Author Topic: Cultucide  (Read 1232 times)

Verbal Mike

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Cultucide
« on: September 14, 2012, 10:41:20 am »
Sometimes I think about an aspect of ethnic cleansing, a side-effect really, one that pales to utter meaninglessness in comparison to the actual mass slaughter of innocents. But this side-effect, the destruction of the victims' culture, brings tears to my eyes.

I think about the life of Eastern European Jews, in their shtetls and ghettos. I think about the life of German Jews, like my grandmother and her near-dozen murdered siblings – a Jewish culture that was as cosmopolitan and Western as could be; they were even proud German patriots and often refused to the end to accept that this required hating their own kind. I think about the life of pre-Columbian indigenous North and South Americans, dozens if not hundreds of different cultures, interconnected and isolated from the Old World. I think about the Armenians, the Kurds, the Palestinians. There are other "cleansed" cultures I know less about all over Africa and East Asia.

In most of these cases, the cultural cleansing was never total nor complete. Cultures die hard. German Jews laid down the cultural foundations of Tel-Aviv, and those still alive today often meet in groups to talk German and discuss literature and politics, like their parents did in salons that were later expropriated by the Authorities. Armenian ceramics, in their lush colors and fantastic patterns, are a staple of Jerusalem tourist trinketry to this day. On the same tiny fleck of land, Palestinians still make and sell the simple but delicious traditional food their parents and grandparents would make before the Holocaust survivors came with Western trauma and Western guns and expropriated their land and autonomy.

But while cultures rarely disappear without a trace – even when a majority of their hosts have been slaughtered – no culture can survive ethnic cleansing.

The sharp, cynical humor of shtetl Yiddish culture no longer informs a whole literary tradition. It is instead collected in glossy-covered anthologies, with English or Hebrew transliteration and translation, and recited with an American or Israeli accent by young enthusiasts trying to keep it alive.

Drug- and booze-ravaged, impoverished Reservation Indians can only hope to imitate a vague, near-forgotten shadow of their cultural heritage – and forget about the inter-tribal cultural traditions that once connected dozens of cultures in trade, across vast swathes of land and language families.

Palestinians usually don't bother to create anything new anymore – their culture has been reduced to traditional food, a religion they share with most neighboring countries, a stubborn refusal to be starved, and the endless wait for freedom and autonomy. But waiting while reproducing tradition is not culture, in precisely the way that a zombie is not alive.


At the heart of any culture is a grid, a way to interpret reality. Attached to that are a bunch of customs, recipes for food, and for remedies, and for relationships. Also attached are societal hierarchies and memes to support them.

Grids are easily replaced by those the conquerors use.

Old societal hierarchies become irrelevant when your entire society is shattered is subjugated.

All that remains in the end are the customs and recipes, a standing reminder that something beautiful has been lost forever.
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Re: Cultucide
« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2012, 11:58:29 am »
I'm in two minds about culture. On one hand, it's kinda cool to embrace your roots and wear a kilt and get drunk at new year and sing about killing the english. On the other hand it stands in the way of progress. It clashes with other cultures and leads to friction, bad blood, genocide.

Culture's fine, I guess, if it's taken in moderation. If it's not taken too seriously. If you don't get too attached to it.
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Verbal Mike

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Re: Cultucide
« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2012, 12:21:55 pm »
I tend to think that culture's completely inescapable – it's basically the same thing as socialization, which sets our basic programming.
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Re: Cultucide
« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2012, 01:32:57 pm »
Culutre can be interpreted fractally. Cultures are made of other cultures. We have personal cultures, family cultures, National cultures etc.

The biggest mistake is to think of culture as something that happens to other people.

We talk a lot about killing off an idea, but can you really kill off a grid?
If sheep entrails could in any way be related to the weather, i.e. sheep trails only originate where it rains, then you could use it as an accurate model for discerning what the weathers going to be like. Either, sheep shit makes it rain, or raining makes sheep shit. Sheep don't shit "randomly" sheep shit after they eat, it doesn't rain "randomly" it rains after water collects in the atmosphere.

Verbal Mike

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Re: Cultucide
« Reply #4 on: September 14, 2012, 02:03:48 pm »
I'd say you can. Better than you can kill off an idea, really.

A grid is more than the sum of its parts; the ideas/memes that make a grid interact and form novel interpretations of reality. Ethnic cleansing can kill off a grid while its parts survive. A modern, non-orthodox Jew of Eastern European ancestry, growing up in, say, Boston, might take up a keen interest in their "cultural heritage" and learn all they can about the shtetl life of their great-grandparents; their grid will still be predominantly that of a Bostonian Jew, even if they integrate more and more ideas held by their shtetl-born ancestors. They will never grow to see the world quite like their great-grandparents did, because they were socialized in a different environment – in which marriage is made for love, not out of duty, for example – and exposed to memes that didn't exist yet, or were at least hundreds of miles away, when their great-grandparents were growing up.

