Culture Wars Part 3: Cherry Picking Culture

Everyone cherry picks culture. They look at the historical actions that they approve of and repeat those actions in current times. They are never completely or holistically adhering to ancient cultural practices.

Many people firmly and convincingly espouse to be fully “traditional” in their ways, but they are not. They adhere to the parts of the culture that appeal to them, that are fun, that hold fond memories. They disavow or conveniently forget the parts they don’t want to associate with.

Cultures and traditions evolve and change, and do not remain the same – it’s fallacy to believe that we even can reproduce ancient traditions with complete accuracy. Whether we’ve lost certain techniques or resources, been influenced by new connections with other cultures, or have new values that conflict with the old ones, culture is fluid. Even our representations of the past are heavily influenced by our standards today.

It’s great to say we should wear traditional garb, but which tradition? the one from 10,000 years ago, 1,000 years ago, or 100? the truth is they are all traditional and yet wildly different from each other. the truth is the ultimate “traditional” is to eschew everything but stalking prey and making our own clothes out of their skin. The truth is all traditions have had their place and may again, but there is no true definition of “traditional”.

My Tlingit people love to keep to their traditions, but we don’t arrange marriages or keep slaves or hunt witches or raid other villages anymore. We love our button robes but those came from white people’s blankets and we decorated them to make them our own. We could be rid of button robes but it turns out our traditional Chilkat robes started with a neighboring tribe, the Haida. We could wear traditional tunics (from before Chilkat) except that the little dogs we cultivated to collect their hair for weaving have gone extinct. We could wear cedar bark or leather clothing but it turns out that’s very difficult to make and uncomfortable to wear when you still need to run to the grocery store for toilet paper.

Or are you SO traditional that you wipe your ass with leaves, bury the mess, and don’t use soap to wash up after?

 

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