities.
Weber traces the Protestant work ethic back to Calvin’s idea of predestination. Predestination is the idea that it has already been decided who will and who will not go to heaven. There not being a lot of room (only 144,000 will go) creates deep fear. To alleviate this fear early Protestants constantly looked for signs of redemption.
One major sign that God got has chosen you is your having received a ‘calling.’ Martin Luther, Protestantism’s most famed creator, invented the idea of calling. It is somewhat analogous to having a mission. A calling might be seen in your having a talent. God gave you that talent because he has a mission for you. You have been chosen! But if you neglect that mission, it is possible that you were mistaken. You must pursue that mission with relentless vigor to confirm that god does have a positive plan for you.
Callings are not given to you for selfish purposes. If you see a community need you might have seen your calling. God made that community need apparent to you so that you can solve it. The need might present a business opportunity. If you saw an opportunity and made a fortune it was a sign that god had favored you. If you were poor it was a sign that God abandoned you. Your talent could not be hidden from the world. A role in society undertaken for purely private reasons could not be considered a calling in any proper sense. Weber called the Puritans “worldly ascetics.” They applied themselves to their worldly callings with religious devotion in order to fulfill public needs.
This work ethic often resulted in great wealth. But wealth was not its goal. Rational hard work was an end; a form of devotion to God, in itself. Those who are saved devote themselves to constant worship via work in the name of God. In other cultures, Weber notes, work is a necessary evil. He specifically notes that in Catholic cultures people work in order to be able to stop working. Puritanism viewed work as an end in itself. For Puritans constant work showed that you had the spirit of one who was chosen. The resulting wealth was actually viewed with suspicion. It was likely to lead to ungodly leisure and sloth. For this reason profit was to be plowed into positive endeavors rather that sit idly.
Work in the
Puritan world view is life. All other
activities become distractions. Sleep should
be minimized. Sport can be indulged in
only if it increases health so that one may increase their dedication. Benjamin Franklin promulgates a secular
version of this work ethic. He would get
to work before others and leave later than they did to show he was worthy.
Literacy is an
element of Protestantism that Weber does not deem distinct enough to
emphasize. But within seventeen years of
Mind over matter
Our work ethic ties in well with the modern culturist vision of adult responsibility. Though we are still an overwhelmingly Protestant country, Protestant religion is a more difficult fit in the modern world than the Protestant Work Ethic. It is a difficult fit because less and less of us believe in religion. And to the extent that we do we increasingly want a personal and permissive God, that fits in with our own beliefs and needs (this is the height of individualism). It is also a difficult fit because advertisers have capitalized on the 1960’s counterculture’s determination to escape from repressive morality. We are told more and more that sex is the goal of life and that all assertions to the contrary are hypocrisy.
Even without invoking faith, Protestant morality has deep secular roots in the Western tradition. Plato was the first person in the West to conceptualize the psyche as a battle between appetite and reason. He said that reason should rule appetite via will because ideas are loftier than appetite; the spiritual has merits the physical world cannot claim. Appetite provides the motivation that reason is to bend towards worthy endeavors; it was not seen as evil by Plato. But his elevation of reason over appetite meant that Platonic love was a higher achievement than bodily lusts.
Christianity continued Plato’s vision that the reason should rule over appetite. Christ, however, exaggerated Plato’s value judgments. Jesus said that if you look at a woman with lust in your heart you have committed an abomination of the spirit. Plato accepted that few could conform to his level of asceticism and created a place in his system for men made of different metal; only a select few would be expected to conform to relatively strict levels of aestheticism. Catholics created priests to embody this level of purity. Puritans believed that all could be made perfect in Christ’s image and that no sex would happen outside of marriage. Hence the puritanical sexual ethic that modern society gets so much of its identity rebelling against was born.
Sigmund Freud provided much of the current sexual revolution’s language of “repression” and “libido. Freud said the animal impulses of sex and aggression that he called the “id” lay just below the surface of all noble acts. Thus Freud renamed Plato’s concept of appetite. Arts that snicker at the thinness of this veneer are not alerting us to new concepts. Freud was very conservative. He agreed with Plato that channeling this energy towards positive things made civilization possible. Sublimation of lust to productive work is a good thing. Freud harped on this psychic configuration because he thought being aware of it would allow us to more consciously control the id and thus avoid neurosis.
Media has confirmed Freud’s contention that we need to be aware of this dynamic. Media outlets have discovered that lusts are attractive on a primal level. As such they use carnal images to get viewers. Since there is very little conscious control of media, like a human without rationality, they are ruled by titillation. In the real world, however, blind indulgence in lust necessarily involves complications. Media being make believe; shows need not portray pregnancy or STDs that give people pause when considering giving in to their appetites. The media’s uses the pervasiveness secularism as an excuse to avoid responsibility in its discourse. But it still can be, and should be judged by rational standards. Culturist media decisions need to be made with an eye to reality and knowledge of the importance of putting reason over appetite to our success.
Protestant morality made for a much more realistic interface with reality than uninhibited indulgence does. If we cannot agree on the acceptance of Protestant approaches to ordering our conflicting tendencies we need not abandon reason. We have an ancient tradition of recognizing that we share bodily impulses with animals but our ability to think is what makes us special. Being like a pig is fun, but it does not ennoble you and leaves you sleeping in excrement. Furthermore, relying on reason will allow you to feed yourself in respectable ways. This will further allow you to have your children spend longer in school and develop their special potential. We should never go back to seeing the body as evil. But we very much need to reinvigorate our tradition of seeing the mind as elevated. Culturist laws, philosophies and arts that reinforce this truth are essential to our cultural continuity and success.
The meaning of our story
Our Protestant sense of identity has become more and more secularized in the public sphere. Privately we are still an overwhelmingly Christian nation. But whereas we had once seen ourselves as the shining example of a perfect Christian nation, we have come to see our selves as the shining example of what a perfect nation could be, whether Christian or not. The leap was not difficult. Puritans sought to be released from the bondage of passions and sin. We now see ourselves as battling tyranny in other forms. Understanding our mission is an important part of recovering our cultural focus.
The original Protestants also fought for freedom from theocratic tyranny. This time the enemy was not the Persians, but the Pope. The Pope’s claim to represent God on earth meant that his interpretations of the bible were final and irrefutable. As such, he was an adversary to free thought. The church spent a lot of time seeking out and destroying heretics. The Pope personally saw to Galileo’s life sentence. The Pope killed people that translated the bible into vernacular languages because it undermined his monopoly on thought.
Martin Luther, again, is a hero in the struggle for freedom of thought. His claim that only Jesus can save you still constitutes the common denominator of all Protestants. This truth was radical because implied that neither the Pope nor any other worldly power could save you. In order for you to know what Jesus wants you need to be able to read the Bible yourself. To this end Luther defied the Pope by translating the Latin Bible into German. Protestants thereafter have prized literacy and eschewed authoritative leaders. The Protestant relationship to Jesus requires listening to an inner conversation. Our Puritan forefathers came to this land because the Anglican Church, though it had broken from the Catholic hierarchy still thought itself an authority that lorded supreme over the parish.
Our revolutionary war continued our eon long battle for self-governance. The Founding Fathers could not justify a war for independence based on the need for cultural autonomy. We, by and large, shared the same culture as the British. We were both populated by English speaking, white, Protestants. We fought to obtain the rights that our English heritage entitled us to. That is we wanted to be self-governing and not a slave to the whims of a monarch. Greeks, Protestants, Puritans and the Founding Fathers were all dedicated to the sentiment of Jefferson’s mission statement, “I have sworn upon the alter of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Western history’s luminaries are largely freedom fighters.
The Civil War was
another war bent on expanding English rights.
Believe it or not, the South also saw itself as protecting freedom. They believed that enslavement of one segment
of society was necessary for the freedom of the other segment. This was, after all, the way it
had been in
Science also has
also been seen as a force for liberation.
It is a weapon in
another effort to purge sin from our midst as we created a bold new free world. Our creation of a new and improved future was, as always, partially
created to strengthen our contrast to
World War I was to
make the world safe for democracy. Here
again we see the belief
Our greatest war
was World War II. That is because its
contrasts spoke to us as a black and white depiction of good and evil. Tyranny
and evil were never more clearly illustrated for us than in the forms
The Cold War, the
Korean War and Vietnamese War were also fought over the ideal of liberty. Yet these were aberrations from our
traditional mission as they were attempts to defend our values abroad. The Puritans had only sought to lead by
example. George Washington warned that
we should protect our liberties by avoiding foreign alliances. Our one prior experience that could be seen
as an attempt at exporting our values would be the Spanish-American War. Yet that war was largely seen as defensive effort to drive Spanish oppression out of our
hemisphere. We would not have
gone to the
The Civil Rights
movement is revered because it speaks so clearly to us about the nobility of
our heritage. Like World War II, it was a classic story of oppression
contrasted with liberty. Martin Luther
King knew that connecting with this
traditional understanding would be essential to his triumph. He repeatedly harkened back to our national
creeds of liberty, equality and opportunity for all.
Our belief in our historical role of
spreading liberty has been a
source of unity for us throughout our history.
This historical mission is a
legacy that goes all the way back to the Greeks. The theme unites the Protestants and scientists that took on the superstition and tyranny
of the Pope. Our very founding was a
blow against the irrational tyrannies of
Separation of Church and State
Another cultural attribute that separates us
from all our historical predecessors
and much of the present world is our enshrinement of the separation of Church
and State. More than any other decision this has allowed us to include
the pagan past as a part of our story.
But it should also remind
Protestant nature of our nation has
traditionally been seen as integral to the freedom the Founding Fathers
were creating. In Catholicism the Pope
is the ultimate power. He is not
elected. Your individual conscience is
not the ultimate authority. Catholicism is incompatible with freedom of
religion. This is a reason that, until
very recently, none of the Catholic colonies has become democratic whereas all of the Protestant colonies
have. This is a reason that none of the
Catholic colonies have achieved wealth, whereas all of the Protestant ones
So in one way the
Founding Fathers were making a consciously culturist decision when they specified that churches were going to be separated from the State. In another sense, the founders just had no
need to include other religious places of worship in their analogy. Wars between Catholics and Protestants had
plagued Europe for hundreds of years before
Culturist distinctions between religions based on the distance they put between the
religion and government is not blind
prejudice or insignificant.
Muhammad was not only the prophet of the religion; he was the political
travel. In 2004 a ‘Dutch-Moroccan’
killed a film maker named Theo van Gogh because he had made a film criticizing
Islam. The Muslim (whose name is being
purposely omitted) shot Van Gogh six times, cut his throat and then
impaled to his chest a five-page note threatening other public figures. Imagine the chill on film making. Would you feel safe making a documentary on
the abuses of Islam in the
This Muslim who killed Van Gogh was not a fringe person who did not represent the mainstream of Islamic thought. The publishing of cartoons that did not conform to religious orthodoxy set of a firestorm of protest across the Muslim world. Muslims rioted because they said we were not respecting their culture. It was clear that they did not understand or respect our culture. Freedom of the press is integral to our sense of public life. The Muslim who murdered Van Gogh showed an incompatibility between being a Muslim European. His belief in the strictures of the Koran did not diminish his belief in the freedom of speech; it completely destroyed it. It is not clear that separation of Mosque and State is a possibility.
survival might well depend on
understanding the peculiarity of our cultural traditions. To the extent that our valuing the separation
of Church and State is essential to our identity, protecting it is also. Whereas foreign governments should be
encouraged to invest in profit making enterprises in
Tribes, bands and chiefdoms did not feature a wide arrange of roles to choose from. There was, as we saw, an amazing amount of diversity between tribes. But within the tribes anthropologists do not need a lot of time or paper to describe all of the opportunities available to men or women. Basically, men hunt and women gather. Agricultural states are often identified by sharp hierarchy in jobs. Most people are peasant farmers in such societies. Their behaviors are stable, predictable and thus also describable. Those that are not peasants are usually members of the priestly elite, army or royal family. These roles are stable for generations.
societies virtually defy description. We
have so many different types of identities and roles to choose from that it is dizzying.
Our schools try desperately to give everyone a taste of all the
possibilities so that they can decide what they want to be when they grow
up. But even if they succeed, modern
Americans no longer spend their entire lives within one profession. Fluidity of trends and identities are one of
our most consistent and characteristic features. But explaining diversity would not help a prospective immigrant asking what
will be expected of them in
The clarity of this description of our culture can be enhanced when it is used to show what we do not expect. Women’s roles are perfect for this purpose. Nothing so thoroughly distinguishes us from other cultures that do or have existed than our attitudes towards women. We do not expect women to stay at home and be subservient baby makers. We provide women with the same educational and financial and military opportunities as men. In most cultures women have no choice. In non-Western societies women are nearly all mothers and homemakers. Traditional cultures rarely even give them a choice of whom they will marry and make babies for. The coherence of our culture is clear when contrasted with such practices.
In this sense, the possibilities open to Americans can be ironically pigeonholed as being diverse. Our economy has been the backbone of our ability to be diverse. These possibilities are not available by virtue of a mystical decree. People in other countries do not have many opportunities. People need to eat. This shortage of wealth often prevents people from going to school. People without educations can only do jobs that can be learned quickly. Even if you have an education, in many societies there are very few non-agricultural jobs. People without money can not buy homes, take up hobbies and travel. Having a diversity of industrial and post-industrial economic sectors is a prerequisite for our diversity.
Our economic opportunities and diversity were created, as previously mentioned, by our Protestant cultural tendencies. Sobriety, hard work, thrift and a focus on education paved the way to our industrial might. Continued wealth will also require maintaining these cultural habits. Uneducated people with a high birth rate are neither conducive to the creation or the maintenance of first world economies. If it were, the poor countries of the world would be rich as they all have lots of children and low rates of education. Modern economies are built upon mind power more than manpower. From computers to vehicle manufacturing, the highly educated are the modern creators of wealth.
Poverty feeds upon itself. A lack of educational opportunity leads to poverty which leads to a lack of educational opportunities. The original and continuing separation of rich from poor countries can be traced to cultural values. Women are praised to the extent that they have a lot of babies early in some countries. Women, therefore, do not go to college. Only strong economies can afford to keep the resulting large populations out of the work force for the amount of time required to obtain a solid education. There is no place on earth where large families and economic opportunities are found together.
Lack of opportunity might be seen then to be the cause of the having poor educations. Yet even within countries that can afford such a luxury, not all cultural groups show equal propensities to take advantage of these opportunities. Even in first-world countries some cultural groups show a drop out rate that cannot be reconciled with determination to be educated. Of all the groups that immigrated in the late 19th century only Jews considerable raised their economic level via public schools. As a result they have contributed more to the economy than their numbers alone would predict. In making culturist judgment we should always keep in mind that we are trying to maintain a first-world economy. A widely shared Protestant-style cultural focus on being educated and having smaller families is necessary for our maintaining our status as a ‘land of opportunity’.
Individualism is one of the defining characteristics of Western culture. It so pervades our world view so thoroughly
that we do not notice it unless we spend a lot of time in other countries. Marriage partners are chosen by your family
in much of the world. Islamic countries
have decided what people will believe before they are born. In pre-historic cultures there was one set of
skills for men and another for women.
You did not use your mind to devise a life plan. Those who messed up the patterns of ritual
invited evil curses upon their people.
People do not seek to stand out of the crowd in such situations. People in the
As previously mentioned, our constellation of cultural heroes is largely populated by rebels. Achilles, Socrates, Jesus, Martin Luther, the Founding Fathers and Martin Luther King all questioned and fought against the given conditions of their society. In other cultures ambition is channeled into epitomizing the dictates of your religious station. Extreme piety is the ultimate virtue. Whereas other cultures hate those who defy ancient traditions, we love rebels even when they have no cause. We consider traditions to be stifling and unnecessary constrictions. We do not expect you to follow your parent’s ways. We celebrate trendsetters. Western individualism means forging your own path.
Like all cultural ideals, individualism is manifest in behaviors. In other cultures people live with their
parents until they are married and only then move out with their parent’s
permission and financial support. In
Individualism has been our traditional approach to approximating a
meritocracy. Some cultures do not have
any mechanism for getting the right people into the right positions. Kings have largely been selected based on the
basis of their being their father’s son.
Socrates was killed for questioning too much. His student, Plato, wrote the only completely preserved body of work by any Greek author in an effort to vindicate Socrates. Greeks had, again, fought for self-governance against the Persians. This self-governance included a right to kill dissenters. After Socrates’ unfair death, we had a new level of conscientiousness about killing individuals without good reason. Our love of the individual comes out of a very particular history. Western individualism means being conscious of belonging to a culture that has struggled to allow the individual to deviate.
Individualism went into occultation when the Catholics took over Europe
Rights, liberty, self-governance and responsibility
Outside of the West cultures have dwarfed the individual.
Rights have traditionally been regarded as protection from government imposed cultural impositions. These are called negative rights. Our Bill of Rights is an enumeration of negative rights. The government cannot interfere in your speech, religion or right to peacefully petition the government. The government cannot break into your house without a warrant. Positive rights refer to your being entitled to something. This new idea is seen manifest in the idea that you have the right to services such as healthcare, unemployment benefits and an education. The strong assertion of positive rights is a new development in our continuing experiment with self-governance.
Traditionally, not even negative rights have been asserted strongly. The distinction between license and liberty, as we have seen, was widely acknowledged in early American history. You were free to do good actions that led to your betterment (liberty) but not to engage in behaviors that were harmful to yourself or others (license). Restricting your right to sin was not seen as an infringement of your freedom. Such restrictions were necessary to the success of our experiment in free government. Lust for power would cause people to become kings. Lust for drink would undermine people’s economic ability to support themselves. Being able to remain free requires that our whole culture knows the difference between liberty and license.
The faith that we could understand this distinction was based on the hope that people would remember the battle between the body and the spirit that Plato, Jesus and Freud meditated upon. True liberty was something you earned by resisting enslaving passions. As liberty was spiritual, the only way in which the government could help you was by removing obstacles. Creating an environment where you would not be led into temptation was done to enhance your liberty. But in the end, Protestant-style, your salvation had to result from an inner struggle. If you avoided drink and sex, and devoted yourself to righteous activities in a disciplined way, you would be able to guide your own destiny. This was the path to true liberty. Ultimately this was a personal struggle.
Our foray into anthropology showed us that those who have no guidance are not, by default, forward-looking ambitious rational people. Impoverished groups warring with other groups for ridiculous reasons happens. Self-government has come to mean next to no government. Remaining free without guidance requires that we have an even stronger internal understanding that wealth, rights, liberty and self-governance are incompatible with many tendencies. If we do not accept the culturist responsibility to guide ourselves internally, the guidelines will have to come from the outside. Our country has seen itself as being on the front line of internal controls. Since conscious self-governance was birthed it has been understood to be based on the need for responsible restraint.
High culture and culture
The function of culture (in the artistic sense) is that it unites people. Early on people were united by rituals and common beliefs. They had distinctive markings and language that also reminded them of which group they belonged to. When writing was created it allowed these shared cultural attributes to be spread over a larger area. Monuments, text and art all informed the culture’s inhabitants of a shared legacy and destiny. Widely dispersed collective concerns were thereby made possible. We have an immense amount of cultural artifacts to serve this purpose.
Culture is often taken to be synonymous with high culture. In this sense, to be cultured is to be familiar with the classics of your culture. Culturism is only incidentally concerned with this definition of culture. Culturism concerns the management and protection of dominant cultures in their entirety. High culture is certainly an aspect of this. But to the extent that your ideas only reach a tiny elite minority, they are not affecting the culture at large. Popular culture is the sphere successful attempts at culturism cannot ignore.
With the purpose of culture in mind, ‘I Love Lucy’ could serve as an effective a source of common identity as Shakespeare. In fact, at first glance ‘I Love Lucy’ may seem a superior basis upon which to base your cultural cohesion. ‘I Love Lucy’ is accessible to a wider audience. After a long day of exhausting work, more people watch situation comedies than struggle through Shakespeare. Shakespeare does not get aired during prime time. Most everybody can and does love Lucy.
Shakespeare, however, is a preferable source of cultural unity. Knowing about ‘I Love Lucy’ only binds you with traditions going back sixty years. It does not convey the longevity of our culture. Furthermore, it is, sorry to say, specific to one generation. Young Americans are more likely to remember Buffy the Vampire Slayer than Lucy. Shakespeare is a cultural artifact that can unite all living generations. Because Shakespeare is English using him ties us to another country. Plato is, on this scale, superior to Shakespeare because he ties us to Western civilization in its entirety.
