Disclaimer: Somebody, somewhere is going to accuse this post of being juvenile or childish because it was a line of dialogue from a game that inspired me. Someone else will think it’s racist. Honestly, it’s just me working out my thoughts on the topic, free-form as I go. I said I needed to think this through and go through several drafts before publishing, but using the typing of this post seems to be helping my thought process.
All scientific advancement due to intelligence overcoming, compensating for limitation. Can’t carry a load, so invent wheel. Can’t catch food, so invent spear. Limitations. No limitations, no advancement. No advancement, culture stagnates. Works other way, too. Advancement before culture is ready. Disastrous.
Mass Effect 2
Sometimes you already have a thought or idea in mind. Maybe you don’t quite know how to adequately express it, but it’s like this fundamental truth that you understand. Then, somebody or something re-words it just slightly or puts into context, a whole new light gets shone on it, and you have this revelation of why you knew this thing to be true. That’s what this conversation in a video game did for me.
This really got me thinking, maybe because I’m deployed on the east coast of Africa and trying to wrap my head around why they do things the way they do here. The culture is so different, and it’s manifest in such strange ways. It’s little details like a luxury home not having any kind of gasket on the (massive) doors or frames, so every time they close they sound like a giant drum as the huge plank of wood that is the door vibrates as one tremendous membrane. Or that they use trash cans, but no trash bags or liners, so the bins get disgusting and caked with dried layers of liquid waste. The bathroom in a building smelling worse that outhouses I’ve used, as if to prove that construction is no guarantee of better sanitation than a hole in the ground.
I watched an interview on BBC in March 2003 of a man on the streets of Baghdad talking about why they’ll conquer the infidel in battle. To prove his might or manliness he whipped out his AK47 and just started firing on full auto up into the air, with no concept or thought as to where those rounds might eventually land.
Mark Bowden quoted somebody (and I paraphrase, for recollection’s sake) on the DVD special features of Black Hawk Down as saying, “Everything possible that can be accomplished with guns has been accomplished in Mogadishu.” Except that’s typical, liberal bull**** and untrue. That’s somebody who doesn’t like guns and projecting his opinion on the situation as if the firearm itself has a causative nature. It completely ignores the provision of food, justified self-defense or defense of family by an otherwise peaceful person, or even just friendly and polite competition. It’s a problem of culture, and I think it’s way past time that we started admitting it.
I use firearms, and construction, and cleanliness, and driving as my examples for this cultural divide because it’s what I’m exposed to and what I can see. I see the everyday norm and typical culture as I shop in grocery stores and try to find Listerine over here. And in my everyday observations, from the bizarre routes people walk in the streets to the way they’ll literally just type anything into the grocery store register with no accounting for stock, my pervading thought is, “What in the hell are these people doing/thinking?”
Now, if this were really a racist diatribe, it would be easy to write them all off as morons or any number of more detestable insults (which I find offensive and won’t repeat). But that kind of thinking is short-sighted and stupid on it’s own. Unless there’s an environmental effect causing mass brain damage to an entire population, it’s ridiculous to think “they’re all stupid”. Brain power and intelligence have nothing to do with it, because any individual can be taught or educated. What it comes down to (and this crosses ALL national and racial lines) is culture. I don’t care if you’re American or Chinese, white or a beautiful shade of brown: Your capacity for excellence stems from your individual drive, and that’s largely contributed to by the culture you’re raised in.
I’m getting dangerously close to slipping to the “Thoughts on Excellence” essay I plan to write.
So let’s get back to the cultural thing. I think it should be universally agreed that slavery is an awful thing and one of the worst crimes man can commit upon his fellow man. But slavery has been abolished in the US for a long time (even longer in the UK) and the civil rights movement has basically equalized the races in the States (despite what race-baiters like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton say, because they ignore the cultural aspect of success). But I don’t know that the effects of slavery are still really being felt today other than causing racial diversity in regions of the globe. I’m coming to believe one of the most “damaging” things white Europeans actually did was interrupt other culture’s sociological evolution.
Kind of like the Prime Directive in Star Trek. Or a spoiled kid that gets given everything and never learns the need or value of working and earning for themselves (in a microcosm).
Discovery Channel here keeps playing commercials for “Marley Africa Road Trip”, and through this I learned about Bob Marley’s dream of a united Africa. Frankly, this is such a resource rich continent that it could be a global powerhouse. But it’s not. Forget uniting the continent, there are still tribes in individual countries butchering each other. Rwanda, anyone? Sierra Leone? Darfur? I can’t help but wonder if situations like these weren’t facilitated, not “because of guns”, but because guns were introduced to a culture before diplomacy.
Maybe tribes in Africa or some Native Americans would have stayed tribal so much longer because their environments didn’t require what other climates did. I don’t believe the Industrial Revolution came about because white people are smarter, but because of their culture, and possibly environment. This is something I really want to study now, and delve into the history of to discover more.
I still don’t have all my thoughts or conclusions together on the topic- which at the moment for me is, “Why do they do such slipshod work around here?” I can’t figure out what would possess somebody to cross traffic twice at a roundabout (walking through it length-wise) rather than simply cross a street once. Why doesn’t a grocery store care about inventory and stock monitoring? Why is everything so dirty? Why is it acceptable to simply stop in the middle of the road and hold up all the traffic behind you?
I feel like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Blood Diamond, simply saying “This is Africa” in a tone that implies it’s ok to give up hope. And I don’t have any silly notions of initiating some kind of cultural renaissance where suddenly people care about education and doing their best work and critical thought. But there are just times I can’t turn my brain off and I have to wonder just what went wrong and Mordin’s statement makes as much sense as any.