Thomas Wictor

Is culture a good thing?

Is culture a good thing?

First, no news on the Mike Albee and Lura Dold front. As you may know, they defrauded me of $40,000 by exploiting the suicides of my parents in 2013. I’ve made a few inquiries here and there, and I’m planning a couple of things that may result in more exposure. Right now I have to wait. That’s fine. Much of my life has been spent waiting. I don’t mind doing it a little more.

Tim and I had an interesting conversation yesterday. We both feel that our lives are about to end. It’s not an impression of doom; we may simply be anticipating the great changes we’ll be making over the next two years, as we sell the three houses and leave California.

In 1995, when Tim and I were almost murdered, we began seeing little black shapes out of the corners of our eyes for at least two weeks before the actual crisis, and we had a sense of great foreboding. We’ve since seen those little black shapes several times, and they always herald oncoming disaster.

No little black shapes are making their appearance right now, so maybe Tim and I aren’t in any danger. What will be, will be. I’m not afraid, and neither is Tim. If anything happens, we’ll go down fighting. We’ll take as many of them with us as we can.

A man feared that he might find an assassin;
Another that he might find a victim.
One was more wise than the other.

—Stephen Crane

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Is culture a good thing?

I’ve been accused of being a racist. The accusation doesn’t bother me, because the word has lost all meaning through overuse. But hating skin color or facial features is just about the stupidest thing you could do. There are far better reasons to hate people.

In the past I described myself as a culturist. I used to hate all culture. What is culture? It’s language, religion, food, clothing, art, and the way we treat women, children, and animals. That’s all.

I’ve mellowed in that I no longer hate culture, but I wonder if we did a cost-benefit analysis, would culture be worth maintaining? What would we adopt in its place? Certainly there’s absolutely nobody on the planet qualified to create the ideal language, religion, food, clothing, art, and way to treat women, children, and animals. Besides, imposing all of that would require an army several hundred million strong. There’s a word for trying to impose a universal culture on others by force: Nazism.

If I have to choose between culture and Nazism, it’s no contest. This sort of weirdness will continue on its merry way, with my blessings.

So will this.

And this.

But the pangs persist. I have a close friend who’s a colonel in the Army of the Russian Federation. We e-mail several times a week. He writes in Russian, and I write in English. I don’t speak or read Russian, though now I can decipher simple words. Even with multiple machine translators, sometimes I simply don’t understand the colonel, and he doesn’t understand me. Our cultures get in the way.

The colonel has a good sense of humor, but often my jokes fall flat with him. We don’t have enough common ground for us to communicate without difficulty.

My brother Eric was born in the Netherlands. He’s both bilingual and bicultural. When we talk, it’s the same as talking with my other siblings. But even in the US, culture prevents us from understanding each other.

I recently started a Facebook account. It’s a dangerous undertaking because you can easily offend others and be misunderstood. Many people wear their cultures on their sleeves. These can be ethnically based cultures, politically based cultures, regionally based cultures, or nationally based cultures.

A lot of lip service is paid to “diversity,” but what that comes down to is a prescribed mixture of genders, sexual orientation, and races. That’s all. Diversity of thought is anathema. To almost everybody, not just one political culture or another.

The saddest culturally induced failure I ever experienced happened after 9/11. I used to go to a liquor store every day to buy my Diet Coke. The clerk was an Arab. On the morning of 9/11, I went there as usual, and he was sweaty and terrified. I held out my hand.

“Listen,” I said, “I’ve been coming here for a long time, and I don’t even know your name. My name is Tom.”

He shook my hand, looking like he was about to burst into tears, and introduced himself.

We never talked about 9/11. Instead, we just discussed our lives. He was a Syrian immigrant from Damascus, who’d married an American of Syrian descent. Gradually he began complaining to me how lonely he was. He had nobody to talk to.

“But you live in a Syrian community,” I said. “Aren’t there people there you can talk to?”

“No, nobody. I have nothing in common with them.”

“But aren’t there people from Damascus?”

“Yes, but not the same quarter of Damascus as me.”

One day he was very agitated. I asked him what the problem was.

“It’s too hard to talk to you!” he nearly shouted. “You’re so much older than I am. In my culture we treat our elders with formality. Every time I talk to you, I feel like I’m betraying my culture!”

I therefore stopped going to his store. My presence was too much of a strain on him. Because of culture. And today Syria is in a civil war that’s killed over 130,000 people. It’s a clash of cultures. The Rwandan genocide was also based on culture.

Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships) describes a dispute among the Lilliputians over the method of opening soft-boiled eggs. The Big-Endians favor breaking eggs on the larger end, while the Little-Endians break their eggs on the smaller end. Six wars are fought over this.

It sounds demented, but reality has a way of trumping fiction. WARNING: The following video contains graphic sexual language.

The anal bomb has been used on several occasions. There’s unbelievably gruesome footage out there that shows what a jihadi looked like after he detonated such a weapon. I won’t link to it, just as I won’t link to genuinely horrific human and animal abuse carried out in the name of cultural traditions.

Despite our differences we can get along, but only if we put aside the arbitrary limitations that we impose on ourselves. The reason I’m not a fan of culture is that it generally restricts the mind. What most cultures need is pruning. Get rid of the crappy stuff. Now that I’m on Facebook, I have conversations with people whose values are diametrically opposed to mine.

Doesn’t matter to me. But I know that if they discovered how I felt about abstracts that have no immediate impact on our lives, they’d unfriend me or block me. And that’s a shame. Everyone has a right to their beliefs. If someone’s not insulting me personally, what do I care if they disagree with me on something I hold dear?

Different ideas don’t scare, offend, or upset me. All I care about is whether someone is considerate. I don’t try to impose my values on others. Open your soft-boiled eggs from the large end, the small end, or even in the middle.

And send cheeseburgers into space. Behold one of the most beautiful, wacky, poignant, artistic videos I’ve ever seen. The man who made it is my brother, even though his culture is incomprehensibly different from mine.


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