Cultural strip mining
Posted by aogFriday, 25 April 2003 at 08:38 TrackBack Ping URL
There are constant claims that America is impervious to foreign culture. My view is that America is remarkably accepting of foreign cultural influences. We have no government agency for ensuring the purity of English not any rules about the importation of foriegn cultural works. New foods, movies, fashion styles, even language are rapidly assimilated. So why does the image of America as an impervious culture monolith perist?

I think a big part of of it is that America doesn't import cultures but cultural artifacts. In effect, we strip mine other cultures for the best parts and take those. So those outside the US rarely see their own culture reflected in the US, only bits and pieces along with bits and pieces from a hundred other cultures. In fact for a particular culture different elements may well be adopted in differerent regions or demographics of the US.

In addition, the US is in fact relatively impervious to foreign cultures in toto. It's extremely hard for immigrants to maintain their full culture here in the US. Once in the country, their culture immediately begins to be rewritten by the local culture. So to kin left behind, it looks like America is swallowing up their culture. It's hard to see the few elements that migrate from the immigrants back in to the larger US culture.

It is this whole process of exchange and assimilation that gives US culture its vibrancy and resiliency. As with so many things, protection helps in the short term but cripples in the long term. Going without means accepting that while the meta-culture may stay the same, the perceived texture will change and that one must adapt to these changes. One of the things that appeals to me in modern conservatism is that it seems to have accepted this state of affairs, to cease worrying about the specific details of the culture while concentrating on those things which are more fundamental (e.g., the exchange of ideas rather than TV vs. radio vs. the FCC vs. the Internet). Get the basic rules right and let the culture take care of itself.