Dating can be a precarious undertaking because finding someone you're romantically compatible with isn't always obvious upon first meeting. Like many types of relationships, romance is developed over time through communication and shared events, and even dissipates if not nurtured.
Already my language indicated my modern perspective. The very word dating is a modern interpretation of a prospective romantic involvement of individuals. A few hundred years ago the term used was courtship, which is nuanced toward a "gallant" wooing of a woman by a man. Orwell avoided both terms and described the medium (Classifieds section in newspapers and magazines) in which the American sailors participated. They essentially prospected for the best fitting woman to marry. All of these paradigms--dating, courtship, wife-prospection--entail different approaches and serve specific functions, which themselves change over time as the culture changes due to cultural values and rights. Further, due to the very intimate nature of the category of romance, and the myriad perspectives and drives people hold, there's no formula to definitively obtain romance, which is why it's pursuit has taken so many forms over time.
These three nuances--dating, courtship, and wife-seeking--function independently, though in some respects can mirror each other. It also serves to note that this isn't an exhaustive list of the approaches to romance, just three pertinent ones to this discussion.
Take dating, which is modern day's spin on finding romance. It seems modern civilization has realized that romantic interest is simultaneously attainable but incapable of being formulaically created. That is, someone who "looks good" on paper or described by a friend may actually be less compatible with you than someone who "doesn't." Dating by definition is informal, and approaches romance from two distinct approaches. The first approach is adopted when people "hit it off" within one event, and determine to go on a date at a later time, essentially agreeing to engage in the new event under the "romance" terms. Here, people have some evidence that they're compatible, and go on a date to pursue this, which will result in either a flowering of this relationship or realization that the original event was a unique interaction which produced compatibility-like affects. The second approach is more of a scattergun approach, where people go on dates--basically with strangers--to determine romantic compatibility. This may sound useless, but it's how blind dates function. Even speed-dating functions like this, with people billboarding what they perceive as their most marketable traits in a wily game of musical chairs. This approach may sound odd, but I'll just point out that many dates over time have failed terribly when people tried to change the terms of an established "friend-like" relationship to romantic terms. Either way, it's informal, with both people generally operating as individuals, with nothing really lost if the dating doesn't work out, often experiencing periods where they don't date at all.
Now take courtship. This one is more seductive, and specifically targets an individual. This doesn't entail exploration, yet demonstration of the man's worthiness (ego) of his sole occupation to her company (body). This approach relies on the women as the "fairer sex," where men--as suitors--need to woo the women, essentially persuading them to be his wife and ultimately bear his children. Clearly this has fallen out of favor because the progress of women's rights has brought the acceptance of both women's needs and wants. Yes, women now have the right to pleasure! Courtship was very Christian in that it was mostly undertaken by upper-class, property-owning white men who wanted a virgin to bear his children so he'd be positive that his offspring--who would inherit his land--would unarguably be his. It was often an occupation (rather than dating's gap-orientation) because the man wanted to make sure he was still of his wits when his offspring--preferably male--inherited his estate. Since life expectancy was lower than modern time, reproduction occurred sooner, which meant the occupation of courtship happened early in a man's life.
Lastly--and we'll fast-forward through time a few centuries--is wife-prospecting. It may seem similar to courtship, but it sort of incorporates the screening plan of dating with the targeted-plan of courtship. Just because it's in the middle though doesn't mean it's the "best of both worlds." It's simply a shade of grey with it's own characteristics, which, like anything, needs to be investigated and observed before judged and labelled if we want a fuller understanding. The American sailors in WW2 engaged in a Craigslist-like romantic furor, and despite not being the first to choose this modus, certainly caused a spike in it's occurrence. According to Orwell what was distinct was the overall eligibility of the bachelors. "The thing that is and always has been striking in these advertisements is that nearly all the applicants are remarkably eligible. It is not only that most of them are broad-minded, intelligent, home-loving, musical, loyal, sincere and affectionate, with a keen sense of humor and, in the case of women, a good figure; in the majority of cases they are financially O.K. as well...Why does such a paragon have to advertise?" (p. 649) He goes on to explain that the papers check carefully on their advertisers, and don't simply publish embellishments. Further, he argues that people in big cities are lonelier because although surrounded by others, they don't pursue real relationships. Now, any other time I'd be more than willing to critique city-life, but that's not the point of this discussion. So we'll just deposit that he has insight into city-psychology, and leave the argument for another day. That main point is the eligibility of the advertising bachelors. Yes, there were denizens of sailors looking for wives, but their candor indicates not just how focused they were, but how they knew what they wanted to focus on. Maybe it was the war that calibrated them, I don't know. But the point is, the sailors seeking a wife weren't just wooing wealthy virgins, but putting themselves out there candidly to an audience of potential wives. It was a slight power shift where the fulcrum was no longer directly underneath the man. He was definitely initiating the engagement, but he set honest and earnest terms of what he wanted; a bride. Not a piece of property or a conveyor belt for his offspring.
I'm not delusional, women's rights and overall respect for women have come a long way since WW2. I'm not holding that time up as the paragon for equality, I'm simply pointing out the techniques of dating, and how wonderfully simple and efficient the American sailors made it. It was much simpler than dating, and much more empowering for the woman than the courtship approach. The sailors' option was as close to formulaic as could be because they knew who they were, knew what they wanted, and put it out there. There were no guarantees, they were just earnest and honest. Nowadays, dating is often undertaken for sexual reasons, and sexual endeavors are often misperceived as the seeds of relationships. That makes for dirty affairs; pardon the double entendre.