Another difference between
our Lucy and Shakespeare is in the
esteem they generate. Hamlet is even understood to be a product of unequaled
genius by those who have not read it or
seen it performed. Thus it
engenders veneration. No great concern
would be expended to sustain the culture that brought us ‘I Love Lucy’. It is important that we remember and
celebrate Homer, Herodotus, Plato, Jesus,
The excellence of these icons of greatness not only provides a broader and stronger base for a shared Western past, it sets the stage for a stronger Western future. That is because they represent excellence. A sense of excellence is a prerequisite to accomplishment. We cannot all agree upon standards of greatness. But the only thing worse than not having any agreed upon standards is having no standards at all. The absence of standards means that you will put anything into your body and soul. You are what you consume. A culture that has no connection to excellence will not strive for excellence. If you do not strive for excellence you will not create it.
High culture can provide our society’s secular members with our religious heritage by letting them know that some things are higher than others. Puritan excellence was predicated on avoiding all unprofitable actions and influences to an extreme. We are not as neurotic as the Puritans were. We need not scorn ‘I Love Lucy’ because it is too trivial for us. Fun is a big part of our modern economy. Fun is appealing. We are probably more likely to defend our culture because we do not want the fun to end as we are to do so out of a sense of duty. Yet it is ennobling for us to remember, via Shakespeare, the Bible or Plato, that some endeavors profit one’s soul more than others.
One of the most beautiful aspects of
A debate flared when the Smithsonian
proposed to commemorate the 50th
anniversary of the bombing of
The Japanese do not share the same sense of soul scouring. During the war they raped and pillaged and lied without conscience. They tortured prisoners of war. After the war they refused to acknowledge these crimes. They said that the seventy thousand women they had abducted and transported to military bases for constant gang raping were paid in room and board! If the Japanese would have had the bomb they would have dropped it with glee. They certainly would not have had a national debate over whether dropping the bombs were right fifty years after the fact.
When we have felt that
we have done harm we have apologized.
After we went to
The Japanese have given no compensation to Americans tortured in death camps. They have not compensated their Asian rape camp victims. Most nations have gone to war for conquest, slaves and booty. The Japanese and Germans did not start World War II to liberate anyone. The list of countries fighting for reasons other than the ruler’s aggrandizement, revenge and money is very small. It is not unusual that we have sometimes acted in self-interest. That we have tried to justify it in moral terms when we have is strange. Having repeatedly gone to war to save other people is bizarre. We are amongst the most altruistic cultures ever.
We may be conscientious to a fault. Even when we are dealing with deranged mass murderers, we give the perpetrators many expensive rights. As good Puritans, the West is easily manipulated by guilt. We feel guilty for the wealth we have created. We feel badly when we give preferential treatment to our own country’s needs. Multiculturalism is born repentance for the sin of pride and desire to be fair to others. Having a conscience is good. But when it leads to a constant focus on one’s faults it has gone too far. We have, and should be proud of having, a strong sense of conscience. The Puritans and the Founding Fathers would like that about us.
Our past and our future
Multiculturalism is wrong about our not having a core culture. We have a very strong and specific
culture. A look at a broader sweep of
cultures makes this obvious. We value
liberty and rights beyond what any current or historical culture has. Our culture has very deep roots. Philosophically they are built around
self-creation and self-governance.
Current Western values are heavily influenced by their Protestant
roots. And from
Cultures permeate all levels of society.
One solid piece of evidence that we have a specific culture is the stellar
cast of cultural heroes we have. They
all embody aspects of our cultural sensibility.
Rational struggle and creation are at the heart of each of them. There is a direct line between Socrates’
questioning of the State and Luther’s defiance of the Pope. The Puritans, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison
all hated to waste time. Achilles and
Oscar Wilde both railed against the limits of their situations. Shakespeare and Picasso are both known for
breaking down limits.
Hatred of precedent is one thing that all of these creators share. It is a virtue, but also dangerous. The past and our understanding of it are essential to our successfully continuing to live up the mandate to pass on our experiment in rational self-governance to posterity. Ignorance of history keeps us from knowing how rare and precious our experiment is. Ignorance of history keeps us from understanding the responsibilities that liberty entails. Ignorance of history has cut us loose from the mooring provided by elevating the mind over the body. Ignorance of history keeps us from realizing that greatness is a possibility. Ignorance of history has led us to romanticize the past. Ignorance of history cuts us off from those who would be our inspirations. Ignorance of history has robbed us of understanding the nature of our progressive mission. Ignorance of history has kept us from knowing who we are.
If Western culture ceases to exist, the world would be thrown into a much more traditional mode. Theocratic and race based countries would be free to perpetuate themselves without regard to freedom of the individual, freedom of consciousness or the sense of rights that the Western cultures hold dear. Technology would continue to roll out of cultures that are conducive to this sort of creation. But the humane nature of the world would be undercut. The world of free expression and opportunity our culture considers nearly synonymous with life itself would be severely limited. Diversity exists and the Dark Ages happened. The ability to dissent might be diminished or destroyed.
Our experimental and idealistic culture is a very fragile thing. Western culture lacks the racial or theological sources of unity that have defined most other cultures. We have freedom and a separation of Church and State instead. All we have to unify us is a shared understanding of our culture and its values. If we forget that it is our duty to strive to vindicate these values, they will lose ground. Less sensitive, heavy-handed cultures that do not mind indiscriminant killing of individuals have advantages in battle. Our advantage is in our ability to adapt and recreate ourselves. Our ability to change rapidly also means that we can easily go in bad directions. Going in the right direction requires that we remember our mission and traditions.
This chapter is going to show how cultures work and become conscious entities in nature. Understanding this process will facilitate our becoming more affective culturists. Crude and one-sided comparisons of human and animal behavior have been used to justify atrocities and often simply reflect the politics of the hour. Caution is warranted. To say we should form a highly regimented caste system because ants do would be absurd. To recommend monarchy because it is what bees do would result in disaster. Having females kill their mates and eat them during copulation because some spiders do would be highly objectionable.
We have to be discerning when generalizing from other species behaviors to our own. Basic zoology tells us which animals we are more and less like. It would be absurd for us to expect a zebra behaviors to fall somewhere in the spectrum of bird behaviors. It would be less absurd for us to expect finches’ spectrum of behaviors to overlap with that of the parakeets’. Furthermore we must not forget that the spectrum of types of behaviors a species may exhibit happens in the context of a particular environment. Primates, for example, who spend much of their lives in trees tend to be smaller. We should not divorce insights taken from the animal world from their contexts.
Forays into nature are justified more by its revealing guidelines than recommendations. Humans are special in that we need not mechanically follow nature’s commands. Females can make babies and human males cannot. That does not mean that all women must do this and nothing else. Neither can we, however, completely disregard the requirements of the natural world. If no one makes, raises or protects the young our longevity will be compromised. Anyone who thinks that we can completely ignore the natural world has forgotten about the birds and the bees.
Looking into nature will show us the good, as well as the bad and ugly
potentials of our species. Being aware
of such dynamics allows us to be aware of when we are going in a direction that
is not sustainable. Kibbutzim tried to
eradicate family partiality. It was
doomed to failure by our basic psychological make-up. The
Culturism in nature
“The goal of research is to produce a validated model that both organizes and best interprets an expanding body of data” Culturism is meant to be an organizing principle for a vast array of data. One can use it as a model by which to organize the disparate facts found in every branch of the social sciences. But this model must be based on actual facts or deserve to be treated as fiction. Culturism is shown to not be fiction by its being an effective organizer of factual data. Ultimately, showing that it holds in the natural sciences as well as the soft is meant to establish its objective existence. As such it can be confirmed as ‘validated model’ with which to interpret situations.
Many are under the impression that hard sciences do not evoke a frame of reference when announcing facts. But facts are not just facts. When we are looking for the properties of wood, it is necessary to consider the parameters under which we are investigating. Are we purely interested in listing elements? Are we concerned with its rate of combustion? We might be looking at its function within an ecosystem. Then again, its place in the national economy might be the question at hand. Investigating ‘wood’ is always done at some chosen level of inquiry.
Nature presents us a meaningless diversity unless we choose to look for patterns. Lists of incidents and examples could back up each generalization. But this investigation will be done with an eye to verify culturism and hazard applications. Gestation time, mating structures or patterns of food sharing do not make sense in isolation. Animal behaviors only make sense when seen as adaptations to the social and natural conditions they are ensconced in. It is not, therefore, strange that we should investigate the natural world with an eye to culturism.
Evolution is a fact. This is beyond dispute. Disputes do still rage, however, over what the mechanisms that direct it are. Is the gene pool mostly changed via sexual selection (females mating with the biggest) or natural selection (mutations that survive in nature being passed on)? Do behavior changes lead to genetic types being conserved more often than genetic changes lead to behavioral innovations? In reality evolution includes various mechanisms and they work in different proportions within different communities in differing circumstances. In general those qualities that increase the viability of a species will do better than those that do not.
For our purposes the debates over whether genetic survival is a function of individual or group success are a priority. The struggle for survival had always been popularly portrayed as a struggle of individuals against individuals. During the 1960’s and 70’s natural selection was found to be efficiently modeled at an individual level. “Selfish genes” were deemed to be the raison d’ arte of this struggle. Chickens struggled to have their genes passed on. But at a deeper level, chickens were just mechanisms for genes to copy themselves. A chicken was humorously said to be a way for an egg to copy itself. This was an individualistic, reductivist model.
This explanation ran into trouble because of the prevalence of altruism in the animal world. Some animals put their lives in jeopardy by warning others of an approaching predator. Animals will sacrifice themselves (and their genes) to save their fellows. A purely individualistic struggle for gene perpetuation would not allow personal genocide. Furthermore, many social insects are sterile. What were these little guys thinking? Didn’t they know that it was not the struggle for other’s survival that they were supposed to be involved in? Individual models of evolution had to account for such behaviors.
Mathematical models were employed to explain away this problem. Your willingness to sacrifice yourself was discovered to be proportional to your genetic relatedness to those you were benefiting. Thus ‘kin selection’ was born as a concept. An animal sacrificing itself to warn a group is said to pass on many genes that are like his. The animal that warns the others may die. But if three siblings who each share fifty percent of his same genes survive, his genes will have done the selfish thing after all. His communication is only deceptively seems to be concerned with the other. In fact, mathematical models showed, his sacrifice is selfish from the gene’s point of view.
This explanation does an unsatisfactory job of rescuing the individual as the focus of gene transmission. Even if one accepts the mathematical model used to justify the altruistic animals actions, you still have to acknowledge that the individual is not the mechanism by which genes are passed on. The individual died. The genetically selfish thing to do was to sacrifice himself for the group! That means that the fates of the genes rise or fall with that of the group. Genetic selection, by this model’s logic, is happening at the group level. The animal that sacrifices himself must, then, really be concerned with the group.
‘Group selection’ means that groups rise or fall, pass on their genes or fail to, based upon whether or not their collective behaviors lead to successful making and rearing of offspring. As with the molecular and economic analysis of wood, several models may be true simultaneously. Models, again, should be favored if they both organize and interpret an expanding body of data well. In many parts of the natural world, dog-eat-dog individualism is an inaccurate model. Group selection is attractive because it accounts for nature as it actually appears as an aggregate in the many situations in which the individualistic selection model seems inadequate.
Groups are a prevalent feature of the natural world. No animal is an island. All interact with their environment. Many insects, fish and birds and mammals gather in groups for protection, the ability to have division of labor and to better manipulate their environment. No solitary ant could build an anthill and isolation is emotionally hard on gregarious animals. The nature of pregnancy requires that nearly all living species need to come together to cooperate at some point in their lives. And the newer the species the more likely it is that raising the child will require cooperation.
Successful models help us understand the world and our place in it. To know where we belong in nature it is helpful to know that two types of animal groups exist. Anonymous groups are those in which the members do not know each other individually. Fish swarm and bird flock together to confuse predators. They may know their mate or offspring temporarily, but have no personal relationship with other group members. Individualized groups are those in which the animals know other group members. As sure as we recognize people outside of our family, we are a part of the category of individuated group animals. Knowing what characteristics all animals in individuated groups share will tell us about ourselves.
Belong to an individuating category of animals means, first of all, that we should take a group selection / culturist approach to understanding our behaviors. Individualistic “survival of the fittest” models are inappropriate for us. We have our individual struggles for survival. But ultimately, we rise or fall as our group does. In our niche natural selection is kinder than we have been led to believe. Nature favors individualized groups where members altruistically care about the overall good. The cruel ‘war of all against all’ model does not provide a fulfilling explanation for our category of species.
The boundary between the group and the individual is fuzzy in nature. Slime molds are everyone’s favorite example of this. They are made up of individual amoebas that spend much of their lifecycle as individuals. But when food becomes scarce they join together to create a slime mold – a larger organism. Some become stalk material. Others become spores. Those that become stalk do not propagate. They sacrifice their chance at reproduction so that those who become spores can reproduce. Lifted aloft by the stalk, spores can ride the winds to areas where, hopefully, more food can be found.
Lots of lessons are to be derived from this. You might object that humans are so different from slime molds that no parallels can be found. However, upon reflection you will recognize that we also see groups as meaningful sometimes and unimportant at others. Not coincidentally, we also tend to ignore the group when things are going well for us and cling to it when things are not going well. It was during the Great Depression that we realized that the government had a role in managing the economy. We should not feel guilty about our only realizing the importance of others when we are in trouble. It is natural.
Furthermore, we can take moral direction from these amoebas. They are willing to altruistically sacrifice for the common good, because they realize that the group’s interest and their own are contiguous. Each of the amoebas has the same genetic make-up (as kin selection folk would point out). Though Western society is no longer defined by a genetic stock (slime mold part pun intended), we have a common interest in the perpetuation of Western culture. If you identify with that culturist statement (especially in times of emergency), your genetic progeny and cultural con-specifics will be blessed by the continuation of our culture if you altruistically help the group.
Kin selection folk would say that the genetic identity shows that slime mold amoebas are not altruistic. In effect, the slime mold does not exist. We see a bunch of individuals that have come together that just appear to have formed a larger being with differentiated parts for the good of the whole. Genes are just trying to get copies of themselves passed along. In effect, the group, the slime mold does not exist; selfish genes do. The slime mold is an unimportant illusion resulting from the coordinated acts of genetically selfish individuals. So while groups are sometimes obvious, they would say, they are not real. We are not hallucinating when we see slime molds form. And, fortunately slime molds are not the only example of group behavior we have.
Entire bee colonies change from foraging in a less nutritious area of flowers to a more nutritious one in minutes. When bees return from foraging they do what is called a ‘waggle dance’ and unload their pollen. How emphatically they dance and how quickly they unload their nectar conveys how much gold they have struck. Individually they cannot know whether theirs was the best or worst find. They have no point of comparison. The hive compares and follows the one with more energy and nectar en masse. So the group has been able to make a decision that the individual bees could not make on their own. Their group is a source of added intelligence. The group is a reality.
Slime molds and bee colonies adapt to their environment as a group. They also illustrate that nature works on different levels simultaneously. As kin selection folk will tell you the individual does what he thinks right. But at the same time, that often involves being part of a group. Purely collectivist political philosophies ignore the reality of the individual and are not sensitive to changing situations. That is a bad extreme. On the other hand, extreme individualism results in the negation of social reality. It robs us of potential social intelligence and may make collective adaptation harder. For optimal survival value, we should avoid extremes in either direction. We are individuals that need groups for survival.
We live our lives within social systems. This is painful to Western ears. We think that we are “self-made” individuals. But our place in the animal kingdom belies the fact that our existence requires a community. Large primates tend to live in communities and we are large primates. The only exceptions to this rule, orangutans, live in trees. We are ground dwelling primates. And even orangutans come together for mating purposes and have social bonds with their offspring. Our natural state, as a species, is social.
With apologies to Western creed, rank gradations are ubiquitous in the animal kingdom. Absolute equality is a nice thought, but not reality. In nature some animals rule over others. The struggle for rank tends to be more of a male thing, but it is widespread even amongst females. Having a boss is not only a human thing. Those at the ‘top rungs of the pecking order’ tend to have access to the better foods and more females. The sad corresponding fact is that the losers in the hierarchical struggle have less access to quality foods and females. They get the dregs.
And though many are gloomy about the fact that nature is not communist, there are warm and fuzzy tendencies embedded into this system. In a lot of animals, the battle for primacy tends to be stupid and brutal. Animals with antlers simply bang their heads into each other to see who is top dog. “Alpha male” is the term given to the animal in the dominant leadership position in the group. In primates, becoming the alpha male is as much a matter of being liked as it is of head banging. Male baboons get to the top by a combination of fighting and coalition building. But staying at the top is more a matter of psychological intimidation and social skills. If a baboon is brutal he will often be righteously hated and overthrown.
Even amongst our most bloodthirsty of relatives, the chimpanzees, physical strength is only one factor in determining dominance. The ability to make coalitions with males and females is at least as important as the ability to dominate physically. Frans de Waal carefully described how one alpha chimpanzee doubled the time he spent with females when his status was under attack. When they abandoned him, his reign seemed to be over. His subsequent recapturing of the alpha male position was due to strategic coalitions and female support. His reinstatement happened despite the fact that he could no longer dominate physically.
As we elders would hope, age and experience are respected in the rest of the primate world. Alpha males often rule due to their seniority. That they do so is largely a function of their having long lasting relationships and knowledge. When baboons go through treeless areas they form a circle. Females with infants are brought into the center of the formation. Then an elder male is often sent out alone to scout for lions. This is the most dangerous position.  Why do they send him out? He has more experience searching for lions. He can spot them better. Due to their wealth of experience old baboons are very necessary even when they pass their physical prime.
Impartiality is a key to being a good alpha male. Arbitration reduces
discord. One might think that apes would
support their relatives, friends, and allies.
This is indeed true for most members of an ape society. But a successful
alpha-male follows different
rules. He is involved in restoring peace
more than in aiding his friends. Maintaining
order in primate communities requires that the government impartially applies
rules. Successful cooperation in
a socially aware group requires a sense of fair play. Herein we see a guideline to social
When alpha male chimps do take sides he often supports the weaker against the stronger. One reason for this is, undoubtedly, that there are more poor than rich in every tribe. But this political assessment on the part of the chimp reflects a consciousness that transcends brute power. It recognizes that unfair dominance will result in resentment. That is it recognizes a psychological truth that comes from the division of resources. Apes are shrewd as well as instinctual. The two are not mutually exclusive. We share this psychological characteristic. We know that the powerful joining power against the weaker will cause resentment and political instability.
Dominance hierarchies are not things we should have a negative reflex to. Our Western aversion to them is like having an aversion to wind blowing. In nature they are devices for turning aggression and competition into peaceful, stable and cooperative social systems. Social scientists should note that males have a need for dominance. They will always be a constant jockeying that butts against equality. If such tendencies are not channeled by society, they may get out of control. Furthermore, staying on top is not just a matter of physical dominance. Allies and being seen to be impartial are necessary. Social dominance is social.
The evolution of learning
Looking at the evolution of culture is instructive. Once upon a time, there was no culture. We organisms adapted to our surroundings by spinning genetic mutations. Microscopic organisms still prefer this method. Within their small genomes, every mutation is very significant. Furthermore, their reproduction happens at a very fast clip. Toxins increase the rate of mutation. One of the mutations will prove to be immune to an introduced toxin, survive and reproduce. Within hours a resistant population will have been generated. This process of overcoming toxins results in antibiotics and pesticides losing their effectiveness after a while.
This method of ‘learning’ also happens in populations of larger organisms. But it is a painful way to learn to adapt. The black plague was brought to an end by its having successfully killed everyone that did not have a natural immunity to it. The still reproducing population was able to live amidst the disease and reproduce. Within a small group, hoping enough animals will mutate in order to face the hazard of a new environmental hazard provides a less practicable defense. Our personal genomes cannot mutate; the offspring are the mutants. The individual gets no comfort from this form of collective learning. Small numbers of humans are not protected by generational mutation.
Small organisms have short lifecycles. Their whole population can mutate within hours. Elephants can live to be over seventy years old. By the time the elephant genome has adapted to its environment, the immediate situation will have changed again. Worse yet, the more complicated a genome gets the less important a single beneficial mutation tends to be. The odds of a small herd of elephants mutating their way out of an environmental hazard in time are infinitesimal. Fortunately, evolution came up with a better source of avoiding lion attacks than genetic mutation: behavioral choice.
Behavioral choices started early on in evolution. Amoebas make choices. Motile amoebas have two propeller-like appendages. These allow them to move towards areas of nutritious chemicals. To facilitate the process the amoeba has a small amount of memory. It compares the concentration of nutrition in the water before and after its action. That is how it decides whether it is going in the right direction or whether it needs to try another direction. So they have a goal and go for it. But is this a choice? Is this mental? Or is it just as unconscious as water ‘choosing’ to separate from oil? This is a tough call.
The behavioral options of the amoeba are hardwired. It cannot decide to try another sort of food or go on a diet. It is nearly as accurate to say “The nutritious chemical attracts the amoeba” as it is to say “The amoeba swims towards the nutritious compounds.” But flexibility is always a matter of degree. Do you choose to be scared of the horror film or does the horror film scare you? Do males choose to be attracted to beautiful women, or do beautiful women attract them? We have a choice of what to eat and when to eat it. Eating is hardwired. The ‘mental state’ of hunger is not chosen.
