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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Lileks on Culteral Imperialism


There are reasons to protect local culture, of course. American culture is The Borg, assimilating all. Drop a VCR and a TV in a remote Amazonian village, return a year later, and what do you find? Nothing, because you forgot to supply the generator. But leave one of those, and within six months the kids will be running around saying “No Luke I am your father” and making whoom-whoom lightsaber sounds. This fact gladdens the heart of some, since it shows that American values – freedom, justice, explosions – are universal.
Cultures should never be viewed as a static thing. Borrowing ideas from others (even Americans) improves rather than diminishes a culture.


Blogger Cubicle said...

I have been thinking about this some recently.

What is happening with the Arabs is almost like what is happening witht he native cultures when Europe discovered the new world.

They are fighting against a culture and losing in some cases.b

10/20/2005 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

Native Americans didn't lose the 'culteral battle' they were pretty much wiped out and there cultures were destroyed. Not quite the same thing.

Most of the destruction was due to the introduction of disease that Native Americans had no defense against, but there was of course plenty of direct hostile action as well.

10/20/2005 11:29:00 AM  
Blogger The probligo said...

Cultures should never be viewed as a static thing. Borrowing ideas from others improves rather than diminishes a culture.

Until of course, the point is reached where the two are indistinguishable. Then one can only stop and think "Did they meet half way or not?" It is also too late.

The reality is (apart from your very valid comment about the majority of First Nation peoples in the Americas) that it is very infrequently that a weaker culture avoids total assimilation by a stronger. Many of the Pacific Island cultures - from Tahiti to Solomon Islands could point to having been able to retain their culture in the face of suppression by (well meaning) invading cultures.

Both NZ and Australia can point to the existence of First Nation cultures with strong language and most cultural elements still in place.

The "fear" that has been evidenced by France, among others, I believe is in part valid. It is no less valid than your statement I have quoted. Nor is it any less valid than the sadness (rather than "fear") expressed to me some years back by a ni-Vanuatu elder I met over a beer who was unable to find a young man wanting to learn the skills of a canoe builder.

What you have said is valid. At the same time, the extent to which it is supportable must be tempered by the commitment to being sure that the root cultures are retained.

Perhaps the truth of that would be best illustrated as follows -

If I were invited to a formal Maori function (let us say a funeral) as a specific guest (rather than as a hanger-on) I know sufficient of Maori culture and protocol that I would be able to participate in the proceedings with a minimum of guidance.

If you were invited to a similar event by one of America's First Nations, would you be able to do the same?

Can we go a step further. There are too many cultures, some quite ancient, that have been lost for all time through either assimilation or extinction. One can point to the Amazon Basin for many examples. One can also point to the East Coast US and a community which had until quite recent times retained its Elizabethan English dialect and some of the culture.

One can question the need to try and preserve cultures which comprise small numbers in isolated communities. In my view the loss of any is just another step toward a homogenous humanity.

That, I believe, would be tragic if not totally boring state of culture.

10/20/2005 09:10:00 PM  
Blogger The probligo said...

"American culture is The Borg, assimilating all."

Wrong, Lileks, totally wrong. The American culture does not "assimilate".

If it did, one would find remnants of the Amazonian culture in the American.

The American culture does not "assimilate" at all.

It smothers, it strangles, stultifies and stupifies.

That aside, the American "culture" always seems to be best at exporting its worst. Even into Auckland...


"Constable John Chapple [said] the youth gangs were taking up more and more police time and gang members "think they're living in South Central LA".

10/24/2005 12:41:00 PM  

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