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An Attempt at How Cultural Orthodoxies (Dogmas) Form

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Cogs and Gears

I’ve been pretty surprised at the rate at which new cultural orthodoxies have been formed over the course of my lifetime but particularly the last decade.  This post serves as an attempt at dissecting how cultural orthodoxies form and serves to appreciate the complexity of their genesis.  There is too much reductionistic thought out there about how cultural shifts occur and most of it centers on just one or two cultural factors and fails to take into account the massive web of multiple reciprocities that is this thing we call culture. Most of the current cultural commentary picks two or three sources as the root causes.  Typically the cited sources are institutional – the (liberal) media, corporations, the current political milieu, or highly organized elite power brokers.  I think these things have certainly played a role, even key roles, into the cultural shifts that we have seen.  That said, I think these views are pretty reductionistic and fail to understand the complexities the constitute culture.  As Justin Holcomb has said, “The most powerful aspect of culture is that which we do not think or reason about.” My main point in this piece is that the forces, elements, and ingredients that cause cultural change are very complicated and cannot be boiled down to just a few people, tribes, or institutions.

 First, we need to understand what elements of culture are at work, both conscious and unconscious:

 There is a constellation of at least 8 things that add to the formulation of cultural dogma – NOTE:  5 of these 8 are directly taken from a presentation delivered by Justin Holcomb and represent heavily thoughts from UVA’s department of Sociology (particularly that of James Davison Hunter) and also that of Christian Smith (Notre Dame)).

1.  Artifacts:  iPhones, iPads, or other iDevices that unconsciously reorder how we interact with stimuli or information.  Artifacts can also be cultural icons such as the Cowboy, Bald Eagle, or Coca-Cola.  Artifacts unconsciously impact how we think and interact about our world.

2.  Language:  Language is the carrier of culture… this is why terminology, accents, vocabularies, technical terms, pronunciations, and word meanings can very heavily geographically even within the same linguistic system.  The use of the various aspects of language heavily determines tribal identity.

3.  Beliefs, Symbols, or Ideas:  these comprise some of the commonly held notions, brand identities, or thoughts of a people group or tribal faction.

4.  Social Forces (aka Deep Structures) – Note the first 6 are from Justin Holcomb:

  • Individualism
  • The Therapeutic – the making of everything as not anyone’s own ultimate responsibility and the centrality of personal happiness of the goal of the individual
  • Consumerism – the commodification of things that should not be commodified
  • Pluralism – the acceptance of mutually exclusive systems of thought as being equally valued and/or true
  • Secularism – the intentional lessening of religious authority in a culture
  • Technology
  • Democritization of knowledge – consensus is king and if the consensus doesn’t agree with you, bludgeon them until they do
  • Post-Modern-Pragmatism – this is my own personal soap box on the mis-labeling of all things post-modern and what we really mean when we say the term “post-modernism”
  • Globalism/Mobility – this also relates closely to the rapid rise of urbanization, the velocity of ideas, the fluidity with which people change geographic location, and the role of the worldwide marketplace and supply chain

5.  Institutions:  politics, education, economic, spiritual, media… etc.

6.  Practices or Rituals:  these are the conscious (places of worship) or unconscious (shopping, sports, entertainment) liturgies of a culture – more on that here, and here.

7.  Elites:  these can be media, political, athletic, celebrity, or other cultural curators and definers.  One could categorize these as being the heads of various institutions (#5 above), but elites are more individuals than groups and seem to transcend even the institutions that gave them their platforms.

8.  The Marketplace:  dollars (or perceived dollars) can be the most significant voters of cultural change and this can happen on both the macro (Mozilla) and micro levels (Worldvision).

