A few weeks ago, Time Magazine ran a story about Rutger Bregman.
I first heard Bregman’s name in 2019 when he participated in a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He made news by proceeding to criticise the businesspeople in the audience for purporting to care about the world economy and the plight of the poor while carefully avoiding any mention of taxation. Bregman, a Dutch historian, was quoted as saying “It feels like I’m at a firefighters’ conference and no one is allowed to speak about water.”
Bregman has a new book out, titled Humankind, in which he argues that the common belief that humans are hard-wired for selfishness is wrong. Asked about the book, he explained his departure from conventional understandings of human nature.
The old fashioned “realist” position has been to assume that civilization is only a thin veneer, and that the moment there’s a crisis we reveal our true selves, and it turns out that we’re all selfish animals. What I’m trying to do in this book is to turn this narrative around, to show that actually, over thousands of years, people have actually evolved to be friendly.
There’s always selfish behavior. There are lots of examples of people hoarding. But we’ve seen in this pandemic that the vast majority of behavior from normal citizens is actually pro-social in nature. People are willing to help their neighbors. That is the bigger picture that we’re seeing right now.
Bregman went on to compare human behavior to the the Coronavirus; both, he asserted, are contagious.
If we assume that most people are fundamentally selfish, and if we design our response to this virus with that view of human nature, then we’re going to bring that out in people. Whereas, if we assume that most people are cooperative and want to help, then we can actually inspire other people. This may sound a bit cheesy, but there’s actually a lot of psychological research that shows that acts of kindness are really contagious. They really spread throughout a social network, even influencing people who you don’t know, who you haven’t seen.
Bregman also makes a point that several others have made–that the pandemic is teaching us which professions are genuinely “essential.” Hedge fund managers aren’t on that list, but people we pay poorly–garbage collectors, nurses, grocery store clerks–are. He suggests that the experience of 2020 should teach us some lessons about who to value–and how to structure society.
In a way, his insight is an old one: we see what we expect to see.
I think everything starts with your view of human nature, because what you assume about other people is often what you get out of them. So if we assume that most people deep down are selfish and cannot be trusted, then you’ll start designing your institutions around that idea. And you’ll create exactly the kind of people that your view of human nature presupposes.
Bregman offers a fascinating example: prisons in the U.S. and Norway.
Norway basically gives prisoners the freedom to do whatever they want–to such an extent that they are often given the keys to their cells. Prisons in Norway have cinemas and libraries, and prisoners interact on a friendly basis with the guards.
Now, if you look at that, from an American perspective, you’re like, these people are totally crazy. But then if you look at it from a scientific perspective, you look at the recidivism rate, right? The odds that someone who has committed a crime commits another one once he gets out of prison. Well, the recidivism rate is very high in the U.S. – it’s one of the highest rates in the world. But it’s the lowest in Norway. So actually the “realist” prison here is the Norwegian prison, where inmates are treated like humans and as adults, whereas many American prisons where inmates are often treated as animals, as beasts. At the moment those are taxpayer funded institutions to educate people for more criminal behavior. That’s basically what they are.
Over the past several years, I have come to the conclusion that culture is the most important factor in molding human behavior, and that the primary purpose of law is the creation of cultures that promote and incentivize socially-desired behaviors and attitudes.
I think Bregman is onto something.
24 thoughts on “Contagion”
“Over the past several years, I have come to the conclusion that culture is the most important factor in molding human behavior, and that the primary purpose of law is the creation of cultures that promote and incentivize socially-desired behaviors and attitudes.”
This does not necessarily mean that a person will be cloned into a replica of the culture they are born to and raised in. “Nurture or nature?” “Nurture” is the attempted molding of human nature but when an individual’s “Nature” goes against that cultural nurturing they are born into; it is up to the strength of the individual to accept or deny that culture. My aunt and I had a conversation years ago about the fact that as long as we followed the molding of our surroundings, we were beloved family members. But when we began to speak our minds, our deepest internal feelings and beliefs and then began acting on them, we became the family’s “dirty laundry”.
I air my “dirty laundry” on this blog daily, per my original nurturing, cultural molding family values.