The difference between us and the amoeba is not in whether or not we have a choice, but in the amount of choices we have. Amoeba must swim towards certain chemical compounds. If chimps cannot find a monkey to eat, they can eat termites. They know that certain sorts of leaves are edible. They have options. Thus when the seasons change, they can survive. And every time the environment changes, those who have been able to survive have added another option to their species repertoire. Still birds have fewer options than we do. Their options are by and large predetermined. The bigger animals are, the bigger their brains are and the more behavioral choices they have.
Eventually open systems evolved in which organisms are able to learn about the environment they are in and adjust their behavior to it. This expensive hardware requires big brains. Being able to recognize prey and catch it or recognize predators and avoid them requires a lot of information in a complex world. This requires flexibility as the stimuli that it would be wise to have eliciting those behaviors vary from region to region. Programming the exact predators and their behaviors into brains would take up too much space and be inflexible. Thus brains created heuristics or general rules to live by. Rather than just being afraid of their particular predators, animals are generally afraid of large objects that move towards them at rapid speeds. But the shapes of such things vary and this is combined with a heuristic that tells the animal when the chase has ended and when it is generally wise to turn and fight.
The complexity of heuristics reflects the long evolutionary path through which they were refined. Beings were not just chemical reactions dedicated to finding a chemical. Eyes that could differentiate colors you can run through and those that represent solid objects evolved. Animals learned to eat meat. The meat learned to run away. The predator got faster. Only those animals that ran away from sound at a distance survived. Hair trigger heuristics that made prey afraid of all sudden loud noises evolved. Henceforth, only those animals that could sneak up on their prey survived. And so the dance of survival created senses, abilities and complex arrays of options to consider. Animals know to feed their young, follow the leader and chase small animals that run from them.
Psychology in nature
To many the heading ‘psychology in nature’ may seem problematic. They will take it as self-evident that amoebas do not think. Putting us in the same discussion as chimpanzees presents less of a stretch. Still, the implications for humans that can be drawn from the natural world are not immediately obvious. They need to be approached with an appreciation of our unique levels of freedom of cognition. But before the nature of and recognition of our differences with other species can be had, we need to see the ways in which we are similar.
The evolutionary approach to psychology explains much of our behavior satisfactorily. Successful gene propagation explains much of the dance of love. Men can impregnate many women. Propagating their genes is best achieved by having as many partners as possible. Women cannot increase their fertility by having multiple partners. Females maximizing the amount of children they have that reach maturity is facilitated by screening the quality of, not increasing the quantity of partners they have. Thus, before sex, it pays off evolutionarily for them to seek evidence of an ability to provide and willingness to stick around and do so.
Evolutionary psychology’s predictions for humans have been confirmed. Women are attracted to men that have status. That is because status is correlated with access to the resources needed to feed offspring. Women also seek rings, in our culture, as a sign of fidelity and an ability to provide for their offspring before having sex. Men’s programming keeps them seeking fresh sexual partners. Thus evolutionary psychology successfully explains why the overwhelming majority of pornography caters to men. Men wan partners, women want promises. Thus, out of evolutionary prerogatives, emerges the dance of romance.
Women actually prefer the smells of men with high status! Men who lost their jobs lose most of their testosterone. Their smells change. We should not feel bad. We are not alone. Chimps who lose their status also lose testosterone. When men fight for status, it is not always done with the awareness that there might be a deep biological reason for their striving. Freud recognized this connection. But many of us do not think “I must get a promotion so that I can get more women and leave more progeny.” The drive to achievement just seems natural to us. It is.
Men are programmed to find fertile and genetically healthy women stimulating. Youth, symmetry and good skin are evidence of these traits. Men find these traits attractive. Seeing these reproductively promising characteristics results in the chemical oxytocin being released in our brains. This, in turn, facilitates social interaction and induces bonding between mating partners. We are not always aware that we are working in evolutionarily beneficial ways. Poor families’ best way up is to have their pretty daughter marry up. Poor families spend more time with their female children. The way for rich families to maintain their wealth is through their boy’s achievement. Rich families spend more time with their males. More evolutionarily appropriate strategies could not be chosen were we aware of the ramifications.
What does marrying up mean anyhow? Again, heuristics are important. Programming different indicators for status for every possible cultural arrangement we might ever encounter would be impossible. Instead women are attracted to, and men strive towards, the culturally approved determinants of status. In some societies status is conferred on men who make money. Other societies reward bravery in battle and hunting. If you cannot make money in our society you still have hope. Perhaps you can be the leader of a punk rock band. Your status will increase the circle of friends you can draw upon for favors. And perhaps it will translate into money. At any rate, the females in your tribe will be attracted to you.
Culture is evidence of human thought. The level at which we think is radically different than that of any other animal in existence. At some level you cannot compare us with any other animal. We have differential modes of survival and proving ourselves that chimpanzees could, literally, never dream of. But there are evolutionary programs running underneath the conscious levels of control we exert on the world. Natural tendencies are represented in youth following (musical) groups and identifying with their leaders. Ignorance of such dynamics does not make us less able to manipulate such variables. To be aware of our evolutionary imperatives does not degrade us as it makes us more conscious.
Heuristics saved a lot of construction costs. A brain that had, again, a gene that coded for knowing about every possible situation would be, again, overly complicated and large. Furthermore, it would not be adaptable. If climate changes forced a new predator into your region, the brain would have no gene to recognize it. Rules of thumb work better. These heuristics work best if they are general and specifics are learned after birth. Thus the bird can show you how to eat and to eat long tubular things. But, in a specific environment, mother can show you what sorts of tubular things and where they are located. Thus learning was born.
To facilitate this learning behavior, nature created childhood. Children of nearly every species are born unequipped to make it in the real world. Moms fill the gap. Anyone can lay an egg and leave it. But being a mother requires a lengthy dedication. To facilitate that devotion, love was born. And, beautifully enough, love is one of the characteristics that distinguishes smarter animals. When you destroy love’s place in your culture you undermine the bonds of care that allow children the time and security they need to develop their potential.
Pregnant women are not good providers. Children do not know how to hunt. Mother and child do not a sustainable unit make. In nature their abandonment often leads to death. Kids that survived had responsible dads. The father had stick-around genes. The children of such males, by and large, inherit them and pass them along. If not love itself, males have to have a sense of responsibility for the youth in their communities. A child who gets no economic support or guidance from the community will not survive or thrive. If someone shows junior the tools of the trade, he can live to help in the hunt. The state has taken much of this responsibility in the West, but biology is important. Stepfathers are much more likely to abuse their stepchildren than biological fathers.
Play is a rich source of learning. The child learns to read faces. We, like other mammals, express emotions such as sadness and anger with our facial expressions. The range of expressions and their meanings are innate. All humans smile, laugh and cry. But how much teasing we can get away with and how to charm and deceive with these built in tools needs to be learned in social situations. We also learn who we are in social situations. All of us come with dispositions. Some learn that they are weak. Their best defense lies in making friends. Some will learn that we are strong. They will practice bullying and bluffing. Youth is a time for finding out where you fit in the social order. We learn who in our immediate social world we can trust and who lies a lot. In play you not only learn to hunt, protect and evade; you learn to get along in a complex social world.
To a limited extent, animals also learn through imitation. Birds
refine their songs through imitation.
More impressive, some chimpanzees choose and clean sticks in
order to get termites to eat. Not all
do. Other chimpanzees break nuts open
with rocks. Not all do. These behaviors are not hardwired. They can
be said to be, in a rudimentary sense, cultural. They are regionally distinct
behaviors. A lot can be done with
imitation. In 1952 Macaques on
Only humans engage in active teaching. We not only have extended childhoods and doting moms, we have teachers. Dolphin mothers dissuade their young from going near boats. A baboon dad will break up a fight that has gotten too rough. But they do not teach novel behaviors to their young. The slight variations that occur between groups results from imitation. Birds pick up the local accent by imitation. Chimps learn to get termites with a stick by imitation. We actively teach. This unique cultural feature can only exist become we come hardwired to learn. Without direct guidance, kids pick up the language and cultural traits of those around them. Again, as with what we have discussed before, it is not efficient for us to have too many specifics built into this system. We come hardwired to adopt variants of cultural tropes. But after we have absorbed the basics we also have contain the ability to consciously transmit and absorb advanced information in a way that other animals cannot. This ability has made us extremely adaptive. Being hardwired to learn has been the ingredient that has led to our taking over the world.
To understand behavior we have to look at its meaning with its complex social web. We have all seen male animals ramming each other. But why are they doing so? They are contesting territory. But why are they doing so? The answer varies from species to species. The Ugandan kob (a species of antelope) highlights some of the dynamics. They meet on the stomping ground and fight it out. The males fight for territory and the females flirt with the winners. The females will, in fact, only be sexually responsive to the winning male. Central properties bring more female kobs than perimeter properties. Nature has seen to it that what the male strives for and what the female prizes coincide.  This is what nature wants. Animals that win such fights have, on average, larger antlers and more offspring. The species thus gets grander. Those who lose move to the perimeter. There they are picked off by predators.
Competition between members of the same social group is not bloody. There are signals whereby one animal acknowledges the superiority of the other. Wolves, for example, roll on their backs and urinate a bit. Such concession behaviors immediately stop the fighting. Animals do not have aggressive combat with other species either. They may hunt them, but this killing does not involve the aggressive emotions. The struggle for survival within groups is largely a matter of struggle for mates, not battle to the death. Deadly fighting happens between different groups of the same species. Moral behavior within groups is often used to facilitate immoral behavior between groups. This contrasts strongly with the notion of universal morality. The rule is cooperation within groups and struggle between groups.
Marking is more often used to maintain territory than actual combat. Extreme colors announce an extremely aggressive and territorial fish. Corral fish are so bright because they live in an area of limited resources. Ants are constantly licking each other for purposes of identification. In howling monkeys males of different troops utter warning cries. They may sound ferocious, but intimidation keeps the competitors at bay. Smell is another common method of marking territory. Dogs leave smell markers all over their territory. Rats also use smell. They love their young. They are kind to each other. They teach each other where food sources are and how to avoid poisons. But if you take their young out, clean them and rub them with another scent they will then ruthlessly kill their relative as they would any other outsider.
Nature’s large ubiquitous array of territorial markers serves to minimize violent confrontation. A territorial neighbor is not usually a threat. They stay on their side of the boundaries and you stay on yours. Birds recognize the songs of their neighbors. They are often neutral to the songs of their neighbors, but react aggressively to a stranger’s song. The net effect of a well-established spatial system is a reduction of agonistic behavior to low levels and innocuous forms. But if all goes well strangers and neighbors will respect the borders and violent confrontations will not be necessary. Good fences keep battles to the death at bay.
The readiness to fight is the strongest in the middle of its territory. The threshold value of fight-eliciting stimuli is at its lowest where the animal feels safest. Translated that means animals will fight anything that dares get near the middle of its territory. Furthermore, the closer to his core area an animal is the more likely he is to win the fight over it. Invading someone else’s turf is not a good idea. If a neighbor wanders into the middle of another’s territory, the other will chase it out. As the pursuit crosses over into the neighbor’s territory the animal being chased increasingly gains confidence and a willingness to turn and fight. Meanwhile as the pursuer gets farther from his core area his motivation wanes. Close to his home range the animal being pursued will turn and chase the chaser back. Eventually, they will come to equilibrium at equidistance between their respective territorial centers. The boundary reestablished, they can go back to their normal lives.
Environmental economic logic underlies explains these behaviors. Fighting is bad for both sides. The core area has the highest concentration of predictable resources. It makes sense that we should defend it violently. Peripheral areas can remain contested as long as core areas are not. The home territory size must be big enough to feed those in it and provide a cushion of safety. If the core area were to get too large it would expose the animals to unnecessary danger as they infringed on other animal’s territory and take great effort to defend. Territorial boundaries strike a balance at the need / safety ratio. This formula seems to apply widely in nature. Still great variation exists. It is nice that not all of nature follows the ways of our closest relatives.
Chimpanzees are highly territorial. Even in captivity, male chimps patrol their borders. Males regularly go on border patrols. Patrolling chimps destroyed enemy nests they came across. Genocide is believed to happen. In the time that Jane Goodall lived with chimpanzees she saw four chimpanzee populations wiped out by war. The winners of such struggles kill the enemy infants and males and claim the vacant territory and females in it for themselves. Feminists have often wondered why we do not compare ourselves with Bonobos. They are just as closely related to us as regular chimps and are more peaceful. The reason for comparing ourselves to chimpanzees is because of how similar we are. “Lethal raids” are common to both of our groups. Humans and chimpanzees are the only animals in which gangs of males expand their territory by deliberately exterminating neighboring males.
Chimps are not kind to strangers. Bringing foreigners into an existing zoo group is very dangerous. They value the lives of those outside their group much less than those within them. The males of different communities kill each other through highly coordinated actions against single males of other communities. They stalk, run down and swiftly overwhelm victims, who are beaten so viciously that they either die on the spot or have no hope of recovery. This is calculated murder. It is not the dispassionate aggression seen between different species in a hunt. One attacker pins down the victim while the other bite, hit and pound him. They twist off limbs, remove fingernails and literally drink the blood pouring from wounds until the victims stop moving. They return weeks later to check on the outcome.
When chimp communities split, the out-group is “de-humanized.” Chimps that had previously played and groomed together, reconciled after squabbles, shared meat and lived in harmony become enemies. Former friends drink each other’s blood. Old elders are not respected. Any association with the enemy becomes grounds for attack. The distinctions are socially constructed. Well-known individuals can become enemies if they happen to hang out with the wrong crowd or live in the wrong area. Groups unite in battle. So long as individuals feel a common purpose, they suppress negative feelings between individuals and clusters within their brood. But as soon as the common purpose is gone, tensions rise to the surface. Young males eye the position of the alpha male again. Unity and hatred are greatly modulated by the group context.
These group tendencies have important implications for our understanding of the nexus of culture and nature. Breaking into enemy groups can only indirectly be a result of genetic influences. We see groups forming and defending territory. But chimpanzee females leave at maturation and join another group. Fifty percent of the genes you are passing on are those of your enemy. The groups fighting each other are very similar genetically. Which gene pool gets passes on does not depend on which group wins. Selfish genes can only partially explain these groups’ existence. Breaking off into groups favors the survival of those within the group. This benefit is conferred at the level of the individuals involved, not their genes! Their collective activity protects each of them. It is to the advantage of an individual to identify with a group.
Thus territory provides a scaffold that explains the value of culture. Culture bonds us to a group and differentiates us from other groups. This analysis establishes that culture a real force in nature. It is not an arbitrary creation like other sources of value. Culturism does not claim to be the prettiest source of values; but it has been shown herein to be necessary. In nature it pays the group and the individuals in that group to be a part of a unified group. If a group splinters under attack it will lose its territory and likely be annihilated. When your neighbors raid the defenses of your group and territory must be loud, distinctive and intimidating. You must back up your alpha male. And in the animal world the threat of another group attacking you is never remote. Logic and survival dictate that in a world where unified attacks work, you must be unified and attached to your group. Thus was the need for having social and cultural worlds born.
Culture, the limits of natural selection and learning
The key to the evolution of language may be found in grooming. Primates spend a huge amount of their time grooming each other. This is their way of touching base, making alliances and mending hurt feelings. It is the flipside to their jockeying for power. After a male has mounted an unsuccessful attempt at toppling the alpha male, he will have to make up. He does this by prostrating himself in front of the alpha male as men do in the presence of kings. He may kiss his hand as Catholics do to the Pope. In either case, he will inevitably end up nervously grooming the alpha male he previously sought to topple for exaggerated amounts of time. He is re-establishing fealty. Grooming the alpha male and your strongest allies is the key to primate social stability.
Primates that live in bigger groups have larger brains. One famous theory as to why language originated postulates that it allowed larger groups to emerge. Primates have distinct enough faces that humans can recognize familial relationships between them from photographs. Chimpanzees clearly recognize each other as individuals. Chimps can also express emotions with their faces. So the grooming process can be supplemented with gossipy looks and grunts about who can and cannot be trusted. But doing so requires a group size in which face to face contact is possible. Language allows you to keep tabs on people that are out of your visual range. Birds that sing socially live in dense forests where visual contact is difficult. They are keeping in touch auditorily. The same environmental pressure may have increased our primate progenitor’s vocalizations.
Language would allow large groups that have stable hierarchies. The alpha male could be feared or loved from a distance. Language is a social act. This hypothesis would explain our infatuation with gossip. Reputation being very important and honor being so important seems to hint at a verbal analogue to an older system. People guard their reputations fiercely. Being called a liar is met with more indignation than it would rationally warrant. With a defense of our reputation, your dependability or lack there of can be spread far and wide. Everyone knows that he rewards people that follow him. Everyone knows that you had better not cross so and so. Everyone can be a large group. Larger groups have had an edge when competing against other groups.
But before we go overboard, let us remember how much gets done without language. Dad goes to work. Moms raise the kids. The kids play and learn. Long and complex relationships are established. Wars happen. Generations live together and grow old together. And, in primates, some learn to make tools. Territories are demarcated and defended. Communities were maintained. Political hierarchies, chiefs and a sense of justice and adjudication happen. All of these activities happen in species that do not have language. Revenge and love predate man. Not only can chimpanzees do all these things; rats can too. With that in mind we can appreciate that the ratio between what is instinctual and what language allows can become clearer.
Language allows larger groups, but for most of time human groups have not been very large. But just as opposing thumbs do not only help you grip, language generated unintended capabilities. Though it facilitates unity of large groups, it seems reason’s reason in being kept was that it helps us in the teaching process. Recall that virtually all learning in nature is just a matter of imitating. We are special in that we supplement this ability with teaching. But new abilities in nature supplement, they do not replace older ones. Efficiency dictates keeping the same old brain mechanisms that created the basic structures of society. Rather than genetically priming humans for the millions of unique traits that a specific tribal life might require, the old heuristics of imitating those around you and especially those that are successful would provide a simple yet successful enough guide to transmit culturally successful behaviors. Innovations were very rare in tribal society. But when one came up it could reasonable diffuse and stabilize via imitation.
Language is a means by which we pass on our culture and its attainments. Its original purpose is not to facilitate skeptical inquiry into the nature of truth. We are programmed to accept our cultures. The previous statement’s validation can be seen in the likelihood that you probably accepted it as you read it and moved on. Cultures where people fought over truths would soon disintegrate collapse and be eliminated. Furthermore, think of how hard scientific thinking is. Unity would not happen if each generation had to be convinced of the rationality of accepting the programming of your culture. Conserving unity and the accumulated knowledge of your community is achieved more efficiently by just giving youth the heuristic predisposition to absorb their cultures without question. That this happens can be confirmed by the fact that people perpetuate the most bizarre cultural practices and beliefs imaginable. There is scientific research that substantiates our gullibility. But we could move on to the next topic much quicker if you would just take my word for it.
The nature of societies
Cultures teach people how to interact. Language facilitates this aspect of culture. Language not being formed for the purpose of thinking can be seen in man’s lack of inventiveness and adaptation. Throat and girth harnesses choke horses and reduce the amount that they can carry. Nevertheless, they were used for nearly two thousand years. Greeks and Romans used them. It is not the case that people that fail to upgrade their technology are unintelligent. Mind just is not designed for consciously scrutinizing and improving the world. This is an approach to the world that has to be taught. Even then, though the many may be willing to adopt the new creations, only a few will create them. Most people just accept the values and learn the behaviors of the culture they are in without a lot of reflection.
We tend to think that cultures strive upward. Our confusing our culture with man at all times and in all places reflects, again, man’s propensity for taking what he encounters for granted. Some social forms include a larger population than others. Cultures that include small populations are classified as bands and tribes. Chiefdoms and states include larger populations. But size is not progress. It is not the case that this is the natural direction of the universe. Bands have often lived unperturbed next to states for eons without seeing a need to adopt this form of governance. And just as sometimes bands become states, states also return to being organized as bands. “Advance” happens as much as a result of social pressures as it does a conscious decision to complicate life.
To a large extent, cultures and levels of organization are independent. The economic underpinnings of culture are not indicators of the types of cultural arrangements your society will have. States have had widely varying cultures from each other; bands have too. And yet it is not the case that the cultural forms are irrelevant. Some cultures will aggressively pursue slaves for sacrifice. Some cultures will expect you to have several wives. Some conscript for the army. Others stagnate peacefully and build monarchies. At every level of organization a variety of cultural patterns will suffice to perpetuate society. The resulting societies will have distinctive impacts on their environment, neighbors and citizen’s lives.
