Saturday, November 07, 2009

You Do Not Understand (blank) Culture

Here is a guarantee - and my most recent reminder was on NHPR, so it's not a conservative/liberal thing: whenever the radio caller (blog commenter, guy at the water cooler) says, in the appropriate accent "This person does not understand (blank) culture" and wants to launch into a lecture, what he - it is always a he - really means is "We have a rationalization for the evil things that we do."


karrde said...

It could be that it is not understanding that is missing, but willingness to excuse.

This is one of those places where sloppy use of language can be used to hide the truth. Or it can be used to shield the thinker from thinking deeply about what it is that (BLANK)-culture needs or deserves from outsiders.

Gringo said...

"You Do Not Understand (blank) Culture"

One irony is that most of those who use that phrase don't understand (blank) Culture either. They would no more be able to navigate (blank) culture than they would be able to climb Mt. McKinley. They are just playing the enlightened liberal putting the knuckle-draggers in their place - without being aware they are playing that role.

In a similar vein, back in the 1980s the Sandinistas ended up attracting a lot of US and European adherents, a.k.a. Sandalistas. The Sandalistas considered themselves much more knowledgeable about Latin America than that idiot Ronnie and his friends. Few Sandalistas knew any more than twenty words of Spanish and most derived their knowledge of Nicaragua from Sandinista-conducted Potemkin Village tours.

No coincidentally, while the Sandalistas could recite chapter and verse of Contra atrocities the Sandinistas had recounted, they knew nothing of Sandinista human rights violations. Nor were they aware of the Sandinista tyranny that drove up support for the Contras in the first place. Nor were they aware of the ties the Sandinista hierarchy had with the Soviet bloc. The Sandinistas were just "liberals in a hurry."

karrde said...

Thought experiment:

Has anyone ever defended the culture of rural, white-skinned folks in Appalachia with phrases similar to You Do Not Understand Their Culture...They Are Really Nice People Who Just Do Some Things Different....

Somehow, the pejorative term "Redneck" has been attached to this culture.

But I think they fit the description of a culture that needs understanding rather than scorn, in the sense that they are routinely vilified, their artistic efforts (mostly musical) are denigrated, and their cultural patterns are seen as lacking sophistication.

It's a fair question. And it's one that is not often asked.

Donna B. said...

karrde -- of course I would tend to agree with you as those people are part of my background.

However, being sensitive to the terms, I think redneck is not correct -- perhaps hillbilly is.

I really should do some soul-searching as well as historical searching to define the difference... but in my lifetime's experience there is a difference that I can't quite explain.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

There has been some recent effort to incorporate the contribution of Scots-Irish culture, which strongly overlaps with Appalachia. A lot of this has focused on quaintness, however. Sen. James Webb's Born Fighting includes the blurb: "Webb wants not only to offer a history of the Scots-Irish but to redeem them from their redneck, hillbilly stereotype and place them at the center of American history and culture." Section Four of David Hackett Fisher's Albion's Seed also taught me a lot.

Donna, I associate hillbillies much more strongly with Appalachia or the Ozarks; rednecks I see as a more generic and dispersed group throughout the South and Midwest. And hillbillies are skinnier. My two oldest sons went to college in KY. Perhaps they want to weigh in on this.

Donna B. said...

Thinking back to Albion's Seed, maybe the rednecks we know today are a mixture of the Scots-Irish and the Cavaliers. That would be logical geographically, I think.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Scots-Irish and the hired help of the Cavaliers, much the greater part of that population.

karrde said...

Of course, the one thing that is different between the friends of the Scots-Irish and the You-Just-Do-Not-Understand-This-Culture crowd is the fundamental tone they take.

When a defender says You-Do-Not-Understand..., he is assuming his own superiority over his audience. He is assuming the problem can be settled with a little discussion, a coming to terms.

Rarely do I hear such pleas alongside an honest assessment of the good and bad (or ugly) elements of the culture.

When a friend or member of a culture is able to make an account of the good and deplore the evil with accuracy, then he is no longer merely asking for Understanding. He is telling a tale and giving his own judgment of the tale.

That judgment can be agreed with or disputed, but it is usually not an attempt to excuse bad behavior via the route of Understanding.