Sunday, 1 February 2015

Debunking Culture Wars

Throughout history whenever an exploitative elite have found a way to amass wealth and power for themselves – through their control of weapons or markets – they have had to face up to a tricky question: how can they divert the exploited from joining forces and end their dominion?

If people could see what was happening – their common resources, the fruits of their combined labour, all taken over by a few who give them the odd crumbs in return – they would surely unite in rejecting the status quo. So the key is to divide them into rival camps amongst themselves and fan their animosity towards each other to such an extent that they pay little attention to the real oppressors.

And the easiest way to do this is to set alight the mythical flame of ‘Culture Clash’. The formula is simple enough. Tell people that they are wholly defined by some monolithic culture derived from their tribe, their ethnic customs, their country, their religion, or anything else that comes in handy. Make each group think that ‘their’ culture is so inherently precious that any hint that another cultural group may attempt to change it or deviate from it in words or deeds, must be met with dismay, outrage, or even aggression.

Once people succumb to the viral deception that their ‘own’ culture has all the answers and cannot possibly be modified or improved in any way whatsoever, their misguided loyalty to a mere label is ready to be channelled into ferocious hostilities against false enemies, leaving the oppressors to go on luxuriating in their mansions and palaces.

In reality, cultures are of course not hermetically-sealed entities. At any time, people carry with them a multitude of cultural tendencies which undergo continuous development. And in the light of on-going experiences, beliefs are revised, priorities are shifted, and inclinations are altered. Furthermore, these adaptations do not follow any single path. People reflect on their experiences, experiment with options, and learn new ways of thinking. In truth, rarely, if ever, do people of the same city, religion, country, or broadly the same skin tone, possess exactly the same interpretations of what their apparent cultural inheritance means.

So instead of allowing the world to be presented as composing of a series of self-contained cultures, each binding its exclusive ‘members’ to a uniform set of detailed beliefs and practices, we should teach everyone that what exists is a vast number of overlapping cultures – each offering a mix of notions that people associated with it interprets in their own ways, and all of them contributing elements which over time are combined or reconfigured in diverse manners.

Cultures do not in fact divide us into watertight, internally homogenous camps. Whatever ethnic background, tradition, religion, geographical attachment, customs and loyalties, people may in some sense share, they will also have differences within those groups just as they will have similarities with other groups. Cultural development, except perhaps under the most fanatical totalitarian regimes, has never been about moulding people into identikit followers of a single set of prescribed doctrines. On the contrary, multiplicity of cultures enable us to compare, contrast, revise and enrich our beliefs and dispositions.

There is no absolute culture, superior to others in all places for all time. Such a concept has only been put forward to fool people into diversionary conflicts. Once the illusion of ‘Culture’ as battle encampment has been removed, people will see where the real threat to their wellbeing lies.


Woodman59 said...

This seems to go such a long way towards explaining how money has often been made available to cultural groups in order to help support their separate individualistic identity - while very little financial or other support is forthcoming for initiatives which focus on attempting to find common ground, and to achieve a level of informal integration.

Henry Benedict Tam said...

'Divide & rule' has very much been guiding policies to undermine community cohesion. Breaking down civic solidarity in the name of pseudo-cultural purity serves too well as a diversionary tool for plutocratic politicians & media tycoons.

Tony Dennis said...

This is an excellent piece of writing, as it underlines the point that cultures are processes, not 'things', and are therefore in a constant state of change and development. The idea of a monolithic, unchanging culture which is threatened by outsiders has been (and remains)a recurring theme of the political Right from the Nazis to UKIP and the Daily Mail, and as you say it is a prime way of keeping people divided.

Annie said...

Arent you making it as simple as the opposite side tries to make it? As extreme?

Accepting other peoples intolerances in order to seem tolerant creates a lot of problems. You can say this, culture changes, bla bla, but look at countries like Sweden, so tolerant its falling all over itself explaining why pedophilia deserves our respect, why necrophilia should be legal, (not relating to culture, but as stupid) and see how gang rape is being covered up by the media (and a lot more than once) to make sure no one becomes racist. as in. throwing women under the bus in order to seem all accepting. isnt That what comes with your whole no culture is above another? thats what im seeing.