Nevertheless, there are some discernable patterns that accompany larger societies. Smaller societies have greater specificity concerning your participation; duties and the taboos they ascribe to their participants are much more detailed. Because you are Bill’s brother, who was the son of Bob and stepped on the root of the sacred bon-bon tree Jim was hurt. Therefore, Ted the shaman says, you are not to talk to members of Sheila’s family and must carry water in your left hand for a week. Diverse groups comprise larger societies. For this reason the proscriptions and superstitions tend to have a more abstract nature. The penalty for x is y; not just for Ted or Bill, but for all nobles. Societies that are going to incorporate vast numbers need to be structured on rules that are at once vaguer and easier to understand.
Cultures that incorporate larger populations being based upon generalities reduces their intricacies decreases diversity somewhat. Rules for states are the same for all within broad categories. Just the fact that larger states reduce the number of cultures in an area reduces diversity. This should not, however, blind you to the diversity that exists between states. The Aztecs and the Romans were very different. It also should not fool you into thinking that the demands of efficiency will cause cultural convergence. Some cultures have had more potential to incorporate large numbers of people than others. Some have done so. The ability to incorporate others does not reflect a conscious designed for efficiency. Cultures can be violent, stupid and stable in a wide variety of forms; none of these preclude popularity or success.
Culture takes over
Man is different than other
animals. He changes rapidly.
Darwinian principles show us what some of these tendencies are. Left to their own devices, we would expect men to be promiscuous. This explains why all societies put some restrictions on men. Some form of marriage is a universal tendency. Even polygamists are restricted in the amount of women they are allowed to impregnate. Liberation from social control, the lesson is, will lead to more fatherless children. Male’s tendency is to keep moving on to newer women. Those who are ignorant of natural science will often create poor policy.
Nature also teaches us why letting men impregnate and run is a bad thing. Evolution’s direction has been towards creating flexibility. Instinct has given way to choices. You cannot preprogram reactions without knowledge of the environment individuals are being born into. Nature created childhood so that the parameters of animal’s flexibility could be applied to the real world situations the newborn finds itself in. Thus the cost of our flexibility has been bought at the inconvenience of a really long dependency of the young. It is especially important in an information based society that men stay around so that children can spend as much of the learning time nature has provided absorbing information as possible.
Nature teaches us that we are a social animal. Absolute individualism is not a realistic option for us. Schools of fish look like they are cooperating. They are not. They do not recognize each other as individuals. They do not specialize. We are amongst the animals that do recognize each other. We are more interdependent on each other than the individuals in schools of fish. As all primates we recognize individuals and live in more or less distinct groups. Any ideology based on the idea that people are individuals that have nothing to do with each other fails to notice that we are fundamentally unlike fish. Humans are on the end of the spectrum of animals that has groups that defend territory.
All humans, at all times, living with other humans and all of them having territorial defense is not a coincidence. Human group solidarity is achieved by cultural markers. We dance and speak a certain way, have certain ideals and Gods, clothes etc., and this helps differentiate those you fight for from those you fight against. Like other animals we have turf and borders. We mark our territory. Status opportunities exist within our respective cultures. Men strive for them and women strive for the men who achieve them. We humans are able to transmit cultures because we are born expecting them. We do what the exemplars of our culture have shown us to be the path to status amongst our peers. We are not designed to objectively scrutinize the merits of our culture. General cultures are good at uniting larger numbers of folks. Specific cultures are appropriate for smaller populations. These are universal guidelines we can garner from nature.
Nature’s stable patterns are not always functional or for the best. The Argus Pheasant have more progeny if they have more of the feathers the females go ga-ga over. This has created a gene pool where women want big feathers and men have them. This dynamic has resulted in pheasants that cannot run away and are easy bait. They will never decide to stop this silliness. Often these systems do not adapt, they just die out. Our commitment to an entirely open society assumes that it will lead to the most prosperous and open society possible. Nature naturally evolves species and social systems; these are not conscious attempts at being efficient or rational. To make sure that our cultural defaults are not threatening our viability, we need constantly scrutinize the wisdom of our assumptions and policies. Otherwise the capacities that have allowed us to coordinate large cultural entities may be proven to have been maladaptive.
Riots and the needs to control society mentally
The police never
came during the 1992 Rodney King
Belief is the
difference in these two scenarios.
Belief explains why the police were actually withdrawn from the 1992
Who should you bring in to restore order if
the police are unavailable? It turns out that the National Guard is next
up on the chain of enforcement. And
What if the National Guard decided to join the rioter’s anarchistic fun? Who would you bring in to restore order? A branch of the military would have to be called in. I hope you have already anticipated my pointing out that the military is, in fact, just another group of young men with guns. The only difference between the rioters, the National Guard, the hiding police and the military are their mind beliefs. Armed with this information, the military spends a lot time molding the mental habits of recruits. Recognizing that these are just average young men with guns, they make sure that they aim their weapons at those who they are told to when they are told to without reflection.
What if the military joined the rioter’s anarchistic fun? Would you call in the President to restore order? An old man with a limousine in a riot scenario is not liable to do a lot of good. The President’s power is predicated on the reactions of a whole lot of people when the red carpet is rolled out and ‘Hail to the Chief’ is played. “Hey look an old man with a limo! Take it.” would be the likely response in a riot situation. His age or rank or some other reason would have to engender a respect for his safety and well being for him to survive the scenario. Ultimately, only respectful attitude towards the old man with the limousine could protect the President and that goes for the rest of us as well.
Thankfully, only a
small part of the city usually has the attitudes, discontent and anger that
fuels riots. The posh communities of
Social psychology has found that group creation is natural
We saw that in nature the group is often the nexus of sustainability. It is not always easy to tell if the individual exist for the group or if the group exists for the individuals. The distinction shifts when resource allocations and security situations shift. Emphasizing either the individual or group as a focus otherwise results from a matter of interpretation. Psychology shows us that this sort of reality does not only apply to protozoa and primates. Humans also have a reciprocal relationship with the communities and cultures we inhabit. We cannot extract ourselves from our environmental, social and intertribal contexts. The branch of psychology that was designed to study this relationship between the individual and their context is social psychology.
One of the most widely recognized social psychology experiments was conducted by Philip Zimbardo. In this study randomly assigned student volunteers were given roles to play. They were either to play prison guards or prisoners in a mock prison in Stanford’s basement. All the participants knew it was just an experiment, but it had to be called off after six days because the prisoners were having emotional breakdowns and the guards were getting too sadistic. The individuals involved, he showed, were neither inherently passive nor sadistic; they were made so by the role they had within the group. The self cannot be wholly accounted for apart from the situation.
More than the
power of roles was attested to by this study.
It showed that, like our primate relatives, we have an inborn tendency
to identify with our groups. This tendency
was dramatically shown in Mazafer
When one of Sherif’s experimental groups accidentally found out that another group was sharing the same space their instinct was to “run them off” of it. Before the researchers could initiate the part of the experiment that had to do with competition the groups were clamoring for battle. One group seized the other’s flag and fist fights erupted. They then took to raiding each other’s cabins at night and collecting ammunition to use against each other. Unbeknownst to the participants their activities not only exactly paralleled what the anthropological record shows humans have traditionally done to each other; but the same process that runs through nearly all of nature.
Then something remarkable happened. The winning group decided that they had won because they prayed. They noticed that the other group swore. They decided not to swear thereafter. The other group started to identify themselves as the bad kids. The previously homogenous groups began to enforce their differences. Thus two cultures were born! What Sherif observed confirms that cultural differentiation via creation of a group identities and norms happens spontaneously. Once these identities emerged they were reinforced by noticing how different they were from the other group. Whether you like it or not, culturism constitutes a natural tendency in our species.
Just how deeply this tendency runs has been shown using what are called minimal information groups. These are designed to investigate how small a difference can trigger this apparently innate tendency. One oft repeated study of this phenomenon involves creating groups based on fictitiously telling folks they had either overestimated or underestimated the number of dots flashed on a screen. Unbeknownst to them neither the “over-estimator” group nor the “under-estimator” group deserves their moniker. In later tests each group tends to denigrate the other group and overestimate their own group’s superiority. They will overpay their own sort and underpay the others. This is done without any group bonding activities or other distinguishable features being identifiable. We still run this subconscious the ‘in-group / out-group’ heuristics other hominids use.
Universal dividing does not only separate us superficially
Our foray into anthropology showed us that even the idea of the distinct rational individual is not the basis culture. With the increasing prominence of suicide bombers in our lives, many have started to think about this truth. Imagining the mindset that leads one to killing themselves for God is difficult. Recent systematic studies of indigenous groups have shown that “what individuals can think and feel is overwhelmingly a product of socially organized modes of action and talk.” The Westerner’s deep sense of individuality is not a universal. Ironically, our thorough individualism is a creation of our collective culture. Paradoxically, our reification of the individual was not an individual choice.
New research is showing that cultures have an enormous effect on us before we think. Cultures actually determine the way we look at the world. For example, North Eastern Asian cultures see things in terms of relationships. North Americans see things in terms of categories. When shown a chicken, a cow and grass and asked which two go together, Westerners say the chicken and the cow do. They are both animals. Asians, on the other hand, prefer the pairing of the cow and the grass. They have a relationship. Even deeper than the way we think, is the way we see. When Asians look at a scene they see and remember the overall setting. Westerners remember objects. Writers who are new to English are often profoundly uncomfortable with identifying the individualistic, context free style of logic that is second nature to Westerners.
These psychological differences are augmented by differences in cultural values. Methodologically rigorous analysis has shown that mindsets and values create comprehensive worldviews that vary from hemisphere to hemisphere. Furthermore it has been shown that some of these value systems result in democracy and wealth and some do not. While this research is valuable proof, it is proof of the obvious. Every high school teacher can tell you that some cultures are more rabid about education than others. There are neighborhoods where men do not raise their children and people shoot each other. There are neighborhoods where there is no graffiti and very few have guns. The impacts of cultural differences are deep and wide.
Belief in the impact of culture on psychology and the impact of psychology on culture separates culturists and multiculturalists. Multiculturalists base their social ideal on the premise that everyone is basically the same. Multiculturalists believe that when we celebrate diversity we are only celebrating differences in stylistic considerations like costumes and foods. Underneath it all, the assumption runs, we are all the same. Multiculturalists hold that diversity is epiphenomenal. Culturists hold that our differences are more than just a matter of exteriors. Culturists believe that diversity is real. Not believing cultural differences to be important, multiculturalists must attribute all differences in attainment between cultural groups to irrational discrimination. Culturists hold that cultures are diverse and that this diversity has an impact.
Studies showing the diversity of mentalities and their impact on the world highlight the precarious nature of our culture. While cultural mental perspectives deserve respect because they have survived a long time, they are not set in stone. Our individualistic and efficacious way of approaching the world is not written in the heavens for eternity or the universal default. Each culture encapsulates a unique way of looking at things that took hold in a part of the world. If a culture’s mindset was lost for one generation, it could be lost irretrievably. If our mode of thought were relegated to a smaller segment of the world its existence would be more precarious. Culturism is not just an attempt to retain a style of dress. Culture is personal, local, historically created, of tremendous geo-political import and not to be disregarded lightly.
Categorization and our inability to recognize our problems
If you are a Westerner you might have trouble thinking of riots as having anything to do with psychology. As one would expect from the way our culture sees parts instead of wholes, Western psychology is overwhelmingly concerned with the individual in isolation. From an Asian or Islamic point of view the connection between riots and psychology would not seem as odd. Their assumptions are much more culturist than ours. Our individualism and categorizing have caused a hole in our social sciences. Entire neighborhoods are dysfunctional and psychology only offers individual counseling. There is no term for a psychology of the ideological and unconscious assumptions that rule our collective lives. We can call this area of concern culturist psychology.
We learned that culture functions as an adaptation that allows the transfer of information from one generation to another. This allows us to have group solidarity and adapt to environments that genetic adaptation could never prepare us for. It also requires that we are hardwired to absorb the culture we are born in to. But group survival would not be facilitated by each generation consciously scrutinizing the precepts of the culture and challenging their parents. We learn much individually, but absorb much without reflection. Much of an individual’s behavior is the product social attitudes that are acquired from others with little, if any modification. We need to be aware of the contents of the messages we unconsciously accept from our culture.
The riot scenario
description was meant to show, humans are not only behavioral, but
ideological. The reaction to police
reflects a mindset, but that mindset – while not consciously scrutinized by
most who hold them – has ideological underpinnings. Cultures
are mental by way of having shared assumptions.
Not only consciously formulated constructs create the patterns by
which people live their lives. The poverty that angers gangs is relative. Immigrants to these neighborhoods know that
having electricity, cars, appliances and water makes these residents amongst
the richest people in the world. Black
immigrants advance faster than locals because they know there is a
comparatively huge amount of opportunity in
again, does not include the ideal of the absolute and abstracted
individual. If a high school girl gets
Western schools are exactly the opposite. High school teachers are not allowed to make disparaging remarks to pregnant teenagers. Her pregnancy is considered a private matter and not a proper sphere for a teacher of a particular subject matter to comment upon. The teachers are to create non-punitive make-up assignments so that her private life does not impede her progress. To make a judgment on a personal matter would be inappropriate and possibly damage her self-esteem. Special programs help her adjust and no discrimination can be shown in hiring her for positions in which she interacts with the public. Not facilitating her success due to her personal life would be a sign of intolerance, discrimination and prejudice that would likely result in lawsuits. Pregnant teenagers have a right to work in the reception areas of schools just like everyone else.
Not only are the perceptions of this teen pregnancy not individual, the results are not. Our lack of collective or personal shame has resulted in our having an extremely high rate of teen pregnancy. The actions of the individuals create a culture where teen pregnancy is normalized. The Asian teen pregnancy rate is nearly non-existent. This in turn has economic repercussions. These cultural perceptions shape the form of our families our economies, levels of education, institutional policies, crime rates and levels of opportunity. Our absolutist individualistic stance refuses to acknowledge that private matters have public underpinnings and ramifications. Balance is needed. Our culture is proud that it allows the individual to challenge absurd and illogical social norms. But our purely individualistic notions of self need to be included in the list of things that are open to questioning.
These differences have nothing to do with race. Between 1960 and 1992, births to unmarried
mothers leapt from 7 to 30 percent in the
Social pathology has resulted from a profound breakdown of our traditional tradition of collectively practicing culturism. Recently attempts at making policy have resulted in lawsuits alleging they are racist. Some minorities fail exit exams at higher rates than other populations. Immigration laws overwhelmingly affect those of Mexican descent. Criminal prosecutions result in more black people than others going to prison. These are not the result of racial differences. Mexicans happen to be our neighbors, and so are especially likely to be at our border. These other results reflect the fact that cultural diversity is not just epiphenomenal. This depth of diversity should also serve to warn us that if we do not take control of our culture we should not expect middle class values to result. Social pathology happens naturally. Policies that ignore the need to control and teach cultural values and the efforts of individual psychologists are ineffective at stopping social pathologies.
Not only are societies built on mental assumptions, the tools used to analyze them are too. As such we have to be careful of limitations of our conceptualizations. Not having a concept or a word for ‘awareness of and management of the collective assumptions, ideologies and mental health of cultures and subcultures’ reflects a big blind spot in our vision. This is a Western visual problem. Psychologists look at the gestalt of individuals. Social psychologists use statistical snapshots. Neither focuses on ideology. Philosophers deal in morals, but do not deal in applications. Political scientists do not manage cultures. No one is in charge of our collective mental health. And without such a concept we cannot guide ourselves collectively. The ideological and habitual components of a culture are too important to be ignored. Culturist psychology is necessary.
Aristotle’s vision for mental health
As with focusing on riots and morals, having a philosopher in a chapter on psychology might seem strange to Western minds. Overspecialization of social sciences has had harmful affects. Like culturist philosophy, culturist psychology must realize that it does not exist, as a discipline, for its own pleasure. Philosophy and psychology should understand that they are located within a wider culture. Being in a Western context this means being aware of Western history and Western philosophy. The individual is at once biological and political and moral, economic and historical. To treat a person as an individual abstracted from these contexts is unrealistic. To treat the individual as being separate from their culture harms them and the culture.
It is appropriate to mention Aristotle in this context because he, despite himself, is largely responsible for the malady that is being described. Aristotle was a master categorizer. He wrote a book on poetics another on politics another on ethics another on rhetoric and another on metaphysics. Though his writing fluidly integrates his understandings of these discrete areas of study, his divisions became the model for our belief in the ability to compartmentalize different branches of knowledge. Thus when we treat ethics and politics and art as distinct disciplines we are falling into an Aristotelian trap. His categorizing laid the foundation for the division of branches of knowledge inside and outside of the university. In an attempt to integrate these categories, therefore, it is appropriate to mention Aristotle.
Aristotle’s vision of human happiness epitomizes culturist understanding. He notes that there are diverse pleasures. To discriminate amongst them we must know the nature of man. Man is, by nature, a social being. We form friendships. Some friendships are based on mutual pleasure. When the fun ends, these types of friendships end. Some friendships are based on what you can get from the other person. When they no longer provide, you two divide. The highest form of friendship is one in which we are concerned with what is good for each other. To do this successfully, you must be a good person. Bad people unwittingly undermine their friend’s achievement by leading them to bad habits. Helping someone requires knowing the difference between right and wrong as well as avoiding poverty.
Aristotle, in The Nicomachean Ethics, likens government to friendship. The government is like good friend or a father that inspires you to your best. We do not naturally have a character suited to the careful cultivation the good life and state require. We must have our characters molded to habitually find happiness in virtue and dislike of that which is bad or we will be spoiled. Government guides people to be better people. Politics is the highest art of man because it aims at making the largest number of people virtuous. Government is friendship writ large. You and the government should not use each other. You will form an enduring bond when each partner wants what enhances the other. This beautiful sentiment was also understood to be a necessity. Greeks were often at war. They needed to be surrounded by good people that cared for each other.
Cultivating culturist mental health requires more than stopping certain behaviors. We must show that we can provide a meaningful meaning of life for people. Western civilization can provide a great fount of motivation and meaning Aristotle’s idea of work as public service can make it personal. Contextualizing your search for the good life via an awareness of your family and community gives your philosophy depth and personalizes it. Tying it into Western civilization gives it depth, guidelines and sublime role models in all of the arts and sciences. Not only are social pathologies sins to Western civilization’s mission, they are treasonous to your family, your community, your drive to perfect yourself. Thus does Aristotle’s culturist vision tie mental health of the individual to their community and civilization. His vision of mental health connects the individual’s passion and psychology to their culturist duty.
Many Westerners would become nervous at this
point. The government and morals cannot
go together. It defies our current
functional bureaucratic vision of government.
Our vision of government conforms to Aristotle’s second type of
friendship, we use it and it provides services.
From his vantage point, the community and the government are
distinct. This is another effect of our
failure to see the whole picture. The
people living within our borders are designated “citizens.” Being a citizen entails a legal relationship
to the government. But it is more than
that. Citizenship implies belonging to
and caring about the country in which you live. Being
an American entails caring about
Aristotle’s scientific compartmentalizing helped to create the Western mental mindset. Asian’s psychological propensity to group via relationships comes from Confucius’ philosophy being concerned with creating a harmonious whole. These mental emphases are also seen in the fact that Asian essays paint pictures whereas ours assert propositions. Muslims cannot help but see the relationship between religion, the culture and the people. Other culture’s psychology predisposes them to see the big interrelated picture. Aristotle’s legacy, unfortunately, tends to leave us seeing unrelated individuals and categorical divisions where none should appear. We are dependent upon each other. Whereas other cultures do not need to be reminded that parts are integrated into wholes, we do.
Individualism and individual mental health
Sigmund Freud conceptualized psychology as search for what was happening deep down inside of our individual psyches. As such he laid the groundwork for conceptualizing the battle for selfhood as finding autonomy from all of the outer claims on your self. Alcoholics Anonymous (emphasis on the latter) perpetuates this vision when they admonish us that mental health is predicated on drawing “boundaries.” They assert that our “dis-ease” comes from confusing our needs and other’s needs. This model ends up ennobling struggles against “oppressive” social norms. This sort of philosophy views individuality as something achieved via defiance of society. By this logic freedom will not be total until all taboos have been violated. Thus when you are totally solipsistic and anti-social you finally know that you are being true to yourself.
We have achieved what has been called a “Culture of Narcissism.” This individualistic orientation can only provide a lonely world interacted with in terms of what pleasures it can provide the self. The self conceptualized as a bundle of individual wants needing to be satisfied has been taken advantage of by consumer culture. It is hard to conceive of what the meaning of such a selfish life is outside of pursuing the satisfaction of private wants. But, ironically, this emphasis on personal happiness has not resulted in personal happiness. This rampant individualism has been held responsible for the huge increase in depression in our society. Nearly all of our evolutionary predecessors lived in groups. This is natural. And as sure as we have a tendency to form groups, being isolated does not feel good to us.
