The Culture Wars

GroupIdentityI understand some people have a very strong emotional need to belong to one group or another and many of them identify with a particular racial, religious or social group for whatever individual reasons they might have.  This even happens with well-known atheists like Richard Dawkins, who self-identifies as a social Catholic,and Jerry Coyne, who self-identifies as a secular Jew.  There are many people in America who self-identify as a variety of hyphenated-nationalities, even if they have never lived in or even visited those locales.  I do understand that all of this happens, I’m just wondering why.

Yes, that means I am asking for a rational reason for what is essentially an emotional action.

Now in Jerry Coyne’s favor, at least the term “Jew” has a number of distinct meanings.  You can be a religious Jew.  You can be a cultural Jew.  You can be a racial Jew.  I suspect the latter more accurately describes Jerry, but I won’t try to put words into his mouth.  I can certainly understand where one could identify as a specific racial group, regardless of what group that might be, even though I personally see little sense in identifying and even less sense in being proud of a particular heritage that is entirely beyond your control.  I’m not proud of having blue eyes, I certainly did nothing to earn that trait, having pride in something you had nothing to do with strikes me as a bit silly, but to each their own, I suppose.  I have yet to have anyone explain to me rationally why one ought to feel good inside for belonging to a group you were born into and had nothing to do with.

I think that even goes for national pride.  We see so many people in America who refer to themselves as hyphenated-Americans.  They are proud to have come from Germany or Poland or Japan or Peru.  Um… why?  If you’re so proud of those countries or of those cultures, why don’t you go live there?  If you go back just a few decades, people came to America because it was the land of freedom and opportunity.  They were proud to become Americans.  Today, it seems like people just want to come here, not to become Americans, but to make some quick cash and then go back to the nation that they really value.

I guess I can sort of understand people who have just come from another nation, who would want to hold on to some aspects of their former culture, at least while making the transition, but for people who have never lived in another country, who have never even visited the nation they claim affinity with, to stick a hyphenated-American label on their forehead seems ridiculous.  Myself, I know that I have German and Norwegian, and probably other things as well, heritage in my background, my great, great, great, great-grandparents came from other countries and adopted America as their home.  However, I feel nothing toward Germany or Norway, neither  did my parents or their parents before them.  We’ve always been Americans.  Full stop.  Granted, I’ve only been to Germany once and never to Norway, but while I was there, I never bothered thinking that somewhere back in history, my ancestors came from there.  So what?

Maybe it’s because I never had that culture to begin with that I reject it.  I was once a Christian.  While I was a Christian, I enjoyed it.  Therefore, should I call myself a Christian-atheist now?  It pays homage to my religiously cultural origins, after all.  Yet I think we’d all agree that’s just an absurd thing to do.  Even if I do enjoy celebrating traditionally Chrisitan holidays, like Christmas and Halloween, although in a wholly secular fashion, even if I do like some Christmas carols and some religious music, I’m not a Christian and I see no point in identifying myself as one, any more than I feel like identifying myself as German or Norwegian or white or having blue-eyes.  Why should I identify myself that way?  Why should anyone?

Oh sure, I think a lot of people do it because it feels good emotionally, but is that a rational reason to do it?  I think not.  People really need to focus on who they are right this minute, not who their ancestors were or where they came from or what accidents of birth you lucked into.  You are you.  Be yourself.  Stop trying to inflate who you are with all of the things around you that are totally beyond your control.  If you’re going to have pride, have it be in accomplishments that you have actually performed.  Be proud of what you do and who you are.  Having pride in something you had no part in is absurd.  Being proud of who you are and what you do keeps us moving forward.  Being proud of something you didn’t do is moving backward.

The human species has had enough moving backwards, it’s time we started striving for the future, not as tiny cultural, racial and religious sub-groups, but as humans, dedicated to a better world for all of humanity.

11 thoughts on “The Culture Wars

  1. Most people still haven't gotten past the delusion that the specific ancestry that happened to spit them out somehow reflects on their value as humans. I'm occasionally surprised we don't see more of them walking around pounding their chests,
    while declaring, "I'm proud to be a bipedal primate."

  2. I think an awful ot of immigrants intended to go back, or to remake their little plot of America in the image of their homeland> The great melting pot was, if anything a post WW I image of what America is supposed to be.

    1. Then those are people we really don't need here. I want people who immigrate to the United States to be dedicated to becoming and staying American citizens and adopting this country as their one and only homeland. To be topical, it kind of reminds me of the parents of the Boston Marathon bombers, Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev, who came to this country claiming political asylum, yet spent just a few years here, almost all of it on welfare, before going back to their original country. Political asylum my ass.

      1. This is little other than the availability heuristic in action. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants, many of which are ambivalent about leaving their home country DID end up building America, but you seize on the horror stories. …and ignore the larger point, which is that there was NEVER a melting pot. The immigrants always retained elements of their own culture, at least when violence didn't quash it. Violence of people with preferences about how immigrants ought to feel about America.

        1. No, the immigrants who came to America and helped to build the nation came legally. They entered through Ellis Island, they became American citizens and they chased the American dream. They did not sneak across the border, they weren't here for the freebies, the medical care, the welfare, etc. They weren't here to make their children citizens as a means of getting to stay themselves. They did things right. There was indeed a melting pot, although the first generation was never fully integrated, by the second generation, they most certainly were. As far as I'm concerned, if you want to be in this country, there is a right way to do it and it's not just to get government handouts, it's to be proud American citizens.

          That's just not what we see for a lot of illegal immigrants today. They don't give a damn about America, they just want the free stuff. Well, fuck those people.

  3. There are so many different levels of identity from which to choose that it seems overwhelming at times. You joke about calling yourself a Christian-atheist, but just think of how many atheists refer to themselves as ex-Christians, ex-Mormons, and the like. I think it has something to do with the notion that who we used to be is relevant in some ways to who we are now. The racial/ethnic associations may be a bit different but are still connected to identity for some. It is a way to acknowledge one's cultural heritage, even if it is rather remote.
    My recent post Catholic Hospitals Are Scary Prospect

    1. There's a difference between explaining what's in your past, I am an ex-Christian, and using it as a part of my current identity. I never call myself an ex-Christian atheist except when the context specifically calls for it. I was pointing out the absurdity of calling yourself something which you have never been in your life. People who call themselves, say, Italian-Americans when they have never lived a single day outside of the United States? That's just stupid.

      1. Would you still consider it stupid if their parents were Italian immigrants? I don't necessarily agree that wanting to acknowledge one's cultural heritage is stupid, although choosing to do it in this particular way wouldn't be my first choice either.

        1. Yes, I would. Isn't the whole point of moving to a new nation to be a part of that nation? To embrace their culture and national identity? I couldn't care less about cultural heritage, I look forward, not backward.

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