Two comments. First, the practice some people have of “paying it forward,” is an example of people responding to a good deed with another one.
Second, regarding hedge fund managers, remember what Dorothy Parker said about them.
“If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.”
Without knowing the particulars of the Norwegian criminal justice system it is hard to compare their system to ours. That said, there is one single facet of the law enforcement/prison system here that calls into question any hope for reform. That facet is the privatization of the system in order to turn a profit. Capitalists will not give up that revenue stream pouring out of the most corrupt criminal justice system devised by man. Not since the slave labor camps of Nazi Germany has the world seen such a mockery of justice. And now that corrupt system is being turned on the people for daring to protest the system.
To wit, if The Orange Menace had called upon the better angels of America to rise to the challenge of the pandemic and show the world how it’s done (e.g. be presidential), we’d be: on our way OUT of the pandemic instead of praying for a vaccine half the country says they won’t take, have a tremdous swelling of national pride in looking after our countrymen, and ironically he’d have approval ratings that could make him sail through the election into a 2nd term. But no. He’s a stark raving narcissist who thinks very little of his…subjects, and cut his nose off despite his face sending everything about the country into the tank. Because that’s all he thinks we are capable of. He thinks America sucks as it is. Read: MAGA. If we’d only known he’d act this way! Wait…WE DID! While I’m here, I keep trying to have some respect for Gov. Holcomb’s efforts, but that vaporizes every time he covers for said Orange Menace.
JM, Ditto on Holcomb. He seems like a nice enough guy despite not knowing what to do with his hands when he speaks, but one can see that he is really not in charge. He simply follows Trump’s insane and erratic responses to the pandemic. First, Indiana is not going to re-open until the rate of new cases falls to a certain level. Then Trump says to re-open and Holcomb opens despite still high levels of new cases. Trump says no to masks and Holcomb says the state does not need a mask order. Trump says masks are great and Holcomb orders the entire state to start using masks.
Holcomb… a nice guy but no LEADER.
Rutger Bergman’s comments are true to some extent, but I’m left with it summarizing a black v. white situation. Humans evolved socially much faster than we have biologically. In Rebecca Costa’s terrific book, “The Watchman’s Rattle”, she describes this apparent dichotomy in meaningful terms.
To whit: Humans survived as a species by being clever, weapons and tool makers and obtain the ability to “plan for a rainy day” when the on-hand resources starting drying up. When cultivation of food became the way of life, the “surplus” became a lever for those owning that surplus against those tribes that were wanting. So, the more surplus one tribe owned, the more leverage they could apply to more tribes needing to eat to live. Yes, behavior and attitudes are learned from the ethos of the community/tribe.
My point is that the tribes of yore hoarded their surplus for economic reasons. The individuals in the tribe had to be generous and kind within their tribe in order for it to function. As tribes grew bigger, that social necessity spread. Of course, back a couple hundred thousand years ago, humans couldn’t just pack their things into an SUV and move to Tucson. We are indeed generous to our fellow man in need, but we are also selfish when it comes to surviving or doing best for our families.
Creatures like hedge fund managers are hoarders of wealth with, it seems, no socially redeeming values. Donald Trump is the complete personification of the total commitment to self and selfishness. He, and his fellow grifters like “Woody” Johnson will do anything to acquire more wealth or to protect what they have. So, naturally, Woody, protecting his investment in Trump, went to the Scottish PM and asked to have The Open moved to Trump’s failing business at Turnberry.
There is NO selflessness, character, socially redeeming values or honor amongst these bastards. They are all about being selfish all the time.