Speaking with someone the other day about Orwell's quest to understand England through living like a proletariat make me realize that cultures can only be acutely seen from the ground up. What this means is that one can only truly see the raw machinery of a culture when they don't accept entitlements, succumb to the addiction of prestige, or engulf themselves in distracting materials, because all these things come wrapped in shiny politics that hide the true nature of the culture's values and identity. Thus, why Orwell put himself in depraved places like Spikes. (You can search this site for the post on what Spikes are).
Orwell says if England were to thrive it needed to fall somewhere between Russian authoritarianism and American materialism. Has much has changed about America since then? I'd say that due to our technological advancements and the more prolific ways our personal technology separates us from true human interaction, we're becoming more narcissistic, materialistic/comfort-driven, and entitled. Our domestic technology isn't designed aid our survival, but to serve our personal wants and perceived needs. Because let's be honest, how we've come to define need is merely one step removed from both social prestige and entertainment.
America claims a number of things: "The melting pot," a "free-market economy/capitalism," "democracy," and "free speech/ freedom of religion."
Let's start with the melting pot ideal. How is this artificial? Because the ingredients within the melting pot are different nationalities and races, whom each apparently have different heritages and inclinations. This is materialistic because it prioritizes physical reality over principled reality. I know the intentions behind the melting pot theory were innocent, however starting a flawed task innocently doesn't automatically make the product real or even beneficial for humans or non-humans. (Another argument against religion, possibly?...) We still put race-origin on the census despite the human population being too vast for races to have been maintained as pure. So there's a little black, white, european, african, etc. in pretty much everybody, just in varying proportions based on ancestral habitation. In a nutshell, race was created with power in mind, not equality, or even practicality.
The free-market economy has been encroached upon more and more by federal intervention. Speaking with a government financial analyst awhile ago, he informed me that somewhere on Wednesday do you actually start reaping the benefit of your workweek, and that the previous 2 or so days go toward taxes. I didn't believe him, until he broke it down: there's much more than just the taxes on your paycheck, there's tax on fuel, tax on your groceries, tax on your clothing, and more. Even the beer I served him had tax added to it. He challenged me to think of some money-exchange activity that didn't levy a tax, then asked me how many money-exchanging activities I did throughout the week and month. I stood silent for a few moments. Ever heard of the lemonade stand controversy over whether children's earnings should be taxed? There is a balance between charging a tax so the larger system can build and maintain structures that benefit everyone (traffic lights, roads, etc.), and not charging a tax to allow the market to operate freely. Even Obamacare is a tax no matter what way you look at it, because it defers the cost of the under-producers onto the actual producers. The fluidity of the market is perpetuated by experimentation, risk, and hard work, not by federal government intervention. I am not surprised that workaholics make more money than couchaholics.
Democracy? We're not that, either. Plutocracy, or a government by the wealthy, fits our bill. Since we're Capitalistic--despite our progressing Socialism--we indeed encourage and reward wealth. Sadly, we're starting to reward and therefore encourage (via enabling) poverty as well with systems like Obamacare. Still, wealth controls education through "gifts", the media through advertising, the entertainment industry through sensory overload, sports through huge contracts and endorsements, and even affects our sexual prospects.
Free speech and religion are figurehead values because they only exist as unobtainable "noble" ideals. You can't run into a theater and yell "Fire," right? No one's removing all references to "God" in public policy, right? So these things are inherently flawed, but also ultimately flawed in modern civilization because neither of them could exist without chucking this civilization as a whole.
Looking at these factors may make America look mortally wounded, capable of passing nothing but narcissistic disease onto he next generation. However, people like Orwell show us that looking at our current state of affairs from a gritty, in-the-gutter, ground up approach will help put the power back in our hands. We can debate all the different places that now have it, but that's not as important. What is important is to get back to understanding how we have the power to choose our values and not just respond to them, and have the power to observe what's going on around us and not just fall for whatever distractions we're presented with. Orwell predicted the future of England because he saw her ugly machinery, and only then could he suggest certain solves. We can do the same.
The English language is derived from old European languages, and is what I think of as a mechanical language. Unlike Eastern languages which rely more on tone and inflection, English words and ideals are constructed by manually adding prefixes, suffixes, and prepositions. It's a bit like Legos in that respect.
Take Latin, one of English's parent languages, which--lucky for us--only gives our language specific words, not linguistic form. I took a few years of Latin and all the declensions and conjugations (aka inflection) made for a surgically precise though sterilized sentence. As a result, their dictionary would only include the root words, which made for a thinner dictionary than English, especially American English. The English language thus allows every noun to become a verb (to bike, to punch, to drink), and every verb into an adjective (playfully, runny, watchful). Unlike Latin, English mechanically turns words into their opposite via -un or -de, as Orwell points out. We take this for granted, and may even see this as the best, therefore the only way due to our comfort, but in terms of language, this is just one way of conjugating. For example, familiar and unfamiliar appear independently in English dictionaries. However, if you look up unfamiliar in a Latin dictionary, you'll find the word doesn't even exist. To credit Latin, it requires you to use a unique word to convey that particular meaning, whereas the English definition of unfamiliar will invariably be 'not known or recognized.' This isn't really a definition, it's just an anti-definiton of a word which already exists; something that Latin (ironically the dead language here) avoided for clarity, but English readily practices. It even puts these anti-definitions into the dictionary, which is why it's so damn huge.
English is also a borrowing language. We all know that, we just may not know that we know it. Cul-de-sac is a common one. "Other example from the vast armoury of borrowed words are garage, charabanc, alias, alibi, steppe, thug, role, menu, lasso, rendezvous, chemise. It will be noticed that in most cases an English equivalent exists already, so that borrowing adds to the already large stock of synonyms." (p.633) English thus seems to drive toward acquiring a large quantity of words, rather than a concise, practical spread. As a writer I appreciate this because it allows so many nuances. With Latin, building a sentence is like conjugating yourself into linguistic chastity. In English, so long as you follow fundamentals of grammar, you can create a verbal palette never before seen. This is why I think of English as a very literary language, despite being Lego-like in the manipulation of its words. It's simultaneously archaic and artistic.