Robert Bellah has noted that our individualistic vision is antagonistic to families. Western youth try to be authentic by breaking away from society and finding their generation’s special identity. In our culture it is considered a sign of health when young people break away from their families early. Getting ahead is something you do for yourself and leisure is never burdened with social responsibility. When the value of self-fulfillment becomes the basis marriage, each person is only bound to the agreement as long as they are getting what they personally want out of the relationship. Even couples with children break up now because they do not find the arrangement personally fulfilling. Individualism thus undermines the stability of the social bonds.
Social capital is a term designating how much the people in a community, neighborhood or society are relating to each other or involved in each other’s lives. Measures of social capital reflect how individually oriented versus how socially oriented people are. Robert Putnam has documented that the amount of social capital is the determining factor in child welfare and education; healthy and productive neighborhoods; economic prosperity; evenness of economic distribution; health and happiness; and democratic citizenship and government performance. The more socially connected we are, the better off we are collectively and individually. This statement does not only refer to ephemeral measures of non-essential characteristics. Purely individualistic psychological and cultural outlooks are pathological.
undermines culturism at the highest levels.
The Supreme Court heard Ginsberg
Gaylin’s suggestion found a remarkable confirmation and extension in the work of Richard Arum. Arum’s team showed that court rulings in school discipline cases that were only based on the rights of the individual undermined the collective good. Arum found a correlation between trends in the over 1,200 cases and school discipline policy. Interesting, it was not the specific cases, but the “court climate” that influenced practice. Thus Gaylin was correct that the implications as well as specifics of a ruling are important. More importantly yet, Arum found that the students’ impression concerning the fairness of discipline in schools was eroded by legal challenges. And the efficacy of discipline is more related to the students’ perception of it as fair than by its actual strictness. Collective understandings exist and they are important. In the end Arum asks that the legislature reset the perception of those in academics. He says this is a better tact than “simply accepting the dysfunctional character of public schools as an unavoidable price paid for the general expansion of individual rights.”
By definition, individualism undermines our sense of community. When all behavior becomes a private choice, no community standards can be accepted as legitimate. When the local level of self-governance loses clout, the Federal level becomes the only level at which we are united. When individualism combined with absolute rights means no one, from the teacher to the neighbor, can tell anyone else what to do. This undermines any potential attempts to foster a sense of common identity, standards or feelings. We cannot be united except on the basis of our common isolation. Pure individualism does not resulted in individuals being financially, physically or mentally healthier. Individuals are better served by having culturist awareness.
The business elite’s decision to
withdrawal is usually based on the idea that wealth is the creation of lone
individuals struggling individually to take care of themselves. Adam Smith’s asserting that basis of wealth is individual greed launched this thought pattern into our
collective consciousness. It is,
however, not true. John Kay has shown that wealth is a community
effort. In this day of
Cultural diversity aggravates this problem of individuals and industries not feeling allegiance to the countries that fostered their wealth. Someone who wears a turban and beard because a 10th prophet who emerged in wars between Muslim and Hindus is going to reappear (a Sikh) is hard for most Americans to find common cause with. When the poor do not speak the same language as the elite do, their feeling of solidarity with the rest of us is undermined. When the poor eat different foods, have different customs and always refer to other countries as “their” country, funding their infrastructure does not carry as much moral weight. As much as wealth disparity, ethnic divisions undermine our feeling of being in a common cause and the duties that implies. Ethnic divisions also undermine poor people’s efforts at lobbying for funding. When lobbying for their class is seen as lobbying for a distinct and separate ethnic group it does not garner sympathy from other citizens.
who think that they can ignore
Business leaders can be heroes. In Ancient Greece those with money were expected to use excess wealth to sponsor theater and celebrations or give back to their polis in other ways. This earned them esteem and brought a sense of loyalty to the fighting forces that endlessly had to defend the polis from those who would attack them and drag them down into economic and mental slavery. The rich people were given seats of honor at these festivals they sponsored. The mental aspect of this exercise is worth noting. If one did not feel a sense of community with those who you were expected to buy a celebration for, your box-seat would feel like a prison. If you felt a sense of community with those enjoying the celebration, the box-seats would be a source of glory. Being envied is great. But being honored in your country is something that money cannot buy.
Ultimately, our society cannot exist without a sense of community. There are not enough tax collectors to go after everyone. People should pay their taxes because they believe in the government that is using them and that the government is using the money to bolster the well-being of a culture that citizens love. Ultimately, people who do not love their country or feel solidarity with those who their tax dollars underwrite will be able to find a way out of paying taxes if they so desire. In this age of international business nothing can really stop executives from sending factories or headquarters overseas. But this ultimately eats away at the culture that guarantees fair play in business. Ultimately, this is not only bad culturally, it is bad economically. Cultural psychologists need to do what they can to make sure efforts towards creating a sense of cultural connection and meaning reach all economic classes.
Gangs are, in some ways, healthier institutions to belong to than mainstream society. Much of what they provide fits in well with the psychological propensities we have inherited during our long evolutionary history. Gang membership can lead to an early death. So can individualism. Studies show that isolation greatly increases your susceptibility to a host of fatal illnesses. Would you rather die from a bullet or isolation? Gangs are, by definition, a group activity. We would do well to provide people in our society meaningful roles and a sense of belonging. Providing people with volunteering opportunities and community structures to belong to would help us compete against the social pull of gangs.
important to males. Getting to the top of the social heap gives
males a jolt of testosterone and diminishing status depresses them. You can
get your status from passing your calculus or your first beheading. Pride in your gang is anti-social from
the perspective of the larger culture. But it in the absence of other sources of
pride, gang membership becomes a psychological necessity for the individual
members. Few things can equal the
hurtfulness of the daily knowledge that you are an anonymous loser. As in when we root for teams, we can get our
sense of status vicariously. It
is very important, for this reason, that males feel a sense of pride in their
country. Cultural psychologists should
make sure that all are included in celebrations of the accomplishments of
Cultural pride can give you a sense of belonging and status. Members of Islamic nations celebrate as a
group whenever there is a successful terrorists attack on Western soil. Their people are willing to blow themselves
up for their culture. The specter of a dominant
Gangs provide a world view for their members. It is, unfortunately, myopic and unsustainable. They do not realize that they are, in fact, not tough. When compared fighting in World War II, drive-by shootings do not take a lot of guts. They do not realize that they are on the wrong side. Were Hitler to have won they would really understand what there really is to gripe about in the world. Islamic victory would teach them their interests laid in being proud members of Western societies, not terrorizing them. But human survival has depended on our ability to absorb culture, not an inborn sense of skepticism or critical analysis. Culturist psychologists need to teach young people what the world wide cultural diversity looks like, what poverty looks like and which society they should root for. The street defense orientation of gangs is normal, but a broad world outlook is more appropriate to our diverse and civilized world.
Gangs are not the only groups who find splitting off from society can be both reassuring that bode ill for our cultural viability. Ethnic sources of identity also provide social connections, meaningful roles, status and ideology. Ethnic enclaves can also be healthy in their contexts. But all Americans need to be reminded of the larger team they are on, where their efforts do the greatest good, what exalts them the most and where their best interests lie. A problem with multiculturalism is that is often fails to provide that larger group context of which we are all a part. By definition, being predicated on differences, it cannot be a source of unity. Ethnic identification should never be strengthened at the expense of loyalty to Western culture. If we the Western world weakens the entire framework of tolerance, freedom and individualism can be undermined.
Culturist devotion to Western civilization can provide
a feeling of belonging that helps, rather than hurts the West. Our alpha male heritage will be especially
effective if our cultural pride is stated with bravado. Pride in the accomplishments of the West can
serve as a source of pride and status for every member of our society. Focusing on wonderful nature of foreign
traits does not increase pride in
Culturism provides values
The use of the word culturism can be useful on many levels. First and foremost is that culturism’s very use makes the discussion about something higher than the individual. Even if the person uses the word to denounce culturism, they are entertaining the idea that there might be a value that could be a legitimate criterion upon which to base policy other than the individual. For those who agree that culture is a value that we should consider, it necessitates a discussion concerning what the definition of the values that comprise our culture. Diversity provides no moral guidance. Neither does individualism. Ways in which we are diverse and individuals cannot guide you. Culturism provides a source of values that can sustain our very particular and valuable culture. The wide use of the word ‘culturism’ implies a morality that can bind and a culture that has a stake in it.
Plato, Aristotle, Jesus and our Protestant tradition all agree that our thoughtful and spiritual natures are higher than our animal drives. None would tell us that our highest good lies in rubbing ourselves against strangers, undermining our brains through substance abuse or ignoring education. Western culture tells you that virtue involves overcoming the temptation to have our biological nature override our spiritual nature. Whereas it might be difficult to provide an absolute basis upon which to say that spiritual and thoughtful goals are better than sexual ones, you do not have to look far into the Western tradition to find effort to substantiate the claim. Our current failure to find anything shameful is only conceivable in a culture that has completely forgotten the Western tradition.
Culturist awareness implies understanding that your actions affect your community. Dressing like a bum indicates that you fail to understand responsibility, the nature of the geo-political world or the sacrifices that have been made in creating the West and your freedoms. Dressing like a whore shows that you are not aware that sex involves making children and conscientious beings do not enter into such relations lightly. Being a proud whore either represents a failure to grasp or spite for the understanding of the spiritual enlightenment upon which our freedoms are based. Using foul language shows a total disregard for other people’s sensibilities. Healthy cultures have a sense of shame and pride. Culturism implies being conscious of the effects of your actions. Your actions do not happen in isolation. All of your actions send a message to the public. We are all role models.
Basic morality can also be garnered from economic considerations. Without a first-world economy our choices and opportunities are undermined. There are no schools to attend in poor countries. Poor countries are not full of opportunities. A first-world economy being necessary for much of what we mean when we discuss liberty, behaving responsibly means only having children you can support. Excessive borrowing leads to economic bondage and bankruptcy. Not taking advantage of the educational opportunities afforded you not only shows ingratitude and ignorance; it shows you do not understand what a first-world economy is based upon. Gambling is money poorly invested and shows you are either immoral or addicted. Divesting from Western countries is wrong. To the extent that you are undermining our economy, you are undermining our collective strength and freedoms.
Culturist pride comes by doing what is right by your culture. Being a citizen has been conceptualized as a legal status. Beyond this however, there is being a good citizen. Being a citizen means being for the country in which reside. For Americans, this entails understanding our mission and being dedicated to fostering it. This does not require you to join the military. It does, however, require that you take some pride in our country. When you are dishonest in your business dealings, you lower the value of the American word. When you are lazy, it ruins the image of the hard working American. Knowing that you are a helpful part of a country that leads the world in freedoms and democracy is an awesome feeling. We should feel at least the same amount of pride in our collective existence as the racist Chinese and fanatical Muslims do. Our flag represents a vision we should be proud to carry forth. All healthy activities can be doubly celebrated in this light.
Culturism being used makes those adhering to
Individualism is not creating a healthy sense of community and undermines our morality. Graffiti shows a disdain for the culture. Sloppy dress, again, says you do not care what others think. It also shows a lack of pride. This can be seen to be the result of not having anything noble to aspire to. Only discouraging not going to school or doing drugs on the basis that it will harm your career makes it a personal choice. If you do not care there is no moral leverage to be found. There is no sense of team. Under a purely competitive model, another person’s victory implies your defeat. Accomplishment just becomes another selfish act. Shame and pride have no context in which to exist. Ultimately, being told that every choice is purely individual leads to a feeling of despair and abandonment. Society says you are on your own and what you do is your own business.
Culturism ultimately posits a positive value source. People that feel an attachment to their society’s status are happier. Rooting for your side is something all sports fans can appreciate. Those who conceive of their fellow citizens as being compatriots forge stronger community ties. This increases the levels of interpersonal trust that are ultimately necessary for a functioning society. Mental health and wealth result from pulling together. Leaders challenging average folk to make our noble superpower stronger should especially appeal to males (many of whom have gotten very wimpy). But the point of culturist psychology cannot be to make the individual happy. Were it to do so, it would just present another form of hedonism. Our important values remaining successful will ultimately require a culturist mindset.
Perspective and vision
Often what is good for you and what are good
for society are the same. Sometimes what
is good for you is not good for the culture.
Our Founding Fathers were acutely aware of this when they created the Constitution. To attain a disinterested perspective they
deliberated in secrecy. Had they not
done so their status as local politicians would have forced them to take the
limited perspective of their states or some faction within them. They could not have advocated limiting their
local government’s power. Secrecy
allowed them to consider what was best for the fledgling country overall. When buying products made in
Our failure to battle illegal immigration provides one example of our failure to consider the broad picture. The academic community has not been a leader on this issue. Overtly culturist historians, linguists, political scientists, lawyers, philosophers, psychologists and sociologists would bolster the common sense view that unrestricted and consciously selected immigration is a bad thing for the West. Professionalism dictates that academics just stick to the facts. They are discouraged from straying from their areas of expertise. Worse, within their specialty, these same standards require that they aim for the impossible and impractical goal of impartiality. Thus, unlike their counterparts in other cultures, our scholastic repositories of leadership are emasculated and removed from the culture they could lead. They are not seeing themselves within the context of a cultural mission.
Business leaders have also been
abstracted. Once upon a time businesses
were seen as community members with the traditional duties of other good
citizens. Now their bottom-line only
refers to money. In economic terms they
only see cheap labor. Whether this
undermines the sovereignty of the nation and efforts to reduce crime and drugs;
whether it strains the local schools, infrastructure or the idea of loyalty to
those that built the country they live in is “immaterial.” Business leaders are wrong about their
ability to abstract themselves. If the
Chinese dominate and downsize or
We cannot expect those arguing on behalf of
illegal immigrants to ask “What is good for
Unfortunately, it is largely inane to ask
politicians in a democracy to ask “What is good for
If no one advocates for the overall good of
Taking the sociocrat’s advice instead of advocating for themselves and interest groups would be facilitated by the existence of an educated public. Citizens being versed in the scientific method and knowing that their own interests and those of society were intertwined would mean that they would buy into this system. If a politician was ignoring what the disinterested, scientific advisors recommended the populace would suspect personal interest or faction. Just like the constant suspicion that leaders were demagogues with monarchal power lay behind our early founder’s establishment of our republic of virtue; the new crop of politicians would be pressured to prove they were acting in the public and not their own personal interest. Like the Founding Fathers, Ward thought that an educated and virtuous populace was the best guarantee against divisive, self-interested factionalism.
Though expecting citizens to constantly be vigilant
observers of the legislative process is not realistic, it does imply two
workable corrections to our present system.
First, the legitimization of the culturism in the academic community and
general citizenry would make asking, “What is good for
Another recommendation this discussion suggests is the formation of a Ministry of Culture. Nearly every other nation on earth having one shows that this is not a bizarre or unrealistic goal. So many countries having Ministries of Culture also shows that most countries have recognized the promotion and management of their national cultures, culturism, as an important function of government. Those in this ministry would be better situated to watch our legislators in the interest of our culture than many citizens. This source of employment would encourage scholars to work together in an interdisciplinary culturist perspective. Creating a Ministry of Culture would teach the American people that our country and its culture are important enough to deserve legal consideration. Those in the Ministry of Culture could be the West’s ultimate culturist psychologists.
Ministry of Culture
Part of recognizing
that our culture is not universal is realizing that other cultures might have
practices to learn from. Where ever you
go around the world, the governments are seen as advocates for the cultural and
economic ascendancy of their people’s beliefs.
Every major city in
Culturist psychology must address ideology at a deeper level than banal patriotism. Our culturist efforts have to be intelligent and respect our heritage of individual thought. Statues celebrating their greatest citizens are widespread in most countries. Oppressive, tyrannical countries are compulsive about such public displays of affection. Appropriately, as soon as freedom is allowed, the statues of these tyrants are torn down. These are statues of bad men. Their being torn down immediately belies the fact they were just propaganda. Erecting such statues just becomes another source of resentment to the citizens in an otherwise repressive and exploitative country.
Yet it would neither violate the purposes of government nor just be cheap propaganda for our country to make statues of our greatest citizens. We have fabulous persons to revere in our history. Our political leaders have been near paragons of virtue. Though some of their actions failed to reach perfection it was not for lack of trying. Their failure to achieve pure morality can be used to teach the lesson that achieving perfection requires constant struggle. And their ideals of perfection can serve as inspirations to good behavior and respect. The proposed statues should be accompanied by plaques that explain who the person did and what they contributed to our freedom. Their deserved recognition could serve as models for responsible concern with our country and its standards of behavior. They would embody ways of meriting glory for generations to come.
Much of what makes a healthy culture is a shared narrative. Having a large amount of first generation immigrants makes public works explaining our culture especially important. Many know nothing of our Founding Fathers or the Puritans, let alone Socrates. Solitary pictures of our heroes on our money do not provide enough context for these narratives to be understood. Public murals are an internationally used tool for fostering such understanding. They are large colorful and can have linguistic explanations that accompany them. Musicals, plays and public celebrations concerning our history would also effectively convey our narrative, bond people and help to propagate knowledge about our collective reason for existing.
Before we defined social capital as an
indicator of community networking. We
have a generation gap in
ideals and persons should make up these
The Ministry of Culture could instigate and provide seed money for such events. But, each local person involved in the projects garners more social capital and pride. Citizen, not professional, involvement and control should be the goal. These events would make citizens more aware of the impact of public space. Citizens coming together would create unity in the ideological realm, but it would also be more personal. It would be an opportunity for local people to get to know one another by working on projects together. People would possibly see their neighbors at such events and trust would thereby be increased. These efforts might also get a generation of artists to think in more culturistically edifying ways. There would be other echo effect of such projects. All of these effects are very much needed and would have minimal side effects. These efforts certainly need not wait for the establishment or blessings of a Ministry of Culture.
Americans, to their credit, are always afraid of indoctrination. But far from promoting tyranny, celebration of our cultural heroes provides an inoculation against it. Every play depicting George Washington presents a threat to tyrants everywhere. No government intent on violating rights would sleep well knowing it was surrounded by thousands of Thomas Jefferson statues. Benjamin Franklin is not one of those overbearing heroes of other countries that would engender civic withdrawal. Our Founding Fathers being celebrated publicly would not encourage power for power’s sake. They would not cause people to be mindless followers of government schemes. They symbols of intellectual freedoms and political rights we hold so dear and rebellion against tyranny. Public art celebrating our past would constitute a defense against indoctrination.
The importance of public art in the mental landscape of a nation can be seen in the impact our “Statue of Liberty” has had. But even it, it turns out, needs a cultural context. The granddaddy of all culturist projects suggested by this need for context would be “The Statue of Responsibility.” This would teach the ultimate civics lesson: without responsibility you cannot have liberty. Whereas the Statue of Liberty faces away from our nation, on the East Coast, The Statue of Responsibility should be on the West coast facing towards the middle of our country. This posture would suggest that those who have arrived inside of the country have domestic responsibilities. This statue could potentially change the overall ideological understanding of our nation. Its text could mention the difference between liberty and license just to make the message extremely clear. Any locality that sponsored the creation of this statue would generate enormous tourist revenue. But, the message being national and the costs prohibitive, the Ministry of Culture should oversee this project.
parades, museums, murals and
events should be instigated to
create a sense of unity and pride in Western Civilization. Incan Gods and ceremonies would be
excluded. They have nothing to do with
Western Civilization. Beethoven is
great, but his not being American would make him more problematic to us than an
American composer. Just as the
Caesar Chavez monuments would be questionable. His success as a labor leader cannot be compared with that of Samuel Gompers or Eugene Debbs. We undoubtedly should celebrate labor’s part in creating our nation. Chavez’s celebration, however, often focuses on him as an icon of diversity and Latino race pride. Both of these themes foster division. Celebrating him outside of the area in which he was born or worked would foster division. A diversity of ideas is welcomed. But celebrating tied to race are un-American and can only foster division. Celebrating Gompers or Debbs because they were white would be equally wrong. Promoting divisions, racial or otherwise, is not the job of our government.
Deciding what is appropriate will not always be
easy. The Constitutional
prohibition against government establishing a religion would not preclude much of our public art. Fortunately a miniscule amount of our
cultural heroes were overtly religious.