as a former inmate in the fed system, (mandatory minimum) for growing whats legal now. at 39 and a first timer, i was looking into the fence. ill agree with the above, many who were incarcerated never know anything but the life they grew up with. warehoused because they were born into a mold of poverty or lack of resources to move ahead..i grew up in a less than desirable neighborhood, i watched the results of people like i grew up with. being my skin is white and been granted breaks for my whiteness. im was looking at the other side,inside,the results of their socioeconomic structures.i spent many hours writing appeals, (we had some lawyers incarcerated for drugs,traded a ice cream for corrections on my work)) working with lawyers and getting advice and hearing the othersides story how they became incarcerated.getting breaks or a hand or some decent mentoring beyond basic living skills, wasn’t in their lives. street life was all they knew. every one never wanted to go back to that life..i was able to help 2 out of some 40 plus appeals i typed. though the pro bono lawyer was the final, i was able to get the ball rolling. did i help? well lets say i listened and gave some sage advice,and mentoring on getting a job and dealing with whitey..i recognize myself when i left newark,n.j. in 1968 at 13, and settled in norfolk va, the diffrence was surreal. i actully had grass in a field to play on,and a gym. room to ride my bicycle,and go to,the beach. i dont wonder how others back in newark are doing,i know how they are doing..if the media presents a stark picture and painted words, your missing actually missing it..living it,there is no other witness. we read today how instincts are inside us,like any living item on earth,but we are taught to,ignore and speak out against,or, we are taught how to represent ourselves as human,and giving..i look at people when im shopping,i have a living wage,and enjoy cooking for my wife.i see hungry people in any store,maybe recognize it,i see people working 40 or two jobs,single moms,and dads, that will never see a living wage, exploited by the people who shelter them and the banks that greed on the less fortunate..who am i suppose to be mad at?
most here know im pro labor,,and pro living wage,equality,progressive. ive been a progressive when labor unions were being crushed and reagan was telling us how great he/they would make America. well, we now see how well that side of the isle,and the ones on the left side,have left the working people,in a time of need .where have allowed them to focus us on their ideals,and left ours in their pockets. i dont have to be nice,or say it will all pass. i recognize the scandal,greed and i shove it in peoples faces delibertly,i am human,i see poverty,in the greatest(who the hell gave us that title?) nation in the world…i guess im just human,and im really tired of walking some rich bastards pets..
Bregman’s is also a powerful voice in support of the concept of a universal basic income. If you add up the costs of crime and punishment, welfare and the other problems that a guaranteed basic income would help solve, the cost of trying it (experiments have actually taken place) is surprisingly affordable. With the Republican party so bent on self-destruction, perhaps America will soon be in a position to give it serious thought. Bregman’s TED talk on this subject is at:
What is a man’s or woman’s inclination? What is “Humankinds” inclination?
History does not lie!
If we look at history on the whole, mankind/humankind, has an inclination towards inhumanity!
It’s all well and good that people decide to show compassion when facing the precipice, but when there is no precipice readily available, humankind is not compassionate on the whole, nor empathetic on the whole, nor inclined to love their neighbor or forgive trespasses against themselves.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you? More like, “do unto others and then split.”
We are supposed to be better than we are, my great uncles were in Europe during the second world war, one of them went into Auschwitz. The stench was overwhelming and could be smelled miles away. And yet, the local population had no compassion, the “Inclination” of that population was not compassionate nor empathetic nor ethical by any standards. They knew what was happening and lied about it. They supported it because that encampment, concentration camp, benefited the locals, compassion and ethics be damned.
So, was this just an outlier? No! Not an outlier, but a script that has been followed throughout recorded history! Society, civil society, tries to dictate appropriate behavior for the most part, but eventually, that society is whittled away by mankind/humankind’s true nature. So where we might have a somewhat compassionate or empathetic or ethical civil society initially, it becomes whittled away by leadership at the behest of those who follow, support, and even worship them!
Mr. Bregman seems to be ignorant of history! His “Inclination” is to be blind and revisionist! Because one writes a book, does not mean everyone’s going to have an epiphany, because humankind’s collective conscience is almost nonexistent.
Has there ever been a society, dominant or not, which has not eventually treated its citizens as sheep to the slaughter? Society tends to be permeated with “Judas Goats” and because mankind/humankind are followers, they follow those Judas Goats like lambs to the slaughter house! It doesn’t take much for people to feel aggrieved and therefore destroy societies construct for the worse.
Religion is loaded with Judas goats, even though Judas goat is not a religious term, it refers to lemminglike behavior to the detriment of one’s self and that of society on the whole. Why do you think governments use religion to incite fervor for war? Catholics slaughtering Catholics, Protestants slaughtering Protestants, those who are supposed to be Brothers, end up being the Able to their Cain, you can’t be goodhearted while slaughtering your brothers!
