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.
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