Friday, November 02, 2018


The discussion of birthright citizenship has led me over to a consideration of culture. Americans are a people who have shed much of their earlier culture and embraced a new one here.  That is not either-or, neither in America nor elsewhere, as every generation - every nuclear family, every person, even - keeps some things and discards others. But America is made up of people who came from elsewhere, save the Native populations (and even those...), and once here, often moved on to second third, and twentieth places over time. We have chosen to have our culture  revolve around a set of ideas.

That's the theory, anyway. In practice some of us hold to cultural practices of previous generations, or even continued those of the old country. Plus, the definition of what those American ideas even are changes over time. Others have quite intentionally cut themselves off from most of what their parents and grandparents did.  They have moved elsewhere, adopted different practices, and seldom or never check back with the old folks at home.

This is quite different in Europe, though there is always some of the change of young people moving to the city for jobs and education, or the changes of migration and invasion. I have always seen Great Britain as existing between continental Europe and America in terms of those attitudes.  More like the Continent, but with a considerable helping of idea-culture as much as blood-and-soil.  I suspect it comes from Empire, and having constant contact with Canadians, Australians, and others who settled elsewhere in the name of England. Those places that already had many people but were administered by Great Britain created another class of culture-nostalgics.

The following clip is from a BBC detective series in the early 2000's. Remember first that it is a work of fiction, and the writers can make people say what they want, as well as control your impression about them. The actor does an excellent job of conveying an earnest, even inspiring plain man, yet with an undercurrent of threat. You are about to see it out of context, which I am doing intentionally.  I can't sit up much longer and will have to pick this up again later, but where I am going is a discussion of what constitutes a culture, and how is it passed along.

Update:  Forgot to mention.  When he says the line "I'm not a racist," I recall thinking Hmm, maybe you are, but reminded myself that he means something real when he says it.  He's not the sort of person who would say that just to be polite and please others.  More likely, he means that he has friends who are different, and doesn't begrudge them their difference.  He just wants to preserve what is his. His description of what his gripe is is the killer.  I heard his gripe and immediately knew. He's right. 


RichardJohnson said...

Gilbert and Sullivan did it first.For He Is An Englishman - HMS Pinafore- Which is sung in response to Ralph Rackstraw's proclaiming, "I am an Englishman."

Donna B. said...

When I was growing up in Colorado, there was a joke about why there weren't very many guardrails on the mountain pass roads. It was "the Californians keep knocking them down"... a comment on the influx of Californians tarnishing the culture of the state. Since then, they've pretty much taken over Denver and surrounding areas. The same thing happened later in Texas. Austin is now thoroughly californicated.

That had nothing to do with illegal immigration or citizenship, though in Texas especially, "economic asylum" has a lot to do with it. In the process, those durned Californians have corrupted TexMex food. That's definitely a cultural crime.

Aggie said...

I had never seen this show or this clip, but I've said many times of our leadership class both R & D: They are giving away things that don't belong to them. I believe this is true today now more than ever. My wife initially used to look at me a little askance when I said this. She is a proud immigrant from a small country fairly nearby the U.S., where the U.S. is the preferred dream destination for both shopping trips and immigration. She is getting to be more conservative than I am, after 10 years here. Her family back home is adjusting to the change. Most of their perception of the U.S. is driven by CNN and satellite broadcasting, which is to say, not at all representative of the U.S. In their extended visits to us, we are always amazed at their perceptions, and entertained by seeing their beliefs uprooted by actual U.S. norms instead of the ones on TV. Taking them to a small town rodeo for instance, where the cowboy participants have a short group prayer off to the side before the events start, was absolutely shocking to them. They couldn't believe it was real while they knew inside it was an absolutely spontaneous and genuine expression of values.

james said...

Maybe a more apropos G&S:
Then the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone
All centuries but this, and every country but his own;
they'll none of them be missed

The inner circle of Bunthornes too pure and cultured to care about hoi poloi grates on the rest of us when they merely sneer. When they have the power to make their insanity law, then Trumpism is merely the mildest of possible reactions. The most disastrous reaction would be acquiescence, and I have a sick feeling that's the way we're headed.

HMS Defiant said...

I think in the morning I will put that into my blog. It's interesting.
My cousins live in Vancouver where the Canadian gov't basically sold their birthright to wealthy Chinese who are now owning most of the things in Vancouver and Victoria and looking to expand. The gov't may have acted in good faith when it offered to let wealthy Chinese buy their way into Canada for a million bucks before Hong Kong was given back to China but, nobody asked them if that was a good idea and now they get treated like second class citizens by the millionaire owners of a slice of Canada. The good slice I might add.

Murph said...

Aggie, Charles Sumner described that (giving away what doesn't belong to them) 'way back in 1883 in an essay titled, "The Forgotten Man." It's one of my favorite descriptions of the political stay-in-power process. (Except that in these times, it seems that A and B never quite bear the burden to the same extent that they impose on C....)

"It is when we come to the proposed measures of relief for the evils which have caught public attention that we reach the real subject which deserves our attention. As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X or, in the better case, what A, B and C shall do for X. As for A and B, who get a law to make themselves do for X what they are willing to do for him, we have nothing to say except that they might better have done it without any law, 'but what I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. Perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. He is the man who never is thought of. He is the victim of the reformer, social speculator and philanthropist, and I hope to show you before I get through that he deserves your notice both for his character and for the many burdens which are laid upon him.