Dr. Forbush Thinks

Look at the world through the eyes of Dr. Forbush. He leads you through politics, religion and science asking questions and attempting to answer them....

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Location: California, United States

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

How can America deal with the cultural divide?

I would say that many things are part of culture. Tradition is culture passed down through families and organizations. Hate is taught to children through culture. Passion is demonstrated by example through culture. Religion and National Heritage are also a major part of the equation.

So, if you describe yourself in terms of these things you are describing your culture and how you fit into modern society. Groups from different cultures often disagree with each other. Different cultures value different things. For example, if you identify yourself as an Irish American Catholic you will know about certain aspects of life based on this culture. You would be aware of Celtic music and dance. You may have strong feelings about the British. And, you most likely value story telling and language to a very high degree. None of these things are bad. But if your wife is an Italian American Catholic you may find some issues in which you strongly differ with each other. One may be the value of educating women. Another may be your parents’ attitude about your marriage. These are major issues compared to the rather simple questions of which traditions should be passed down to the children.

These cultures all exist in the United States today. However, a large group of conservatives have told us that we are currently fighting a “culture war.” So, if all these different cultures exist what is the “Culture War” that the right wing is talking about?

The right wing as a group has an idea of culture. There are reasons they use to defend their idea of culture, but if they were to try to define culture and write it down they wouldn’t agree on to many things. I believe that they would claim “Old Fashion Tradition” as the traditional aspect of this culture. One important aspect of “Old Fashion Tradition” is religion, by which they mean conservative Christian. By language they mean English. By values they mean northwestern European. But not everyone living in the United States share this culture. The liberals on the other hand suggest that everyone needs to live their own culture and be tolerant of other cultures. This is the concept of multiculturalism. But living in a multicultural society is not that easy. Especially when you are trying to teach your children to follow your cultural ideology when the others are following their own culture.

I have heard people say, lets just do away with culture. Put it in a box and live without culture. But, we can not put it in a box, because culture is who we are. Instead, people need to realize what culture is in the context of those around us. Different people view the world through their own culture. If people don't accept that others have their own culture there will always be conflict.

Culture also makes the society run smoothly, or not so smoothly. For example, is chitchat and gossip at the post office acceptable? The people in line could either accept the slow line as a matter of course, or fly off in a rage because of the lack of efficiency. This is one of many cultural norms that we need to live with. Democracy itself is a cultural norm. Voting and being an educated voter are things that are changing in our current society. But, as many countries know you can’t legislate culture. The French have been trying to control French culture for years, but English words and English Rock songs have slipped through the cultural boundary.

The solution may be the same solution that was used for the dictionary. We should simply agree to describe current culture and all its nuances instead of prescribing what culture needs to be. In this way people can know what to expect when you are in West Texas or Maine. You can know how to behave and what is unacceptable. As things change, the cultural review would be rewritten. Oh, I guess that’s why we have different laws all over the country (and world).