The Hellenistic word “hypocrite” (hy·po·kri·tesʹ) means “one who answers,” as well as meaning a stage actor. Greek and Roman actors employed large masks with mechanical devices for amplifying the voice. Hence, the Greek word hy·po·kri·tesʹ came to be used in a metaphoric sense to apply to one playing false, or one putting on a “Deceitful” pretense. (See the term two-faced). This goes to show that man’s history is one of deceit and following, just as those today put a lot of stock in celebrity, those celebrities/politicians are the root of the word hypocrite! And a majority of humankind will follow and engage in hypocrisy to oblivion!
Democratic Socialism would be a giant step forward toward a society that is not only equal in terms in of human rights for all and a guarantee that everyone would access to health care and a higher education. This access to health care and a higher education should not be based upon the economic status or class you are born into.
Honestly, I cannot think of a damn thing the Republican Party has come up with since President Ray-Gun. No ideas for main street, except the bogus trickle down economics. The Reactionary Republican Party has managed to demonize Democratic Socialism.
“Over the past several years, I have come to the conclusion that culture is the most important factor in molding human behavior, and that the primary purpose of law is the creation of cultures that promote and incentivize socially-desired behaviors and attitudes.”
Culture can be a confusing word due to the distribution of human variability. Sometimes when we say it we are referring to the average culture of a group like “Hoosiers”. There are probably some cultural traits shared by many people with roots in Indiana because there are a few experiences that they have in common that are more or less prominent from living there and distinct from other regions. But, I have learned, culture is more profoundly understood to be individual. It’s behavior that we start learning right from birth about who we are, who is like us, and how they behave in certain circumstances.
Given that, I still very much agree with Rutger Bregman. If there is anything that the pandemic and politics teach it’s that many many people are good and giving and responsible. Assuming otherwise is a blindness. However not all are. Some are ignorant mean irresponsible self centered parasites in society.
I think that given that basis for culture whichever of those two groups we are in we think to be normal for people like us so those in the former group notice others in that group and would define “us” in those terms as would those in the latter group. It really is tribalism.
Unfortunately governance can’t legislate culture but equally unfortunately politics can influence it.
Talk about the highest level current concern about our country…………
Jack Smith…you are truly a man of wisdom and hard gained knowledge and understanding …not from a book…but from day to day existence! Thank you for your courage to speak up, speak truth and speak reality from where most of us live in America… the trenches of survival.
I get VERY frustrated with folk who look for “answers” to life’s challenges in abstractions. Sorry Sheila, but “law” is an abstraction to me. Why? Just read a page from nearly any court proceeding and try to decipher the “lawyer talk.” I took Koine Greek in graduate school. I think it was easier to understand a dead language than to understand law. Seriously.
Indeed, hasn’t it been the very “interpretation of law” that has allowed the likes of a Bill Barr to sit at the very top of our systems of laws today? Most of these folks who sit in the Capital Building are lawyers. Those who are not have a team of lawyers around them daily. To say law helps shape our culture is not saying much given that the epicenter of law in D.C. has shaped and formed the pathway of corruption from Nixon to today. I rest my case. Proof, as they say, is in the pudding!
God forbid “law” should be a part of our formation of culture.
First published in 1985, “Habits of the Heart” (not the movie…) was required reading in one of our grad courses. It is an extensive social science study of American society in its historic quest for a “democratic community” that draws on upon a diverse civic and religious tradition (ie Protestant Puritan) going back 240 years to present.
The book should be required reading for every man, woman and child in America, Again, seriously.
One of the keys to the study is education (or absence of it) in the context of the family and neighborhood.
In that spirit, I would submit that that “What is necessary is the ability to think openly, critically, and reflectively about what matters most.” So what matters most to people in our collective human experience? The Law??? I don’t think so. “Justice,” as Dr. King Junior stated, “is what love looks like in (the) public (square).”
I have witnessed very little of “love” in our so-called “land of laws” for a VERY long time, especially in the economic and educational sectors of our society.