 Second, we need to understand what some of our cultural orthodoxies (dogmas) happen to be:

(Note – I have in view here principally the West and specifically the American cultural context)

-“The highest moral good lay[s] in personal self-fulfillment” – see George Marsden’s book, The Twilight of the American Enlightenment:  the 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal BeliefWSJ review here

-Public conversation (or dialogue or discourse) is only to be about facts and not beliefs – in other words it is taboo to talk about God

-Marriage is fundamentally about (romantic) love

-Homosexual behavior is to be accepted at least as non-abnormal and in some instances as normative

-What doesn’t hurt other people is morally permissible

Authenticity to self and personal happiness are very important virtues and perhaps the highest of all the virtues

-Personal happiness is ultimate

-Sex is principally intended for pleasure

-Be good (in your own eyes) in order to be self-actualized (happy)

-The subjective individual self, in combination with the herd (read: democritization of knowledge), is the greatest interpreter, curator, and judge of what is true, good, and beautiful (over against history, data, or external authority)

Third, we need to understand the interplay of the cultural elements with the culture, our tribal faction, and ourselves

Velocity of ideas:  

Before movable typeset, ideas and culture were principally only shared along trade routes.   Those trade routes which were often roads or nautical routes were the only means by which one culture (or tribe) might cross-polinate another group.  This made the velocity of ideas was much slower than in post-industrial and pre-internet age.  Another complexity to the transmission of ideas dealt with low levels of literacy and significant linguistic barriers that existed for millennia.  Oral traditions can travel remarkably quick yet must gain certain thresholds of cultural penetration in order to take route and multiple through generations.  The paradigm shifts in the transmission of ideas were principally the Gutenberg printing press, transportation advances (cars, planes… etc.), and communication revolutions (radio, television, satellite, internet, web 2.0).  These paradigm shifts in transmission of ideas has radically increased the velocity of ideas.  In the modern era, ideas can travel at nearly limitless speed, spread through thousands of seemingly disparate and unconnected networks or tribes, and reach saturation levels significant enough to change public opinion, shape political policy, or even to overthrow governments (ie. Twitter and the Arab Spring).

Cultural Interaction is Determinative of Belief:

Humans naturally gravitate toward like kind and like minded.  That said, there is significant interplay between what we believe and how you come up with what you believe.  Orthodoxy (right beliefs) affects orthopathos, (right emotions) affects orthopraxis (right practice), affect orthodoxy, affects orthopraxis, affects orthodoxy… ad infinitum.  So how we interact with culture – whether we engage it, critique it, or embrace it will impact consciously or unconsciously what we believe.  You can evidence this very clearly with radically undercontextualized and/or cultish groups like the FLDS or the Westboro Baptist folks.

Unconscious Cultural Elements:

The seven cultural elements listed above are constantly influencing our lives in good ways, bad ways, and every shade of grey in-between.  Most of this influence is unconscious, subconscious, selectively ignored, or down played as not playing a role in what we believe.  I have had several hundred conversations with people about what they believe.  In an overwhelming number of such instances, people believe the set of ideas that justify their wants, desires, and passions.  In these instances the horse was the wants, desires, and passions of the heart that drove the cart of the justifications, rationalizations, and knowledge of the head.  In other words, people seek evidence, truth, arguments, facts, and knowledge about their beliefs after those beliefs are formed by their belief system (secular, religious, philosophical, or other).  There are notable exceptions, but this seems to be more normative than not.  Most folks could not even name a single thinker, writer, philosopher, sacred text, or cultural element that was the genesis of their most central tenets, dogmas, orthodoxies, or beliefs.

Conscious Elements:  

That said, some of these cultural elements above are very conscious.  These elements are the ones that tend to get the most ink spilled about them.  It is usually institutions and elites that get the most attention and the usual scapegoats for when their is some rising cultural dogma that is contrary to our own tribal orthodoxy.  I do not wish to downplay the role of celebrity, elites, the marketplace, and institutions of all kinds in the formulation of new cultural dogmas.  The role of these conscious elements has been well noted in the sexual revolution, the rise of feminism, the rise of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, and have shaped the battle lines on other issues like abortion, gender, and sexuality.

