Social currency is real, and people need enough of it to be accepted by others within cultural groups. Survival largely depends on social recognition for safety, whether it represents stability that decreases volatility of resource accessibility, or is essentially a “protection” racket. Aside from survival though, humans need enough acceptance by others to be able to carry enough self esteem to go on. They want to feel needed, loved or at the least, allowed to be around.
Modern sentiments have begun to apply cultural ownership through affiliation. This affiliation can be offered by the group or assumed by the individual, with the loudest voices in the group generally determining access or eligibility to participate. Credibility within the group is becoming associated most strongly with participation levels – meaning quantity over quality, however there remains a quality threshold to meet with most groups. The participant is also obligated to self-educate if the group does not provide training already, but either way, affiliation requires playing by the rules and meeting the standards of the group that the individual wants to be a part of.
Yet there is still a strong sense of ownership through genetic heritage present in cultural membership – the original determinant in belonging to any group. Genetic heritage bestows automatic, unimpeachable ownership (with few exceptions). It is also unavoidable, unlike affiliation. That’s right, there are some things we simply may not disavow ourselves from, and genetic connection to certain cultural aspects is one of them – whether or not it is deemed just. This conflict of basis for cultural ownership causes cognitive dissonance within the modern person, generally leading to guilt and/or anxiety over the definition and use of “true” cultural ownership. And a sense of belonging is critical to our success in life – again, if we don’t get it, the void that remains is detrimental to the individual, and by extension society.
We cannot rely on genetic heritage alone to define cultural ownership any longer, thus the rise of affiliation based acceptance. Whether it’s due to prevailing heterogeneous heritage, or simply acknowledging the power to include others based on affiliation for mutual benefit, cultural ownership is not simple or straightforward. And I think it’s of note that folks want to allow others the ability to disavow affiliation from cultural groups. But of course, genetic heritage retains a hold that can’t be fully severed in all circumstances. I feel like the affiliation aspect may be historically based in religious behaviors, as these groups are outside of genetics-based cultural heritage and they participate in recruitment/conversion techniques, but, as with everything I say, that’s largely my conjecture.
When there is no central regulatory body governing the ownership of cultural affiliation, mob mentality arises. It latches on to key tenets of a group’s ethos and enforces them via peer pressure, or threat of rejection. The fear of being ostracized is freakishly compelling and most folks will make sure the group sees them as valuable or harmless in order to maintain their affiliation. Most folks won’t give up membership in a group without access to a new group that will accept them either, causing defensive behaviors to arise if they feel their affiliation is threatened.
In the modern aesthetic, participation in the cultural norms of a group now include collaboration in the constant re-evaluation and evolution of the cultural norms themselves. Basically, it’s no longer good enough to be included in a group. Now, if you’re not driving the cultural behavior within the group, you can quickly fall out of favor being seen as not committed enough, or improperly aligned. This constant re-adjustment could be coincidental or superficial, but I suspect it comes from feeling criticized and seeking to avoid that criticism entirely, which necessitates constant change with the tides of fickle public opinion.
The cultural boat is caught in a maelstrom of self-defeating behaviors as it’s sucked into the vacuum caused by the breakdown of moral authority – without absolute control over definitions and priorities, moral values have become fluid and subject to fad patterns. No one is willing to acknowledge any authority as absolute, but unfortunately they miss the part about how much humans prefer a structure they can rely on to feel confident about themselves and how the world works. Without it we’re just seeing incoherent combinations of the remains of what we once trusted.
I don’t have the answer to a conundrum that has none – folks feel that genetic heritage can trump cultural affiliation, but only in some ways. We want to be able to shed trappings of the past and assume what we want to be. But it’s awfully difficult for me to let people do that when they pin cultural ownership on others based on genetic heritage, via visual cues, or assumptions, while wanting to eschew those interpretations for themselves… it’s hypocrisy at its finest (and as mentioned, myself included). It’s hard for humans to let go of historical connection to culture, with good reason; it’s our basis for our worldview.
It seems absurd to me to when I hear someone say they were born in one place, but then name a different place that they’re “from”. I can’t even wrap my mind around a mentality that allows someone to continually redefine their heritage. Maybe you can change where you are now, or headed next, but how can you change where and what you come from? But more importantly, why would you? How can you shed the old let alone don the new (*in terms of heritage*)? I mean, I get not being stuck in behavior patterns, but we can’t actually change our origins even if we choose not to live by historical standards set by our originators.