Public art could be, however,
controversial for other reasons. Malcolm
X and Eugene Debbs are obviously controversial figures. Debbs could be excluded on the basis of his
not being very famous. But if you have not heard of Malcolm X you
have large holes in your basic knowledge of
Standards of civic discourse should also inform the level of vulgarity associated with these public events. Remember we are promulgating public standards. The public sphere and the private sphere are different. Recall the example where censorship was thought of, not only in terms of whether it would harm a child, but in what it said the public was willing to esteem. If the public underwrites acts of youth sexuality, it cannot then expect youth to have any doubts about the acceptability of pre-marital sex. The same can be said of vulgarity. If nothing else constantly resorting to the same four letter words shows a poor vocabulary; but again it shows a lack of concern with other’s sensibilities. Western culture has traditionally held things of the soul to be higher than things of the body. Public art should ennoble and not degrade us or our historical sense of decency. The public being discriminating as to what it will underwrite does not mean that private citizens are prohibited, in any way, from freedom of speech.
realpolitik thus provides a value by which we can determine the shape of our
common public space. Form is an artistic
choice. Civic parades, concerts and
festivals are appropriate. It is an
artistically unfortunate fact that much of our culture is cerebral and is tied
up with ideals. Colorful tribal dances
and costumes have never been
will work be more affective if they have
a local origin. National parades
would not be as effective as locally produced ones as they would be seen as
propagandistic. If bureaucrats in
Can Western civilization think?
Think?” is the title of a widely-read
book and essay by Kishore Mahbubani. One
of the reasons he gives for asking such an audacious question is that during
the long period in which the West had cultural and economic ascendancy,
We are incapacitated by a host of bad concepts. We have failed to realize that rights only exist if they are backed up by a culture that can sustain them. Embracing individual rights means that we are unable to protect our culture. Multiculturalism and individualism have caused us to retreat from making any value judgments whatsoever. Your right to be a vulgar, drug using whore and mother of five by three different men at the age of 19 cannot interfere with your right to government services and approval without judgment. We do not discriminate on based on culture, religion, creed, level of depravity, nationality, education level, and sense of responsibility or any other criteria. Culturism’s use legitimizes the right of the public sphere to protect itself and provides a basis by which to say some behaviors are wrong. If you cannot decide between alternatives or even make distinctions, one would be hard pressed to find a basis upon which you could be said to consciously think.
The disdain for Victorians and Puritans is based on the idea that they were shallow. They were not shallow. They knew that sex existed. They were also aware that civilization requires curbing our instincts. Manners did not show that you were ignorant of the animalistic nature of man. It meant that you preferred civilization and realized it requires us to have a consciousness of what is socially acceptable. Victorians shunned people who had transgressed because they were unable to rise above the level of animal instinct. Victorian’s reasoned disdain for irresponsible behavior brought the rate of children being born out of wedlock down to three percent and saw a nearly fifty percent decline in indictable offenses in four decades. Our half-baked Freudian equating bestiality and authenticity has led to the explosion of irresponsibility any Victorian could have predicted. People do not analyze, but absorb culture. It is time we realized that our sneering at Victorians is not based on our depth and their shallowness. If we cannot shake our uncritical somnambulism on this topic, we cannot claim to be wise.
Imagine waking up
this morning and not knowing how you got here!
On the one hand, it would be wonderful.
You could make a fresh start. On
the other hand, it would be
terrifying. You could be held
responsible for crimes you did not remember committing and have no basis upon which to dispute the accusations. Imagine you woke up in the Aztec empire and
were told blood kept the sun in the sky.
People not knowing where they are
or how they got here is not a solid foundation upon which to make decisions. Much of our voting public is in this
predicament. Countries have not always
succeeded. Rights are not eternal.
Our lack of historical and global perspective
is the source of many of our problems.
Many Americans think we are the most racist country ever. We invented race sensitivity and can hardly
be said to be racist in comparison to Asian countries. Many think that we are consistent violators
of rights. We invented democracy and
Islamic countries kill citizens that blasphemy.
We are thought to be militaristic.
All civilizations reduce war. They can be defined as an area over which
peace is enforced. Tribes are largely built and sustained by the constant
killing of outsiders. Many think that a
terminally abused and disrespected
Our very physiology reveals a need for culturist assertion. We are different than animals in that we can think. Part of being able to think is being able to decide what our lives will be like. Culture is the way that the accumulated wisdom of the past is passed down to the new generation. Rather than being born ready to be independent, our youth are born ready to absorb culture. We are reticent to inculcate because of our unrealistic adherence to individualism. We want the child to find out who they are on their own. But the child must exist in a culture. In the name of individualism we have renounced our human mandate to pass on our culture. The opposite of socialization is not (as Puritans or Victorians could have told you) freedom. People are not preprogrammed. They will absorb whatever culture surrounds them. If Western values of rights and the dignity of man are not evil, socializing people to believe in such values is not evil. If we do not socialize in our image we should not be surprised if those who consider rape and killing to be sources of pride emerge. If we do not like brutality we need to say so.
Our abdication of thoughtfully guiding our culture is based on ignorance. We must realize that our species requires upbringing. We must recognize, as Aristotle did, that we are social beings. We must remember that rights and democracy are new concepts that were earned at the cost of much struggle. We must see our blindness. Islamic countries are creating fanatical adherents. Chinese citizens never lose sight of the fact that they exist in a cultural, geopolitical and historical context. Whereas heavy handed culturist countries have managed to create direction and devotion, the West’s refusal to advocate for itself has given it the aimless apathy symptomatic of a beaten vagrant in a riot zone. Western Civilization alone needs to remember that it is not composed of lone individuals that somehow woke up in the same space. We need to recall that we share unique values. We haven’t always been here. We created our cultures economy and respect for the individual by an act of will. We need to regain culturist consciousness. We need to think!
What is an idiot? “Idiot” is a Greek word that denotes someone that does not participate in their political community. It shares the same root with idiosyncrasy and idiom. These words all refer to a lack of context. Thus a populace that has no connection to the community or country in which it resides can literally be said to be idiotic. According to this definition, more and more of us are becoming idiots. This trend can be seen both in fashions that show no concern for the impression made on others and corporate theft.
Idiocy is not very American. One thing that Alexis De Tocqueville noted during his 1830 tour of America was how civic minded we were. Rights often make people anti-social. They can be asserted in opposition to community pressure. Last year people that did not get their individual needs met sued school districts across America for hundreds of millions of dollars. These people punished the community for its not catering to their needs. When people exert their prerogatives at the expense of the community in which they live they can truly be said to be idiots. Worse, they are idiots with lawyers. To all who care about our social fabric, this is scary stuff.
We have already seen that early Americans distinguished between license and liberty. Whereas license leads to bad situations, true liberty requires self-control. Early Americans also realized that the self-control that liberty requires was attained easier in a community that did not place too many temptations in front of you. The original American settlements being threatened with extinction made the settlers realize the costs of degeneracy could be high. We also noted that when Revolutionary War era Americans “spoke of their rights, their ‘liberties, immunities, and privileges,’” they almost always conceived of them as communal. The United States could not have beaten England without uniting. Our very nation being the first modern experiment in democracy resulted from a team project.
This vision of collective liberty goes further back in Western history, however, than America. Like the derogatory word “idiot” it goes back to the Greeks. The Greeks had a painfully present concern with the viability of their community. The frequency of their wars meant that they did not have the luxury of having an idiotic orientation. As such, the idea of an ethic outside of the social world they inhabited could not make sense to them. All Greek societies shared a traditional and common understanding that conscious collective political action gave form to the people and if the people were not strong they would be history. Philosophy was a public concern. It was not idiotic.
Idiot also has, of course, its modern meaning. An idiot is someone who is really stupid. Such a person would not know to put on a jacket when they are freezing. Our survey of cultures in nature showed us that cultures are not naturally reflective. Cultures are entities that hold information more than entities that question information. In that sense, cultures are idiotic. Our culture’s claim to fame is that we are self-governing. That means that we consciously choose our social forms. To consciously choose – to avoid being an idiot collectively - we must all be philosophers and be wary of any systems that would strip us of our ability to make choices.
Plato and Aristotle are the most influential Western philosophers ever. They set the philosophical agenda for Western Civilization. Therefore, as Western culturists, it is vital that we are familiar with their works and thoughts. The most salient feature of their political writings is the constant concern about the reciprocal affect the political association and the populace have on each other. They were very concerned that the people would corrupt the government and that the government would corrupt the people. But above all, both Plato and Aristotle were concerned with the nature and survival of the Greek polis.
We have already looked at Aristotle. We saw that he analogized the relationship between government and citizen to that of friends. The best friendship is one in which both people want what is best for the other. They support and guide each other. Plato’s main work, The Republic, concerns the nature of justice, ,which he finds in the ordered state. He analogizes the individual to the state. In the individual, as mentioned before, reason should direct the appetite via will. In the state that means that the philosopher kings (reason) should direct businessmen (appetite) via will (army). Sound judgment and justice in the individual require that he be in control of himself; the same holds for the state (discussions of the relationship between reason and passion are old hat in our culture). Better to have philosophers, with rigorous training and no access to money rule us than those driven by the love of money or power. Either of the latter options will cause chaos in individuals and states. With all doing the job that fits their ability, and all knowing their place, the state will be just, wise, and prosperous.
Aristotle is sometimes derided as a defender of slavery. The opening of Aristotle’s book the Politics is largely concerned with justifying this institution. The extent to which this is held against Aristotle, though, reveals the biggest pitfall of philosophy of the last few hundred years. The criticism fails to take cultural contexts into account. Slavery has meant different things at different times. Many of Athens’ bankers were ex-slaves. Aristotle himself was a not a citizen of Athens. This meant that he could not vote, but that he also did not have to fight in battles. Greek categories were not ours. Taken as a whole, both Aristotle and Plato’s greatest strength is that they are quite sensitive to the realistic contingencies that constrain political decisions. Neither were so naïve as to insist on absolute definitions, rights, and freedoms without regard to their historical contexts or social ramifications.
Neither of these founding philosophers would be pleased by blind adoption of their programs to our age. Both catalogued what the different sources of corruption are for different types of government. Aristotle noted that oligarchy and demagoguery are dangerous to a democracy. He thus suggested manipulating voting requirements so that not too many or too few voted. Who voted would depend on the situation. Plato’s observation that uncensored media creating a “theatrocracy” will lead to pandering and moral corruption remains accurate. Freedom of speech, he said, must be placed in a context of moral stewardship. Our contention that there are absolute guarantees regardless of their political and moral contexts would offend both Plato’s and Aristotle’s sense of practicality.
Specialization has undermined Plato and Aristotle’s common sense approach. For them, political policy could not be considered separately from an understanding of the psychological nature of mankind. Laws could not be considered apart from their moral consequences. Economics of the polis were assumed to be a result of the virtues of the body politic. Art was not a separate entity without a connection to the rest of society or the nature of man. Education had to be concerned with the needs of the state. The way you treat the aged will affect the way the youth see their relationship to society. Everything is integrated. Psychological, political, artistic, religious, social, military, economic, moral, legal, and “personal” considerations cannot be realistically isolated.
Plato and Aristotle’s political science masterpieces are not solely works of political science. They did not just think of themselves as philosophers. They were concerned with all things human. They did not view man as an entity that could be abstracted from his inner and outer context. Though both thought a lot about ideals, practicality was never far from their minds. Culturist philosophy advocates restoring these tendencies both on the merits of such thinking and as homage to tradition. Decontextualized abstractions tend to be unrealistic and destructive. No philosophy that views man outside of his cultural contexts will create realistic ideals. No philosophy that postulates ideals outside of cultural contexts will create viable policies.
The rise of universal principles
Via a slow historical process political thinking has taken a turn towards abstract universal concepts that neither Plato nor Aristotle would have approved of. Universal absolutes are those concepts that are taken to be true in all places and all times regardless of the historical or contextual situation in which they are applied. Neither Aristotle nor Plato would have entertained ideas of rights completely divorced from the ability of a state to survive or provide them, as desirable or workable. Yet our hallowed and unrealistic belief in the supremacy of the individual postulates just these sorts of rights at the expense of the community.
Aristotle has a very ingenious thought experiment in which he makes clear that cities cannot be an abstraction. He notes that if two countries created reciprocal treaties that guarded property and enforced judicial claims between citizens, they would not thereby become one larger country. Mexico and America are different countries despite NAFTA. Germany and France remain different despite the European Economic Union. A state is not just a legal concept. It has a cultural heritage and traditions that produces affection in the inhabitants for one another. People of completely foreign customs do not even become one if they are united against a common foe. Aristotle wrote that the mere association of people forged by legalistic means would not cause inhabitants to look out for each other’s interests.
To be sure, Plato did have idealist tendencies. But he did not do so unreflectively. Even in his most idealistic depiction of a state, the Republic, he pauses to note that it is just an ideal. Furthermore, his characterization of being too ideal overlooks the fact that both of his major works, the Republic and the Laws, concern the running of states. These are not just ideal for ideal’s sake. He thought ideals important as they give us something to measure ourselves against. And he held that we would never reach them. But, his overriding concern was the order of the good state. Those who see him as an idealist also forget that he actually tried to put his ideal of a state run by a “philosopher -king ” into action. He tried creating a rational philosopher-king out of a man who, ironically, had the name of the God of ecstatic drunken and sexual excess, King Dionysus the Second. Plato ended up being arrested and nearly sold into slavery. Plato failed, but his trying shows that he was very serious about the practical applicability of his work.
The true origin of totally universalistic abstract philosophical concepts is to be found in Christianity. Christianity is both universal and local. It is universal in that it claim s to have the truth for the whole world. It applies to everyone. All men are valuable and c an be saved. Indeed it enforced a unitary set of beliefs on Europe for nearly a thousand years. Christianity’s local character manifests itself in the certainty that it alone constitutes truth. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth.” If you d o not agree, you do not have a different point of view ; you are wrong. During its hegemony Catholicism gave universal dignity to its own people, but branded all others as heathens and heretics. Those outside of the community were seen as alien and, therefore, bad.
As the hegemony of the Catholic Church declined new sources of ethics and social organizing principles had to be found. Meeting this challenge resulted in the philosophical movement, discussed before, known as “The Enlightenment.” This movement cemented our current attachment to abstract universalism. The Enlightenment was a scientifically based philosophical movement. Great advances came from this movement. Scientifically, it was noted, the King is just another man. As we are all just men, it is not fitting that one should rule another. Democracy and equal treatment under the law were born of this demystification of the monarchal system.
The scientifically based Enlightenment idea l that one should only believe in what one can measure did much to undermine superstition and the persecution of “witches.” Its promotion of science helped make the silliness of religious wars obvious. The Enlightenment insisted that we make laws based on rational principles. This conscious application of mind to the problems of society led to laws to help the poor and the end of torture being used to garner confessions and conversions. It can be argued that our governmental system of checks and balances is the greatest triumph of the Enlightenment. It was a fantastically successful application of rational principles to the problem of governance.
Though many of the results were good, the underlying theory was not. The longer a theory is around, the more of its subtle implications have time to manifest. Immanuel Kant lived from 1724 until 1802. His was the most systematic exploration of the underpinnings of Enlightenment ethics ever. He justified Enlightenment ethics on the presupposition that all humans are rational and should live up to exacting rational principles. As you rationally would want to live in a world with everyone having rights, we should all have rights. Rationally, you could not will it to be otherwise. Unfortunately the world is not full of rational beings doing what logic would dictate. Furthermore, what rational individuals would will and what can actually happen in this world are not necessarily the same.
Rights, as substantiated by Kant’s methodology, are inalienable. You can demand the right to have education provided to you in the language of your choice regardless of whether or not the school system has the resources to provide it. We do not discriminate based on creed or religion. Punitive morality, by Kant’s reckoning constituted a logical oxymoron as all real morality comes out of rational deliberation. So rationally, morality has to come from letting people be free to learn about the irrationality of their mistakes. Many still believe that suicide bombers and headhunters will be turned into German logicians by adoption of rational precepts. Kant and the other Enlightenment figures had a nearly Christian level of faith in the redemptive power of rationality.
Cultural particularism (elevation of local truth) was one of the banes of the Enlightenment. Christianity turned out to be just one of many religions. As a local phenomenon it was demoted from the status of a universal truth. Enlightenment figures wanted to postulate mental states and rules for governance that were, like science, truly universal. And as the Western cultures that the Enlightenment values thrived in were just particular cultures, they were devalued. Finding the New World and its many exotic cultures had exaggerated this sentiment. So a predisposition to prefer one culture’s holiday above another, was seen as just seen as a silly local eccentricity. The Enlightenment philosophers did not hold cultural particularities in high regard. Valuable knowledge rested upon on Universal principles. Again, it was the Enlightenment, not an enlightenment.
The “social contract” theory of society came out of the Enlightenment. Social contract theories concern the origin of society. They all postulate that societies exist as a result of contracts between the original members. According to one version, men are so violent that they contracted with a king to keep the peace. Thus the legitimacy of the King resulted from his enforcing order. Another version sees us as joining together to mutually protect our property rights. Thus the government’s legitimacy stems from its ability to enforce contract and property rights. Both versions bolster the claim that the government’s ultimate claim to authority should rest on the will or benefit of the people it serves. These yarns have obvious beneficial applications.
As anthropology, nature, world history, Aristotle’s thought experiment of tying two countries together, and Plato’s misadventure show, countries are not just legalistic arrangements between random individuals; they are cultural constructs. The Enlightenment was based on a scientific worldview. Science deals in universals, not particulars. The laws of science are considered laws if they apply everywhere equally. The rights and freedoms rationality dictates, therefore, were not considered laws if they are subject to qualifications. But this universalism is predicated on a universal culture that does not exist. All preconditions in science are the same. Diversity means cultural preconditions for creating social policy are not the same. Though it resulted in benefits that the Western world should never regret or retreat from, the Enlightenment also laid the philosophical foundations that have undermined our healthy sense of culturism.
The metaphysics of rights
Universal rights are the result of the Enlightenment’s search for a post-religious, scientific basis of morality. Rights, thus derived, find their grounding in universal Kantian reason. This assumes, again falsely, a world in which all people are playing by rational rules. Yet one could postulate both my right to take advantage of you and yours to not be exploited. In this hypothetical test one right would interfere with another. A diversity of desires exists. Conceptually universal rights can only exist in a world where ideas do not conflict. Kant would ask about the logical desirability of a world in which people took advantage of each other. In doing so he would be acknowledging that even within the within the metaphysical world of logic, rights have to be contextualized.
Rights are shown not to come from universal principles everyday. Rights only actually exist in the context of a state and culture that are willing and able to recognize and provide them. The right to an education cannot be realized in poverty stricken countries. Economic rights are not universal. They are something that your culture purchases. Your right to free speech only exists if there is a legal system to protect it. You can logically prove that there should be gender equality, but the cultural milieu in which the pronouncement takes place might cause the decree to ring hallow. Universal rights are violated in every war zone. Rights are shown not to be universal every time a person starves to death.
People often liken the granting of a new right to the finding of a new scientific fact. The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States’ Constitution gave women the right to vote. What is the meaning of the verb “gave” as used in this sentence? It literally means that it was conferred by the federal legal system. The phraseology whereby rights are “recognized” seems to imply that they had an actual existence prior to the state’s granting them . Rights, however, disappear. Under the Taliban in Afghanistan women lost the right to go outside. The temporal nature of rights means that they are not real entities that are waiting to be recognized; they are constructs. They can be conferred but, as they did not exist before, they could not have been found. Scientific laws are not temporal, context-dependent entities. Scientific laws sit waiting to be discovered and then hold true, at no expense, for all time. Rights could not be more different.
When we talk of the proliferation of rights, we have to recognize that rights cost money. The right of the handicapped to have access to my restaurant will not be cheap. The phraseology that sees rights effortlessly being recognized and proliferating conflates them with metaphysical entities. Realistic phraseology would convey the sense that rights are gifts that your culture has decided it will try to purchase for you. Think of rights as something purchased would mean that rather than insisting on rights, those who sue for them would be asking if they could be purchased. This monetary understanding could be extended to consider cultural costs. We could ask what the cultural costs of allowing dual citizenship are. Rather than asking about recognizing rights, we would ask if we wanted to implement the right. The cost analogy would allow us to say there are rights that enforcing would be too expensive to implement. Being realists we could then elect not to enforce them.
When we fail to recognize the cultural context of the rights that are being purchased for members of society they often become destructive. Something that operates without respect to context can run counter to the context. Then, instead of being seen as coming from Western culture, they can be used against Western culture. Being a pornographer next to a church or an elementary school can be seen as your right. Non-citizens can sue us for not processing their applications for citizenship fast enough. People demand free emergency health care from hospitals that cannot afford to provide it. Decontextualized rights are free to be asserted against the very communities and institutions that create them.
Even when a culture can afford to enforce rights, they do not always exist. Saudi Arabia has a lot of money, but women still do not have the right to drive there. More than money, collective assent is required for rights to be enforced. French people, it would seem, have the right not to have their cars set on fire. India has tried to end the killing of women whose entire dowry is not paid on time. But such behaviors persist. Rights are only possible in a culture that has mores and economies that can support them. Even that is not always enough. Immigrants to countries that forbid female genital mutilation still persist in the practice. Rights only exist if cultural precepts that believe in them exist.
