I’ve become aware of a particular conflict that hides a deeper issue.
There are the partisans who often promote the view of voting for the lesser of two evils or else they promote the personality cult of a particular politician, the idea being that the right party or the right politician can save us from the problems or at least save us from these problems getting worse. The critics of this are often the right-wingers and left-wingers who instead propose particular ideologies or direct action tactics in the hope that change has to be forced from a more outside perspective.
I’m thinking both are wrong. What keeps things the way they are has to do with cultural factors that go much deeper than either party politics or ideological systems. So, what can change these problems must go deeper. I don’t know what that means, but what I sense is that parties and ideologies only barely touch the surface. Culture is hard to talk about and that is probably why it is often misunderstood and even more often ignored.
I’m not even sure what I’m trying to communicate by my use of the term ‘culture’. I’ve been studying the cultures of immigrants and regions in the US. It’s clear that it is fundamentally culture that has defined this country and it’s clear that it is fundamentally culture that has determined the events of history. But all of this is easier to see in hindsight. What is happening now in American culture? Where is it heading? How can it be shifted from within toward more positve ends?
* * * *
I can imagine what some political activists would think of my thoughts here. There is a certain kind of political activist who would see this discussion of ‘culture’ as basically metaphysical speculation. For them, politics is about action, about making things happen, about results.
I don’t exactly disagree, but I was just wondering if intelligent and effective action might be possible. Political activists have been trying the same basic tactics for a long time and they keep getting the same lackluster results. Simply getting attention for a protest doesn’t accomplish a whole lot and neither does getting your favorite politician elected.
It seems to me that something is being missed in all these political maneuverings and manipulations. I wish I could explain this better. I sense this ‘cultural’ issue is the most centrally important aspect to politics and society in general, but I don’t know if most people would understand what I’m trying to get at.
Culture is like the air we breath. It can seem intangible for the reason we are almost incapable of lookiing at it objectively. We are in it and so we take it for granted.
Anytime there is a massive shift in a society, especially in terms of politics, there is always a shift of culture that precedes it, sometimes preceding it for decades or longer. Cutlure usually shifts slowly and imperceptibly, but occasionally like a fault line a massive earthquake can occur when there are major realignments.
Here is the core question: Are we merely victims of such over-arching cultural shifts or can we control them to a certain extent? If we are victims to these underlying cultural factors, then we are victims to all of society and any political action becomes mere blind fumbling. But how to convince people to take culture seriously? Everyone on some level probably knows culture matters and yet few people ever give it much thought. Unless this changes, we will continue to be victims.
* * * *
Most people think of culture in terms of the groups we identify with because of similarities. Politicians are always playing off of our cultural prejudices, conservative politicians seeming to be particularly talented at this.
This is culture as ideological identity, as groupthink. This is culture as race (whites vs blacks, whites vs minorities), as origins (native-born vs foreigh-born), as ethnicity (European vs Asian), as religion (Christian vs Muslim, Protestant vs Catgholic), as region (North vs South, East Coast vs WEst Coast), etc. Or else added all together such as WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant).
But this isn’t primarily what I’m talking about. This barely scratches the surface and oversimplifies even these superficial factors.
It’s true, as this view portrays, that culture relates to how we perceive ourselves and others in context of how we perceive our society. However, this just points to what we are aware of and only the elements that are obvious enough to be made into stereotypes. On the other hand, there is a more complex level of culture that underlies and shapes our perceptions, including our perceptions of cultural stereotypes.
As such, to change perception is to change everything. Our perceived choices and perceived actions would change. Our perceived relationships and perceived realities would change. We are all trapped in a reality tunnel or else many overlapping reality tunnels. We can’t see outside of a reality tunnel until we’ve shifted to a new rality tunnel and maybe not even then. To consider a shift of culture on this fundamental level is in a sense a metaphysical speculation, but it is metaphysical speculation that points toward metaphysical action, the shifting of our very sense of shared reality.
I’m speaking of cultural paradigms. What is the cultural paradigm that makes some particular social/political/economic system or lifestyle seem possible and desirable?
Socialism used to seem both possible and desirable to average Midwesterners earlier last century. In fact, it seemed so possible and desirable that a successful socialist government was created and maintained for decades in Milwaukee. But now average Midwesterners no longer think according to that cultural paradigm.
What changed and how? There was political oppression from the Cold War that destroyed that cultural paradigm and caused many of the defenders of it to become less vocal or less radical or else flee the country. However, the fundamental Northern European culture that made this cultural paradigm possible still exists and still functions to some degree. The social democracy of the Midwest is the remnant of this cultural paradigm. It is a seed that could again manifest as effective socialism once again. What is stopping it from doing so? There are people alive right now in Milwaukee who were alive when the socialists governed the city, some of these having been socialists themselves or somehow involved with the socialist government. What has become of this still living memory?
In desiring and seeking change, what are we missing or misunderstanding?