Concluding thoughts:  If you have bought into the idea that the contours of the cultural landscape are complex and inter-related, then I hope that you might be willing to think and interact on those contours with more deftness and in a manner than is more winsome.  I would hope that you would be able to identify more readily some of unconscious elements that comprise the invisible hand of culture.  Be patient with people who do not understand or do not care that they hold numerous mutually exclusive ideas in their worldview.  Have compassion on the culture for it is harassed and helpless:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Matthew 9:36

 

For further reading:

Culture Wars, James Davison Hunter

Intellectuals, Paul Johnson

Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey

The Twilight of the American Enlightenment:  the 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief, George Marsden

Social and Cultural Dynamics, Pitirim Sorokin

To Change the World, James Davison Hunter

Desiring the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, John Frame

Best Links of the Week

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Best Links of the Week

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George W. Bush has a few refreshingly rare words for a former president in a recent interview:

I don’t want to go out and campaign for candidates. I don’t want to be viewed as a perpetual money-raiser. I don’t want to be on these talk shows giving my opinion, second-guessing the current president. I think it’s bad for the country, frankly, to have a former president criticize his successor. It’s tough enough to be president as it is without a former president undermining the current president. Plus, I don’t want to do that.

Huge insult during Chinese delegation visit and huge blunder by Obama administration – “A State Insult with Chinese Charateristics.”  This further highlights

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LinkedIn is going public.

Why You Should Always Run Up the Score” – First Things

GOP entertaining privatizing Medicare.

The most sued companies in America.  Surprise, all the usual subprime suspects lead the list…

China keeps ramping up the dollar rhetoric.

 

FCIC Report – Financial Crisis was Avoidable – I am not sure whether this is the case or not.  It is a rather complex question of whether it was avoidable or not.   It leaves me with the question, does human irrationality not necessitate the existence of irrational bubbles?

Over 99% vote for secession in Southern Sudan

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Tons of British Anglicans fleeing the Anglican church in favor of Roman Catholicism

Baseball player walks away from $12 million salary because he says he ‘doesn’t deserve it.’

Rafi Eitan recounts the story of their capture of Nazi Holocaust chief architect Adolf Eichmann.

Truly excellent interview with Francis Ford Coppola:

There is something we know that’s connected with beauty and truth. There is something ancient. We know that art is about beauty, and therefore it has to be about truth.

UN spends $288,700 per “green job”

Consumer confidence crashing in the UK

11% of all homes are vacant in U.S. – this amounts to 18 million homes

Florida Judge rules that Obamacare is unconstitutional.  In the same vein, “Tawdry Details of Obamacare

“Greatest Putt-Putt Shot Ever”

Smooth Criminal on Cello

Best Links of the Week

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I think some PAC published this video… worth watching

How to use Zotero to organize your personal library.  Zotero has personally saved me literally dozens of hours on a single project I worked on recently.  Any person in graduate school writing papers should use this tool.  The simple firefox/Office plugin will format your footnotes and create your Bibliography and/or Works Cited for you.  Hours saved.  I can’t believe more people don’t use this already.

The French are funny.  They are rioting because their version of Social Security got moved from age 60 to age 62.  I remember them getting all fussy when Sarkozy changed the work week from 35 hours to 40 hours.

Capitalism Saved the Miners

WSJ on the status of the mortgage mess in the U.S.

Spot on TIME Magazine piece on why young Italian professionals are leaving Italy in droves.  For once, an American journalistic enterprise hits a home run on understanding the many layers of Italian culture and economics.  Here is a bonus piece on the trash crisis in Naples, Italy.  I remember the citizens of Avellino getting so upset at their trash crisis that they started dumping trash on the city courthouse steps and lighting it on fire.  Awesome.

Inflation

Know Your Heretics

An interesting opinion piece on UGA’s new engineering school and the state of education in the state of Georgia.

 

 

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Some cogent thoughts on church planting by Ed Stetzer (see video above)

Tim Tebow Documentary coming out soon:  Trailer Here

Excellent piece in Vanity Fair by Michael Lewis entitled, “Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds

WSJ article on Obama pushing for a tax cut and a tax hike?