Verbs are pretty simple as well, in that there are four main modifiers: past, present, future, and subjunctive. A subjunctive is simply a modifier of possibility, or anything applying to distinct unreality that could potentially be reality. So, you played, you play/are playing, you will play, or you may play. There are flavors--this time tomorrow, you may have played at the park again--but generally verbs are modified by time or subjunctive. No adding nouns or gender or clause to convey the meaning, that's Latin. On the topic of gender, English doesn't utilize that either, so no la or le or los like French or Spanish, or der or er like German. Again, English is mechanical; a verb, noun, and adjective utilize the same modifiers instead of gender-specific modifiers. "Moreover, the tendency is always towards greater simplicity, both in grammar and syntax. Long sentences with dependent clauses grow more and more unpopular, irregular but time-saving formations such as the 'American subjunctive' (it is necessary that you go instead of it is necessary that you should go) gain ground, and difficult rules, such as the difference between shall and will, or that and which, are more and more ignored. If it continues to develop along its present lines English will ultimately have more in common with the uninflected language of East Asia than with the language of Europe." (p. 634) In short, inflection is the construction of a word merging the stem (or root) with the appropriate ending, which denotes gender, person, tense, case and others.
We can go on and on about the intricacies of English-English and American-English, get into slang, homophones and homonyms, but that depth is unnecessary. One could even argue the depth I just went into was unnecessary because you can read it in a thousand different language books. But as English-speaking people I do think it's beneficial to have a basic grasp of how our tool works, which entails an education of some type. This doesn't necessarily mean sitting in a classroom, but it does mean treating our language carefully and deliberately because it's the primary tool of both our survival and pleasure. Think of all the stupid training courses we take for our vocations, the how-to manuals we read before constructing some IKEA particleboard, or the endless 'reality' television shows demonstrating how to deconstruct or construct something. Then think of how much time we actually spend understanding and clarifying our own language. Unless you're a writer or an academic, it's probably minimal or even none. Would you try and rebuild an engine without studying or consulting/including an expert? Nope. Then why speak and chat and blither without studying or consulting/including an expert? This is not a rhetorical question.
(Literary note to readers: George Orwell is a master of the English language, both English-English and American English. If you want a crash course on how grammar and culture meet, I highly recommend you read The English People: The English Language.)
The English class system historically reeked of a caste system, due to the fact that individuals were strongly encouraged to marry within their social class. Caste systems are difficult to perpetuate without a threat of violence, because as civilization becomes more technologically advanced and efficient, and the population increases and spreads out, people are provided more of the same, if not similar, opportunities to feed themselves, choose vocations, clothe themselves, etc. All in all, overall quality of life improves, and this is exactly what the English experienced over the past few hundred years.
There were three main English classes: the Bourgeoisie, whom are the upper class, the Petite Bourgeoisie, whom are the middle class, and the Proletariat, whom are the lower class. Karl Marx developed a fourth European class named the Lumpenproletariat, but that mainly applied to the French, so we're left with three English classes in modern history.
The Bourgeoisie were those born into money, and were thus the strongest and longest proponents of a caste system because it guaranteed their wealth, property and family name were always attached to social prestige. Their identity was tied up in their capacity for feudal land ownership. "This widespread day-dream is undoubtedly snobbish, it has tended to stabilise class distinctions and has helped to prevent the modernisation of English agriculture: but it is mixed up with a kind of idealism, a feeling that style and tradition are more important than money." This upper-class narcissism encouraged an addiction for social prestige (rather than actual economics) was wildly outdated and ineffective, because when technology and economics finally allowed products to be produced more cheaply and thus more accessibly, the pedestal they stood on was shortened. The Bourgeoisie didn't have a very practical social function, nor did they progress society much. Hence, the middle class drove the system forward.
The Petite-Bourgeosie was the largest of the three class systems, though not unified. Some aspired for aristocracy, hence emulated the upper class, and some dismissed the haughty bullshit and worked, worked, worked. Since the Bourgeoisie had ego, toys, and a history of being coveted, those who emulated them through acquiring fancy titles were rewarded more than even those who had more wealth, but were untitled. If it sounds sad and vain, then ask yourself why you see the American culture in a better light. The Petite-Bourgeosie's intra-friction was "not a distinction of income but of accent, manners and, to some extent, outlook." (p. 628) WW2 and the vast entailments it presented changed the fabric of English society because industrialization and massive production turned lower-middle class young men into upper-middle class men, because Industrial Technicians were more upper-middle class. WW2 was their ticket to a higher class, and since so many men were needed as airplane technicians, then the Petite-Bourgeosie became much more intermarried than before the war. I look at it in terms of incentives. The lower-class man didn't merely work because he was incentivized to up his class, but he worked because he had a steady job in which he improved due to constant repetition. It's easy to overlook the self-worth and confidence all these lower-middle class men developed, plus this arduous work produced things they could see, which changed their outlooks as men, reorienting them toward work and production and away from the myth of social prestige. So although they raised their class, they drew further away from the true upper class, who existed simply on the myth of gentility.
The Proletariat are the lowest class, whom often live in slums or communal living facilities, comprised of imported laborers, drifters, and individuals who allow a severely low standard of living. Keep in mind that it's a class system, not a strict caste system, so people can, with great effort, move up. Moving up in English class did require a certain decency though, a certain bundle of manners that lubricated relations with others. To be a proletariat thus meant a few things: A belief that they will never jump classes, to accept the minimal standard of living, and to not play the social game. I haven't spoken much of "the social game," but it's not a concept I pulled out of thin air, it's simply a mixture of politics and relativism and materialism. The Proletariat's depravity made the class system a caste system, which is the inverse of social progress.
