Sunday, April 25, 2010

Winners and Losers: The Unappreciated Power of Culture

Underestimate the power of culture at your own risk. In the original Star Wars movie Yoda describes the Force to Luke as something that you cannot see but is all around us and binds us together or something along those lines but it’s a very good description of culture if you substitute the word culture for the word force. Culture is all around us though you can’t see it (though you can see its effects) and it most certainly binds us together (crudely described as tribalism) but it is much, much more than that. Culture dictates how we dress, speak, what kind of food we eat, but more importantly it dictates how we think, how we view the world, it shapes our reality, and like the force it is incredibly powerful. The crumbling ruins we call Iraq are a testament to the power of culture and how destructive it can be when we are blinded by false world views.

Even a modest knowledge of world history has shown that when a culture more technologically advanced meets another culture with much less advanced technologically the results are usually disastrous if not fatal for the less technologically advanced people. One only need look at the European colonization of Africa and North America to see examples of this. Since American culture views brute power as above all other things and that we see the world as a set of dualities, or often do, such as winners and losers (usually determined by how wealthy you are) the natural assumption is that since we won, that is to say we invaded, committed genocide, and stole the land we live on, we are superior and thus by virtue of that superiority the lesser breeds are destined to fade away, the quicker the better assisted by much revision of history. It’s all very sad of course, the noble Red Man drooped on his horse, head bent, a tear rolling down his cheek but in the end it is better for everyone involved because now everyone can benefit from our superior technology and culture. By the way this is exactly the attitude taken by most Americans toward the people of Iraq. How often have you heard our leaders say that it is time that the people of Iraq should stand up for themselves now that we have bestowed our great white wisdom upon them with our gift of “democracy?” Those stupid brown people don’t know anything! This kind of demagoguery is the result of our culture shaping our very thoughts and views and most especially of those people who engineered the Iraq War.

One question is or should be – does advanced technology really establish superiority both morally and intellectually? I find the idea to be absurd. If anything, I believe I could make a case for the opposite to be true. For example Western Culture is a recipe culture. When we learn how to do something we don’t have to understand what we are doing or why we just know that if we follow the steps in the recipe we will get the desired results. On the other hand Native American cultures understood and knew why their technology worked and they did have technology, they made and built things and they used tools all of which qualifies as technology. When White “settlers” and Native Americans met the Native Americans were horrified by the White practice of beating children and it convinced the Native Americans that Whites were in fact barbarians. And after watching that Wiki leaks video I would say those early Indians had us pegged from the beginning. As for our sciences making us morally and intellectually superior guess again. The vast majority of Americans believe that Christ actually rose from the grave not to mention schools that teach a lot of creationist pseudo-science and other garbage in lieu of one the few scientific theories blessed with a plethora of hard evidence, evolution. So one can hardly use “science” to rationally view American culture as superior to all other cultures considering what a superstitious lot most Americans are.

I am not anti-science nor am I anti-modern technology. What I am against is using our science and technology to slaughter and murder other human beings and then using that same science and technology as proof of our superiority thus justifying the horrors of war. It just doesn’t wash. There are of course other aspects to American Exceptionalism but this unfounded conceit is certainly one of the largest and most dangerous of those aspects.


At April 25, 2010 9:33 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

A rich post, Rob. Just one observation for now: I note that science is generally on the side of people who are against empire, insofar as an imperial conception of any country or ethnicity goes against the idea that we're consuming ourselves into oblivion and abandoning wars of conquest and domination is just one of the vital steps needed to try to right that, if it's indeed still possible to do so.

FWIW, I think the people who think we can just "innovate our way" out the crises ahead, without making tough choices about our habits are on the wrong side of both science and history.

Now I'm thinking I need to watch Little Big Man again, because I need a movie to explain everything to me. :^)

At April 26, 2010 4:46 AM, Blogger Mimi said...

Rob, it happens so often when I read your posts and Jon's: You opened my eyes to things I hadn't known I'd known (if that makes any sense). In the main, it's the automatic championing of American exceptionalism that I deplore most, and that's fed by our constant, idiotic and juvenile "we are the best" nonsensical culture. Good post.


Post a Comment

<< Home