SOME THOUGHTS ON CULTURE

A currently popular  idea is that all cultures are equal.  This arises from a misguided attempt to show respect for and provide dignity to those who come from other than the dominant culture, though it only serves to further disempower them.  The culture that a group of people develops in a particular environment is an adaptation to that environment and as such has been molded by the forces present to allow the individuals to effectively operate in that environment.  Those from a different environment who have been shaped by a different culture will likely not be as effective in the new environment unless they adapt to its culture.  To encourage them not to adapt to the culture or even to advise them to mix in equal proportions their prior culture with the culture of this new environment is doing them a disservice.

The exception to this is when the newcomers from the different culture are able to achieve dominance through force or technological superiority.  Then they may provide pressure for structures and patterns in the culture to conform to their alien culture, and individuals may be required to adapt to the alien culture.  Also, note that some cultures have relatively more universal attributes that empower the individuals who absorb them to dominate others in other environments, so these cultures more often become expansive

On another related point, it is often said that “Politics is downstream from culture.”  While not disputing that, I think a more complete representation would be an Escher-like endless loop constructed as follows:
(1) Politics is downstream from culture;
(2) Culture is downstream from both technological innovation and law;
(3) Technological innovation and law are downstream from economic policies;
(4) Economic policies are downstream from politics. (Loop back to (1))

PRIVILEGE

There are innumerable ways in which people can be divided, including by social class, income or wealth, educational level, intelligence (along any dimension), race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, age, health, height, weight or body shape, physical attractiveness, athletic ability, sexual practices or preferences, hobbies, geographical location, job or profession, etc…  Grouping by focusing on any one of these characteristics can make sense in some context.  Also, the same individual may be labeled as “underprivileged” because of membership in a group that has been traditionally disadvantaged if one characteristic is examined and labeled as “privileged” because of membership in a group that has been advantaged if another characteristic is examined.  Actually, the odds are that the great majority of individuals are in at least one advantaged and at least one disadvantaged group of some significance.  So any reasonable attempt to judge whether a person is “privileged” or “underprivileged” would require a holistic approach to consider all groupings with any significant impact.  For example, a wealthy, well-educated, physically attractive African-American woman with wealthy parents is certainly more privileged than a poor, uneducated, unattractive male immigrant from Eastern Europe.

What is particularly disturbing is the growing trend for individuals that are more advantaged than disadvantaged, when considering the totality of characteristics, who label others as “privileged” because of a single characteristic, disregarding whether those others would be deemed advantaged from a holistic perspective.  What is ironic is that the labeling usually involves bullying the weak and vulnerable, from a holistic perspective, by those who claim they are in search of equal treatment for all.

A common instance of this is when young women verbally assault young men, especially white young men, by claiming the latter are “privileged” with the implication that they should lose some of their social status and possibly even their rights as a result.  The sentiment behind this is not based on proof that the young men have engaged in any harmful behavior or that they themselves have received any significant undeserved rewards, but that people who looked like them in the past engaged in such behavior or received such rewards.  However, not tying rewards, punishments, or social feedback generally to behavior is very dangerous.  This is equivalent to indicting a defendant for a crime even though it is certain that the defendant was not personally involved in the crime, as it is deemed sufficient that someone who looked similar to the defendant was involved.

What makes this even worse is that these verbal assaults are part of a pattern of unrelenting attacks on innocent and vulnerable young men by bullying young women who will keep pressing their advantage as long as there is no pushback.  Certainly there are young men who are privileged and there are those who are bullies, but they rarely as the victims of these attacks and they rarely suffer the consequences.  It is mostly vulnerable young men lacking social confidence, those who are not privileged from a holistic perspective, who are most often attacked and who feel each cut of the seemingly endless stream of cuts most deeply.  The jackals always attack the most vulnerable, not the strongest, but only human jackals would claim that it is just and honorable to do so.

One last point is that an essential element of the narrative that white male privilege requires corrective action to achieve justice is the belief that only white straight males were better off before the current focus on social justice while everyone else was worse off.  However, according to surveys regarding satisfaction in life and several other indicators of quality of life, virtually all racial and ethnic groups and both sexes have seen a decline in quality of life in the last number of years.  Ironically, those who were instrumental in manipulating public perception to make white male privilege a dominant narrative were mostly very wealthy white males, a subgroup of the one group that has seen an improvement in quality of life in the last few decades — the very rich.