Industrialization allowed the blurring of the top two classes. (The proletariat remained the proletariat, as a certain minority do in every organized country.) Orwell lists a few characteristics of this blurring: 1) The overall improvement in industrial technique. Large, more efficient machines allowed humans to lifter lighter loads and use their fingers, rather than their biceps. 2) Improvements in housing allowed the middle class' structures to have similar amenities as the upper class', such as an indoor toilet. 3) The mass production of furniture allowed people to pay on installments, creating the first instance of English consumer debt. No longer did people have to buy what they could afford, but they could buy what they wanted! And lastly, 4) clothing was produced more cheaply and efficiently, allowing the middle class to resemble the upper class, affordably. Before that, the middle class dressed in clothes that didn't fit, and were years out of fashion. When the clothing production boomed, one could barely tell the difference between the aristocrats and the middle class. This no doubt affected aristocratic bloodlines because middle class women now appeared on upper class men's radar.
Improvements in industrial technology increased radio's audience, as well as literature's. Reading became more commonplace because books were produced more inexpensively and prolifically, and lending-libraries allowed people to not buy, but still read. All this adds up to the culture moving forward on equal terms, which up to that point, hadn't happened in England due to the economic and social disparity. Moving forward on equal terms doesn't mean the class system was abolished, it simply means that the archaic feudal system that England latched onto, progressed quickly once the industrial production came along. Not that industrial production is the universal solvent to humanity's problems--due to pollution, wage slavery, and unnatural power politics which it breeds--but that's an argument for another day.
When dealing with British politics, it's important to acknowledge that as long as the Monarchy and Parliament are in place, formality and practicality coexist. The Monarch is the figurehead, and Parliament is the functioning system of government. Although the Prime Minister leads the country in the way the Americans associate their Head of State doing, King George VI during WW2 actually served a practical function. But how? The King and Queen weren't allowed to fight, and due to their elevated status and entitlements, were insulated from the rest of society. The King and the Queen often made visits to bombing sites and munitions factories, speaking to the common people to boost their morale. During the peak of WW2, the royals experienced the same food rations as the rest of society, and still made public relations visits to speak to their people. I give them credit for that. They could've sought safety until the end of the war. Thus, it looks to me like cheerleading the soldiers during wartime is the most practical function of the impractical, formal Monarchy. Impressively, the British didn't create propaganda to skew this fact; that's Churchill, not George VI, with Stalin and Roosevelt in the above photo at the Yalta Conference. This lack of propaganda speaks volumes about the British political orientation.
The willingness of Britain to allow a Parliament to coexist with a (plastic) Monarchy is part of what prevented them from having a civil war. Sure, there was economic strife and class warfare, but it was not totalitarian, and actually up until the latter half of the 20th century, when it became more free-market based, it was pretty Socialistic. This is why they l-o-v-e-d the USSR. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is exactly the type of political organization the British desired at the time. Though Britain was too small to be economically sufficient, they didn't want to be capitalists because to them that meant uber-class warfare and imperialism. The Soviet Union was huge and economically prosperous so they became the benchmark for British government and economy; socialistic, anti-imperialistic, and non-isolationist.
Although the British had Leftist leanings, they weren't overly politically organized or charged. "English political thinking is much governed by the word 'They.' 'They' are the higher-ups, the mysterious powers who do things to you against your will. But there is a widespread feeling that 'They,' though tyrannical, are not omnipotent. 'They' will respond to pressure if you take the trouble to apply it: 'They' are even removable. And with all their political ignorance the English people will often show surprising sensitiveness when some small incident seems to show that 'They' are overstepping their mark. Hence, in the midst of seeming apathy, the sudden fuss every now and then over a rigged by-election or a too-Cromwellian handling of Parliament." (p. 625) Their orientation had a sort of sleepy allure; they minded their own business and allowed themselves to be governed until the government abused them, only then asserting themselves. What's even more important is that the English people knew their system of government was secular, in that it was made by man, instituted by man, and thus wasn't all-powerful or perfect. There were no saviors or prophets or revolutionaries (they had a remarkable apathy toward revolution, as it were), which is impressive because historically the terms 'monarch' and 'deity' has been fused together. In mid 20th century Britain though, the royals were simply humans who drank tea, and government officials were simply humans who shuffled papers. Or smoked long cigars.
Due to the resounding secularity of the Monarchy, the English people felt that they lived in a sort of democracy. No, it clearly wasn't a democracy, and "it may have to work in indirect ways, by strikes, demonstrations and letters to the newspapers, but it can and visibly does affect government policy." (p. 625) Not only did the people have the capacity to affect policy, they knew they had the power to affect policy. These mechanisms are different. Ignorance is often used to cover up limitation, but since this wasn't covered up in some great governmental conspiracy, the English didn't feel threatened into a position of striking at their own government.
Winston Churchill knew what he had to do and didn't hesitate. He wasn't about to let the Nazis trample Europe without a fight, and didn't deceive himself into "neutrality" because the Stormtroopers would soon be busting doors down. His political leanings at that point were irrelevant. Reality was reality. He led the sole resistance (at the time) against Nazi Germany, but credit must go to where it's due. King George VI didn't flex a royal ego through demanding disproportionate recognition or more participation than he was worth during the Third Reich. His morale-campaign helped energize the British on the battlefield, which improved what Orwell described as the British "royalist sentiment"--which has waxed and waned throughout history--allowing their political system to continue into the second half of the 20th century.
Having read both Jared Diamond's Gun, Germs, and Steel, and Isaiah Berlin's Crooked Timber of Humanity, I find it increasingly more challenging to understand culture and progress because these two writers so aptly demonstrated how our human history is so irregularly patterned. And not simply how history could've turned out differently if that bomb landed over there and not over here, but how accidental the creation of culture really is. Much of a culture's values are determined via secondary ripple effects because people are most willing to adapt their values when they don't will the change at all.
