Monday, November 14, 2005

Changing culture from the inside

I posted this as a way-too-long comment on another blog about a week ago, and thought I ought to post it as an entry on my own blog.

I think the responsibility for integration into a culture lies with those immigrating, because it cannot be done any other way.

Any culture such as America is the sum total of its population. America has been strong not just because we had a hell of a set of founders, or the grand background of European culture, but also because basic human survival skills caused the Irish and Italian and English and German and Russian and a zillion other immigrant cultures to explore whatever strengths their person and culture had in order to succeed.

It isn't that people who were English and Italian had to like each other; they often didn't. They didn't even have to respect each other. They just had to avoid overstepping objective boundaries of law, which would get them imprisoned, or subjective boundaries of behavior, which might get them harmed or killed if the other guy didn't take it lying down. They both set up shops and bred animals and became scholars and learned to create products and established churches and wrote songs and everything else, and competed with each other to do well at it. The "larger culture" of America was forced to grow from the inside out by its members making a place for themselves within it.

The "larger" culture of America came to tolerate, accept and then respect its people and cultures gradually, because they showed themselves worthy of it over time and in sufficient numbers. It didn't come easy. It didn't come fast. Ask any North-Irish immigrant like some of my ancestors, who on discovering they were starving because they were Irish and nobody would hire them, changed their name to a respectable English "Hayes" and did just fine. (They could have changed it back later, but the land rush lost the detail, leaving them as mysterious to me as my non-roll Cherokee ancestors.) I am also Polish, German, French, English, and about nine other nationalities, all with their own cultures. I got the parts of those cultures that their people chose to keep in the family and the upbringing of their children, and not the parts they didn't. No government determined what being German in America was going to mean to my German family; they determined it.

Women in the USA did not come by their current right to vote (they couldn't until 1971 in Switzerland) because of European culture, nor did they come by it because of Multiculturalism. They came by it because as Americans they demanded their own space within American culture, they pursued it for years, and eventually they made it happen. Our whole culture is broader now; our country is stronger. As a woman, I look back on fairly recent history and the situation of women and I am aghast. Yet as a woman and an American, I look on those claiming to be feminists and representatives of my gender and I feel just as aghast. To quote a famous guy, A house divided against itself will fall.[1] What women accomplish in the culture of America--which is to be clearly differentiated from the government--is based on what women will strive to accomplish and what they example to others as they do so and when they do so. The culture will be forced to expand from within to accommodate women being what they wish to be, because as part of the culture we have the power to change it.

Like anybody else, when I was growing up, we simply learned to adapt to and accept what was around us. Grandfather came from Texas to California in a covered wagon in 1904 when he was four years old. When he came of age (which was much younger back then) he worked his butt off to eventually buy a tiny piece of land in the Ojai Valley, and planted two of every kind of fruit and nut tree he could get his hands on. He did any kind of work he could get. He did a lot of laying asphault as I recall, and making homemade lead weights and lures for fishing. Mother grew up with a dominant culture of english-german-french-other mix, overlaid with cowboy attitude, southern and texas-mexican foods. This is all I would have known, if all the other cultures of people around me had flatly refused to integrate. But they didn't close themselves off and sulk, lucky for both of us. The Danish, the Chinese, the Mexican, the Japanese -- as well as the American blacks -- that were around me lived like they pleased, pursued what they found of value, and built the businesses sometimes entire families worked their butts off in while living in a tiny house together for years--the same family that 15 years later was in a middle class tract home with a kid who was a top student headed for a good college. I learned to accept them as part of American culture not because someone told me I should, not because it was legally mandated, but because they accepted themselves as part of American culture and as a result, would not allow anybody else--even if those anybody-else's were biased--to prevent them succeeding.

I could not deny the fact (and had no reason to) that these cultures were worthy of respect, and had traditions and music and holidays quite interesting even to many others. They were part of my world, and hence, they were an extended part of my culture. True multiculturalism--I mean in spirit, not the political social-silicon creation currently touted under that label--is a natural side-effect of "the physical integration of self-respecting people." When you have only one of those two factors in place, you have discomfort. When you have neither of those factors in place, you have disaster.

The Islamic culture in particular takes great pride in "not integrating" with any other nation or culture. Under their openly stated tenets, they become a cultural Trojan horse when they do: they do not assimilate to join, to add to strength, but to subvert and/ or stamp out everything else. This is not an insult to say about them, this is what their own leaders and teachings say about them. Hence, they are not assimilated into any culture--starting with that of the French, but extending to that of nearly every other culture they exist within planet-wide. Unfortunately, the mind set of the religion taken 'literally' is pointedly incompatible with the existence of anybody who doesn't wish to be one of them. This is why when you remove the larger culture of non-Muslims from the equation, you still end up with the same war, terrorism and situations--carried out against other Muslims who "are not Muslim enough". Islam is a jihad without a cause--and so any cause, culture, people or situation will fill that need.

When any group--and this could include women, and American blacks as well as the French Islamics--set themselves apart from others, they deny themselves the opportunity to interact with others. They could bring understanding of all they are to the larger culture, but that cannot happen except by positive interaction. Shouts from a distance, complaints from a podium or forced-change through a law are not interaction. I've met men who were well educated about "culture," and walking encyclopedias on business law and its endless thou-shalts about race/religion/gender, who were so ignorant and biased about race/gender on a personal level it was breathtaking. But, show me a man who respects his "brainy" little sister, or whose best basketball buddy is a devout catholic, or whose favorite advising professor was a Jewish woman, or whose fearless Sergeant was Mexican, and you will know a man who understands their race, their religion, their gender, and their related cultures, as much as anybody not part of them can.

Respect is not a tithe, it is an emotion. You cannot "make" a person respect another any more than you can make a person love another. The only way to win someone's respect is not much different than the only way to win someone's love: you must interact with them. If a group refuses to interact with others, and hence the others have no particular reason to respect the group in general let alone its people in specific, that is the responsibility of the group.

Every "nation-culture" has its biases in favor of the majority race, religion, etc. Yet any person such as myself who has grown up in the melting pot of America, in a melting pot of race and culture and religion not just in others but even in myself, can see the dynamics of how integration works (and doesn't). Changes in a culture must come from inside its walls. Culture is the personality of the collective soul: you cannot change it by the restriction of law; it must grow by expansion from within.

[1] No, not Lincoln! -- Jesus, per Luke 11:17

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