Rights are so integral to Western culture that we have trouble imagining a world without them. Because we see them everywhere, we are predisposed to believe that they are universal. Western civilization’s meaning is based upon more than legal decisions. Rights are not a result of universal metaphysics. We appreciate and understand our rights more when we recognize that they are only figments of the Western cultural imagination. Furthermore, we must realize that they can only be manifest if our culture is solvent. If we do not take care of our culture we may be thrown back into a world without rights.
Recognizing that rights are not metaphysical necessitates creating policies that sustain them in the real world. In this light we must ask many questions. Can we afford to buy the right of each student an individualized education program that meets their special needs? In a world where higher GNP results from expertise, might we be better off prioritizing the rights of the gifted? Because we may not be able to afford both, we need to choose. Can a community battered by drugs and violence afford not to be able to search suspicious cars? During an era of terrorism, can we afford to give foreigners the right to political asylum in our country regardless of country of origin or cultural affiliations? In an era of closing hospitals we can ask if we can afford to give you free emergency medical care. In a time of state debts we can ask if we can afford to give prisoners cable television. With high numbers of irresponsible pregnancies can we morally afford to give single mothers under the age of twenty-five welfare? When we recognize that rights cost money and can only exist in the context of a solvent community we are given a new set of questions to answer and we can answer them more flexibly.
The evidence against Universalism as an outlook
Globalism bases its hopes on Enlightenment presuppositions. The Enlightenment was a time when science was first being widely employed as a tool of understanding. One by one the mysteries of the world were being understood. Social sciences were being employed to understand the universal institutions that underlay societies. The hope was that all societies could one day all be conscious creations based on logical principles. Many are still of the faith that all cultures of the world will see the parochial nature of their positions and drop them in favor of a rational choice of global cooperation, laws, and consumerism.
The hope of universal unity based on universal laws results from social contract theory writ large. However, social contract theory is derived from a faulty premise. Individuals did not meet in the forest by accident and decide to band together for mutual benefit. Neither do ants or chimpanzees. Enlightenment figures asserting that all human governmental organizations grew out of a political decision reveals their rationalist bias. Even in the relatively rational West, the Puritans were a collective before the Mayflower compact. And our country existed before the Constitution. Countries, cultures, and tribes do not owe their existence to rationally designed constructs.
Culture predates politics. Culture predates man. As previously mentioned, rats are alternately kind and brutal depending on scents that identify friends and foes. Western Culturism does not, of course, celebrate this brutality. Hutus killed Tutsi’s without a trace of the compassion that Western man would hope is universal. They acted in defiance of rationalism. And unfortunately, they are far from the only one to commit such irrational atrocities. Pol Pot killed a third of his population. Race has nothing to do with this. The cultur al and biological composition of man ha s everything to do with it. Rational considerations are only a part of what drives people.
America’s involvement in Iraq provides a pertinent example. America’s attempt to turn Iraq into a representative democracy is failing due to clearly an irrational tribalism. Rationally, the Shi’ite and Sunni populations have more in common with each other than with the infidels patrolling them. They share a history and a country. Furthermore, when a peaceful brotherhood based on common interests is attainable, their constant warfare in defiance of this outcome seems insane. Hopefully the people of that region will act based on their enlightened self-interest. But at the time of the printing of this book the destructive terrorism in that region showed no signs of subsiding.
Moreover, even if universal rationalism were adopted worldwide, we cannot say what it would look like. Asian societies are more culturist than we are. The Confucian ideal that rationality means the individual should subjugate themselves to the demands of their role is not irrational. Radical authoritarian militarism within the context of a competitive world can be supported rationally. If survival is a rational goal, you could argue that creating a theocracy that has a work ethic internally and violent hatred externally comprises your best bet. It is not clear that the ideal state would not be based on a submission to God or recognizing China’s right to rule. Our faith that globalism means everyone drops their parochial traditions and agrees that our version of individual rights and democracy represents the ultimate good combines arrogance and ignorance. Our view that rationalism leads to a liberal democracy based on radical individualism is very parochial. It confused our local preference for a universal truth.
British imperialists strove to export their world view. They saw their value system as conducive to making business deals that made sense to all parties. This system was based on commerce being the ultimate value. Rational arrangements best provided for the free flow of goods and efficient creation of new ones. British imperialism could be considered a social science experiment to test the validity or the rational nature of the social contract. The results do not support the hypothesis. The seemingly obviously compelling British-style constitutional, rational, and economic bases of social organization were not adopted. Rational choices are not the glue that cements societies.
Only the Protestant colonies succeeded in becoming liberal capitalist democratic successes. This was not due to race. White skinned communities succeeded because they “had the outlook and institutions favorable to progress which Asiatics and Africans seemed to lack. They offered [the right items to] customers with European tastes and money to spend.” Our tastes are not universal. Our institutions did not catch on. African tribes kept raiding each other. Shopping for goods was not everyone’s priority. Africans even reverted to their indigenous tradition enslaving each other after many British efforts to wipe the practice out. Despite this historic proof, many hold to the old British idea that cultures will all be reshaped based upon rational market principles. Some will, many won’t, and those that do will not thereby shake their attachment to their local cultural realities.
Diversity exists. Our survey of anthropology should be enough to convince anyone of that. But even current cultures have different visions of the good life. A kiss is not a kiss. For some it is nearly an engagement. For some it unites two families. For some it is mere erotica. Some cultures are order and achievement crazy. Some value large families. Some build banks, others places of worship. Those advocating universal concepts have to postulate that all cultures that are not liberal individualistically based free market democracies are developing in that direction. For differing from our culture they are called backwards and developing. Culturism acknowledges that the other modes of life exist and may be just as satisfying as our own.
Even if there really is a universal standard of truth, using it as a basis of policy is dangerous. For example, the West’s allowing massive immigration from Islamic nations is based on the idea that we are all going to get along assumes there are no differences between cultures. Meanwhile, the other team has not embraced and, in fact, remains openly hostile to the idea of universal cooperation. If an American football team decided to not protect its quarterback based on the fact that we are all equal it would be disastrous. Even if it is true, until both teams have acknowledged that there are no sides and competition does not exist, guarding ones quarterback seems prudent.
An American response to universals
Traditional Western philosophers (every philosopher’s favorite whipping boy) might scoff at the types of proofs being offered in support of a culturist philosophical outlook. Immanuel Kant, for one, would say that philosophical rigor requires formal propositions and proofs for or against a claim. Such objections reveal the continuing Enlightenment influence and our bias towards what is perceived of as scientific thinking.
The very act of philosophers wanting sound and rigorous arguments for the reality of culturism would, in fact, provide them. If philosophy were universal it would look the same in all places. Not all cultures look for Germanic rule-based logic chopping in their philosophies. Neither Buddha nor Jesus nor Muhammad included major and minor premise s in their proofs. Thus the insistence on rigorous proofs in philosophy is the result of a historical development in a particular culture. The request for rigor proves the culturist basis of philosophy.
Kant remains a very influential Western philosopher. He was Prussian. However, culturism dictates (using Kantian logic) that my final philosophic school of choice should be American. To put it in a way that would hopefully satisfy standards of rigorous logical proof: Culturism requires you favor your own culture (major premise), pragmatism is a philosophy from my own culture (minor premise), therefore American culturism should be based on pragmatism (conclusion). With this logic in mind let us now leave Prussia and turn to America.
Pragmatism is the United States’ largest contribution to the world of philosophy. Though pragmatism still has prominent proponents, it hails from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Pragmatism’s earliest formulation was created by Charles Saunders Pierce. John Dewey and Josiah Royce were advocates of pragmatism. However, William James, who lived from 1842 until 1920, was pragmatism’s most renowned exponent.
John Dewey wrote in The Quest for Certainty that the hurly burly of life had driven man to seek physical and mental shelter. Philosophy and religion have historically created safe havens in which we escaped from this world of constant change. Scientific experimentation helped steer us away from religion’s revealed and eternal truths and towards a more realistic approach to the world; science validated lived experience and discovery as ways of knowing. Kant went half way towards the naturalization of philosophy when he said the truths we seek are not in the spiritual realm but based on our reason. But Kant, like his religious and philosophical predecessors, Dewey noted, was still dealing in universals.
Overall, pragmatism agreed with the overview of philosophy given so far on two counts. First of all, pragmatism overtly rejected universal truths. James believed that there was no way around the fact of “moral dualism.” Secondly, pragmatism agrees with the critique of overly metaphysical philosophies. James said, if there were no people there would be no morality. If there were only one person on a planet, there still would not be a right and wrong, only consequences would exist. Ethics comes when there are two people who must deal with each other. These two inhabitant’s morals will have to be negotiated in real situations. No truths exist, metaphysically, outside of specific people and their changing situations.
For our purposes, Pragmatism’s methods are even more important than their rejection of metaphysical universal truths. Pragmatists get truth from practical applications. Rather than trying to ascertain whether free will exists, we should ask, “What would be the consequences of believing in free will?” The ultimate metaphysical truth about whether or not we have free will cannot be known; but accepting free will means that we can hold criminals responsible for their actions. So whether free will is real or an illusion, we should believe in it for practical purposes. Some might say that this pragmatic approach takes us off of the path of finding real truths; genteel and erudite philosophers were repulsed by James’ search for “cash value” in propositions. But, these situational methods are particularly well suited for policy formulation.
The practical character of pragmatist analysis can be seen in the case of racial profiling. First of all, this phenomenon is misnamed; it is cultural profiling. When you wear gangster clothes, drive a gangster car, and blast gangster music, suspecting that you buy into the whole criminal lifestyle is not unreasonable. Race is not the deciding factor. Assimilation into cultural behaviors does not depend on race. Herein we have another example of where separating culture and race can help us think more clearly. People of all races do and do not dress as gangsters. But while pragmatism does not eschew common sense, it does not simply advocate acting on hunches. Pragmatism is scientific and finds truth through verification.
Pragmatists hold that policy should be based on scientific verification of practical goals. If no difference in arrests result from stopping those who fit the gangster profile, your assumptions were wrong. If more weapons and drugs are seized than random searches would yield, your hunch is verified. Pragmatic definitions of truth come from verification, not just speculation. People who believe in absolute definitions of morals might still be bothered by this. Pragmatism, fortunately, can even deal with perceptions flexibly. If crime was really low, you would create more peace by ignoring those posing as gangsters. But when a lot of crime exists, you would create more peace by profiling and enduring the bad feelings of those who believe in justice in the abstract. Goals and verification permeate this methodology and give it a realistic and flexible bearing.
James’ version of pragmatism stressed the power of words to create reality. If you go with the abstract paradigm that all cultural profiling constitutes an injustice, crime may not be effectively addressed. Your goals and beliefs affect outcomes. Even the methodology you choose will have an outcome. Abstract formulations of right and wrong are impervious to evidence. If you believe that all profiling is wrong, evidence cannot be considered. You will not be able to profile even if statistics and common sense recommend it. Pragmatic methodology is flexible. If the gangster fashions mutate, you follow. If people stop living the gangster lifestyle, you drop the whole concept. Pragmatism creates paradigms and monitors them in relation to the world as it actually exists. Pragmatic policy changes as the world changes.
Pragmatism has not been greeted uncritically. Josiah Royce noted the main critique of pragmatism and tried to address it. Royce was worried that pragmatism led to moral relativism. If I believed that killing children leads to happiness, I could verify that hypothesis using the pragmatist technique. I want to be happy, I try killing children, it makes me happy, and therefore, killing children is good. Royce circumvented this pitfall with the concept of loyalty. He showed that loyalty to a cause gives you meaning, direction, and community. Royce’s caveat for stopping moral relativism is that the cause you are loyal to should never diminish someone else’s loyalty. Killing children destroys an object of loyalty for parents and so it is wrong. Royce’s philosophy of loyalty is wonderful. Unfortunately, as loyalties often conflict, it is hard to put into practice.
Dewey provided another mooring for pragmatist morals when he suggested asking if they lead to progress defined as personal and social growth. Like Royce’s concept of loyalty, this grounding also dovetails nicely with culturism. The question, though, then becomes what does progress mean? If progress means more efficient killing of children is it right? Though extreme, the reference to killing children provides a real moral conundrum in a post-holocaust world. Post-Kantian metaphysics fans said the danger of moral relativism shows that we must always, in the end, rely on abstract metaphysics to get our ultimate sense of right and wrong. Otherwise we can verify whatever horrible practice we like via pragmatism and call it truth.
Another attempt at pragmatic grounding can be found within the work of William James. In an attempt to reign in the negative potentials of ungrounded pragmatism he said that some propositions, like the killing of children, were not “live” options. By this he meant that they were not valid options for someone of a particular cultural background. He was not overt and consistent, however, in naming and using this criterion. In one place he said an option was made live by a measure of inclusiveness, in another he said being live resulted from social consensus. He was on to something and intuited that diverse belief systems were culturally grounded. If we want to successfully ground our pragmatic morality, we need to be more overt and clear about this than James was.
To put ethical parameters on pragmatism we should use the term “cultural pragmatism.” It overtly indicates that ideas are “live” because they fall within the scope of our cultural traditions. Thus the idea of progress towards the killing of children can be ridiculed as falling outside of our cultural tradition. The cultural moniker also allows us to advocate, as Dewey wished, certain progressive behaviors. But progress here gets defined culturally as reflecting our democratic, individualistic, liberal history and the concomitant Protestant ethics. Since this philosophy is both cultural and pragmatic it can consistently say that both criminal lifestyles and heavy-handed violations of rights are wrong. But because cultural pragmatism comes from experience with the real world, these moral definitions do not prohibit action.
Cultural pragmatism may seem overly commonsensical. It does not propose an esoteric metaphysical truth of the sort we have come to associate with philosophy. That is the point. Within the world of philosophy, pragmatism’s commonsense approach was and still is radical. Pragmatism does address metaphysical subtleties. James was very sensitive to the idea that truths are made, not found. He wrote extensively on religious experience and the nature of the universe from a pragmatic perspective. But, for our purposes, pragmatism’s value does not lay in its ability to be esoteric. Pragmatism is necessary because it resituates philosophers in the real world, fighting pertinent battles in a common sense way.
Modern Philosophy’s attack on culturism
Decontextualized rights are actually out of step with modern philosophy. Modern philosophy has moved away from fixed truths. Poor Kant has been besieged on all sides. Whereas we in America created the pragmatic method as a guide in a world in flux, Europe took another path. It has taken what has been termed a “linguistic turn.” This means that, rather than make statements about meanings, it examines the nature of sentences themselves. Deconstruction has helped us get more out of sentences by making us approach them differently. But, their all out attack on meaning goes too far. Whereas American philosophy adapted to the loss of universals by embracing a provisional definition of truth, European philosophers jettisoned truth.
Deconstruction dominates modern philosophy. It not only feeds on the beaten corpus of Kant’s work, it deconstructs all positive attempts to construct truths. Take the sentence, “John got a hair cut.” Deconstructionists would contend that as much meaning remains excluded from this sentence as included. Why am I mentioning a male? Why a male with a typical American name? Am I privileging American / male dominance? In modern jargon, the reality that Latino females reading the sentence experience has been “marginalized.” The subtle message of the sentence is that her life story happens outside of mainstream America. In the sentence, her reality has been silenced. Even if we took the Latino females’ perspective, who can really tell us what that ultimately means? There are always excluded meanings.
The same objections to our sentence concerning a haircut have been leveled at national stories. If all assertions encode power relations (by way of what they exclude and what they include) our national stories (which are frequently termed “narratives”) constitute the worst examples of marginalization. Our portrayal of our history as a good thing silences and marginalizes the truth claims and lives of those for whom it was not so beneficial. Our narratives do not tell of the disruption of the traditional aborigine way of life. The lack of attention to women and harm to the environment also get marginalized. Ultimately, every positive statement about our national narrative can be said to be complicit in atrocities.
Deconstructionists make the following mistake: they assume that if a truth is not universal, it cannot be regarded as a truth. The discovery that a truth is only applicable to one culture’s particular sensibilities, for them, disproves its value. They have unwittingly absorbed the Enlightenment demand that truths be universal or false. But just because we describe wood as lumber does not mean that elements and combustion rates do not exist. Rather than either being true or false, truths appear on a spectrum from certainty to debatable to false. Filipino reality does not get obscured in discussions of the Founding Fathers; there were no Filipino fighters in the Revolutionary War. When we discuss the Revolutionary War we simply are not discussing the South Pacific. The Philippines’ place in the Spanish empire might have indirectly impacted the American Revolution. That is debatable, but the topic is not being marginalized when we do not discuss it. It was already marginal to the topic when we started.
Deconstructionists’ assumption of Western methods actually confirms that all thoughts happen within a cultural context. The logic splitting Kantian methodology they use can be traced back to Socrates’ obsession with definitions. Socrates split hairs to defend truth from people who, like deconstructionists, thought truth was just a matter of language claims. These people were called sophists. They were like today’s lawyers; they would argue any side for a price. Deconstructionists’ discussions have deep roots in Western heritage. Their very linguistic methodology supplies subtle proof of culturist parameters of truths in philosophy. They would get less subtle proof if they went to Muslim countries and started deconstructing the Koran. Jail or execution would result. Debunking the government of the People’s Republic of China in China or on Chinese media would garner similar results.
Deconstructionists have turned to Marxist and, ultimately, more nihilistic attitudes towards truth. When they say that our discourse is “oppressive” of other realities, they minimize the harsh and physical nature of real repression. Rather than absolute projections of Western ideals, they should use real history and anthropology as standards for judgment. As with the Filipino example, assertions interact with realities. Deconstructionists lingering attachment to universal truths makes their comparisons destructive. Chaffing at all sentences for not being all-inclusive and using this to debunk narratives has consequences. Deconstruction erodes our ability to make positive culturist statements. Just because we cannot include all truths in our statements does not mean that they are not provisionally true to us. We need to advocate our provisional truths from our vantage point.
David Scott’s very insightful book about rituals in Sri Lanka investigates the relative status of knowledge. Buddhists of Sri Lanka believe Yakku were cannibal istic demons that used to inhabit their land. Buddha banished Yakku, but allow ed them to glance backwards from an invisible position. These glances, along with human glances, emanate energies that can cause varieties of misfortunes. Priests can get the Yakku to stop the energies that lead to the misfortunes by speaking to the demon when it inhabits the body of the accursed. A sort of exorcism in which the afflicted person goes into trance and the demon speaks through them allows us to beg the demon to forgive and forget. This moment provides the only way to mitigate the harm of the Yakkus’ cursing energies.
After his account of the Sri Lankan ideology, Scott goes on to criticize prior anthropological accounts of Sri Lankan culture that use terms like “ritual” and “demons.” Th ese words, he notes, assumes the British colonialist discourse concerning the rational and objective worldview of the Western anthropologist and thus perpetuates a view of the abnormality of the natives in question. Sri Lankan reality gets marginalized by the form of the linguistic discourse. He wishes that we would give that tradition’s discourse as much respect as our own by looking at their strategy from the point of view of the practitioners. This strategy is advocated to circumvent our imposing our paradigms on our explanations of native cultures.
Scott’s strategy likely does cut away some of our obvious Western conceptual impositions. But it ultimately cannot overcome cultural biases. No Westerner will ever really take this cosmology seriously. Invisible beings invading your energy and using exorcisms to get rid of them is not scientific. The concept of strategy which he uses to undercut his bias itself constitutes (as Scott might agree) a Western imposition. Even after their goals are appreciated, no Westerner will actually experience authentic fear of these Yakku “glances” (let alone appreciate what it means to have a supernatural being speak through you). We cannot authentically enter such a world. The objective viewpoint Scott and other anthropologists wish to attain remains an impossible ideal.
Beyond its impossibility, the search for a non-judgmental appreciation of other’s equally valid cosmology is undesirable. Our obsession with Western scientific objectivity is very Western. The very attempt to be objective contains bias. We will never be able to see these Sri Lankans as they see themselves. We are much better off, politically and philosophically, admitting and accepting the bias of our viewpoint. Scientific objectivity is something that we Westerners value. We can study demon possession and admit that our considering their cult bizarre is only our bias. But we cannot help finding it wanting from our scientific perspective. And our scientific perspective has helped us go to Sri Lanka and study locals. It facilitates the printing of books like Scott’s. We should not pretend we can evade our paradigm. The belief that we can view others without bias belittles the depth of the local’s cosmology while being disrespectful to our own.
Had Kant known more about cultural diversity he would have told you that universals about diverse cultures presents a logical contradiction. To have a universal truth that applies to diverse cultural milieus denies that they are diverse. Consistency requires that either diversity has to go or universals have to go. Diversity exists. James would tell you that universalism in the cultural arena is dangerous. If we stop advocating for and believing in our particular culture because it defies universal, scientific truths or if we stop advocating for ourselves because disillusion with the quest for certainty has turned us to absolute relativists (while others continue to fight for their cultural vision) we can end up in a lot of trouble. The truth that there are varieties of cultural groundings for perspectives, Dewey and James would point out, does not mean that there are not coherent desired outcomes. Just because our truths are particular, interested, and local rather than universal does not mean they are not truths. My preference for Western values is real. And, as James claimed, real and different consequences result from diverse outlooks.
