Yesterday I recorded one of the pre-recorded panels for the virtual Liberty Con (next weekend.)
I must warn anyone who sees me, I’m not a zombie and I didn’t suddenly age 40 years. Mostly there was a confusion with the time of the panel, so I was on 4 hours of sleep after a very crazy 2 days. (Yes, I stopped coloring my hair. I planned to wait till I was 60, but the stupid covidiocy made my hair turn white, or would if it hadn’t been white since I was 28. So, whatevs. I do however look ANCIENT. I don’t know if this happens to other people when exhausted. It does to me. I first noticed it when I was 40 and wrote a book in three days.)
Anyway…. So there we are — (I have a headache today, so meandery) having the panel when Peter Grant noted every panelist had a multicultural background (I think they’re now called 3rd culture people) which makes you (he thinks) better able to write different genres.
He might be right at that. I don’t know, because I’ve never written single genre (not even before I was published) and I never consciously thought about it, but he might have a point that being keyed to evaluate people’s expectations gives you a leg up when writing a new genre, since each genre has different expectations. (Aka reader cookies.)
But I do know that being “third culture” or whatever is actually a serious problem for identifying cultural mind sets. I just — for instance — read a book by a friend in which a character is supposed to be subtly cued as black. This went COMPLETELY over my head, because it was a set of small cultural hints, which are not part of my brain-programming. (To be fair, I’m a complete dork about race anyway, which led to interesting things like my making a cover and the client being very upset because the character was ethnic. The character in fact looked like my second cousin. Then it hit me, that this is because Latin officially isn’t a race, but it’s perceived as race in the US.)
I know there are things about Heinlein books, mostly sub-culture hints, which I didn’t get till I’d come to the US and lived in three different states.
So it got me to thinking — look, it’s a disease, or a bad habit or something, okay — about the left’s obsession with multiculti and how crazy/bizarre it is.
First of all, let me get this off, right up front: America is multicultural, and always was. This has absolutely nothing to do with skin colors. It has EVERYTHING to do with the fact we’re a continent-sized country with a variety of environments, which was colonized recently, and where people as a routine spit on our hands and
no, not get ready to cut throats, that’s just you S arah, adapt to circumstances.
I’m forever somewhere between annoyed and confused when Hollywood movies, or some other “cultural spokesperson” talks about the uniform and unvarying culture of America. In what parallel universe? No one who has lived in more than a couple of states can think that. And if you’ve lived in different regions of the country, it hits you even harder.
Look, sure, whatevs. We’re Americans. At least WE are, the least said about TWANLOC the best, and so we believe in life liberty and the pursuit of happiness as well as equality before the law, the last of which has Earth Shattering implications for how we relate to each other and everyone else too.
So. Yeah, we’re all Americans. But in the minutia of culture, for instance in how we perceive an overdressed person coming into a building, or for instance, in personal distance observed, not to mention what is polite to say to strangers… Well…
If you think the entire country is the same, I invite you to live for a year in the deep South and then move to NYC and then go to the Mountain West.
Dear Lord, people, you have no idea of the freedom of coming to Colorado, and stopping being asked at every grocery store and casual meeting “Where ya’ll from?” Because…. yeah. No, my accent hadn’t gotten any lighter, and I probably still give subtle “outsider” vibes anyway, even now. But EVERY time I opened my mouth, from restaurants to grocery stores, to– ANYWHERE. In the South I got “Where y’all from?”
Sure, okay, they’re just being friendly, maybe. Some weren’t but that’s besides the point. The point is that every time I had to ask for a pack of gum I got reminded “Y’all not from around here.” And keep in mind I was in a large city full of outsiders. But the culture is more SOCIAL so it’s okay for people to ask things of total strangers, tell total strangers their dress is a weird color (I swear. Often) or grab your hands in a public bathroom and “heal” you because your arms are having an eczema outbreak. (Yes, I do realize that my arms are OFTEN freak-show bad, but let’s talk about it, okay? That’s bizarre.)