What is justice then? According to the great religious and spiritual traditions of history, love is what a household looks like when children are fed and clothed properly, educated properly (especially in values and ethics, ie “critical reflection”), housed properly, given meaningful and dignified work with meaningful and dignified wages.
Love is being valued as a human being, NOT for what that human can offer (ie profit making) to “the boss” or society!!! That makes a human being a mere commodity. We are reminded of that abstraction of life every damn Monday when the unemployment figures are mentioned with NO discussion on how it impacts REAL human beings. People are numbers in a Capitalistic system. Period.
There has to be a major paradigm shift in how we conceive and understand the “democratic community” going forward. Covid 19 SHOULD help us get a better sense of what REALLY matters in our life together as vulnerable mortal human beings. As for law, well….it seems obvious it needs to be reformed and re-imagined (Thanks John Lennon) because what law has given us after 244 years of “experimentation” is, in my opinion, failed grade. I give it a red F with a circle around it! If the best our laws of the land can do is what we have currently that has begotten us Trumpland….I say…hell no!!!
Time to turn the proverbial page.
It is simplistic and wrong to assume that every hedge fund manager is evil and greedy. Some have taken their substantial wealth and given it toward helping the poor. Putting people in arbitrary boxes is called prejudice – explicit.
Thanks for sharing your story.
I agree with Bergman’s theory about the U.S. Criminal Justice/Incarceration system — to a point.
After 30 plus years of practicing criminal law, I would agree that most “Offenders” (at least many of those I came into contact with) locked up in U.S. prisons — sorry “Correctional Facilities” (which for the most part do little “correcting”) — are those like Jack and others. They aren’t inherently “evil” or “bad” men and women. They are the victims of the circumstances that they were born into or raised in, and who perhaps made one or two bad choices along the way (We all make some bad choices along our individual ways, but some pay a higher price than others in our society — which happens to be part of the major discussion going on about the criminal justice system right now!). Not to mention the huge number incarcerated solely for the possession of a small amount of controlled substances. By and far, the better — and far cheaper — result for both most of the “Offenders” and society would be something akin to Norway’s system. But our society is more concerned with punishment/revenge then redemption.
But one of the things I sometimes pondered over was the situation, which I saw occasionally, where siblings were born and raised in the exact same awful circumstances by the same adults, if any. Yet one turned out to be a productive, law abiding citizen, while another sibling was a hardcore criminal. How did one human being not only survive but overcome and thrive in spite of those circumstances while the other didn’t? Sometimes drugs or mental illness could be pointed to as a possible reason. But often there was nothing overt you could point to as a reason. Not sure there is an answer except different human beings, even siblings, don’t necessarily react to the same circumstances in the same way and even in the same household, one child could experienced trauma that another didn’t.
Which brings me to “evil.” My experience has convinced me there are truly “evil” people, and that, for the most part, they cannot be changed/reformed no matter what type of intervention society might try to take. Most, if not all, of those “evil” people are most likely psychiatrically diagnosed as being sociopaths. I crossed paths with quite a few of them over the years. A couple of which I was absolutely sure would have killed me on the spot without any hesitation or regret, if they thought it might help them escape.
While Antisocial Personality Disorder [ASPD] (the official psychiatric name for a sociopath) is listed in the DSM as a personality disorder. It is not considered to be a treatable mental illness. As far as I was ever told, there is no known treatment for ASPD. Thus, for a Sociopath, who has shown by their behavior that they are willing to harm or kill other people without any concern or regret, the only option to protect others and society from them is to lock them up and keep them locked up as long as possible — and even then many are a threat to the “Correctional Officers.” Sociopaths see any kind of kindness to them as a sign of weakness to be exploited.
[I know this seems to boil over into Mary Trump’s diagnosis of Trump’s being a sociopath — scary!].
So as most things in life. It’s complicated IMO.
As a post script. As far as I was able to learn or was informed, there is no absolute agreement in the psychiatric community on why a person turns out to be a sociopath or why some sociopaths are much more dangerous than others.
