Sunday, February 03, 2008

Culturism - a book by John Kenneth Press

Culturism – A review of the book by John Kenneth Press

When I first read of the idea of Culturism, it struck me like a bolt of lightning. Of course, everything made sense, here was a word and a concept “Culturism” I had been struggling to define whenever my thoughts turned to multiculturalism.

“Multiculturalism robs us of the authority to protect our culture”

As I read brief passages from each chapter of the book, I couldn’t help but keep repeating to myself, “of course, of course of course” it just all made perfect sense.
JKP’s book concerns itself to culturism in America but it’s concepts can be applied universally.
Within the context of America, JKP identifies the origins of American Culturism as emerging from the Puritan ethic.
The first section on the Puritan ethic was a new concept to me.
Reading this section wasn’t so much an “of course” experience as much as a steep learning curve It is an aspect of American history that I have not much familiarity..
The Puritan theme is used to tie together the notion of Culturism and American culture.
JKP explains the ideas that gave birth to multiculturalism in anthropology. Margaret Mead has a lot to answer for.
There is no objective basis upon which to say that one culture is better than another. Were our way of life inherently more satisfying than others, Western culturism would not be needed. The triumph of cultures dedicated to rights and efficiency would be just a matter of waiting for natural practices to occur. Anthropology shows that people are accustomed to endure long suffering before changing directions. In fact, inefficiency and pain being bad reflects Western assumptions. Female genital mutilation is not naturally resented by those in the cultures that practice it. Our existence offers others a choice that can result in a negative evaluation. But such an evaluation is not apparent. Indigenous practices offer us choices. Maintaining our unique values keeps the greatest worldwide variety of choices available.”
So what is JKP getting at? Nothing less than the need to understand that our culture, are values are not self – evident as they may appear to us and especially not to other cultures.
“Culturism holds that dominant cultures should celebrate and protect themselves. From the Western vantage point, headhunting and female genital mutilation are ugly and reprehensible. Culturists realize, however, that this is a Western bias. This is a very difficult realization for Westerners. We love our values. These practices are repugnant to us. But they are only repugnant to us. There are different variants of Culturism. Yanomami have a right to their culture. Western Culturism is for the Western nations. We are not the world. We need not celebrate child genital mutilation inside of our borders as this is not a Western practice. But if we wish others to respect our right to define ourselves, we must be willing to respect other’s right to define themselves.”
It is JKP’s message that our culture needs to be defended if it is to survive.
“Internationally, anthropologists will tell you, promoting “human rights” means promoting the modern Western lifestyle. It is wrong and arrogant for us to tell the Koreans that they cannot preference Korean values and persons in their laws. When you outlaw headhunting, you outlaw a way of life. To go to the Middle East and insist that they adopt separation of church and state or China and say that they must have democracy is unacceptable. It would be as if they were to come into Western countries and told us to start shooting psychedelics in our noses every day. Cultures are diverse. Culturists appreciate diversity (know that it is their bias that prevents them from doing so when they cannot) and do not advocate forcing foreign cultures to adopt variants of Western values.
Western style ideals of justice are not universal. For example when a member of one Northwest Native American tribe died, they did not mourn. Instead they would go out and make someone else mourn. Famed anthropologist Ruth Benedict wrote about this taking place when a female of a tribe died. No one knew how she died. Having left and not come back, she could have still been alive. That was not important. They were sad that she was gone. As custom dictated the men went searched until they found some strangers sleeping. They killed everyone including two children. They had transferred their sad feeling to someone else.”
Most significant is the western notion of Justice.
JKP uses many examples of practices of other cultures to drive home the point that there is no room in our culture for multiculturalism when multiculturalism threatens the values that we take for granted.
“There is no universal idea of justice. Western Justice exists, but other senses of right and wrong exist independently. Knowing about both Western and other standards of appropriateness is useful. If we want to judge the Puritans, for example, we can condemn them for their witch burnings. But we must realize that our condemnation is invoking Western, not universal, standards. The Jalé of New Guinea regularly had festivals where they ate those they had killed in war. They would close the eyes, mouth and nose with bat bones to keep the spirits in and then eat. When we compare the puritans, using Western standards, to the diverse spectrum of possibilities that exist their transgressions seem pretty tame.”
.The false notion that we have accepted in that all cultures are equal.
. “Our having adopted the multiculturalist creed that our culture is not special may be dangerous. If you inculcate the idea that your culture is inherently evil in comparison with others for a couple of generations you should not expect people to be naturally civilized. You may find people unwilling and unable to defend our progressive and peace loving civilization from internal or external attack.”
JKP points out the myth of the noble savage, invented by Rousseau. This myth has developed to include the belief that indigenous cultures were caretakers of their environment whilst immigrant cultures destroyed and pillaged the environment.
Very much the same ideas are in the book The Future Eaters by Tim Flannery.
“…the naïve belief that indigenous were great environmental stewards does not help; it undermines our sense of efficacy.”
“Native Americans were not careful to preserve the environment at a cost to themselves. Two-thirds of the large mammals present when humans first arrived in North America were driven to extinction by the time the whites got here. Eighty percent of the large animals in South America and seventy three percent of those in North America were wiped out before the Europeans arrived. It is not possible to tell which extinctions were due to climate changes. But the animals having survived for hundreds of thousands of years and then disappearing after the arrival of humans lends credence to the common sense conjecture that human action must have contributed to the extinctions. “
“The Anasazi and their neighbors occupied much of what are now the states of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. Because of forests a dense population was able to survive there. Because of dense populations, the forests were not able to survive there. The areas the Anasazi occupied now provide that look of barren expanse that serves as a background in cowboy movies. That barrenness is due the natives having deforested the area. When they had undermined their ability to feed themselves they descended into warfare and cannibalism. By the time Columbus arrived in the New World, the area had its present look and was filled with abandoned archeological sites.”
The Maoris of New Zealand drove a dozen species of large birds to extinction six centuries before the first Westerner got there. The heavily forested Middle East was turned into a desert by agriculturists well before the Western expansion. The Mayans likely undermined themselves ecologically
. So the subtle message which JKP presents very gently, in a restrained voice is that western culture is under threat from Islamic culture.
Islamic culture, for example, does not hold that the rights to wear and say what you want are self-evident. Much of the Muslim world sees it as moral to kill women who dishonor their families. Killing to impose religious uniformity is something Muslim cultures celebrate and their governments support. Even when we had a considerable economic and technological advantage over China, the Chinese did not think freedom of speech, religion and assembly worth adopting. Now that our dominance over them has diminished we should not assume that they will suddenly join us as an enclave of unfettered individualism. “
The call to Culturism is to awaken us to the very qualities that make our culture unique and worthy of protecting. If we do not protect our culture then we will inevitably lose what we cherish.
“Our tolerating subculture and dissent makes us unique. Much of the world suppresses dissent. We allow little ‘nations’ inside of our nation. Much of the world does not like having diversity in their neighborhood. They are heavy handed culturists. Islamic states do not take kindly to apostates. China does not like protesters. Nigeria does not tolerate either. The traditional reactions to those whose behavior deviated from the norms in any way have been exile, exorcism and death. Our level of tolerance and protection are not universally endorsed virtues. Ignorance of these facts is not inconsequential. We trade our sense of mission for a sense of apathy when we fail to realize just how distinctive the West is. “
There is a lot more food for thought in this book of which I have highlighted what to me is the core message. I wholeheartedly recommend it to everybody.

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