You may have heard the term "cultural appropriation" and all the concern for it. You may have wondered what it really is and why it is so bad. Essentially, cultural appropriation is when someone from a dominant culture uses an aspect of another culture without showing proper respect. Some people become very indignant about it. Those people are wrong and there is a clear explanation of why.
Wait a minute, you say. "Isn't it wrong to show disrespect to other people's way of life?" There's a question with no easy answer, but we'll get to that. First, let's start with something a little more clear.
Culture is a convenience word to help us understand other people. It really means the behaviors, beliefs, and related artifacts of a group of people at a particular time and place. For example, it was a culture of Anglo-Saxon culture to carry a single-edged knife, called a seax, on one's person a thousand years ago. The belief was that you should always have your seax at hand. The practice was the act of carrying the seax. The artifacts are the remaining seax knives and the documents describing them. What is currently called Anglo-Saxon culture is a little less knife friendly.
As with the carrying of the seax, aspects of cultures are always in flux. What was culturally relevant one day will be different the next. So, the concept of culture is convenient for describing what happened, or is happening, if is not itself a tangible thing.
The more important aspect is the concept of identity. People always strive to find a place in a wild, dangerous universe. Part of that is putting together a story that describes them and where they fit. They tend to fit that identity to the culture to which they belong, or believe they belong. If you challenge a person's identity you had better be ready for a fight.
I'll give an example from my own family. It is widely believed in my father's generation that there is a strong Native American component. This is based on a family tale of one of my great, great, somebodies marrying a native woman. I've had my genetics tested and there is only the tiniest trace of anything that might possibly be considered native. When I brought this up with family, the backlash was strong and abrupt. I have not discussed it with the family since. (Note: considering that I carry all of the standard family traits, they are very likely to actually be my family.)
The spread of beliefs, practices, and artifacts has gone on for all of human history. It's how agriculture spread. It's how everybody gradually moved from stone to bronze, then to iron. It's how the Clovis points spread across North America. It naturally occurs when humans interact. We have even seen our primate cousins imitate human behaviors when it is to their benefit, whether gathering food or just amusement.
What about the imbalance of power or lack of respect? What about it. That's another thing that has always existed. How it plays out depends on how you work it. Is it a theft by the stronger group or is it an infiltration by the weaker group? (Please ignore the fact that the people who are most likely to complain about cultural appropriation are also likely to object to one group being referred to as weaker than the other.) All the humans gradually mingle and the better parts of each group go along for the ride. The problem is that the less desirable traits of each group are on that ride as well.
For those who are still thinking that cultural appropriation is a terrible thing, there is only one thing left to say. Culturally speaking, I'm an Imperialist Conqueror. If your culture is the only thing I appropriate, you should probably be grateful.
Sears and Younkers
The Sears and Younkers stores at my local mall are closing. This represents a loss of jobs at those stores and threatens the jobs at everyone else working at the mall. Just as important, the closing of these stores illustrate a failure of management within the stores themselves.
Death of Younkers
Younkers used to be an upscale store. In our area, the low end was K-Mart. If you wanted better, you went to a place like Younkers. They had better brands and quality, even though it cost a bit more. They also has class. If you bought something at Younkers, you were buying something special.
There are two extremes to make a profit (legally). You can sell one big item for a thousand dollars profit, or you can sell a thousand little items for a dollar profit each. Both result in that grand of profit, but each is a different approach. The single item is assumed to be inherently better.
Younkers fell on that spectrum as the place selling fifty items at twenty dollars profit each. It was a good place to be. There was some competition, but not enough to matter too heavily, not in Eastern Iowa.
Then came the web and Walmart. Both sold everything cheap. The costs were down, so prices could drop while still turning a profit. As the model worked better, they increased the variety of products available. Suddenly, they could sell some of the same things one could get at Younkers, but at a much lower price.
At this point, Younkers had to make a choice. They could improve their quality and sell items with more class and distinction, or they could try to compete with Walmart. They chose to compete with Walmart. That was their downfall. That's not something most places can do. The Younkers store became a mockery of its former self, filled with items one could purchase nearly anywhere. They pass like some junkie in the alley, dead by their own bad decisions.
The Sears That Might Have Been
The Sears store is even more annoying. At this time, Sears isn't going completely out of business; they are just closing some stores. This is part of their struggle against online commerce. This is the disappointing part: Sears should be the king of online commerce.
Before the Internet, you ordered everything through the Sears and Roebuck Catalog. Really, everything. You used to be able to order cars and houses through that catalog. People waited anxiously for the catalog to arrive in the mail so they could oggle the new treasures within. Many kids grew up with the Wish Book full of toys around the Christmas holiday.
