Back in ye olde college days, to fulfill one of my generals, I was required to take a class in cultural anthropology. Now, I have never particularly cared about my own cultural heritage, realizing early on that it was purely chance (much like one’s sex, gender, nationality, etc), so I buckled in for what I thought would be a tall, frothy glass of suck. The first day of class, our teacher showed videos of different cultures from around the world. Purposely, she displayed the ones most dissimilar to what we were used to (wild African tribes from the 50’s and 60’s), and as we watched their “oh-so-strange” ways, many people laughed, a few snorting milk from their dorky, overly-judgmental noses.
After quietly allowing all the snickering and comments, she put on the final video: a snake handling church situated less than thirty minutes from where we sat. The absolutely mad things they said and did in that video were so utterly bizarre, it took the wind out of every ethnocentric pinhead in the room. Here, within our own county no less, we had people who looked just like us yet were legitimately more batshite insane than anything previously scoffed at. I thought it was a brilliant move on her part, and thoroughly enjoyed the class for the remainder of the semester as well. What I had initially failed to realize about studying culture is that it displays just how different people can be, and how we shouldn’t take for granted that there’s only one way to live (i.e. by our local customs). With that aside, I still must go on to say and to prove that people’s obsessions with culture are often a very insidious and negative thing.
As stated, I enjoy learning about different cultures, both modern and ancient. Through this, we can gain insights showing that we don’t need to conform or follow the traditions we’re born into. Sadly, too many never derive these particular conclusions from examining culture. Instead, people often poorly (and lazily) construct a majority of their personalities from their birth culture, all the while judging those who are different through hard-held stereotypes. To clarify, I am not against cultural interest, that’s why I used the word “obsession” in the title. However, I am repulsed when someone says their actions or beliefs exist merely because they’re part of a group.
That’s called monkey see monkey do (and it makes me want to throw some monkey pee and monkey poo into the person’s ape-like face). So why do many abuse the otherwise useful learning tool that is culture? Sadly, it’s because our lizard-brained nature beckons us to subdivide everything that is the least bit different or strange. Countries, north vs. south, state vs. state, counties, cities, towns, income brackets, skin color, race, gender, looks, and every damned thing in between. Culture, more often than not, is just another divider that keeps people fighting, miscommunicating, and apart. Funny enough, when considering the larger picture, most of the “cultures” people discuss today (i.e. “kiss me, I’m Irish”) would more accurately be labelled as “recent cultures.” Historically speaking, our ancestors slowly spread across the world, likely originating from the same spot.
A person’s ancestry might recently be “Irish,” but those people came from another place, and the people before them came from somewhere else, and if you go back far enough, we all come from the same heritage to begin with! In the grand scheme of time, a thousand years or so is like a blip considering how long humanity has been around. This is one of the few instances where even scientists and religious scholars agree, but for some reason most folks only count the last few centuries (or a millennia or two) as far as where their “people” are from. All of this begs at least one big question: If I don’t think people should derive who they are, what they think, how they act, or what ethical guidelines they should follow from their cultural heritage, where else should they get these from? I have a response, but would first like to shed more light on the negative aspects of cultural identity.
Although my high school was predominately white (Go Crazy Crackas! – that’s how I remember our mascot’s cheer), one of my best friends was black. His immediate family was affluent, so they sent him to what they thought was a better school than where his cousins and other relatives attended.
For years, he and our high school group would hang out at each other’s houses, but you could tell that his family disapproved of him associating with whiteys. Toward the latter years of school, my friend openly spoke to me about the pressure his family was putting on him for hanging out with those outside “his own kind.” It was sad, but what I didn’t see coming next was when he started to change. It began slowly, but then all too quickly, he stopped hanging around us as much, he kept us away from his house, and worst of all, his personality shifted. No longer was he the jokey guy who didn’t give a f*&^ what anyone thought of him, but he began trying to act as though race was the focal point of his identity. In class, he would take up arms against anything he saw as even unintentionally racist. He even started paying more attention to black girls than those of other races.
The whole ordeal made me sick, and when I tried to talk to him about it he’d just get angry and say I didn’t understand. That was basically the end of our friendship, all because of cultural pressure that he, being merely a teenager, was unable to stand up against. His family ground him down with guilt that was more than supported by society’s mindless heralding of culture. I realize this is only one example, but through it I make a point: society’s obsession with culture serves to further subdivide and dilute our individuality. Hell, even presenting this argument at all is difficult for several reasons, the first of which is that it’s widely unpopular because it fights a buzzword (culture) that has been awarded near-limitless positive connotation. Second, people dislike thinking about issues that aren’t simple black vs. white dichotomies. I am not saying for an instant that knowing about one’s own culture has no uses. It certainly does have benefits, such as the fact that, like it or not, your culture matters in a realistic way because others will judge you by it, and being equipped with that knowledge will potentially help you sidestep biases. However, just because an issue has good sides, doesn’t mean it has no bad sides worth considering. Is it good to know about your culture (at least to understand how others may, often wrongly, think of you and others)? Yes. However, the more pertinent question is “but should it be that way?” As to that, I answer with a resounding no.
