Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Culture Good and Strong

Orson Scott Card presented an argument of why the culture of the West is in decline.
The greatness of a society does not arise from their monuments or superhighways or empires or the internet. Great nations persist through time and space only when and if they develop patterns of culture that meet the basic needs of the baboon and the chimp that lives inside all human beings and then, beyond that, make people happier than competing cultures.

1. A community has to provide reproductive opportunity for the maximum number of its members. In other words, the sex drive of the individual must have a reasonable chance of being satisfied as long as it persists. Reproductive opportunity requires large numbers of people of mating age made available to each other. Governments ignore this at their peril.

(The abortion practices of China have left them with a 60:40 ratio of males to females. That's one-third of all males with no reasonable prospect of reproduction. Anybody who thinks the inner baboons will stand for that doesn't know human nature. The whole world is in danger from those men whose genetic desperation must somehow be mollified or turned outward if the Chinese government is to survive.)

2. A community has to provide reproductive success to as many of its members as possible. Reproductive success, for a long-lived species like ours, is measured by the grandparent test. You not only have children who thrive to adulthood, but you see those children mate and have children of their own.

Reproductive success requires:

1. Prosperity: plenty to eat, protection from the elements.

2. Safety: protection from physical dangers inside and outside the society.

3. Confirmation: males must have reason to believe that they have actually reproduced -- that their genes have been passed on.

(This is why the argument that abortion is solely the woman's decision is absurd, in practical, society-wide terms: The need to reproduce, and know that one has reproduced, is exactly as strong in males as in females, and a society will not last long that leaves men reproductively helpless.)

In summary, then, Reproductive Success requires a strong economy, public safety, and paternal certainty.

Let's agree that any culture that does these things well (i.e., to the satisfaction of its members) is a Good Culture.

It's in the best reproductive interest of the members of a Good Culture that the culture survive and continue to provide its benefits, generation after generation. So a Good Culture also has to be a Strong Culture -- one that can endure over time.

A Strong Culture must be able to:

1. Defend itself against outside enemies.

2. Propagate itself across generations: The children must be educated in the values of the culture that made it Good and Strong and become believers and participants, so it can continue to be both.

3. Command such strong allegiance from its members that they are willing to sacrifice some of their individual desires or even of their compelling interests in order to promote the survival of the culture as a whole.

4. Know itself -- a Strong Culture must have a community of people that identify themselves as its true believers in and defenders.

There is no perfect society, but America came closer than any other known to history. Yet in the 1960s, we began to dismantle it, piece by piece. And today, we have taken a remarkably Good, Strong culture and so deeply damaged it that its ability to survive or to be worth upholding is in serious doubt.

That a community called "The United States of America" will persist for some time is likely, though not guaranteed. But the Goodness of the culture has already been so damaged that it can barely be said to exist. And the Strength of the Culture is eating itself up from within.
The characteristics of a Good and Strong Culture?
A Strong Culture must have powerful stories explaining why it is a Good Culture -- or it will die. Even the best culture can destroy itself if those who hate the culture are successful in getting its members to believe stories that discourage them from having enough allegiance to make sacrifices for it, like:

1. Paying taxes and other costs in property or service.

2. Obeying laws even when they don't fit in with your desires of the moment.

3. Letting the culture educate your children in its values.

4. Sending your children off to fight in wars to defend the culture from its rivals, or going yourself to fight and risk death and injury.

5. Tolerating people and events that the culture insists its members have to tolerate -- including such obnoxious groups as the rich and powerful, the poor and untidy, the foreign and odd, and all others who deviate from the norm in ways that the culture has determined to allow.

6. Confining your sexual and reproductive actions to the boundaries set by the culture.

7. Making the effort to become educated enough in the culture to participate in its propagation.

8. Conforming with the outward values of the culture even when you disagree with them, in order to help maintain the illusion of unity.

These sacrifices are hard, every one of them. That's why it's essential, for the survival of a Good Culture, that it constantly propagate stories that support the willingness to sacrifice. (Propagate shares its root with propaganda -- propaganda is only evil when it promotes an evil culture; it is essential to promoting a good culture as well.)

That's why there is no such thing as a thriving culture that does not have the story "Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori": "Sweet and proper it is to die for your country." A culture that no one is willing to die for will soon cease to exist, having been supplanted by a culture that does have members willing to die for it.
What has changed to destroy the Culture Good and Strong?
In the 1960s, we started listening to stories that struck at the very heart of our Good, Strong Culture. These destructive stories fall into several groups:

1. The old morality is stupid. You can't stop kids from having sex. Sexual fidelity is old-fashioned and selfish. It will liberate women to let men have sex with them without demanding any kind of commitment from them. Fetuses are not persons and you can kill them without conscience. Men have no right to have opinions about abortion. A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Marriage should last only as long as you're enjoying it and it's nobody's fault if it ends. Everybody lies about sex.

2. Amerika isn't really a good culture. We mistreat other countries. We mistreat the poor. When we're in conflict with other countries it's our fault. Of course they hate us -- we deserve their hatred. Their cultures are just as good as our culture -- in fact, they're better. Anybody who wants to be a soldier to fight for Amerika is a crypto-fascist, a violent dangerous person. Good people don't want to be soldiers because soldiers are just killers with permission.

3. God is dead. People who believe in God are ignorant or stupid or, at the very best, deceived. Conservative Jews and Christians who try to promote their values are forcing their religion on other people. Political decisions should all be made without regard to the desires and opinions of religious people.