Is it innate or is it the product of how that person was treated growing up (such as Mary Trump’s pointing to Fred Trump as the major factor in Trump’s sociopathy)? Or is it both something you’re born with and the degree and depth of the sociopathy is exacerbated and made worse by the way the person was treated? I lean towards believing that it is likely a bit of nature and nurture that combine.
Vernon, the book you quoted sounds like it does prove that socially we have evolved to care for those in our own tribe. The question that comes to mind, is how big is the tribe? In the face of global warming, is it the human race, or maybe in the eyes of a “Conservative Republican”, just white Americans?
The US criminal system needs some hard examination, for many reasons, but if you have not read a copy of the “The New Jim Crow”, you need to. I am only into the 2nd chapter and it is an amazing and very plausible perspective that would explain a lot where are in the US today.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you has a nice ring to it but has long since been overrun by the brutal demands of capitalism in which you are called upon to do it to others before they can do it to you. Take the three basics of yore, i.e., food, clothing and shelter. The rich live in 12 bedroom homes in the Hamptons; the rest of us live in housing ranging from nice to a ghetto-like existence. As to food, the rich eat well and sumptously; the rest of us eat less well and the poor among us eat foods they can barely afford, ingestion of which invites a diabetic future. As to clothing, the rich wear designer apparel; the rest of us in varying economic classifications wear clothing ranging from The Gap and Old Navy to used clothing stores and hand me downs.
So there you have it – the basics of food, clothing and shelter as determined by an economic system which spills over into our social system. How to correct such glaring inequalities (among others springing from the admixture of the economic and the social), assuming we want to keep the system at all? As I constantly insist, if we are to keep the system then end the current unfair and inequitable system of wage and wealth inequality, failing which (as we have to date), considering the adoption of another economic system that operates for the common good rather than as a vehicle for the super rich to become even richer, though it may surprise readers of this quip to know that I have no complaint against the rich – but with this proviso > that they take the rest of us along for the ride in a shared experience.
No, I am not advocating the terrible evil (according to capitalist framers) of socialism! I favor an ism that fairly distributes the fruits of our economic system (whatever the ism and however named) to the other participants in whatever system we choose, to corporate and other workers through and including communities in which corporations and others who produce goods and services are sited, from Silicon Valleys to mom and pop restaurants. That ism, however named by framers who have their own fish to fry, is my ism.
Thanks for the comment. Do you remember reading Desmond Morris’ books about tribes and super-tribes? Also, Chris Harman’s large, but granular work, “A People’s History of the World” helps define the evolution of tribes into societies, and hence cultures. People on today’s blog talk about cultural influence, but those bits of influence have been added to any developing culture over centuries.
My example of picking up and moving so easily defies what once passed as a community norm: cohesiveness. Our current societies are so huge, complex, riddled with contradictions and corrupted by that original abstraction, economics, that trying to sort it all out is a lot like trying to separate fly poop from pepper.
I appreciate your comment immensely! Even though you might not be a man of religion, you are a man of faith! It is in the same vein that Paul tells the Christians in the city of Corinth: “For, though I am free from all persons, I have made myself the slave to all, that I may gain the most persons. And so to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to those under law I became as under law, though I myself am not under law, that I might gain those under law. To those without law I became as without law, although I am not without law toward God but under law toward Christ, that I might gain those without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak. I have become all things to people of all sorts, that I might by all means save some.” (1st Corinthians 9:19-22) It takes real humility to do this.
We are all the sum of our lives experience, and through experience knowledge and from the sum of that experience and knowledge, Wisdom!
How many can truly say that they’ve gained wisdom beyond what is ordinary? Because just like a child, most of humankind/mankind claims they need to make their own mistakes. The claim is of different times, and because the calendar claims another year, somehow human nature has changed. This is far from the case! So Jack, keep up your preaching and teaching as it is, it will reach those who have a malleable heart. Unfortunately, that will be an extremely small minuscule minority.
Remember, the apostle Paul did some of his best preaching and teaching from prison or being under arrest.
When the apostle Paul was in prison in Rome, he wrote: “I am suffering evil to the point of prison bonds . . . Nevertheless, the word of God is not bound.” (2nd Timothy. 2:9)
The apostle Paul was imprisoned other times, and his faith was unshakable, unlike those now days who only have faith in what they see, and not that of what they cannot see. That’s the reason humankind/mankind keeps making the same mistakes throughout recorded history and probably the future until its demise.