Enforcing that culture is vital because others judge by it just creates a self-perpetuating system of unfairness. Yes, the world sucks and people are small-minded, but they’re never going to change if we keep teaching that knowing about their culture is super important and that you should have some sort of mindless pride in it. I’m saying that culture overall does more harm than good, not to mention that it’s arbitrary to begin with. Who cares where your ancestors came from and what exactly they did? You are living your life today; this didn’t happen to you. I think someone can both know enough about various cultures (including their own) to understand the way the world will treat them, but also realize that much of it is a bunch of crap and probably needs to go away. Seriously, would an orphan really be that worse off to never know about their cultural heritage? Even if that were somehow true, I’d say it’s so unfair we should fight against it tooth and nail.
Now, time for a brief aside where I talk about a smaller, sub-issue: the cultural nerd. I have coined this expression to describe anyone who is obsessed with a culture, be that their own or another.
So whether you’re a rebellious wigger trying to look tough and get back at your country-club attending, honky parents, or you’re the kid who is obsessed with another culture because you feel so distant or rejected by your own (I’m looking at all you Japanophile Otakus), I see it as a bad thing. I suppose maybe it’s a sliver better than being obsessed with your own culture (which I also technically categorize as being cultural nerdy—i.e. caring about your “family crest” or other such nonsense), but both mindsets are biasing people from developing their own identities, taken from any number of sources rather than just one. So to all you cultural nerds I say “No, I don’t want to hear more about the culture you’re obsessed with.
I don’t want to have my ear chewed off as you tell me about how much better their food, and language, and *vomit rising in the throat* movies/shows/video games is than what we have locally. As someone with a general interest in all things, you ruin this for me with your transparent lack of character and dogmatically biased, fanboy “opinions.” Quit pretending your personality happens to perfectly fit some particular culture, and go figure your damned self out.” And for everyone who knows people such as this, now you have a term by which to call them. Perhaps with enough effort, we can teach these people (through derision) to think for their own selves. It’s seriously up there as the lamest form of rebellion. End rant on cultural nerds.
Getting back to the larger issue at hand, so what then do I suggest should take the place of cultural identity? Simple: well-considered individuality. That means people should use critical thinking to decide who they are, how they want to act, and how they should live.
We get these cues from all over: our family, friends, teachers, peers, and even through works of fiction. All of these serve as small examples of how we could live if we chose as such. I believe that people should bit by bit figure out who they want to be rather than have it shoveled into them through cultural pressures. Of course, the reason this argument is seldom displayed is that many act like tearing down culture is the equivalent of disliking diversity. In my opinion, there will be near-infinitely more diversity when people are treated as individuals. The world we should be working towards would be made up of those who think for themselves and decide, individually, who they want to be.
Culture, no matter how colorful, fun, and enjoyable, is in the end more often utilized to drive people apart. In a perfect world, we would each, individually, have (in essence) our own personal cultures. I think it’s funny that we’re trying for equality in so many ways (gender, sex, etc.), but when it comes to “culture,” people get it twisted. Society at large tries to overly-protect anything related to culture or heritage from those who are closed-minded, culturally stunted, or biased. That’s admirable, but the end goal should still be ridding the things that block people thinking for themselves. Getting bigots to drop their fear and appreciate other cultures isn’t the end game; it’s the first step towards the larger, more important goal of accepting people individually. Sadly, this “first step” has become a misguided stumbling block; a short-term answer to a much greater problem that isn’t even on the radar. Thus, my decision to pen this article (even if I am just shouting into a hurricane of misconceptions).
The good news is this: Like it or not, culture is receding. It’s called social advancement with a side order of globalization. It’s the inevitable future unless we bomb ourselves back in to the Stone Age or start embracing wide-spread racism again.
The hour is nigh that we get over the fuzzy-nice feelings associated with words like “culture” and “diversity,” and see what these terms are mistakenly perpetuating. I know it’s not P.C. to say this stuff, but P.C. often just puts a bright smile on top of steamy dog droppings. If one can’t get past the loaded terminology, then it’s unlikely the rest of my points will be weighed fairly as well. It is far time we discuss things as they truly are, and start working towards overall individuality. Screw all the arbitrary subdividing that keeps people from consciously deciding who they want to be and thinking for themselves. All of this is just one more reason it is difficult for me, and many others, to truly get close to our fellow humans.