I am a cross-cultural being. As such, I am weirdly aware of the various … gradations… of what is culture, what is biological and what is probably reinforced in biology by culture over the centuries.
Say you’re a woman in a country that puts women to death for being lippy. Most indications would be that lippy women would get weeded out of the culture. Except things are more complicated than that, when it comes to human tendencies and inclinations. I.e. “It’s not that simple.” You could be a suborn woman but know when to confine it to where it’s safe: say bullying your close relatives, particularly the female ones. Or long-term-preference lippiness: zipping it until you’re the mother in law and have a couple or more daughters in law to be lippy to in safety. The fact is if it were a single trait and immediately lethal, then there wouldn’t be women who talk back to judges and get killed for it, even now, after 14 centuries of selecting for meek. BUT the fact is also that if you go to one of those countries, you see women putting up with things they never would in America. Even “Strong” and “spirited” women. Because culture is like that. Culture sets parameters to what is even thinkable for each individual. And then you express yourself within those patterns. Sure you can go outside the parameters. I did. But even I only went slightly outside the patterns. I think. Well, however much I went outside was enough to make most people really uncomfortable around me. And unless you’re planning to pack and leave, this is not a long-term survival strategy.
Then when you pack up and leave, and enter a new culture, you find you’re outside ALL the parameters. Even in America, I sent so many mixed signals that I was often baffled by the image of me people had, until I had deconstructed further, and understood how my behavior (out of the norms for here) was being slotted into their mind’s image of the various US subcultures (more on that later) and the rest of the attributes were being filled in, even if they didn’t FIT with anything they actually saw. It is cultural, too, to do this. It saves time. Say you see a young man in a suit with a Bible in hand walking down the street. You’re going to work really hard to fit him into “missionary” even if the suit is powder blue, his shoes red, and he has three earrings. Now, if he’s also carrying a boombox blaring hip-hop you might put him under “crazy” which is human for “can’t read signals.”
Anyway, I had to learn what signals I was giving, and also look past the signals other people gave, for “are they actually like that, or is this Portuguese prejudice?” This was the early eighties. I had to –among other things — realize not every guy who wore loud jewelry/clothes was gay (or low class, since in Portugal it could go either way.) One of my fellow exchange students complained she couldn’t “read” how smart boys were because her US vocabulary wasn’t good enough to evaluate theirs. And she couldn’t make a “picture” OF THEM.
Cultures are not innate. Yes, I think we can all agree certain traits feed the culture/are fed by it. And that remnants of a culture persist for a good long while, if you immigrate as a family or, as some 20th century ethnicities did, as a village. For instance, it’s not coincidence (I think) that when I went to my kids’ departmental awards for chemistry in college, he was the only one who didn’t have a German last name. (He does have German ancestry, but not in massive quantity and so far back it’s genetically moot.) HOWEVER note that he got the departmental awards in Chemistry, a notoriously fussy, detail oriented discipline, while being half Portuguese, that is to say having a mother from a culture where “detail oriented” means “arrives at appointments within two hours of right time, and is within a mile of the aimed for objective.” (His father, OTOH, is a mathematician. But I’ll be honest, our family culture is more me than him, mostly because through most of our lives I stayed home with the kids. Which means meals are “around this time” — with a four hour span — and doing the same thing every day never happens (now I am on daily meds, I have alarms on my phone to remind me. Otherwise those never happen, either.).)
On the other hand, you can acculturate, a notoriously difficult, mind-bending process, which I underwent because I was not intending to become an hermit, and also because I wanted to fit in somewhere. Having immigrated to a place I had A chance of succeeding, I undertook to fit in as much as I could. Enough at least to be a normal person, even if an Odd one. I will not detail that process here, because I’ve detailed it in another post. However, acculturation is very difficult. It’s not impossible. But it is internally difficult.
This is why liberals think it’s inhumane and “impossible” and “no one” should be forced to do it. Which is why they espouse the salad bowl idea of culture, not the melting pot.
There is a big problem with that. Well, several. The end stage of the salad bowl is the Balkans which you might note are NOT a region known for its cutting edge science and culture. Mostly because they are spending all their time in daily fights, even when it’s not open war.
