Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thinking Along an Axis

The anthropologist Kate Fox wrote a book called Watching the English. In it, she mentioned a very interesting fact (I presume it's a fact) that I'd never heard before; that is, that the way people behave when they are drunk is specific to their culture. English people (well, some English people) get rowdy when they drink because they expect to get rowdy when they drink. In other cultures, this doesn't happen.

(A barely related experience of my own: I once left a pub after an evening out, and found myself staggering a little while crossing the road. It was only then that I remembered I hadn't drunk a drop of alcohol.)

I mention this observation because I've noticed that the way political (and other) opinions are formed seem to be often determined by the surrounding culure, even when the people with the opinions think they are entirely the result of personal experience and reflection.

I've noticed this in an American context. (Please understand that I'm commenting on the American context because I'm an outsider and I can see it from the outside. I'm not in any way judging American political thought. I think this applies to all cultural contexts.)

Last year I was talking to a left-wing American chap who was telling me all about the climate of fear and division in America. As he spoke about the issues, all of which were based on his personal experience (or so he said), I was intrigued that they happened to hit on all the American cultural flashpoints.

For instance; religion in public life. He had strong feelings about this, even though I think this is something that would never come into someone's head spontaneously. He told me about how instrusive religion was into his life and he seemed to have a real beef with it.

Nobody in Ireland talks about this, except for a minority of militant atheists. I mean, nobody you'd run into in ordinary life talks about it. Journalists do, but not ordinary people.

Another example is the role of government in society and the economy. I've read a lot of accounts of why various liberals became conservatives (and some accounts of why various conservatives became liberals). I'm very interested in opinion formation.

What strikes me is that in America, liberals often become conservatives when they decide that government causes more problems than it solves, or come to some such decision on the role of government.

In European countries, it's rather more likely for people to become conservatives because they come to a deeper appreciation of tradition or heritage or the family-- the issue of government doesn't, as often, come into it either way.

Again-- I'm not making any comment about American poltiical culture whatsoever. I'm just using it as an example for a phenomenon I've noticed. That is, that the debates and paradigms that surround us tend to affect how we organise experience, even when we're completely unware of this-- even when we would be willing to swear that we paid no attention to those debates whatsoever, and weren't even interested in the issues before they forced themselves on our attention.

(Yes, I accept that cultural context might have an effect on experience itself. as well as on our interpretation of experience-- for example, that the role of government might simply be a more important issue in America because of the way society is set up. But I don't think this explains the phenomenon entirely.)


  1. "Last year I was talking to a left-wing American chap who was telling me all about the climate of fear and division in America . . . . He told me about how instrusive religion was into his life and he seemed to have a real beef with it."

    I wonder what he meant by intrusive. Saw several church steeples? Was he raised in a strict Christian home where his mom calls him every Saturday to remind him to attend weekly mass? Thinks American Christians are using the government to "shove" religion down his throat on issues like same-sex "marriage," abortion and contraception?

    As someone who moved from left to right I don't think his issues have much substance. I would probably agree to a certain extent on some, but for the most part I'd probably feel like I was talking to some overemotional and dramatic university student.

    The political culture in the States is shaped by primarily three things. The first is the mainstream media (clever bunch they are), academia (cowards) and entertainment (actors of Modern Family outright said they want the series to change public opinion about the "normal" nuclear family).

    The MSM isn't overtly hostile to religion but they have the talent to craft pieces that put religion into the "close-minded, provincial" corner.

    Academia only likes religion when it's "friendly." I get the feeling that many faculty that hold tenure in religious departments wouldn't be your social conservative type.

    Entertainment is just a wasteland. It's like the landscape found in The Book of Eli. Nuff said.

    1. The funny thing was that this guy was a pleasant, fair-minded, intelligent guy and I think he really believed that religion was unduly infringing on his life. I can't remember his examples but I remember thinking how lame they were. I don't think they would ever have occurred to him otherwise.

      I sometimes wonder if something similar applies to all the non-traditional sexualities and "gender identities" that people are discovering today. I honestly wonder if it's just a case of an idea being planted in someone's head.

      Of your three shaping forces, I get the impression that the entertainment industry is by far the most influential. Sad to say, for a lot of people I know-- especially those younger than me-- all of their views happen to be the same as George Clooney's.