They might manage to put together a grid that looks like a modernized, updated version of the shtetl grid, but they cannot revive a world-view attached to an environment that no longer exists.
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The Good Reverend Roger

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Re: Cultucide
« Reply #5 on: September 14, 2012, 02:07:56 pm »
I have cut loose from my culture, and I have to say that it still occasionally distresses me, even after 30 years.  Culture is one of your anchors, and this can be for good or for ill.

On the good side, it gives you a support structure and a society in which to operate.

On the bad side, it can easily turn into a uniform that you clamber into, and spend the next 10 years trying to be an idealized version of something that you were succeeded at just fine before you made a conscious effort to do.
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Verbal Mike

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Re: Cultucide
« Reply #6 on: September 14, 2012, 02:40:32 pm »
Yeah. I guess the main thing that makes me mourn lost cultures is the space a culture provides for creativity and humor. These things don't always cut across cultures, and the echo chamber created by a culture can cultivate very intricate creations. Even a very small culture, like PDCOM, can do that – I might not have written down or shared these thoughts here with anyone if I didn't know PDCOM, and that's probably the case for a lot of the crazy creative work we see here, in writing and other mediums.

But I do have to wonder whether the oppressive and restrictive aspects of culture can be even remotely justified by the creativity it breeds. And I guess that depends on whether one believes that art/creativity are a basic human need, and whether one believes that individuality and personal autonomy are.

It actually seems to me like the former is a basic need, but the latter isn't. Submission/conformity seem like a much more basic desire – maybe it's freedom that is the luxury, and art the basic need? :horrormirth:
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The Good Reverend Roger

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Re: Cultucide
« Reply #7 on: September 14, 2012, 02:52:16 pm »
Yeah. I guess the main thing that makes me mourn lost cultures is the space a culture provides for creativity and humor.

I have to say, one of the things I love most in this world is "Yinglish", ie, the combining of Yiddish and English.
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Verbal Mike

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Re: Cultucide
« Reply #8 on: September 14, 2012, 03:02:48 pm »
Such a good boy you are, bubbe! :lulz:
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The Good Reverend Roger

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Re: Cultucide
« Reply #9 on: September 14, 2012, 03:04:23 pm »
Such a good boy you are, bubbe! :lulz:

THEY SAY I'M MESSHUGANAH, BUT WHAT DO THEY KNOW?














I know I fucked that spelling up, but Goys will be Goys.  :hammer:
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Verbal Mike

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Re: Cultucide
« Reply #10 on: September 14, 2012, 03:10:26 pm »
Honestly, I don't actually know Yinglish that well. My maternal grandmother grew up in NYC and her native language was Yiddish initially, but she embarassed herself with Yiddish as a kid and stopped speaking it (she started again in my lifetime, but is nothing like a native speaker now); she values correctness in language so much that I learned practically no Yinglish from her. I've picked up bits and pieces from friends and TV though.

Still, I'm pretty sure that you, Presidente, are meshuggeh. For some reason I think meshuggeneh is the form you use before a plural noun, i.e. "oy gevalt, these meshuggeneh goyim, I should be so lucky..."
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The Good Reverend Roger

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Re: Cultucide
« Reply #11 on: September 14, 2012, 03:12:24 pm »
Honestly, I don't actually know Yinglish that well. My maternal grandmother grew up in NYC and her native language was Yiddish initially, but she embarassed herself with Yiddish as a kid and stopped speaking it (she started again in my lifetime, but is nothing like a native speaker now); she values correctness in language so much that I learned practically no Yinglish from her. I've picked up bits and pieces from friends and TV though.

Still, I'm pretty sure that you, Presidente, are meshuggeh. For some reason I think meshuggeneh is the form you use before a plural noun, i.e. "oy gevalt, these meshuggeneh goyim, I should be so lucky..."

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Verbal Mike

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Re: Cultucide
« Reply #12 on: September 14, 2012, 03:14:12 pm »
:lulz:
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Re: Cultucide
« Reply #13 on: September 15, 2012, 04:56:54 am »
You might be surprised how much native culture informed the European settlers and the "American Way of Life."
It is almost always this way.

When cultures come into conflict, bits and pieces of them come off in each other's hearts.
Even if a conflict is so one-sided that it's an ethnic cleansing, the tiny bits of culture from the much smaller side will live on in their enemy.

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Re: Cultucide
« Reply #14 on: September 15, 2012, 05:05:00 pm »
^^^ American democracy was very influenced by the Iroquois and cowboys are basically white vaqueros.
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