And that gets us back to culture. Culture is, at its most basic level, a series of built in assumptions that allows people to use minimal effort in their daily lives, in evaluating people or situations.
Sure some of us who got the short end of the ethnic stick in terms of “We look like population most likely to be dangerous” have to make accommodations. I’ve blogged here about having to pay double for son’s accommodations in a not so good part of the metro area, because son depending on lighting and how short his hair is can read Latin or black, or (mostly) a combination. And depending on the areas in this part of Metro Denver, that can mean… the wrong side of a potential gang war, or just “suspect #1” which considering the hours medical students keep could get dicey. So I paid extra, which annoyed me. No, it’s not fair, and it’s not a “good thing” but the world isn’t, and cultures can’t be. Because most of evaluations are done at the gut level, and with instant looks. And they are right most of the time for most people, or they’ll change.
I can’t for instance complain about older son being taken for dangerous, because when I was waiting for him to get home from middle school, so I could run to the post office (he hadn’t taken a key. Those were the “losing my key once a week” years.) I stood in front of the house, on the sidewalk (we lived in downtown Colorado Springs) bag on shoulder. And I saw this huge, over six feet tall guy, in a black leather jacket, with a two day beard growth, coming towards me. I started to retreat inside the yard, when the guy said “Moooooom.” Yep, older son. But the scanning I didn’t even know I was doing had said “danger.” (Later this happened again while walking down the street. After that he started wearing a shirt and tie every day.) This is not something you can control. It’s at the back of the brain.
But in less dire/danger/whatever situations, we still do evaluations every day. And the problem is how cultures “read” things and people can be completely different/opposite. Part of our issue with Islamic culture is just that: cultural. They’d never get in the pissing contest they are pushing, if they could read us accurately. And arguably our liberals would never be pushing for peace and appeasement if they could read THEM accurately.
It’s one of those cultural traps which I have read about and which are tragic.
I think I’ve spoken before of the tragic encounter between Zulu and Boers in South Africa. Zulus were doing what they did that had won them Africa (they came from central Africa shortly before the whites arrived): Commit incredibly scary atrocities so the enemy runs/avoids combat/submits. The whites were in their head just another tribe. They could not understand the idea of a “tribe” that was starting to span the globe and which would self-identify as “tribe” in the face of a savage. So their savagery made the Europeans MORE determined to wipe them out.
We’re seeing something like that, again. Islamic CULTURES are big on bragging, exaggeration of force and intimidation of the enemy. This is functional in a desert where there’s always a lot of low-level “war.” Some atrocities, scare “the enemy” and you keep your patch, and you go on. they have a fine tuned ear for this. When the other tribe isn’t committing atrocities against YOU and particularly when they’re being appeasing/accommodating, you have them over a barrel. If you strike with showy force you can take their stuff and enslave them. NOTE most of the attacks are designed to be showy.
TWO things they don’t get: Our elites are appeasing because the elites think they’re SO powerful they can’t be touched and are oikophobes who hate their own people. AND our PEOPLE is getting pissed, really pissed.
You know the old joke? There are no Muslims in Star Trek because it’s set in the future.
This is unfortunately the likely outcome of the cultures meeting. At some point (already happening) the elites will have to fight or be replaced. And when we go to war, our power is incalculable compared to them. They think we exaggerate our strength, while, culturally, we underplay it. They don’t understand we’re holding back.
The result will be a horrific destruction of guilty and innocent alike and even people like me who look Arab/Mediterranean in a bad light will be at risk.
And they will be the victims of genocide. And the west will change for centuries, in ways I’m not sure I like.
What is irritating is seeing the beginning of this process, but I don’t know if we can stop it or change it. it would take cross cultural understanding that has NEVER happened in human history.
Now imagine that within a country.
We’re already there to an extent. Because people live in bubbles/don’t assimilate and the industrial-entertainment complex has promoted the idea of groupings in which the individual is a widget for over fifty years, we’ve gotten used to evaluating each other on one characteristic.
