Culture - Lessons from the Catholic Church, The Spanish Inquisition, Taxis and Backpacker Hostels
5.27.09, 30,000 ft above Central Peru, 830 am-
Upon leaving Lima Peru, I´ve come to think differently about culture. Not on the traces of culture like race, popular media or idiosyncracies, but on the essence of culture...perhaps? Furthermore, the prevailing school of thought in the circles I tend to socialize in is mistaken about culture, I think. In their desire to be "inclusive" and in their application of the concept.
A culture should not strive to be inclusive, to attempt as such is not only impossible but undesireable as well. The best, most productive and most brilliantly vibrant cultures are not defined by their inclusivity, but by their distinctivness. Take the example of the monks in the order of San Francisco. Touring the monastery, the values of the place are clear: God is Supreme, a life (and death) devoted to god is honorable, Peruvian influence and heritage is important and with limited exception we are one before god. These values are extracted from the artwork, memorials and crypted catacombs in the monastery. The distinctiviness of the culture is ever-present. Those who don´t "fit in" wouldn´t want to be a part of it. This sounds crude, I don´t mean it that way.
And it is better that way, though. Beacause of the distinctiveness of the culture, the devoted stay and accomplish the aims of the culture to the fullest extent. If the culture tried to bring in everyone through a doctrine of inclusivity-for-no-reason, there would be no culture and if there were, it certainly would not be as distinct and defined...it´d be bland cause it would have no core values.
However, this does not comment on the diversity within cultures, in fact the ideas are separate. Inclusivity only leads to diversity if the culture is trying to superfically circumvent narrowmindedness. Rather, I think a strong culture-note the use of culture instead of "cult"- WOULD be diverse, so long as the aims of the culture were virtuous and morally sound, which I´m assuming here. (A culture with mal-intent or impact is not a culture, but a cult, in my opinion) So to summarize, a culture must have clear boundaries that people can voluntarily stay inside or outside of. Cultures cannot be "inclusive" in the sense that everyone can be a part of them without ANY qualification. To do so would lead to a culture with no values or would be completely paralyzed to act in a virtous and moral way...in the long run, I think. In a sentence, cultures must have culture.
But while they remain committed to defining themselves distinctly, cultures most also engage with other cultures because of the size and interconnecteness of our civilization. To claim otherwise can be dismissed out of hand. if cultures neglect to engage with others, xenophobia occurs. Why does xenophobia matter? Because it leads to conflict. In some cases its really bad. Sometimes people die as a result. Sometimes, many thousands perish or live lives that are forcibly inhumane because of culture clash.
The Spanish Inquisition is an example of culture clash, rather than cultural discourse. Two cultures met and were different. The spanish decided to interrogate, torture and kill their so called heretis and did so with delusions of justification from a higher authority.
Indeed, when it comes to cultures, a choice emerges between division and discourse. History has repeated itself in this regard. The outcomes are porr when we choose division of distinct cultures instead of discourse. Division is a choice we must avoid, it is not a solution of culture clash, but exactly that, an avoidance of the problem. Peruvians and other colonialized countries can attest to this.
Surely this is hard. Once we choose to reject division we have another choice. Should we try to come to peacable co'existence with one another or should we do the bare minimum to get by. A wonderful taxi driver we had, Raul, laid it out clearly (in spanish) - when people cannot understand eachother, there are problems. That being said, we had a wonderful time exchanging our stories on a 25 minute trip. We took another trip that day which lasted 25 minutes and now, I couldnt tell you the name of the cabby. We still reached our destination, I suppose.
Nevertheless, there´s a joy in trying, even if its difficult or unsuccessful. Staying in a backpaper hostel has been one of the best, most hopeful experience of my life so far. We came together from all over the world and sometimes a lot was "lost in translation" , but we made friends, even if they werent lifelong. And it was exhilirating to engage in cultural discourse. But it isn´t easy.
I thinkw e can have strong and drastically different cultures. But if we do, we cannot walk away from discourse and trying really hard to engage in that discourse. There´s certainly join in the journey to do so. And best of all, it´s something that´s possible. Call me an optimist, but I don´t think any culture clash can´t be resolved. We have it in us. We´re damned if we don´t get it out of us.
Just landed in Cusco, on to Ollantaytambo, time for an adventure.