it appears that culture trumps education

About a year ago I read the James Bradley book The Imperial Cruise.  Previously, I’ve read his books Flyboys and Flags of our Fathers.  I couldn’t put them down and learned much from each of them.  However, within the first chapter of The Imperial Cruise I was feeling uncomfortable about something.  If you’ve read my blog, you will know that I am politically conservative and usually find myself supporting Republican candidates.  This book makes me uncomfortable because it speaks about Republican racism and Republican Imperialism.  It defines a perspective of Imperialism driven by racism and the Christian religion.

Although I have not read a lot of history on these subjects, I come from the perspective of Republicans supporting racial equality and Democrats inhibiting it historically.  From my Republican perspective, wars are only fought to protect our nation or to help the downtrodden in other nations.  Bradley makes the case that I’m wrong.  That makes me uncomfortable.  Whether you agree or not is unimportant in the context of this article.  The article is about how humans react from a cultural perspective and why it is difficult for education to get past culture.

Lets start by parsing this:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”   “We” refers to our Founding Fathers who were speaking for the rest of us.  They generally shared a common culture:  English-speaking Anglo-Saxons who strove for a life different than what was available to them in Europe.  So “We” must be a cultural “We” and consequently the documents upon which our Nation is founded must be culturally-based.  The “truths” can only be “self-evident” within the context of the culture at the time.  In other words, what our Founding Fathers believed enough to die for was that certain “truths” were “self -evident”.  I don’t think they could have believed that all people agreed that they were “truths” or that they were “self-evident”.  For example, not everyone believed that “all men are created equal”.  To those who did not ascribe to that particular “truth” it could not have been “self-evident”.

Don’t jump to the wrong conclusion about me.  I could not be happier with the basis upon which this country was founded.  I think our Founding Fathers were brilliant, wise, educated and courageous men who were willing to die for what they believed in.  I am thankful for them every day.  What is happening here is that I am accepting the fact that our Nation was founded upon a cultural basis and I am attempting to take that into consideration as I ponder things.  I accept the good, the bad and the ugly because in this case, the end justifies the means.  Our Nation is free, diverse and prosperous.  More so than any other.  And I am grateful to be a part of it.

In the past, as we grew from immigration, the immigrants were assimilated into our society and our culture – they adapted to us willingly and gratefully.  Now, we are being told we must adapt to them.  I’m not saying that is a bad thing, I’m pointing out that it is different from what it once was.  For many of us, that goes against our cultural upbringing and we find ourselves resistant to it.  That is what I’m writing about – the resistance.

I think the resistance is natural because it comes from our cultural upbringing and is part and parcel of who we are.  It is the complementary aspect of the demand for change from those who share different cultural backgrounds.  In other words, they want us to adapt to them and we want them to adapt to us.  I’m not sure at all that any adapting should be required from anyone.  I am sure that I should not be required by law to adapt to another culture.  If I decide to adapt (and I have in many cases) it should be my choice.  And my choice should be based on learning about the aspect of the particular culture in question and choosing what either is best for me, or does not violate the rights of others.  However, as long as I do not choose to learn about the other culture I am likely to be resistant to consider a change to it or, for that matter, an acceptance of it.  By acceptance, I guess I really mean understanding because even though I understand the source of a cultural difference I may not be willing to adopt it in my own life – I might disagree with it.  Jihad might be one current example.  I suppose I could learn more about Islam and in so doing understand Jihad.  But that doesn’t mean I’m going to become a Jihadist.  What it does mean is that in the understanding of it I might have some thoughts about how Christians and Muslims can live together in the same society and accept each others right to believe what they believe even though it might contradict with core cultural beliefs in either camp.  In a way, some of us do that already as when a Methodist accepts that a Baptist can fit the definition of “Christian” or when a Sunni accepts that a Shiite can fit the description of “Muslim”.  The problem comes when one believes that the other is evil because they do not share the same religious perspective.  Evil must be stamped out.  All cultures seem to share the view that evil must be gotten rid of.  In the context of this article,  my use of the term “culture” includes religion, ethnicity, geographical area, sexual preference, gender, economic standing and any other belief system by which individuals are raised or persuaded to think in a particular manner which is distinctly different from others.  I was raised in Chicago in an ethnically diverse, racially divided, economically similar, educationally similar area where homosexuals were considered deviants.  That shaped my cultural background.  I naturally gravitated towards those who shared my culture.  And although I have broadened my horizons considerably since then by seeking out friends, relatives and acquaintances of different cultural mindsets in order to expand my knowledge and understanding of others it would be dishonest of me not to acknowledge my upbringing.  They say that something like 80% of a child’s personality is developed by the age of 6 or 8.  If that is true, then it is pretty easy to understand why people are not likely to change much of their belief system by “osmosis”.  It’s going to take more than that.  It’s going to take actively examining oneself – and in my case anyway – using the resistance to change as a reminder to learn.  I’m not saying that learning will always result in change, but it will always result in education.  Maybe the education will result in some changes in my thinking and maybe it will result in affirming what I already believe.  There’s no way to know beforehand.  For me, the only thing which is required is open-mindedness.  I just want to consider the possibility that if I look into something and learn about it that I might change my view of it.

Smoking is an example.  In my generation, smoking was common and ubiquitous.  In some circles it was considered healthy and manly – think Marlboro Man.  I grew up with it.  My father smoked.  Most men I was exposed to smoked.  Many women smoked, though it was considered a bit racy…  So is it any wonder that from a cultural perspective I have no problem with smoking?  On the other hand, thanks to education, I am aware of the dangers of smoking and they weigh heavily on me.  So heavily in fact, that I consider them almost every time I light up!  Everyone I know would like me to quit.  Yet, I continue to smoke.  You see, it was inculcated into me as a child – I doubt I will ever be able to remove that aspect of my cultural upbringing.  But I might be able to change if I work hard enough at it.  The point is that changing cultural beliefs is hard work – it doesn’t come naturally.  It requires self-examination, education and a determination to change.   Given my cultural upbringing, I seriously doubt I would even consider the possibility of change if I believed I was right and didn’t even consider the possibility that I might not be.

So, it you’d been raised in The Peoples Temple (Jim Jones church) is it any wonder that you would drink the poisonous kool-aid?  Culture is a form of brain-washing in my view.  The “brain-washing” is not deliberate and I believe it is very rarely deliberately evil.  I believe most parents raise their children in a manner similar to the way they were raised.  With the same traditions, foods, religious beliefs, morality, etc. – that’s where culture comes from.  And culture sticks around for generation after generation.  I believe that if it were possible to go back in time a few hundred years and find your ancestors that you would find the source of many of the things which shape your culture.  I also believe that is changing right now.  Then people were born and died in the same town with the same neighbors and the same influences.  Today that is no longer true – especially in cities.

I take full responsibility for my own opinions, comments and slurs against asshats.  I'm just another guy with just another opinion. Although, I may be turning into my father who my mother always said was 'the world's foremost authority."

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