If Sears had caught on to the Internet early, they could have transitioned their catalog to an online experience. Quite honestly, if they had done that there would probably be no Amazon today. Sears could have been the de facto online shop. They could have pushed Internet-ready home computers, used their extensive warehouses. They could ship to homes or local stores. They could have ruled the retail world.
Instead, they chose not to. They did things like pay their floor salespeople on commission, making those people highly annoying. I would avoid going to Sears unless I really needed to, just because I didn't like interacting with them. The more that sales fell off, the more annoying they became.
The Common Theme
In both cases, the stores should have been able to not just survive, but to thrive. Instead, they chose to panic and to drag themselves down to the most mundane aspect of themselves. They chose to rot instead of grow. As a result, many people are losing their jobs and a bit of Americana dies.
Tearing Down Statues
As the tearing down statues hype dies down in the mainstream media, there have been no real solutions. Much of this has been because the people who argue the loudest have no idea about what is really going on. This has led to calls for taking down Mount Rushmore or statues of the the American founding fathers because they may be offensive to some groups. This argument, of course, misses the whole point.
History has shown us that the winners get to put up statues and monuments. That's just how it is. This is important to the argument because of the specific statues targeted for destruction. We are taking down confederate statues.
For those not aware of American history, the confederacy lost the Civil War back in 1865. It wasn't just a close loss either. Union General William Tecumseh Sherman led the troops that burned much of the confederate infrastructure with his scorched earth policies. He also accepted the surrender of many of the confederate officers he encountered. This is a total defeat of the confederacy.
Many of the statues appeared a century later during the civil rights movement. Many southern white people didn't like that they were being forced to drink from the same water fountains as people with more melanin, so they balked. They wanted to remember back when blacks were property. This is why they put up the statues, not to commemorate their embarrassing total defeat.
Today, white supremacists like symbols, such as the confederate statues, as rallying points for their nonsense. These "people" have an affinity for losers such as themselves, as evidenced by their connection with nazis and the confederates. Since we discourage losers from getting too uppity, we are removing these focuses. Again, the statues are of the losing side, so we were really very nice about letting the losers have them in the first place.
What does that have to do with Mount Rushmore? The "it might offend someone" argument is never valid because you can always find someone who will be offended. The question you have to ask is, "Is the monument created to commemorate the people who won?" As sad as it is that we've nearly wiped out the indigenous peoples here, the natives cannot be said to have won in the big scale. The monument stays.
Some people will claim about life not being fair. What they really mean is that life is horrifically fair and they just don't like it. Part of life being harsh is that there are wars and someone wins and someone loses. After the war, the winners get to do what they want and the losers have to cope.
White Supremacists are Idiots
White supremacists are idiots. Except for them, everybody seems to know that. The usual argument about why they are idiots tends to discuss skin color and how that is not a good measure for a person. Today, I would like to try a different angle, maybe one even they can understand.
A big white supremacist rally took place in Charleston, South Carolina this weekend. There was violence and death. As a response, other groups have held protests across the country. Some of those groups oppose the supremacists, while other support them. The whole thing is likely to continue a while, but since everyone there is American, it's likely to simmer down so everyone can regroup.
During the white supremacist rally, did any of them stand up and demand to demonstrate calculus, like Newton and Leibnitz showed them? No. Did any of them offer to create a vaccine for smallpox, like Edward Jenner? Did any they demand to invent anything at all? No, they don't want to do anything that they think make white people so great. I wonder how many of them have ever heard of Jenner or Leibnitz.
Well, you may say, that's not really fair. How could they be expected to know every white person in history who did something notable? It would require lots of education or something.
Okay, let's talk about something they are likely to know. How many of them carried british flags? You didn't see any british flags? But Great Britain had an empire that stretch across the globe. The Brits conquered damned near everybody at one point or another, and it wasn't that long ago. If the white supremacists can't be expected to know individual white people, surely they should know an entire empire of world conquering white people.
How about French flags? Napoleon conquered almost all of Europe. That should count for something. How about Russian flags? The nordic Rus tribe are still an important ethnic group in the ruling of Russia; it's where the name "Russia" comes from.
You say you didn't see any flags of these particular white empires? Well, what flags did you see? Oh, those.
That's another reason why white supremacists will always look stupid. There are two main flags, along with variations, that they use: the Nazi flag and the confederate flag. Yes, I know that the flag we call the confederate flag was not the official confederate flag back during the American Civil War. However, this a century and a half later and when someone in America says "confederate flag" we all know they mean the stars and bars nonsense.
So, with a long history of notable white people and nations, the white supremacists use the flags of two groups that were thoroughly trounced by other people. The Nazis were utterly defeated on their own turf. Now, their symbols are illegal in their homeland. That's how badly they were beaten.
