News

Loading...

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Every Culture Is As Old Every Other One

Aargh! Blogger on an iPhone wiped on my post! Here goes again:

Every culture on earth is 100,000 years old, and East African. The exceptions would be any cultures, should any exist, that have at some point suffered a catastrophic culture wipe-out: losing speech, fire, tools, and so on.

An example: It is often said that American culture is "younger" than British culture. But American culture just is the wing of British culture that split of in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century North America from the rest of British culture. Picking which one is older is like picking the older amoeba after one splits into two.

7 comments:

  1. I think I understand your point, but I'm not so sure how well it plays out on a practical level.

    What about a sort of 'cultural attrition' or a sort of slow (or quick) loss of culture, so that the modern descendant has basically a rather empty head, having lost much which he might have been connected to? I'm thinking mainly about us (Americans), but also my Chinese in-laws. As I get to know them, they seem to be a sort of cultural vacuum. They know that 'China' is ancient, and they think that their 'culture' is likewise ancient, but as far as I can tell they seem to have very little real connection to the past. Mostly it is just a show. It seems to me that one of the worst things Mao did to China was very nearly sever one particular generation off from its past, and ever since people are sort of just winging it. Almost all of their customs for dealing with very basic issues of life seem to have been erased.

    Likewise with us, we stopped getting 'classically educated' long ago, and with all the population scrambling and other effects of the modern economy and politics, how much real connection do we have to our British roots? Or even to our own roots a century ago? You have commented here about educated people not even knowing who Alexander the Great was. How much does it mean, then, that we are actually descendants of that Greek past?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Scott, I'm certainly not claiming every culture is as good as any other one, or that everyone is as connected with the past as every other one. What I am trying to do is debunk superiority claims based on a simple counting of years... as your China example does nicely!

      Delete
    2. Oh, yes, I see what you mean now. I have had exactly this thought before. Well, except for the out-of-Africa branching thing. My in-laws (and my wife) used to say "America is a young culture," and I would think they were a little silly, as if suddenly this place popped into existence in 1776, and the people came out of nowhere.

      One curious thing about the comment below, too: a lot of times, the 'isolated' culture tends to preserve the old culture more than the original place. My wife says she thinks the Chinatowns here in the US are 'more Chinese' than China itself, because China is changing so rapidly, but the people here are cut off from those things and don't feel the influence so much. I've heard that of other situations as well, like the best places to see the old Japanese culture are in South America.

      Delete
    3. And they speaqk a form of 17th century English on some island in Maryland!

      Delete
  2. Heh. Come on Gene, you know what they mean.

    You can't just look at years since the branch point. You have to look at the culture contents.

    Do we say there was a branching because the Americans started behaving differently while the Brits kept doing the same thing? Or did half the people decide to act differently from their parents in one way while others (the same time started acting differently in another way). In the second scenario, we have one dead parent culture and two new, equally old child cultures.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know what they mean, Marris... I just think they are wrong! This came to me reading Gordon Wood, with his repeated stress on how English the colonists were, and how much they fell back on their British past in forming their new country.

      It's not that we can't say some things about a culture are newer: "Americans form of governance is newer than Britains" is a fine statement I think. But to simply say, "America's culture is newer tha Britain's" is too crude, I think. And it tends to wipe out of the picture the continuity between the cultures.

      Delete
  3. You miss the subjective nature of all this stuff.
    Quick example: In documents of the First World War, Constantinople was called in Russian Papers "Czargrad", the city of Czar.
    This was due to the fact that Nikolai II was considered a hair to viking princes of Ruthenia, who pillaged and served Bysantium, this despite the fact that a thousand year passed and number of dynasties changed.
    So, how far the American roots go? Does American culture claim connection to Roman Occupation of British Isles? Or to the Helenistic World that beget the Romans?
    (This is Passover week, commemorating the Exodus of 1252 BCE)

    ReplyDelete