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)
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