Remember above, my mention of our elites? They are the most insulated and blindest of all. They literally have no idea what their countrymen are like. They attach to ONE characteristic and build their oikophobia on it.
These, mostly liberal, elites, have had their culture reinforced in college and by entertainment, and by living near other people who attended similar colleges.
I was reminded of this while reading a book yesterday the “liberal without knowing they are” characters (college professors with not a friend in fly over country) are about to visit a couple some miles off their big city. The couple are “conservative” (which in this case seems to mean not liking CNN) and so they assume the couple is: Hyper religious, red necks, listen to country, close minded, etc. It was like that whole “clinging to guns and religion” thing. In fact the couple could be … well, libertarian. Or even Libertarian. The couple in fact could be like the people who hang out at the group blog I used to contribute to, Classical Values. So Libertarian that we wondered if adult incest SHOULD be illegal as such, no matter how much it skived us. It could be anything. BUT on “conservative” these people built up a straw man that might exist, but not very often and certainly not universally. BUT everything they learned/read/watched has trained them this is right. Which is what cultures are like. They are the short hand for “reading” other people and circumstances
And this, mind you, is an inability to read your OWN culture, that you were supposedly raised in. Except there’s a whole culture now, outside it, created by “elite” institutions and people who are easily led. There is a counterculture too, created by people and people like me who attended the same colleges, etc, but didn’t buy the bullsh*t either because we’re naturally suspicious or because we had experiences that countered them. I am routinely insulted by both sides. Last week, it was someone ostensibly on the right, saying how you couldn’t trust anyone with a post-grad degree, who liked to live in cities and who had traveled, because they were all Marxist. He’s obviously wrong about me, but is that the way to bet? Yep, which is why the right-culture makes that evaluation.
Now throw in immigrants. I was once both diverted and appalled by the account of an Arab immigrant (I think she wrote The God That Hates) who thought for years, after immigrating, that the neighbors were all spying on her. She was evaluating the US from the perspective of an Arab who, had she had American neighbors in her native land, would have spied on them/distrusted them. The things she read as threatening, etc, were funny as heck for those of us outside that mental loop. (Kind of like me thinking my future and now late BIL was dangerous because he was a biker and kept his wallet on a chain.) What finally broke through her illusion was realizing her neighbors thought she was… Mexican.
But most fits of total cultural blindness don’t break. As I said above, I’m very worried about what is going on with Islam, because I’ve never seen two cultures resolve that kind of miss-communication without serious blood shed. And in this case, they can’t perceive how outnumbered and out-armed they are. They also can’t perceived that our elites aren’t our COUNTRIES (and part of that is our media.) Or how close they’re running to the edge.
Cross cultural perception (and/or assimilation, if we’re talking immigrants) doesn’t happen on a mass scale unless it becomes completely NECESSARY for survival.
The bad news is that I don’t know if that CAN happen on the world stage. I think those in Islam that GET us, and try to talk will get silenced by their own kind. Coming from a culture that’s more uniform/conformity enforcing than the US, but less than the Arab cultures, I know that if I were trying to warn Portuguese about this kind of misunderstanding, I’d just get called crazy and dismissed.
And on our side… Americans tend to have a happy-go-lucky idea that all humans are like them, until the illusion shatters. And then we’re G-d’s own bastards, because when we’re shocked we react badly. See WWI and WWII.
The good news is that nationally, partly because of the cr*p going on in the world stage, partly because technology is allowing the counter culture (the real counter culture. US.) to have a voice, our elites and our um-assimilated immigrants are going to find themselves in one of those situations where assimilation is a life-preserving value. Probably sooner than later.
This is good news, even if things get a little dicey for me and family (a little? Yeah, because we ARE assimilated) for a little while, because it will stop the runaway balkanization of the country. It makes it more likely we survive. We, the US, but also by extension, we, the west. Of which we might be the last best hope.
Even if the way there is strewn with fire and blood, and if what emerges on the other side is at least for a while more conformity-enforcing and less welcoming of individual foibles.
But when we’ve allowed leftist illusion to run rampant, there will be a price to pay. I just hope it’s a butcher’s bill we can survive.