All this shapes up to culture functioning like the tsunami traveling underneath the ocean's surface. Sure, on top it's pretty calm, but under the surface things are shifting, interacting, with some things spinning away and disappearing. National Culture--as I explained in the last post--is starkly different from Culture of People because the latter are the majority's hitherto beliefs and values, determined by the social, environmental and political milieu, as demonstrated by Diamond and Berlin. National Culture is fictitious because it's a preconceived ideal of purpose and identity, and thus isn't the cultural compass many think. This makes the Culture of People the moral and ethical paradigm deemed status quo, and National Culture a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The status quo likes this culture-as-tsunami characteristic because generally accepted values are more conducive to a large populace naturally ebbing and flowing as one. Hence, Culture of People aren't necessarily healthy or empowered, but they're not evil and mischievous, either. They're simply people collecting themselves into interactive groups. Since culture is mostly comprised of the majority, implicit is the existence of a minority, which is where the individuals live, who are a sample that should never be completely absent in a discussion of culture. But we'll set aside the functions of the individuals for now; culture is the main focus.
The distinction between National Culture and Culture of People is extremely important because, as we all saw in WWII, Hitler assumed they were the same thing. He assumed that he could override the Culture of the People, blind to how the imprisoned and tortured prisoners would still will themselves--individually and as a People--and how neighboring countries would resist him. All his resistors had their own cultures and weren't all simply going to be "reprogrammed" by the National Socialist views. Culture moves slowly, yet arrogant National Culture treats morality and ethics as machinery with which to immediately reprogram (or vaporize) dissenters. This doesn't mean people can't or won't conform--in fact most simply want to--however, it means that conformity occurs more slowly and concretely, which is problematic for National Culture because it's a superstition of purpose, a myth of identity. Cultures of People actually do exist, regardless of state or country or mystical boundaries.
Now we can start talking about the English, which will carry through the next few posts since each sub-section of the main essay--The English People--will get its own post. We'll thus talk about England not as a nation, but as a large (but not all-inclusive) group of people sharing values, habits, and environmental stressors during the mid twentieth century. Thus, when I say, "The English" I'm speaking about the most popular culture, sensitive to the fact that not everyone in any area simply participates in the majority. (Yes, I found this long-winded, multi-paragraphed exposition necessary because since we're dealing with moral outlook and the interplay of cultures, I think as intellectuals it's prudent to tread deliberately and dog-slow.)
Orwell lists some characteristics that I'm relieved to say are independent from America, now or then. America has the disease of believing two problematic things: 1) That it's at the top of the food chain, and 2) That it sets the standard for cultures everywhere. England in the 40's didn't care much for America, despite its fast growth, because it had it's own problems! Imagine that! "The general English hatred of bullying and terrorism means that any kind of violent criminal gets very little sympathy. Gangsterism on American lines could not flourish in England, and it is significant that the American gangsters have never tried to transfer their activities to this country." (p. 617) Let's call a spade a spade, American capitalism has cause a heroin-level addiction to money and power, so much so that England attributed America with Gangsterism. Good for them. The English, on the other hand, "have failed to catch up with power politics" (p. 617), and deal with bullying and terrorism through flogging, a process that Orwell admits is medieval and ignorant.
The working class English were not puritanical, nor were they religious zealots. In America we think we're the same, however, underneath our own tsunami-surface lay smug Christian ethics and the placement of sex on a pedestal. Puritanism views sex as immoral, general pleasure as perilous, and free self-expression as an invitation to vice. Some cultures bought into Puritanism, but not the English, who, according to Orwell, fornicated and drank their way into secularity because they were only concerned with the current moment. "The English people are not good haters, their memory is very short, their patriotism is largely unconscious, they have no love of military glory and not much admiration for great men. They have the virtues and the vices of an old-fashioned people. To twentieth century political theories they oppose not another theory of their own, but a moral quality which must be vaguely described as decency." (p. 620)
Orwell recants a social exercise purposed toward getting the English people to approach themselves more objectively. Since only a small percentage of the population can operate truly objectively without external intervention, this intellectual exercise proves beneficial because it brings all the preconceived material into the forefront. Since most of us are socially inclined and affected, premises which are not necessarily ours bleed into our thinking, which is why this exercise--and any intellectual re-boot exercise--facilitates clear thought and a more global perspective.
"It is worth trying for a moment to put oneself in the position of a foreign observer, new to England, but unprejudiced, and able because of his work to keep in touch with ordinary, useful, unspectacular people." (p. 608) Ever blank-slated yourself like this, ignoring all cultural and personal memories for the purpose of seeing the unseen? If it were easy, it would be the standard, and since it's not easy, I can say with a relatively high level of confidence that this tool isn't commonly practiced. I can speak from personal experience that it's tasking to do effectively (and not simply fake it), yet that simply means the status quo doesn't directly reward it, not that it's not a worthy practice. It's incredibly worthy due to the unpredictable results it evokes, allowing us to see parts of ourselves we may not want to see.
He lists the English's artistic insensibility, their gentleness and consideration, their xenophobia which is reinforced by class jealousy, and a few other things. He even identifies hypocrisy as one English characteristic, which on a phenomenal level, renders all other characteristics suspect and self-limited. Despite this, all the particulars are almost irrelevant at this juncture because although they provide interesting information about what an imaginary foreign observer would see, they're symptoms. How can I be so arrogant to say that? Because keep in mind that the common, unpracticed social observer who (somehow) disconnects their social compass to see things fresh and new, still operates on a concrete plane. Therefore, It's not like disconnecting social sensitivities automatically makes one a Mastermind, it simply recalibrates the already social mind to see other social things. Thus, let's not get stuck on the particulars, as Kristhoffer so aptly instructs. So how do we apply this global perspective beneficially which still being concrete?