Further Seems Forever reuniting with Chris Carabba.  I am hope that the new music is substantive and layered.

HDR video using two Canon 5D Mark ii‘s

Very-well written piece utterly dissecting Lady Gaga (and by corollary the generation that has made her famous) in an article entitled, “Lady Gaga and the Death of Sex.”

Interesting debate in Israel over daylight savings time and theology.

Tennessee Volunteer football coach has to coach up players on how to take a shower properly after a series of staph infections amongst players.

Popular Science gallery on 30 Awesome College Labs (classes).

Stanford creating seriously peer-reviewed rival to Wikipedia.

Infographic on who is in the blogosphere. (HT: Challies)

How to block abusive or unfriendly email on Gmail

Fidel Castro reportedly saying publicly that Cuban model of government and economics does not work… then states he misspoke and meant to say “capitalism doesn’t work.”

Really strange soccer goal (HT: Uri)

Why the Chinese economy is expanding – efficient production.  Note – the video has not been sped up

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Typhoon Class Russian Submarine

Much greater activity by Russian submarines in the North Atlantic.  By the way, The Hunt for Red October, is one of my favorite books and movie.

Famous man-caves.  My favorite is Frank Lloyd-Wright’s man-cave.

Russia-Asia/Pacific pipeline begins development.  This is probably the most important and substantial piece of news this week or month but it will not even make a blip on the radar of any major news outlet.  This pipeline will substantially change the path of Russian oil from the Europe to Asia.  Russia is very very well positioned for the future.  This move is smart, strategic, and sound.  It ensures that neither Indo-China nor the EU will give Russia any major political problems, while it also ensures a steady cash flow to their already commodity rich economy.  Water, food (mainly corn), oil, lending, and parity make the world go round.  If that sentence makes no sense to you, then you don’t grasp globalization yet.  Politics and economics are two sides of the same coin whose fiat is power.  In my opinion, Vladimir Putin and the Russian technocratic government are wicked brilliant.  If the United States wants to be relevant in the 22nd Century we need to return to sound fiscal policy and streamlined government.

Russell Moore brings needed clarity to Glenn Beck’s rally in Washington D.C.

GMail now introduces priority inbox: “Incoming email gets separated into sections: important and unread, starred, and everything else. Don’t like these? Customize them.”  This is super helpful as I have been already doing something like this with a system of marking unread and color coded stars (superstars GMail plugin).  It will be rolled out throughout this week and has yet to been offered in my account yet, but I cannot wait.

Carl Trueman has a great piece on pastors actually knowing the people in their church.

Why ∏A = gUG + min(k-g, (1-g)(1-r)) equals low airline fares

A really really thorough post on how to completely extricate your online footprint… complete with ungoogling, social networking deletion, down to much more minor minutiae.

Stormpulse is a really nice weather and hurricane website I discovered this week.

Ridiculous between the legs tennis shot by Roger Federer:

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In one of the weirder stories in recent memory… former head of NASDAQ and convicted swindler of $50,000,000,000, Bernie Madoff was severely beaten.  There are several details that are really strange though, Yahoo has the full article.  Apparently the incident happened back in December of 2009.  It involves a homosexual prison gang.  Madoff’s injuries are really bad, ‘facial fractures, lacerations, broken ribs, and a collapsed lung.’  I do recall that Madoff was hospitalized back in December for ‘falling out of a bunk bed,’ and remember being skeptical about that.  Apparently, Madoff spends his time in the medium security prison giving out financial advice to inmates and he has also befriended the head of the Columbo crime family Carmine Persico.  Apparently also, former Lehman Brothers CEO was beaten up also by a former Lehman employee.  You can’t make this story up.

Google quits censoring in China.

Dwight Schrute would be proud of Shell Oil Company and a subsidiary Virent, for making biofuel gasoline from beets.

Bill Gates wants a nuclear reactor.

World famous thief Gerald Blanchard is caught due to a disgruntled Wal-Mart employee.

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