4. People who don't have the same political beliefs as me are evil or stupid. They should be fired from their jobs. The law should be whatever I want it to be, and laws I don't like should be struck down in any way possible. Speakers, writers, and demonstrators on their side are a public danger and must be stopped, but speakers, writers, and demonstrators on my side are exercising their sacred rights. (Please note -- it's easy to see how this paragraph describes your opponents, but you're not getting the point if you don't also look at the same attitudes when they show up within your own ideological camp.)

5. My side should have complete control of the education of everybody else's children. School is only a meal ticket; all education is vocational training.

6. If you don't give unlimited overtime to the company that hired you, then you're not serious about your career. If you put your family first, you're not a team player. The only law in business is do what works, as long as you can get away with it. The answer to all doubts is: It's business.

7. Forget about the time when the "American dream" was to be independent and self-reliant. Now it's to have all the same stuff other people have and to be guaranteed that you'll have the same rewards as people who are luckier or harder working or smarter than you.

Do these stories sound familiar? They should -- and because so many people believe them, we have the horrible social chaos that surrounds us. Millions of fatherless children, unwed mothers, broken homes, delayed marriages -- in other words: Visible widespread reproductive failure. The inner chimp and the inner baboon are getting frightened and angry, even if they don't understand why.

If you really believe that all the old American stories were evil and worthless (even though they led to America's world dominance, economically, militarily, and culturally), then of course you should try to replace that culture with a better one. But it's a good idea, before striking down the old stories, to be sure you have new stories that will create a culture at least as Good and at least as Strong as the one you're tearing down.
Orson is a writer of science fiction, and he can see how a unifying story holds together a Culture Good and Strong. To remain Good and Strong the Culture needs to either recover its story, or replace it with one that can provide an equally strong culture. No such new story has been presented, so the only real choice is to recover the old stories.


Self Actualized Hindu said...

From the litmus test presented here I would say Indian Hindu culture is a "good culture" that has withstood the test of time - several thousand years of invasions, imperialism, colonization, missionary activity from Christians, etc.

Will it withstand post-modern globalization and mass consumerism?

That remains to be seen.

But most of our youth still have arranged marriages, sometimes even when they are given a choice to date and marry whom they want, as you must have seen in the cases of Indian American immigrants and their kids - many still opt for the traditionally arranged route.

The strength of our great civilization is in its flexibility. We remain open with a "live and let live" attitude towards other cultures and religions, while holding on to our traditions that date back thousands of years.

We are a fascinating people that have not managed to be broken or "Abrahamized" yet.

Duke of Earl said...

Your culture still has its story and its metastories to hold the people together.

That is a good thing.

The Jews have a similar story, and it has held them together through two thousand years of exile, so it's not "Abrahamization" that makes a culture weak. It is, as Orson says, when people replace the story with one that weakens the Culture. In the West that's the myth of secularization.

Self Actualized Hindu said...

India and US both are secular, yet religious. Both US and India have a diversity of religions. Mainstream America appears "religionless" to Indians but we know that when polls are taken, the majority of American do believe in a God and also subscribe in some way to one particular religion or another.

India is more externally celebratory in our expression of religion. You could say we are the "land of religion" - which is basically the only thing we've been known for up until now.

People of all religions in India feel free and confident to express their religious selves openly in the public sphere.

I assume the US is the same way except that most of the people are not outwardly expressive of their religions and that is due to culture - possessing a less externally expressive culture when it comes to religion.

How do you feel about the secularization of places like Finland, Switzerland, and several other European countries that are less religious and more atheistic than the US, but appear to be doing better?

Duke of Earl said...

It's not really comparing like with like.

America is a land of vast inequalities, Finland and Sweden are heavily, some might say forcibly, socialised.

It's also hard to say they're less religious, or that less religious equals more atheistic. I was on one blog where someone brought up a Canadian state (I think it was Quebec) and claimed that it had only 20% church attendance, however another person pointed out that 90+% of that population self-identified as Catholic.

Europe was a Christianised group of nations for a lot longer than it was "secular."

Also the "secular" you describe in India, where people feel free to express themselves, is not the secular that the West hands out, where religion is forcibly relegated to the private sphere. Your system might actually work.

PS New Zealander here, I'm not personally acquainted with the situations in America.

Self Actualized Hindu said...

" so it's not "Abrahamization" that makes a culture weak. It is, as Orson says, when people replace the story with one that weakens the Culture."

Abrahmization works for Abrahamic people - Middle Eastern folk, where the Abrahamic faiths originated.

For us, who have already had an ancient and thriving civilization and culture, to have that supplanted by a later, desert culture, would in fact weaken our culture.

WRT New Zealand, I hear the people are pretty religious in general.

Duke of Earl said...

That's why, as in China, Christianity works by being part of the culture, not by working against it. India + Jesus as it were.
That said, although Christianity should work in with a culture, there are some non-negotiable points.
When Christianity became respectable in Rome its followers immediately worked to abolish things like gladiatorial combat because it went against the value they placed on human life.
Likewise in the early 1800s Christians sought to abolish slavery for similar reasons even though that was accepted by the prevailing culture.
You may be able to think of cultural norms that Christians would oppose.
Although Christianity helped shape Western culture, it is not accurate to say that Western culture is Christian.
Likewise an Indian Christian culture would not be Western.