I think the answer comes in the form of asking the right question: "Do such things as 'national cultures' really exist?" (p. 613) This is the heart of the matter. Concrete and common, abstract and uncommon, relativistic or intellectual, this is a good question. We can describe our cultures, and even other cultures, till we're blue in the face, but the combination of two concepts--national and culture--seems as problematic as combining altruism and business. Despite this, talk about culture can still occur, however, we just need to be vigilant of what behaviors and values we attribute to what categories. The whole point of Orwell's exercise was to de-prejudize for purpose of more clearly observing the culture, and it would be majorly counter-intuitive to just reprejudize via attributing newly observed cultural behaviors and values into a "new and better" (though still inaccurate and limited) definition of that culture.
Culture's don't have exact borders like geographical locations. They affect one another and overlap in fascinating ways, but knowing that, understanding a culture is a more complex endeavor than simply identifying a plethora of subcultures, arranging them in a large Venn Diagram, then defining the macro-culture by how they overlap. Just because they overlap, doesn't mean it's not by happenstance. Understanding culture is an intentional endeavor, because culture--despite it's unconscious cues--is an intentional affair. Thinking plurally, rather than linear via direct cause to effect, would be of service. For example, in modern America, the ideal of family, no matter where you live, seems to be a hot value. So an American national cultural value must be family, right? I'm not so convinced. Since there's many interpretations of that value, and varying definitions of that value (often warring with one another), how can it be a national culture, if by definition a national culture is something which all line up on? Just because a concept is commonly valued, doesn't mean it a common value. Ultimately, this whole ordeal shows that national culture doesn't exist, because a nation is a concrete territory which people choose to live within, which provides and regulates basic rights. A culture is not concrete in any way, is affected by a multiplicity of factors, so these terms should remain separate. You telling me that on just this side of Maine and just that side of New Brunswick the value systems are starkly different? I'd be hard-pressed to believe that, and actually, since their environmental resources and rural milieu are similar, I'm betting that they share culture. That's an argument for another day, though.
What's great about Orwell is that he brings us back to the basics: people will band together based on domestic wants and needs, and nations will come and go based on power and money. People can build nations, but nations can't build people.
At this point, anyone with a clue knows how propaganda targeted toward an enemy works: certain things are embellished, others are muted, incorporating varying amounts of humor and devices which cause guttural hate responses. But propaganda targeted toward ourselves, only supplemented by the passive denigration of the true enemy, requires a different tactic and bears different behavioral repercussions.
So here we see WWII American propaganda which is unarguably anti-Nazi, however it's not exactly pro-American. This poster hit home in the 40's because it attacked part of the American dream; owning a car. It says that Americans shamefully fund the Third Reich by not conserving resources via traveling alone. This type of propaganda relied on the existent negative affect Hitler had on people, abandoning all forms of decency through putting Adolf right in your passenger seat. (Even though the US took a long, long time to even get involved in WWII, but the powers-that-be who want your war bonds don't want you to remember that.)
Further, look at the format; the words alone and today are capitalized, also making car-sharing club a proper noun by capitalized the first letter in each word. All these apsects add compound the sensationalism, and even Hitler scowls as if to say, "Not even I want to ride with this self-serving defector!" So this type of propaganda doesn't simply influence our values, it influences our domestic behaviors. It infiltrates our bedrooms. The value-behavior distinction splits a hair, so it serves to note that enemy-targeted propaganda is primarily concerned with influencing values more than domestic behaviors, because it programs how we should think of our enemies. Rather, the poster above reinforces specific activities we should physically perform on a daily basis; aka, behaviors. Yes, values inevitably inform behaviors, however these two different orientations of propaganda entail different starting points. Enemy-targeted propaganda starts in your mind, and citizen-targeted propaganda starts in your feet. This tactic continues today; if you find yourself behaviorally imposed, it's your own culture's power paradigm at work. If you find ideologies imposed upon you (aka value-coercion), then you won't have to look very far for an enemy that embodies the lack of that value. Ideology imposition relies upon not being them over there!
Let's look at another example:
Yes, this is American propaganda during WWII. Starting to see how not all propaganda is vitriolic toward the enemy? This poster vilifies the ideal of a woman who talks to her friends too much and doesn't serve the war effort enough back home. It didn't say that she lacked in war bond fund-raising, or that she consumed too much fuel warming her house to her American baby, it said she's wanted for MURDER...talk about shock and awe. The illustrators even give her a guile expression. So not only did the Americans have to look out for Nazis, they had to look out for their neighbors who, should they not act appropriately according to the government, slaughter their own kind. Like the poster above, we only have insinuations about the Nazis. What we clearly have is a certain action that we should not do, and the consequences levied on our boys if we fail. This type of programming breeds fear, shame, and inhibition, unlike enemy-targeted propaganda, because the latter encourages outward displays of aggression, while the former discourages the very finite freedoms that apparently define enlightenment.
Okay, so if you're the powers that be, and you want to affect the tight-laced, pro-American crowd that certainly wouldn't be caught not sharing a car or carelessly talking when they could be producing, how would you reach them? The photo below encapsulates one of the devices to reach these straight-shooters on both an emotional and a financial level.
This piece has the most gall of the three, because it relies upon a young private's pledge he made, to himself. Martin Treptow was a young man working as a barber when in 1917 he was sent to France to never return. The note (read easier by clicking the image) was actually retrieved from his dead body. The caption on the bottom--"You who are not called upon to die"--is chilling because it doesn't pull any punches. WWII meant imminent death. But what's worse is that the government used this private message to obtain war bonds; Treptow had no intent of this becoming public information. What they're saying is if you don't have Private Treptow's guts, the least you could do is financially aid others like him. Yeah, you'll be a little poorer right now, but he's permanently dead, and so will others be if you don't help.