It was a relief to get to Colorado and find no casual comments on my hair, clothing, accent, or — Well, strangers pretty much left you the heck alone, which is good and bad. (And don’t take me wrong. I love the South which is still my spiritual home, but the places I lived in were a wee bit crazy, I guess. I don’t get that level of crazy in TN when I visit, for instance.) And I think over the last 30 years I’ve been asked where I’m from 3 times, one of which was when I was speaking French to my older son so he could practice for his final exam.
As for NYC, whenever I have to head thataway (though Atlanta is about half as bad, coming from the West) I find myself singing under my breath “don’t stand, don’t stand, don’t stand so close to me.” Even the restaurants have tables, what is considered here in Denver “on each other’s lap.” Even at a restaurant in downtown Denver on New Year’s Eve, we have more space. And dear Lord, people in my groups at least, stand in a parking lot, three to four feet apart to talk to each other. Not social distancing, you get? In Colorado that’s considered close friends. In Portugal people would be shoving their way between each of us, and asking why we were shouting at each other from a distance. In NYC probably also.
Anyway, so America is multi-culti at base line. When people move between states, they either adapt, or they get treated as profoundly weird, and if they’re engineers they probably don’t notice. Which btw, is another sub culture. As is science fiction writer. Hell fiction writer is. Science fiction writer is small, insular and we change very slowly. Whenever I look at pictures of science fiction conventions Heinlein attended, I’m struck by how I could move in that room, and know exactly how to act to be left alone, to join a group, to make friends. And some of those are near a century ago. It’s a small, insular culture, it changes slowly.
Now, you’re going to say every country has those sub-cultures. And you’d be kind of right — ish. For instance the culture in the North and the South of Portugal used to be very different pre-highway. But–
But that difference was buried under a thick layer of conformity that governs every day things.
One of the unspoken things about America is that it accepts weird more than most places. It’s the first thing that struck me. All the funny posters teachers put up. Classrooms were very individual. In Europe these people would have been out-there insane. Here they’re normal. And the same goes for ways of dressing and the leeway in how you behave. (Though you might get asked “Where ya’ll from.”)
America is large enough that there are enough people in your subgroup. (I think that if I tried to join a group of professional SF writers in Portugal, it would be me and maybe 2 people. And I’m not sure of the standards to admit those two people. Certainly not making a living from it, unless it is by grants and such.) And America gives a bit of leeway on how weird you can get before someone goes and sniffs your koolaid. Sure, that gives us some crazy-ass groups, but it mostly allows the creation of a ton of small sub-cultures. Science fiction people, makers, people who are into scrap booking, etc. etc. ad nauseam.
So to an extent we’re all more multi-cultural than the rest of the world. Which, yes, does confer some advantages, in that all of us move between one or more subcultures on the regular. It also confers disadvantages, in that subcultures can drastically misunderstand each other, and in the case of regional subcultures, moving between them is a pain. And sometimes, like Scotland, we’re a country in relentless conflict with itself.
It does confer some advantages, because we’re all at bottom and baseline American. So the variations and the ability to adapt to them keep us from getting too hidebound on the irrelevant details. “You must wear your pflark on the left side, and tie your hair on the right. It’s the fashion this year.” That’s not a thing in America, thank heavens.
But does that mean that more diversity is beneficial.
Well…. Where y’all from?
It annoys the living daylights out of me, yeah, but I know why people ask it. They hear the accent, and they’re afraid of traipsing onto no-man’s land, where a smile or a look can be weirdly interpreted, or where I’m going to take offense because their voice is too high/low or they met my eyes, or failed to meet them.
