Actually this post should be called “there is no difference.”
This weekend there was an unfortunate kerfuffle in one of the private groups I belong to on Facebook between two people who both read this blog and who both are normally level-headed if feisty.
Unfortunately, as you guys know, I decided this was a fine weekend to sand my living room floor, which, courtesy Euclid Cat had two massive stains (it takes a lot to stain four coats of polyurethane, and thank heavens it hadn’t got to the flooring, but we had furniture there while we worked on the dining room floor and, as a result, we couldn’t even see where he was peeing. I knew it was somewhere in there, but I couldn’t reach it. So…) So I wasn’t aware of the flare up till 14 hours later.
I’m not going to go into the details of it, but I’ll say the reader who is Australian was making a perfectly responsible and sane argument FOR AUSTRALIA. Meanwhile the reader who is American and knows the conditions here didn’t even understand what this person was getting so hot about, since there isn’t the slightest resemblance between the two countries, and the culture is different enough too.
This is when something hit me between the eyes and was a bit of a shock.
I don’t think anyone who hasn’t actually acculturated between two countries understands how different cultures can be, deep down, at the bone level and the most basic reactions level, let alone what causes the difference, from inherited influences to just deep built in assumptions about climate/physical plant/fauna.
And some of the people who have acculturated, at that, might not be self-aware enough to see the difference, and just replace one set of assumptions with another and roll with it. (Or get caught somewhere between. Well, to some extent we all get caught somewhere between. The question is, what percentage is in the new country. I’d say for me, after being in Portugal recently, probably 95% American. There are things trained in before the age of 3 which I’ll never let go of, though some got truly weird with the acculturation, like how I react to “shame.”)
That experience this weekend was the “clicking in” of something that’s been bothering me for a long time. In our writers’ group I used to run across people who projected modern AMERICAN female back into the time of pharaohs. One of my best friends refused to believe me when I told her there was zero chance of an alien race having the same university system as the US since even Portugal (avowedly human) doesn’t. There were other things. You guys have heard me rant about several “historical” books that make the past exactly like the future only with different tech. The fact that they don’t understand that tech affects not just how people live but how they think, feel and react is another of those things I don’t get, as I think even within living memory we should be able to see how different things have gotten. See for instance not wearing of aprons, because the clothes are cheap enough and abundant enough that ruining a shirt is not a big deal, unless it’s a very good shirt.
Then there is the foreign thing. No, seriously. I was utterly stunned when in Friends there was a reference to a Portuguese couple as “Swingers.” Sure, I’m sure there are Portuguese swingers. There were in the seventies. And sure, it’s possible to find a couple of them in the US, but that reference was the culmination of a lot of references to the Portuguese are free-flowing, open-minded (in a sexual way) people, and it made my jaw drop. Portuguese are the product of Moorish and British (in the North) cultural influences. They tend to be repressed around sexual stuff, and even if they do it, don’t talk about it in public. Then at a conference someone said something about one of my stories betraying the “guilt free” (to sex) attitude of Latin culture.
Not all Latin cultures are the same. Even Romans, the original Latin culture, were somewhat repressed, for their time, it was the things that they were repressed about that were unimaginably weird. So, you know, hanging a mural of animal-child copulation in the living room? Cute. Having sex with your wife midday? Shocking. Eh.
I think people project Brazilian (because of the language) and maybe French onto Portuguese, but seriously, it’s not the same. There’s more difference than between American and British (for various reasons too long to go into.)
So I’m used to running into this in the US, but this last trip to Portugal was a LONG and frustrating chain of running into this from the Portuguese side. I’d already had minor run ins with it in the past — the Portuguese refuse to accept that “My God” jeans isn’t a big brand in the US, for instance. — but this time it was all sorts of things and at all levels, probably reflecting the fact that I’ve been here 34 years and therefore even their minor assumptions rub me wrong.
