At one time, when I was very young – probably early teens – I came across an interview from someone or other in the French glitterati circles talking about how it was a shame that until the Asterix comics little French kids knew more of the history of the little Jesus than about their ancestors the Gauls.
To this day I’m not a 100 percent sure about why this is a bad thing, precisely. I mean, you have to think there is some sort of virtue to what is linked by blood over what is transmitted by choice.
It is in a way – or was, since this must have been in the middle seventies, in embryonic form – the argument of the multiculturalists: all cultures are the same, and all cultures being the same, one should be true to the culture of one’s ancestors.
Of course later the multiculturalists get confused and decide that culture is transmitted from one’s ancestors, somehow, in the blood. Which then leads to calling anyone who criticizes any culture “racist,” something that makes no sense whatsoever in any other terms.
So, are all cultures the same, in some ethic sense?
Depends. How are you going to judge them? I propose the only way to judge a culture is how comfortable its people are and how successful it is in raising the humans who participate in it from the brutish/short lived/nasty state of humans on their own.
Note that this is not the only way to evaluate a culture. A lot of the multiculturalists seem to evaluate a culture on a scale of “quaint” – “quaint dress/clothes/custom/religion” – in which quaint means “not like the native culture I actually know.” They often know nothing more than those externalities, but even so declare every other culture vastly superior to their own. (And if you’re going to say this is not true, I’m going to counter with every freaking multi-culti warrior who, knowing nothing more about Portugal than a vague sound that might mean South America and that I came from there informed me that it was vastly superior to everything in the US.)
There is also the way to evaluate a culture by SJW standards, in which “highly advanced culture” means “would have a distinguished place for people like me who can do nothing but generate blather at a high rate and explain how Marx keeps my breath minty fresh.”
I prefer to evaluate it my way, because if you evaluate a culture under “makes the greater number of people well fed/materially secure and (relatively) health” then culture, with some disgusting hiccups, behaves as an organism, in which the overtaking culture is always superior to the previous one.
This is sometimes masked by the fact that when two cultures clash the one that prevails by force of arms is not the one that imposes its culture and by the fact that, like anything pertaining to humans, it’s not always a straight progression, but there is the occasional disgusting hiccup.
For instance, take the barbarians taking over Rome. Did it make the Roman colonies (largely) less comfortable and secure? Sure. But for the barbarians, whose culture largely became subsumed in Rome, it was a huge step up.
But beyond all that, what drives me nuts about all this is what Richard Fernandez talked about in his column two(?) days ago.
To put it bluntly, there is no reason that little kids should know more about their Gaulish ancestors than about the early Christian church.
Leaving aside morality and a religion that freed people from the terrors of vending machine gods, there is how the past culture is passed to the future.
It’s not in any way a straightforward thing, not even in these days when we have written communication and more time to spend telling each other stories.
My husband was surprised recently to find his maternal grandmother had lived in Chicago as a young woman. I only discovered about three years ago that my mother is not the middle daughter, as I always assumed, but the oldest one. You see, everything from their little-girl pictures to my memory of my aunts led me to believe my aunt was older than mom. Turns out no, she’s just the blond and tall sheep of the family. These are all people I’ve known my whole life, and yet I had that startlingly wrong.
In the same way, my older son thought I was the youngest of three, like his dad, because my cousin who was raised with us is treated as a sister and called “aunt” by them.
These are small things, practically irrelevant, but bigger things are lost too. It doesn’t even take a lot of time.
We’ve talked here about how my kids simply can’t read an analog watch. They learned to, but they never used it, and the knowledge was shed.
In the same way, my Portuguese is – to put it mildly – a mess. I still understand it, but can no longer speak it with any semblance of fluency. Because I don’t use it.
How about the every day actions and rituals that constitute a culture?
Well, mom might still know how to cook a full meal over a wood fire, as she did when she was young, but I very much doubt it. In the same way I’m sure that many of the things she did/thought about every day as a young woman have passed from her memory. I know many have passed from mine.
And the stories, passed from generation to generation? People mishear, misconstrue, and think their parents surely meant x because y made no sense.
I like this both in the sense of building a world when you write, and in the sense of just liking it. Like a polished fragment of a seashell found on the beach, you can’t tell what the whole thing looked like, but there’s a beauty all its own in the fragment. And being a writer I tend to make up stories about what these things are/look like and why.
For instance one of the songs with which I was rocked to sleep is the sad story of a single algae left behind by the tide, while its sisters dance back to sea. A fisherman captures it, and of course it turns into a beautiful woman whom he marries. If you go by his hut, you’ll hear her singing sad songs about the sea.
Wait, what? She started out as a piece of SEAWEED?
My theory is that this song is very, very old and comes from a language that in the translation to what is Portuguese now changed seal to seaweed. (Aided by the fact that in medieval times no one in the working class in Portugal would have heard of a seal.)
I could of course be totally wrong. This could be a song heard from British sailors and when a translation was asked for, that mistake was made. Or mom could have learned it from the radio, where someone wrote it because they thought it sounded cool.
Culture? What culture?
And this is now, when we’re living longer, and we can ask our parents (I did. Her answer was “I don’t remember.”)
In the days when people died while their children were barely pubescent, what got passed? What got explained? How many of the customs involved the equivalent of breaking the roast in two because it had always been done, when it turned out it’s because great grandma only had two small pans and not a large one?
And then a new religion, a coherent and cohesive narrative comes along… people will latch on to the narrative.
Culture is not genetically inherited. It’s only partially intellectually inherited in day to day life. It’s transmissible through the narrative that allows us to see ourselves and our place in the world.
Christianity provided such a narrative, and therefore displaced less successful stories.
Unfortunately for us, right now, due to its internal consistency (even if lack of reference to anything external) Marxism is overtaking our cultural narrative. It’s taught at schools, and it’s such an easy narrative to insert oneself into and it “explains everything.”
It also has the virtue of assigning guilt and merit by things like gender and skin color, so you don’t have to make complex moral judgments.
It’s also completely drawers and at odds with reality. And in the end it spells doom for the societies it infects. In “societal software” sense, it’s malware.
Yes, I know what I said above, but remember the thing about “disgusting intervals”? I’d much rather our society didn’t go down into one of those.
So, what can we do?
I think in the end the “superior software” – i.e. the set of stories that better manipulates reality and allows humans to survive in it – wins.
What can we do?
We can come up with compelling narratives about who we are as humans, and what the future holds. Not just religious – though religious ones are permissible. The reason they are in retreat is that they became too opaque to outsiders, too hard to interpret, unlike, you know, the idiotic simplicity of Marxism – but moral and situational and… well… stories of all kinds.
We need to write a song of freedom.
Because it would indeed be sad if the descendants of Americans knew everything about Marx and nothing about their ancestors’ liberty.
So, go forth and dream coherent and vivid dreams.
In the end we win, they lose. I’d rather cut out some thousand years in the mud, though.
Dream, create, tell stories. Don’t worry about authenticity, worry about their being compelling.
Be not afraid.