Even living aside the cheerful customs of cultures that are never mentioned in pushes for multiculti: turning women in slip-covered furniture, dropping walls on gay people (or dropping them from tall buildings, whichever), considering women whores if they are alone with their boyfriend for five minutes, considering women/other races inferior/not quite human (and trust me, it’s almost like that’s the norm in the rest of the world) different cultures have a variety of traps and stumbling blocks that won’t be obvious to the naked eye, or to people on either side of the divide. And some of them are, to American eyes, stupid-crazy and will impact one’s ability to make a living. For instance, I spent years feeling like I was being put down because I worked retail for a year. Stupid right? But it was considered “low class” where I grew up and I didn’t even realize that was there till I realized it was bothering me. (Once I realized it I got over it, and found it funny, but then I’m a little more self-aware than the average bear, for various reasons.) And keep in mind the culture I came from was solidly Western.
Is there an advantage to importing other cultures and treating everyone as equal?
Well… it’s expensive in time, money and stress. Because, look, 90% of human society is
monkey ape games. Because we are built on basis of social animals, the social animal has to be appeased before whatever common purpose can be pursued. So there’s a ton of dominance/hazing/etc. in everything. People from different cultures do these differently. And the wrong cues are going to gum up the works like nobody’s business, even if they don’t result in mass shootings or something (and sometimes they do.)
This is annoying to those of us who
aren’t quite human don’t read social signals well, or neglect to read them because we’re so busy pursuing whatever “the thing” in our heads is. But it’s still true and part of humanity. As is part of humanity that culture shapes these games. Which means different cultures interacting has bad side effects.
So it really has to have a big advantage.
The only advantage I can see is the chance to import the best from all over the world. The other countries brain-drain is our brain-gain.
But honestly? That’s only under the condition that those who come in are the BEST in whatever we need. And I want to point out as much as illiterate third world peasants might want to come in, and as much as we might be beneficial to them, the work and expense of integrating them make them not worth it.
“But Sarah, some of the illiterate peasants might have tons of potential. Or their kids might have, with proper nutrition.” Maybe. Look, we’re more and more out of work they can do. Contrary to what the left thinks this isn’t the thirties, when most work required neither literacy nor a familiarity with concepts of hygiene and exactness. So most third world peasants get trapped in welfare, which I’ll be honest is not beneficial to anyone, generationally. But yes, there is the occasional very bright person who was held back by their circumstances and whose family will take off like a rocket in America. The problem is finding those. And figuring out if they’re willing to work hard enough. And figuring out how not to trap them in welfare. And once we figure that out — of course, I’m one of those hard hearted Libertarians who’d cut it off, cold — let’s do the same to those people born here who are trapped in the same place. And let’s work on giving them a way out of where they’re caught. Because, look, it really, really, really, doesn’t require a high IQ to get out of the flat spot economically and culturally. It requires being allowed to and a change in culture. Oh, and incentive. And if we’re doing that, let’s do it for our fellow Americans first, and then consider how to “save the world” shall we? (And yeah, I know I’m day dreaming, because cutting off welfare will require a near-extinction event. Even though it’s needed and more than needed.)
I don’t care how, though, or how it’s determined, but to be worth the price of integrating different cultures, we have to pick people who in themselves or their descendants have a ton of potential. (And not just for captive welfare recipients who vote for the welfare givers.)
AND note that “integrating” — because if we have to live forever with encysted foreign cultures in our midst, there’s no enough pay off to offset that, EVER — the second thing that makes admitting members of other cultures worth it, is having them welcomed with an intransigent “FIFO”. Fit in, or F*ck off.
Because if we keep talking like multi-culti-tutti-frutti and keeping your “sacred” culture of origin intact are the goals, we’re just going to shatter into a million pieces.
Then the new comers won’t do well. And neither will the people who are here.
And we’ll have destroyed the one culture that matters: American culture, with its promise of freedom from the old shibboleths and crazy of historical humans.
So in the end, no matter where you came from, once you’ve been here four or five years (it takes that long, even if you’re educated/aware/trying) the answer to “Where y’all from?” should always be “America.”
Because tutti frutti is a lousy flavoring for gum, something that never existed in nature. And in cultures, it won’t exist for long. That’s the law of nature.