This is not positive propaganda, but again, by definition, no propaganda is positive. What makes this less positive than other forms though, is that--for fear of being redundant--it puts the gun that killed Private Treptow in our hands! It's guilt, shame, and fear based, and to recall the WANTED! photo above, murder-based. But instead of Hitler doing these things, it's now us. Do you see what we've lost?
WWI changed the landscape of modern warfare, and the proliferation of airplane, naval ships and other industrial advancement truly changed how countries went to war. War was no longer done in the middle of a field between two lines of trained soldiers. War involved multiple countries, a global economy, and was brought to our doorsteps in one way or another. By the time WWII occurred, war was terribly expensive, exhaustive, entailed, with much higher stakes, so civilians were included. One could say that the propaganda above is simply an adaption to this phenomena, however (at risk of speaking too pacifistically) when civilians become included, the line between ally and enemy blurs. Where it was once crisp, it became blurred through the use of self-deprecating and vitriolic rhetoric. Orwell would argue that it's one small step toward becoming totalitarian because behavior modification doesn't just turn off when national pride is involved. I also agree with him that an enemy isn't simply one who opposes you, yet is anyone or body of people who coerces and oppresses you into conformity. And modern warfare has threatened civilians not just physically via advanced technology, but through deeper, more conformist rhetoric by those who we elected to represent and protect us.
With the transition from a hunter-gatherer to a sedentary, more industrious lifestyle, man created more complex technology, more extensive tools of survival, and more entailed artifacts. Technological and industrial breakthroughs haven't simply driven the market, but have changed our individual behavior and cultural paradigms. In short, it unpredictably changed our history. I'll deal with these one at a time, then we'll move forward.
*In regard to complex technology, Timothy Taylor argues in The Artificial Ape: How Technology Changed the Course of Human Evolution, that the baby sling is one of humankind's most basic forms of technology because it allowed the females to move around within the camp with hands available for practical application. Having a baby on the hip restricts movement and functionality, so having both hands free allows females to perform vital tasks with the infant attached. This very simple technology paved the way for more complex technology because it allowed both of humanity's genders to engage their environment, at that time improving the quality, productivity and efficiency of their lives. Controlling fire is of course another form of technology, and the sedentary lifestyle has facilitated cooking, blacksmithing, and smelting metals for commercial use. Technology thus was enabled to become more complex when humankind embraced a sedentary lifestyle because the limitation of moving it was lifted.
*Sedentary humans created more complex forms of survival because weatherproof shelters allowed humans to venture and colonize further away from the equator. Many aren't aware of our species' battle for the equator, and how it was only alleviated by the advent of agriculture and architecture, which required observation, planning, and trade in all new ways. A permanent shelter hoarded heat and food much better than a collapsible, mobile one.
*Lastly, sedentary humans created more entailed forms of artifacts due to the flexibility of research and development allowed by a sedentary workshop. (Modern day, we call them labs.) As a hunter-gathering tribesman, you had to streamline every tool because you were hauling it to the next location in a short amount of time. Native American tools embody this: spoons, bowls, arrows, hammers, slings, even their tee pees could be packed up and carried away on horseback. Modern society has made things more entailed, larger, but not necessarily more useful because we can just stow it when it's not in use. The Natives didn't have that luxury; if it didn't have a consistent use or function, it was fat that was trimmed.
The hunter-gatherer lifestyle surely had its drawbacks--there was always a risk of conflict, hunger, and dehydration--but what it didn't have was modern sedentary civilization's affinity for ideals. That sounds extremely vague, so I'll quote a passage out of Derrick Jensen's Culture of Make Believe to clarify: "In common with indigenous peoples the world over, feuds or wars were never fought for ideological reasons, but over tangible and/or personal insults. Among the Dani [tribe in New Guinea], if the conflict was not resolved through simple withdrawal, the next step was mediation and restitution. If the two sides were still aggrieved, yet were within the same social unit, involving aguni juma-mege, or 'people from here,' the conflict may have escalated to actual violence yet very rarely did so, and even then the violence was short-lived. If, on the other hand, the enemy was aguni dimege, or 'the foreigners,' the conflict could escalate into a war that could last a half a generation, a war in which the ghosts of those slain often demanded vengeance." (178-179) We see that war was an option, and further reading will show that the Dani were often at war with their neighbors, but the real question is why? Jensen brings out that even though the Dani had a deep distinction between us and them, conflicts were precipitated due to stolen items or personal insults, not ideological differences. The indigenous, nature-loving people, knew specifically that only concrete actions or events could produce altercations. Modern civilization's affinity for ideals produces different standards for action; we can create conflicts simply by valuing differently.
Nationalism in any form is an ideal, as is gender identity, sexual identity, race, prejudice, purpose, destiny, superstition, religion, prophecy, ego, progress, heritage, and human centrism. Indigenous peoples thus fought each other over practical matters, rather than a belief system or network of ideals that they lived by. This isn't to say they didn't have ideals, the certainly did, especially in the form of balancing themselves with nature, however they didn't go to war with other tribes over their particular version. What would be the point, anyway? It wouldn't produce resources and progeny, it'd actually destroyed them. Modern civilization has--for some reason--developed an affinity for ideals that either require aggressive manifestations, or assume that other peoples are plotting aggressive manifestations against them. How did we develop this neurosis?