Why is the maintenance of Western civilization a valid goal for us? It is our goal because we cannot choose to do otherwise. We value this civilization that values individuality because we cannot help but value individuality. Even knowing that, in fact, individuality is largely an illusion borne of our cultural programming, we cannot choose but to be for it. Throwing out individualism and rights are not live options for us. That is one reason why members of Western civilization do not have to worry about tyrannical impositions in the name of Western culturism. Tyranny of the individual is not a live option for us. “Give me liberty or give me death” is more than a national motto. We deeply believe that a life that we do not get a say in is not worth living. We are Western.
Meeting the Genocidal attack
We judge ourselves harshly due to the crimes of the Second World War. It has been noted that the scientific method will tell you how to eliminate Jews, but not if it is right. Science has been tainted in philosophical circles because it was used to implement the Nazi war crimes. The crimes were industrial. It is interesting to note that this condemnation of the West on the grounds of universal standards does not get directed so mercilessly at the Japanese. Perhaps this omission stems from guilt that theirs is a marginalized or silenced discourse. Perhaps this omission reveals an assumed culturist realization that we cannot judge them by our standards. Perhaps it just reveals a permanent bias against the West by many of our social critics. We are not the only culture to have committed atrocities in the last century by a long shot.
Those who reject ethical universals are haunted by the specter of cultural relativism. If nothing can be universally condemned, the basic formulation asks, can we then say that the Nazi atrocities were wrong? The standard pragmatic answer says Nazis were wrong because they lost. Their vision for society was not sustainable. Democracy was shown to inspire people and mobilize resources more efficiently and so is right. This response to the charge of cultural relativism founders on the fact that many oppressive regimes have thrived for a long time. During their tenure, according to the pragmatic answer to cultural relativism, would we say that Soviet gulags were right? Having to say that they were ethically kosher during the time in which they ruled makes pragmatism’s response to the problem of cultural relativism unsatisfactory.
Culturist philosophy provides a satisfactory response. We condemn Nazi atrocities on our own Western cultural grounds. We do so because the overarching theme of Western history concerns an increasing respect for individual conscience and the concomitant fight against tyranny. From Achilles, to Socrates, to Jesus, to Martin Luther, to George Washington, to Martin Luther King we have striven in this direction. The Nazi’s violated principles that we hold sacred and their values ran counter to our long held traditions. Respect for individual lives has been a logical corollary to respect for individual conscience. If killing individuals in peacetime can be condemned by recourse to our traditions, killing groups of people without noticing their distinctions as individuals constitutes a double offense. During their reign there were ample legitimate historical grounds, repeated by Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and others, which provided a solid culturist basis upon which to condemn the Nazis.
We haven’t always upheld the value of the individual to the extent that we now do. But, all and all, we have respected the prerogatives of citizens. The Greeks and the Romans did so to an extent still unparalleled by much of the world. During the era of Catholic dominance we did not value individual conscience or even life as much as now. Recall, however, that at that point our historical memory was lost. We call this time period the Dark Ages precisely because of our amnesia concerning our past and the resulting transgressions against our long held traditions. The renaissance was a rebirth of memory concerning our traditions. It was followed by the Enlightenment and democracy. In our long history the Dark Ages comprises the exception that proves the rule. And the atrocities during that era remind us that our ethics are best grounded when we remember our history and its meaning. Whenever we forget the lessons of the past, blindness and unimaginable atrocities are likely to follow.
There is, however, no universal abstract basis upon which to denounce Nazi style atrocities. If another culture values genocide for power’s sake, we should affirm that they are to be condemned from our point of view. We may have to utilize argument and warfare to try to stop their vision from taking over the world. Our victory will not be guaranteed, however, by destiny or the inherent moral structure of the universe. A belief in rights and opposition to racism and genocide are Western values. Within our cultural context they are wrong. Values can only be realized within the context of a working, living community. Our community could not will itself to be Hindu. Islamic fundamentalism is not a “live” option for us. Nazi actions and values are wrong to us, in a very real sense, because our culture dictates that we cannot choose to think otherwise. They epitomize evil in our eyes. The best way for us to stop genocide, racism, and rights abuses from reappearing in the world is through implementing sound culturist policies that amplify and protect our particular cultural vision.
In the context of discussing our particular historical grounding for denouncing Nazi philosophy, mentioning that the Germans have repeatedly and thoroughly apologized on such a basis seems noteworthy. The fact that the Japanese have not apologized and refuse to teach their young about Japanese atrocities also teaches us a valuable lesson. Honor and morality argue against the admitting of defeat or anything that would mar personal or national pride in the Japanese tradition. Japan has a racial democracy. Saying things that injure Japanese nationalist pride does not win elections in their culture. We should not expect that democracy equals toleration or universalism. It is not my point to judge Japanese morality. Theirs culture may turn out to be more satisfactory and sustainable than ours. But we should note that morals are not universal and that German apologies confirm our ethical heritage.
Cultural contextual izing
In addition to being a source of disunity and destruction for Western civilization, decontextualized universals cause unemployment for philosophers. For this reason they can be said to be the ultimate Western philosophical problem. Decontextualized individualism means society can never tell anyone what to do and decontextualized rights mean that there are no countervailing considerations to be weighed. The decontextualized love of diversity, like tolerance, validates the ultimate absence of values. No one can say that my ways or art are any better or worse than anyone else’s. Thoughtful commentators need not apply! Decontextualized universals are decided once and for all. Fortunately, culturism allows for temporal, cultural, philosophic, and historic considerations.
Were culturism a decontextualized system it would not provide employment for philosophers either. Western culturism should never come close to saying that all questions can be answered by asking what best for the state. We would become stagnant and petrified like Sparta. The West is a progressive culture that values individualism. Those hoping to turn culturism into a tyrannical system would be countered by deeper culturists reminding us of the questions of Socrates, Jesus’ rebellious streak, and Jefferson’s mistrust of government. Tyranny is not a live option for us. Culturism should never be treated as an absolute. Absolutes shut down discussions; culturism seeks to foster discussions. Maintaining real individualism and a culture dedicated to liberty means that compromises must be adjudicated.
Instead of the silence that comes from absolutes, we need a vibrant debate that is worthy of a democracy. Can we require community service on the part of citizens? What level of antisocial behaviors is tolerable? Does giving vasectomies to those who have kids and need welfare unnecessarily compromise realistic individualism, liberty or license? Given our traditions, how much anti-social behavior should we permit in what forums? What are the moral messages, goals for individuals, and cultural implications in laws being considered? Too often such questions are met by the shrill assertions of those defending absolute prerogatives of either individuals or rights rather than the nuanced discourse of those who recognize the balance that contextualized ethics require.
Answering the questions above requires that we have a current understanding of the state of the culture and our cultural heritage. Measures designed to foster the unity that leads to crime reduction would not have been appropriate during the Great Depression. Measures to stop infidelity would have been superfluous the 1950s. In the 1950s school programs teaching us about the diversity of cultures might have been a laudable goal. Currently programs teaching about the particular virtues of the West would be more appropriate. Pragmatic culturism means that we always apply our reasoning to moving targets in specific contexts. In a dynamic world, the cultural pragmatist’s job is never done.
One of the most important job of a culturist philosopher will be announcing and defining our standards. Different times require different standards of greatness. Wartime requires a Themistocles. Times of poor art need a John William Waterhouse. Philosophers must then know about history and all Western areas of greatness. Our greatness can be best assessed and inspired in relation to people like Michelangelo and books like The Republic. The ability to ward off of malevolent demons and cruelty of tyrants are not the basis of Western virtues. The problem that advocates of tolerance and diversity face is that they advocate nothing in particular. If everything is great, nothing is particularly worthwhile. Exorcism and binding women’s feet become as good as anything else. We have culturally specific beliefs. We do not traditionally value sloth, headhunting or racism. We value excellence, creativity, and self-control. Nothing can be said to be a worthwhile action outside of a living cultural tradition.
A reliance on tradition does not mean that we stop inventing the future. Asian art has traditionally striven to embody traditional forms. Western art has tried to create bold new forms. Western art history involves constant change and rebellion. But, modern art gets derided as a farce because of its reliance on being new and daring without relevance our to cultural tradition. At one point Ka ndinsk y’s abstractions were shocking to a tradition. Now his followers are just putting meaningless splotches of paint on the canvas that are not historically or culturally relevant. Our current search for originality in fine arts is done against a very shallow historical background. Conscious progress (a Western value) in any discipline requires awareness of long traditions. Without such awareness, any change comes to be synonymous with progress. Progress implies direction and therefore requires knowledge of the past. Only with historical awareness can we say to have progressed since neo-classical art or the ethics of 1895.
Our general conceptions of cultural and individual virtues should take place within our traditional Platonic, Aristotelian, Protestant ethic based, Progressive definitions of self-governance. Pornography makes a lot of money. But all of our sources of tradition privilege the uniquely human spirituality over the bodily functions. They are concerned with the ability to rationally direct our collective lives. Random sex leads to complications that undermine the sustainability of the community. Lastly, pornography is not Shakespeare. In comparison with our fantastic cultural heritage pornography can be seen to be shallow, degrading, and destructive of our traditional sense of mission and self. Without recourse to our traditions, pornography cannot be said to be any more or less worthy than any other example of diversity.
The Western tradition provides coherent, sustainable and ennobling standards for value judgments. Ultimately political realities require that we ask ourselves if our actions increase faith in man’s ability to be self-governing. Our actions are bad to the extent that they provide evidence of a vicious world where heavy-handed culturism can be justified. Our actions are good to the extent that they persuade people that unmonitored men can be trustworthy stewards of their own destiny. We thus get a graded and situationally sensitive sense of right and wrong. This approach to values respects our ability to make decisions; to differentiate right from wrong. Universal rules that hold that it is not and never will be appropriate to do X rob us of this capacity. Contextualized ethics are the only way you can devise truly thoughtful policy.
A plea for culturist philosophy
Culturism necessitates that our focus is on Western philosophy. It is natural that those brought up in the Western tradition should do so. Western civilization provided Western philosophers schooling and electricity. It supports Western philosophers economically. Western philosophers should easily identify with Western cultural figures. And note that their connection with Western civilization is not just due to unreasonable bias or pigheadedness. Working in philosoph ic traditions outside of the Western framework is not a viable, live, option. Even if they wanted to advocate Zulu or Asian philosophy, the language barrier would prohibit them. Their research would have to rely on translated second hand sources. Furthermore, they would be unfamiliar with the basic lay of the mental landscape. The values the foreign heroes epitomized would not be transparently clear to them.
Philosophers often do not pay enough attention to the cultural context they work in. Jacques Derrida’s speech at John Hopkins University brought deconstructionist philosophy to the American shores in 1965. This event has spawned a generation of attacks on the validity of Western culture and the Western narrative. Ironically it also showed that philosophy only happens within a cultural context. Had he made the same speech in Saudi Arabia it would not have had much of an effect. All things being cultural, it immediately garnered a large following and spawned a movement in the United States. We love rebellion, upsetting the status quo, and advances.
Deconstructionist philosophers deride and denounce the validity of the society that surrounds them. It would behoove them to become culturist philosophers and try to deepen our connection with our traditional philosophic heritage instead. Our tradition is rich in sources of standards for them to uphold and propagate. This would raise their esteem and help eradicate the shallowness that social critics rightfully decry. As critics of cultural standards that we could all understand they would become arbiters of good taste. They could enlighten us by comparing our art to its historical predecessors. This would imply good taste exists, give us standards to emulate, and elevate all of us.
Philosophy has to be less academic and more culturist. Our diversion into the universal has disengaged us from appreciating the virtues of our particular traditions and history. Universal philosophy struggles to deny being culturally relative and thereby fails to be culturally relevant. The current trend of undermining attachment to a particular culture is destructive. It makes philosophy worse than irrelevant. Societies need relevant philosophies to help guide them. Philosophers have traditionally been concerned with the state of cultures within which they work. It is natural that they do so. They should resume this practice.
Western philosophers acknowledging that they are Western philosophers would allow them to reclaim their heritage. Greek philosophers were very much concerned with the fate of Greece. This did not mean that they were only propaganda mechanisms for the state. They researched politics, art, ethics, culture, science, and even linguistics. Socrates thought he served his culture best by being a “gadfly” that kept Athens from philosophical slumber. He ultimately drank hemlock rather than going against his conscience and so strengthened Athens. B eing a Western philosopher does not mean that you check your conscience at the door. But we should be careful to avoid the Western fallacy that your integrity exists to the extent to which you defy your culture. You do not need to be dishonest to find value in Western heritage.
Kant’s project required incredible rigor. And he was not trying to undermine his culture. His undermining it only came as he decided that his standards were universal and for all times regardless of context. But this was done in the service of mankind, not abstraction for abstraction’s sake. Only in retrospect have we come to recognize that Kant’s contributions were extremely Western. They assumed that so-called scientific objectivity was the most honest method. His efforts show us that Western efforts at creating Western beliefs can be rigorous and need not be cheap propaganda. But he also showed us that it is nearly impossible to think outside of one ’s own culture. Lastly, Kant shows us that even the most rigorously derived pretenses to be universal fail.
Philosophy should be in the midst of the history of ideas doing battle. The love of wisdom being less esoteric will disabuse us of the concept of the expert philosopher whose field of inquiry is divorced from anything you would naturally bother yourself with. Philosophy should treat cultures as embodied philosophies. Living cultures are where the battles for the minds of men happen. We have to define and redefine what is best in our day according to modern conditions and determine what ought to be encouraged and discouraged. When philosophers realize that defending a thought system means defending the culture that holds that thought system to be self-evident, they can help guide us. We need to establish a hierarchy of taste and ethics or accept that nothing can be considered better than trash. Were the Department of Culture to become a reality Western philosophers could lead it. As such they would be the ultimate culturist psychologists. Outside of a cultural milieu philosophical statements have no meaning.
Traditional cultures do not need as much help as we do when we try to maintain our identity and civilization. They do not have the natural instability that comes from a progressive tradition and the correlated disdain for history. Our philosophers have a more difficult battle to engage in. Just as Plato updated Achilles’ philosophy for the Athenian Golden Age and Saint Augustine updated Platonic ethics for the Christian era, Western philosophers must constantly update our traditions in different fields. In our changing and progressive culture, issues from polygamy to rap, from racial discord to business ethics, from immigration to anti-depressants keep popping up. We will always need guidance. Western philosophers must be constantly ready to hazard a guess as to what Jesus, Plato, and Aristotle would say about new and unforeseen situations.
Western philosophers must avoid the complacency that comes from assuming that someday all will agree to our universal ideals. They must engage in this battle of ideas in a diverse and competitive world. They must explain the advantages and nobility of the chaos inherent in the Western tradition. They must help us to understand the neighboring civilizations we live with. They must also make our positions clear to other cultures. They must also keep us from dogmatic, impractical, inflexible, universalistic assertions that those who are unaware of our progressive history advocate. And at the same time they must keep us from those who say that no basis to esteem any thought or activity over any other exists. Culturist pragmatists must know their target; living cultures are where philosophy manifests most strongly. Western philosophers must be the guardians and guides for the culture they are embedded in. They must do so in the context of the emerging international future in which the West hopes to be a player.
Culturism’s relationship to multiculturalism
Culturism’s is opposed to multiculturalism only to the extent that multiculturalism discourages belief in the Western World’s having a positive and unique cultural heritage. All cultures have subcultures within them. Culturism is a corrective. Western culture is not hostile to individualism or cultural diversity, and Western culturism does not seek to get rid of individualism nor does it require that we suppress all non-mainstream cultural elements. To do so would in fact be anti-Western. Culturism involves, rather, making sure that sub-cultural affiliations are recognized as being subcultures within a larger cultural context. Appreciation of individuals, rights and liberty are not cultural defaults; many cultures are hostile to these concepts. These values are at the heart of the Western tradition. If the larger cultural tradition of honoring these values is weakened, the ability to sustain the individualism and liberty that allows for multiculturalism will be gone. In a very real sense, then, Western culturism is the protector of multiculturalism.
addressed in this chapter is not whether or not we have subcultures in our
dominant culture. That is a given. Nor is the question investigated in this
chapter whether or not
as an absolute good is a default of our modern public discussions. Notions of diversity being the American way
and contrary views being labeled as racist have made dissent from this position
The push for diversity is not just idle sloganeering. In its name, we are now embarked on an unprecedented transformation of our demographics and public policy. When implementing social policy, simply being comforted that a banner on Main Street America that says increasing and lauding diversity is good is not enough. In undertaking such an experiment it is good to look at what the costs and benefits might be. If unintended consequences were to become manifest we would need to be ready to suspend the experiment, while if the gains truly are great, we might want to accelerate the process.
Undoubtedly, deep reasons underlie the push for diversity. We cannot evaluate those here. As science usually does, we will measure outcomes of the experiment and control for potential complications on the input end. The gravity of this radical experiment necessitates rigorous monitoring. When undertaking an experiment it is good to conceptualize it as one. This involves setting up formal criterion for evaluation. And as is proper of a rigorous appraisal, we need to define the terms involved and the hypothesis being investigated.
Mul·ti·cul·tur·al∙ism (mŭltē-kŭlchәr-әl-ĭź-әm) n. 1. Of, relating to, or including several cultures. 2. Of or relating to a social or educational theory that encourages interest in many cultures within a society rather than in only a mainstream culture.
Hypothesis: Nations would be better off overall if they adopted the policies and cultural attitudes implicit in a multicultural outlook. Falsification of this hypothesis would be achieved if it were shown that potential costs outweigh potential benefits.
Culturism has already been defined. Whereas multicultural tendencies would exist in a society that stressed culturism and vice versa, we need to treat them as absolutely distinct for the purposes of this comparison. After setting forth the two possibilities, we will consider what the effects of adopting each outlook would be in terms of outcome for each variable. After considering the potential outcome for each variable individually, we will compute the overall cost and benefit analysis. Finding that a multicultural outlook is likely to cause more problems than benefits would lead us to affirm the opposite of the above hypothesis, and since the opposite of multiculturalism is culturism, it would suggest that nations would be better off overall if they adopted the policies and cultural attitudes implicit in a culturist outlook.
In any good experiment one must choose variables to measure. Research in the soft sciences involves more variables than that in the hard sciences. We can know with certainty what the result of mixing two chemicals will be. It is harder to predict what the mixing of two cultures will lead to because so many complicating variables are involved in social interaction. The historical record often provides approximations to situations we face, and social science experiments can indeed help us, but holding all other variables, other than the one you are testing, constant is impossible in social situations. Inferences will be made herein on the basis of historical facts. But we do not expect a definitive answer to the question of what the result of a mixing of cultures will be. Social science investigations cannot tell you what will happen.
We can know for certain, however, what the outcomes of multiculturalism or culturism might be. These potentials can be listed. Without specifying these variables our overall pronouncements are often too global, too vague, to be meaningful. Multiculturalism and culturism, promoting contrasting values, can be expected to often hold contrasting potentials, and to lead to contrasting outcomes. These potentials can be listed. The assignment of culturism and multiculturalism to one side of our comparison or the other may seem inappropriate in some cases; in other cases the assignment will seem intuitively correct. Again, for experimental purposes we must treat culturism and multiculturalism as mutually exclusive though they are, in fact, only distinguished by emphasis. In cases where it seems either outcome is as likely from either culturism or multiculturalism, neither course can be recommended via this method. In cases where the likely outcome from either culturism or multiculturalism seems likely, we can recommend one option over the other. Nuances will be discussed in the body of the investigation.
The following list shows the possible effects of each, which will be discussed in detail below:
Past orientation Future orientation
International Peace International War
The reader is invited to tally scores using the above chart as it is discussed below. This would be done if you wanted a numerical tally as to which policy is preferable. Towards this end you could put a check mark next to the item on the side of the pairs that seems preferable. You might then want to add weights to the check marks. Avoiding civil unrest would be at least ten times as important as avoiding boredom. So whereas the ‘stability’ (if preferable) might deserve ten checks, ‘excitement’ (if preferable) might only get on. Finally, you can tally the total on the bottom of the chart. This methodology should give you an idea of whether one path or another is preferable in the abstract.
The variables being used here are meant to apply only to the consideration of Western values. Western culturism seeks to promote individualism. Muslim or Asian culturism do not aim to cultivate a western sense of individualism. The judgments we make ultimately reflect the biases of our cultural heritage. This does not invalidate the conclusions; it only limits their applicability. Culturism is partially predicated on the fact that each culture has its own truths. As this comparison is being considered for its applicability to Western civilization, it is appropriate that we use Western values in reaching our conclusions.
In each case, the variable in the left column represents the result of adopting the policies and cultural attitudes implicit in a multicultural outlook, while the