Assumptions? Oh, sure. There are markers of class. And ideas about what brands are “good” and how you should never ever use or wear the others (and a complete lack of understanding some of those brands don’t exist in the US) and and and and… It had me rolling my eyes and talking about cultural provincialism.
But until this weekend I didn’t realize how prevalent and universal it is, since the clash took place between two people from native anglophone cultures, both of which are denizens of the net and contact people of other countries, regularly. Okay, one of them didn’t know she was dealing with a foreigner (except maybe Canadian and those, sorry Chris, aren’t real foreigners. Oh, they are, but… Canada is America’s hat. So, closer.)
This weekend I realized people don’t really believe in foreign countries either. They’re willing to accept that some things (and those usually conform to their mental picture of the generic “culture” or “region”) are different, but that the fundamentals and the cherished unexamined assumptions might be different is unthinkable — literally. And if we can think of them, we still assume the other country is somehow “wrong” or worse “pretending” to be different to be contrary.
This means, ultimately, that even an era of instant all over the world communication, human tribalism still wins. And with it, I suppose, nationalism.
There might be a limit to the area a “culture” can occupy, and arguably the US is straining that. I mean, for those of you who haven’t moved across the country (several times) the culture can be really, really different here too. Which means we’re even more of a puzzle to foreigners than your average country. (Confusion to our enemies is good, but I think we also confuse our allies.)
There are other implications: since it’s virtually impossible to avoid faster communication and more widespread travel in the future, this is going to make the next couple/three centuries a series of epic clashes, until either some sort of understanding emerges or polarized cultures can immigrate to the stars and far far away from each other.
Mass immigration is a REALLY bad idea (‘mkay) not that this is a surprise to any of you. People inhabiting enclaves of “their kind” are slow to acculturate (three generations, if it happens at all.) And the number of people coming over the Southern border is like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. And trust me, in terms of functionality, you do NOT want to import any culture descended from 17th century Spain. There is a reason that the American countries South of us are in crisis on a more or less permanent basis, and that Brazil, screwed up though it is, is more functional than the others. No, just no.
This is a huge issue, as friends were talking, not really seriously, about the fact that the only way for Mexico to be functional is for Mexico to be occupied by a functional country.
This type of scenario was often posited, even by Heinlein, in which the US had taken over most of the world and made it into cultural copies of the US. Or alternately the other countries had adopted American culture, because it was more functional.
Let me just say that is one more proof of “people don’t really believe in foreigners.”
Sure, a lot of American culture is triumphant and imitated. Only it’s more “spoofed” because what they imitate is what they see in movies, and proving that humans prefer narrative to lack there of, even when it makes no sense, the bad parts are often picked up first. And they’re often bad parts only seen in movies, btw. Like certain underclass behaviors being seen as glamorous.
But it’s an overlay. At a deep down level, these people dressing in jeans and t-shirts are still foreign and — THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT — don’t believe Americans software-in-the-head is different, which leads to cargo-cultish attempts to import American successes without getting what brings them about, from innovation, to social mobility to freedom of speech. Not really, not at a deep level.
Remember that I, as in love with America as I was, still took a good ten years to understand what was under the things I loved and wanted to imitate. And it was painful and a little like going insane.
Most of all this means that barring a major cataclysm that only leaves the US alive, the dream of a future world-like-America is nonsense. Even if some of our greatest writers believed in it. So is a world-like-Europe. Or a world like much of anything.
This means the left’s project of “fighting nationalism” is not just doomed, but it’s stupid as eating rocks, and will cause only unending misery suffering and war. (So, SOP for Marxists. In fact, chalk this whole internationalism bullshit as something else Marx was wrong about. workers of the world unite, my little sore feet.)
It’s time to stop dreaming the impossible dream, and to accept humanity as it is, broken monkey brains and all. It is time to create the future that can be created and stop sacrificing people and cultures to the kumbaya hand-holding no-nations future that can never be.
It’s time to start rebuilding.