Technology isn't inherently destructive, it's simply the product of a creative process designed to specify and streamline tools. Something happens within man when he becomes sedentary and acquires these artifacts though. Historically, it's been demonstrated that he becomes paranoid that others are going to take them away from him. Indigenous cultures opposite; they're notorious sharers. They even shared lovers and communally raised children. Was it being constantly surrounded by nature that brought this out, or did the lack of complex technology allow them to think and appreciate on a more interdependent level? I find it scary that as human civilization has pressed along, our us-them distinctions have gotten both stronger and more sensitive, creating different ways of separating us via our distinct identity or purpose. To quote John Gray's Straw Dogs, "We do not speak of a time when whales or gorillas will be masters of their destinies. Why then humans?"
Orwell highlights the bearing this ideal had on the 20'th century. He mentions how although the world had shrunk due to capability of travel and the accessibility of radio, nationalistic tendencies had gotten stronger from WWII. "Then trend towards economic self-sufficiency ("autarchy") which has been going on since about 1930 and has been intensified by the war, may or may not be reversible. The industrialisation of countries like India and South America increases their purchasing power and therefore ought, in theory, to help world trade. But what is not grasped by those who say cheerfully that 'all parts of the world are interdependent,' is that they don't any longer have to be interdependent." (p.600) So industrialization allows countries to produce somewhat sufficiently, cutting out other countries, developing a competitive self-sufficiency and thereby less of an actual need to engage other countries. Now, economics teaches us that international trade and commerce boosts the market power because it increases the size of the market (the larger the market, the sturdier, due to the plethora of channels of fluidity), however we're not talking about the economics that drives the market, we're talking about countries becoming more independent, less interdependent, and the behavioral repercussions of this industry-driven move.
What Orwell saw in WWII was how international relations was severely affected by industrialization--despite the commoners' view that although we can now fly anywhere and listen to any radio station--because our ideals of national identity and feverish us-them distinctions have restricted travel and censored many international and intercultural mediums. In short, civilization is learning to more quietly propagandize itself, which is simply a network of self-affirming ideals completely absent from indigenous people's worldwide.
Beneficial birds have suffered from human ignorance, as was the case in Orwell's time, but I really want to split the hair between ignorance and arrogance. In the 1940's, the English killed off many agriculturally useful birds of prey because they ate the eggs and chicks of the non-indigenous pheasant, which served non-agricultural function. Talk about losing the forest in the trees.
Each natural creature and plant are part of the ecosystem, with hiccups created when man gets involved. Loosely, a 'hiccup' is a hindrance, nuisance, or inessential entity. One could even say disease has a function, in that it eliminates the weak, allowing the strong consume more resources and proliferate more widely. Nature takes care of itself, in that it balances its own properties over time. (When I say "its own" it sounds possessive, but the natural beings are more so ingredients in a great recipe rather than gifts purposed for a specific utility.) When you remove religion from the picture--not simply as a theoretical riddle, but to bypass the fluff--the picture itself becomes vast, harsh, and mysterious. And that's okay, because humans are built for relatively simple reasoning and time-assessment, rather than with the inborn ability to completely understand the natural sphere. That's not to say ignorance is an inevitable excuse, it's to say that we're a part of something larger; just another small ingredient swirling around the giant cauldron that doesn't care about us specifically. When humans reach extinction--as all species do--the Earth will keep spinning just as it has in the past. That's okay, not because I say so, but because we're not inherently "better" than dirt or trees or fungus.
Even though we humans are natural, our decisions disrupt this natural ecosystem, which is why we can--and do--act unnaturally. No, we're not fulfilling our destiny or purpose through doing unnatural things like damming streams, polluting the ozone layer, and hunting species to extinction, because the very terms "destiny" and "purpose" are derivatives of Messianic, monotheistic religions. They encourage and enable us to change this natural ecosystem in our favor, exploiting the immediate benefits while smugly shrugging our shoulders when acid rain scores the earth's surface, toxic waste is pumped into the sea, and dogs are bred to fight and die for our entertainment. The world's your oyster! Jesus died to save you! Destructive rubbish.
Bees and birds pollinate flowers, and some plants evolve deliciously so predators eat them, dispersing their seeds via fecal matter. What better way to guarantee seed migration than to pass through a quadruped's gut? The ecosystem is delicate in that it can be affected quite easily by small changes in weather, population, and disease, however it's also harsh and hardy, eventually adapting to the conditions at hand. The Earth is literally a giant petri dish, swirling and mixing and dying and being reborn, causing humans and our opposable thumbs and pre-frontal cortexes to dismiss negative effects as irrelevant. To think like a human, simply destroy a few things, then look at all the things you didn't destroy, then talk about protecting tradition. Civilization has scored the Earth's surface, but after we're gone, nature will heal itself. We're a gnat the Earth can't swat off it's neck quite yet.
This brings me back to the "useless" English pheasants. Do we have any more of a use? They flew in, consumed resources, then caused actually useful birds to be hunted as well. Humans evolved, hunted-and-gathered, then became sedentary and created more complex self-serving technology and belief systems. We've developed more ways to tax the ecosystem the longer we've been around, and actually given ourselves medals of distinction.
So if we're the pheasant, what natural entity are we marginalizing and aiding the destruction? How about trees? Humans love cutting down trees, and I believe it's due to the neuroses created through our narcissist-flavored sedentary lifestyle. This neurosis blinds us to trees gobbling up our waste and producing our food, which in any other arena or discipline would grant them legendary status. Instead we see them as placeholders for our compounds, parking lots, and corporations. Felling trees can fall in alignment with nature, but only if the priority is the proliferation of nature, via dropping more diseased ones already in death's grip.
Natural awareness and respect is a process, and certainly one I'm not expert in, however humans can so easily point out "hiccups" in their immediate environment--like mosquitoes, ticks, and rabies--that we bypass how we ourselves may be functioning as a hiccup. That's our arrogance right there, which far supersedes our ignorance.
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