Read Hebrews the 11th chapter.
Take care Jack, good work, and good works are not forgotten!
Bregman is spot on in his analysis, but getting to there from here will require a revolution of the people by the people, and we’ve already witnessed how our federal government enforcers of the Oligarchy handled it regardless of who is in charge.
Also, in Einstein’s dictum, he said we are both independent and social creatures, which are why society requires a more socialist outlook and formation. He also said that we began resenting the fact we are social creatures because are systems are structured to force us to compete vs. collaborate.
Can you imagine if we were structured from the ground up versus the top down?
Since we have created it that way over 200 years ago, how do we go about changing that system when it’s even less democratic than it was when founded?
Bregman and Einstein are correct, but this country will have to be burned to the ground and guillotines erected before we can turn it around.
I despise where this word has ended up. I don’t like seeing it used to describe or name that which is the absence of culture, or worse–gutter culture. To me culture (when standing alone without modifier) refers ONLY to the highest forms of human endeavor: high art, high music, high science, high philosophy, high poetry, high literature, and high math. That which all of you are referring to as culture is the shared ABSENCE of culture.
Oh, I know the fashionable definition of culture purports that culture is a frigging umbrella term, which encompasses the social behavior and norms found in human societies. But I disagree. If one means to talk about the norms within a society, then use the word NORMS. If speaking of social behavior, use the term SOCIAL BEHAVIOR. And if norms and social behavior are inadequate to name the particular human habits you wish to generalize about, then invent a word that does; do not bastardize an existing word–a good, highly functioning word–to do the job.
I maintain that subverting the meaning of “culture” (which sociologists have done ever since they invented their own occupation and Edward Burnett Tylor first castrated the word in 1871) has caused tremendous harm to society. It lowered the bar for behavior; for ambition; for refinement; for attitudes; and it has enabled immense disrespect for those individuals who are truly cultured.
Yet, I find that some dictionaries still put my definition of culture at the top of their list of meanings.
Dictionary.com, for instance: culture is 1)the quality in a person or society that arises from an appreciation for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.
2) that which is excellent in the arts, manners, etc.
The Oxford English Dictionary says culture is: The arts and other manifestations of human INTELLECTUAL achievement regarded collectively.
Which is why I have no idea what you all are talking about.
As to mankind’s nature:
Mankind has two natures. One, which he or she is born with–the animal nature. The second, which he or she learns, is human nature.
Inasmuch as a person’s human nature learns to control his or her animal nature, that person will manifest as human, or humane, or civilized. In a civilized society, adult humans and the educational institutions they create conspire to teach the infant, with varying levels of success, to be human. An infant animal has no other place and no other way than by parent and institution to learn to be human. Part of the result–the person’s humanhood–will always be due to the quality of parenting and institutional teaching. But part of that humanhood will be determined by the individual’s ability to learn what is taught–his or her intelligence. Another part will be expectations; what does society expect a member human to be like. If expectations are low or unenforced, achievement of high levels of humanhood will be rare rather than the norm. I am afraid that in America we have contaminated the humanizing process with concepts that appeal more to the animal than to the human. Primarily, the Me-First agenda, which was the natural outcome of the Individualist agenda. You can see how nicely that fit with the little animal in our Republican Ids. But also the idea of permissiveness, if it feels good, do it; the Democrat Id sure liked that one.
The presence of those Me-First and Permissiveness ideas would have harmed society substantially, even without the help of thousands of proponents writing How-to manuals. But write they did. And bookstores and libraries have been front-end loaded with How-to books for at least seventy years. Almost every How-to book details how one or more of the TRAITS OF A SOCIOPATH are the key(s) to “success”. Donald Trump is the logical outcome of this process. Believe me, there are many more where he came from–society’s low expectations, our absence of culture, and our failure to teach human behavior to our infant animals can result in nothing but adult animals gone wild.
Most of us are old enough to have been complicit, one way or another, in this dehumanization of the American population.
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