By James Strauss
Human beings are social animals. They clump together to form families, tribes, towns, villages, cities, counties, states and countries. Human beings, unless forcibly detained or outcast almost never live and function alone. When people get together and establish norms, mores and habits the word used to describe this clumping of people ‘acting alike’ is called culture. Different cultures can share many things, such as language, economic foundations, currency and more but each geolocal grouping of differential humans being’s can retain a singular definition as a culture if they have many things in common. The definition of culture, from some authority like Webster might read: “a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization.” The looseness of this definition is apparent and humanity’s grand diversity is the reason for that. Eight billion humans are distributed over the fifty-either million square miles of its landmass. That’s a hundred and thirty-eight people for every square mile. If distributed evenly this landmass would allow for every man, woman and child on the planet to be allotted about five acres, although the natural grouping of the human condition, nor the vagaries of topography would never really allow for that.
“What we have here is a failure in communications,” is a famous dialogue quote from the movie Cool Hand Luke.
It’s applicability to inter-cultural relations and understanding is just as applicable to the human condition of today as it was to the characters portrayed in the movie.
The problem facing the species all across planet earth as this article is written is not only one of communication however. The even more fundamental problem is in accepting that other cultures outside one’s own are different in ways that make applying intra-cultural (those rules and behaviors of a single culture) understanding to inter-cultural (outside cultures) situations. How is it that almost any culture of the west can accommodate any culture of the east, let alone the rest? Everything is different, from music, food, family groupings, to religious beliefs and more but even those things could be understood in assessing how to interrelate the cultures if any attempt at all was made to understand that they exist and cannot be changed or even much effected by outside forces. For example, almost all citizens living in the United States, a single but diverse culture, have no idea that Iraq, a country forced into existence and boundaries following World War II, is really made up of four distinct and very different cultures: Kurd, Sunni Arab, Shia Arab and Sunni Turkoman. Iraq’s four cultures are distinctly separated by geographics and even more by entirely different rules of conduct and belief, yet for the purposes of allied nations going to war with them the cultures inside the rough borders laid down to encapsulate them they were treated as one culture. There never was one country where Iraq sits. There were four and they were all in mild disagreement with one another for many thousands of years before WWII came along. The results of failure to communicate about inter-cultural issues in Iraq has led to a failed war, a failed peace, and now successful extremism striking out to almost every other culture on the globe.
ISIS is not about religion nearly so much as it is about culture and the differences among cultures that when ignored lead to violence, just as was so well and graphically illustrated in Cool Hand Luke. Understanding and accommodating cultural differences had less impact on the humans populating the planet before the massively penetrating communication effects of modern electronics. As these electronics have spread to become an integral part of every culture differences have been magnified and splinter causes enriched and empowered. If the western powers are ever to get truly serious about dampening the violent effects of inter-cultural violence then these powers are going to have to start embracing linguistics, geography and anthropology to a much greater extent than ever before. Pundits like Bill Bennet, Ann Coulter and Bill Krystal have to be passed over or by in order to begin an effort by mass media to interview and accept teaching from real professors and educators in these areas. Right now the world is aflame with terrorism simply because the small numbers of leaders at the top of our cultures want to the world to be aflame with terror, or they would not be fanning such flames but tamping them down. The mass media is today organized to manage the effects of what the public has come to know as “news”. Management means taking audio and visual elements transmitted using modern electronics and then manipulating those elements to tell a story. The story portrayed by media decision-maker’s (almost all of whom remain invisible ‘man behind the curtain’ characters) seldom has to do with what happened in the real world. People of high intellect and life experience see and hear these stories and know there’s something wrong but seldom know what, while the regular listeners and viewers of mass media simply believe everything they see and hear.
Recently the Geneva Shore Report decided not to publish a letter to the editor because the letter basically compared all potential immigrants to fruit in a barrel, and a single terrorist was represented as a single poisoned piece of fruit. The logic used in the letter was simple. If a person did not eat or share any of the fruit then no one could be poisoned. In other words, condemn all for the actions of one. Applying this logic to society as a whole leads to the death of society since all facets of society are populated with people who make mistakes, have significant flaws or are occasionally mentally ill. The pursuit of facts must be the new motivation for continuing the rise of civilization on planet earth. The new electronic blitz of tools and devices has allowed fakery and phony data to be substituted for fact and it’s working.
Cultures across the planet have very slowly and almost imperceptibly receded back from striving to build ever upward on every path we have if any measure or standard of progress is examined. Without facts there can be no understanding. Without understanding there can be no accommodation. Without accommodation there can only be conflict and war. The founding fathers of America understood certain foundational principals about humankind and the cultures they have grouped into. “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” can only be applicable when truths are, indeed, truths.