As for the confederates, Sherman burned as much of that nonsense as he could. If Andrew Johnson hadn't sold out his country by letting the southern states back in without fixing any of the trouble, that could have stayed burned. Instead, they were allowed to run around unpunished like naughty toddlers yelling, "The south will rise again!" They really need a spanking and a time out.
So, to reiterate the point, these people can assume to idiots because they rise up wrapped in all the glory of completely defeated other people. With all the other symbols they could have used to try to prove their point, they picked the worst ones. These people are stupid.
No More Weapons for Syria
President Trump cancelled a CIA program to give American weapons to anti-Assad Syrian rebels. For an assortment of reasons, this is both a very good think and a real jerk thing to do. I'll explain.
Assad is the dictator of Syria. In theory, the United States does not like dictators and would prefer to help rebels who plan to rise up and install a democracy. It doesn't always work out that way, but it's the noble idea. Supposedly, that's what we were doing in Syria.
We also have a rule that we will not assassinate the leaders of recognized countries. It's considered very impolite and just isn't done. Note that this does not include leaders of groups we consider terrorist or criminal. It also doesn't include a ban on encouraging the locals to assassinate people. We Americans are a civilized bunch.
Syria is a complex issue. It has its dictator, and it has rebels. However, there isn't just one group of patriotic rebels that we can describe as plucky. Instead, there is a host of factions, among them are forces from the Islamic State (called DAESH). The group that the United States has been arming is actually a collection of allied groups who are fighting Assad and DAESH and probably a few other factions as well.
To make matters worse, Assad has the military support of the Russians and there are reports of the Iranians supplying somebody in the fight. What a pickle!
One of the problems in this is that DAESH has been getting their hands on the weapons we send. In some cases, the rebels we support change sides. In other cases, they just lose the weapons or the weapon caches to DAESH troops. Either way, the Islamic State ends up with fresh American arms.
For those of you who know me, you know that I have very clear ideas on violent conflict. You know that I say you should do everything reasonable to settle issues peacefully. It is only when peaceful resolution is not possible that you resort to violence. Once the decision is made to use violence, the violence must be horrible, immediate, and decisive. If it's not, you just end up dragging out the war and resulting in far more people suffering. You cannot be a nice guy at war.
This leaves me with four levels of conflict from which to choose.
First: All Out War
If we really want to go into a country and support the locals in violently overthrowing their recognized government, we should go whole hog. This is my philosophy that once you decide on violence, the nicest thing is to make it so decisive and brutal that it minimizes the suffering of the survivors.
Second: Selling Weapons
If aren't going to go to war, but we are sympathetic to the cause of the rebels, we could always sell them weapons. Presumably, a group large enough to have the means to buy weapons (cash up front, no credit) has a reasonable chance of victory in their war. It is likely that they will be the next recognized government of that country and we can get on their good side early.
Third: Thoughts and Prayers
If we support the group, but they do not have the resources to actually stand a chance, we should not get involved. This may sound cruel, but it isn't. If they don't stand a chance, but we aren't going to go to war for them, they are probably going to lose. If we give them weapons, it will just take them longer to lose. The longer a war goes on, the more damage is done. These people have been struggling all this time and the survivors are just going to end up back where they were.
Why is this Good and Bad?
The reason that the decision to stop the arms shipments is that they should not have started anyway. Having fresh weapons just prolongs the fighting. Since we are not going to get involved enough for them to have a chance to win, we are just stretching out their suffering.
That's also why this is bad. We already started arming them and were their ally and not we are ditching them in the thick of it. What if you had a buddy who said he would back you up when you were being threatened in a bar, and then that same friend walked away when you started getting your backside beat. That may be the smart thing for the buddy to do, but you are going to hurt because of it. It would have been better for the buddy to say he wasn't going to help from the start, but encouraging you and then leaving is a jerk thing to do.
Without fresh weapons, these folks will be defeated quickly. The dictator who wins will know who they are and is likely to punish them. Since the rebels we were arming were also fighting DAESH, it is likely they will face retribution from that side as well. These people are screwed.
Learning the Lessons
After something like this, we have to ask not only what we can and will learn from it, but what will others learn as well. Our own lessons are easy: we won't learn anything. Sure, we could learn not to get involved if we aren't going in to win, but that is unlikely. We could learn the answer to the question, "Why do they hate us after everything we did for them?" That's not going to happen either.
There are some who will look at this and not ask whether it was a good idea. Instead, they will say it is an example of Trump being Putin's bitch-monkey. It will be viewed from the perspective how it can be used in American politics instead of viewed as the death of rebels that we set up and then let fall.
As for the rest of the world, the lesson will be clear. Many will see this and learn that help and friendship from the United States is fleeting and fickle. They will see that you cannot trust the U. S. and that you have to get what you can but not rely on it. They will learn that we are real jerks sometimes.
The big question, of course, is what did you learn?