Funniest is I think many folks think that’s what’s being asked of them – I’m referencing the white shame/guilt complex that drives them to disown their connections to any genetic heritage they have. The narrative that indicates this is even a possible solution is misguided at best; culture is how we behave. That narrative and game plan to disown the past attempts to deflect or protect against responsibility for historic injustice. It’s sweet to think there’s a solution by divorcing from the group, but it ignores the fact that injustice does not live in the past (complaints are not just about the past, they are current), and that we cannot actually divorce completely from genetic heritage anyway, even if we try. Separation from the group does not create any goodwill or offer any support to victims either, it’s a symbolic gesture that can’t make up for anything.
Not to say that anyone is responsible for the past transgressions of another, but if we want the benefit of cultural ownership we do need to take some responsibility for ongoing group behavior, especially in light of the current policies obligating each of us to participate in driving the group cultural dynamic as I mentioned above.
I’d love to throw off the shackles of the past entirely, but it seems delusional. People care strongly about being part of a group and accepted, so they should feel a sense of personal responsibility as strongly as they feel their cultural ownership. It’s beyond disingenuous to act like you don’t share any responsibility for a group you are connected with, whether you automatically were a member based on genetics or affiliated by choice. Again, folks may not like it, but some cultural aspects are connected to our heritage, which we did not choose yet remains real. Like siblings or our parents, we don’t get to choose everything about our social connections in life.
Modern folks are notorious for “cherry picking”, and it’s an untenable policy of self serving denial that’s an insult to true commitment. You can’t have your cake and it too, as they say. If you serve yourself up another slice, it comes with calories and unmitigated they will make you fat. If you exercise enough though, you can eat all the cake you want. So go out and do good and it will be like exercising, you’ll be a thin cake eater who has the best of both worlds. You can never say you didn’t come from cake bakers, but you can say you make low-sugar cakes, or that you don’t make cakes even if they did, or choose not to eat cake, etc. You can say, yes I came from this evilly fattening background, but I don’t have to let it make me fat too… anyway I’m sure this metaphor has met it maker. Basically, you can live through ongoing cultural ownership without succumbing to its downfalls or predations. You don’t have to stop eating cake to be thin, you just have to exercise more. You don’t have to stop being/admitting you’re enjoying the benefits of the first world, just make sure you’re not perpetuating bad behavior out of historical habit.
But there it is – what I’ve been searching for in this whole writing – if we can change behaviors yet retain identity (and we can) then there is no reason to ever need to “adjust” identity or even affiliation, because feeling that need is based in the faulty association between a cultural group and certain behaviors. That association says that cultural groups behave a certain way, but culture is not static or regressive, it’s always changing. That faulty belief in a lack of ability to change is used as basis for bigotry, which is unconscionable. Any group or individual has the ability to learn and change, to accept new things or get rid of old.
We are not only what we do, nor are we solely representatives. We can take pride in who we are. I’ve actually never been offended by the concept of “white pride” – I’m offended by REAL miscarriages of justice, regardless of the group the perpetrator hails from, or identifies with.
Our personal behavior can be separated from our identity and our cultural status, thus allowing us to develop and flourish within cultural groupings. What I’m saying is that your cultural citizenship may define your relation to others, but the cultural group does not determine your behavior – you do not have to behave as others do within your group. You are free to have an individual identity within a group, and behave differently than other members do. As part of that policy of driving cultural behavior I mentioned, go ahead and take the reins; you are not just responsible for group behavior, you are a force of change and growth within it simply by choosing to behave as you know to be right and appropriate.
The bonus is that if you retain your membership and help the group overcome biases or bad behaviors, you’re helping the world significantly more than you ever could by separating yourself from the group for the sake of not being associated with people who probably just didn’t know any better anyway. I know, you’re probably thinking, but what if the group is continuing to behave in a way that I disagree with? I’m not saying you can’t do your best to extricate yourself from a hurtful environment if they’re not respectful of your right to make your own choices, but typically people see you making your own decisions and it helps them realize that they don’t have to behave exactly like others just to avoid rejection. And typically there is not as much rejection or backlash as people fear, but I’ll get off the confrontation soapbox and save that for another post.
We can retain core moral/ethical values, priorities, and focus to overcome bigotry and separatism from inside our groups – and more importantly, we need to. Washing our hands of perceived stains by association will never eliminate the bad behavior we disapprove of. It’s critical that we recognize that shunning a person or group will never shut them up or make them disappear. Not only that, but it’s more difficult to help them develop from afar – people who have an intimate acquaintance with them can help people change far more quickly and deeply. The best way to help your group escape criticism or derision is to stand firm in helping that group become the best it can be. Besides, a certain amount of criticism is not just inevitable but healthy. We all need to be able to examine our decisions carefully in avoidance of bias, and to help keep ourselves on track.