"Great anger and violence can never build a nation. We are striving to proceed in a manner and towards a result, which will ensure that all our people, both black and white, emerge as victors."
∴ Nelson Mandela (RIP)
The United States, locked in the kind of twilight disconnect that grips dying empires, is a country entranced by illusions. It spends its emotional and intellectual energy on the trivial and the absurd. It is captivated by the hollow stagecraft of celebrity culture as the walls crumble. This celebrity culture giddily licenses a dark voyeurism into other people’s humiliation, pain, weakness and betrayal. Day after day, one lurid saga after another, whether it is Michael Jackson, Britney Spears [or Miley Cyrus], enthralls the country … despite bank collapses, wars, mounting poverty or the criminality of its financial class.
The virtues that sustain a nation-state and build community, from honesty to self-sacrifice to transparency to sharing, are ridiculed each night on television as rubes stupid enough to cling to this antiquated behavior are voted off reality shows. Fellow competitors for prize money and a chance for fleeting fame, cheered on by millions of viewers, elect to “disappear” the unwanted. In the final credits of the reality show America’s Next Top Model, a picture of the woman expelled during the episode vanishes from the group portrait on the screen. Those cast aside become, at least to the television audience, nonpersons. Celebrities that can no longer generate publicity, good or bad, vanish. Life, these shows persistently teach, is a brutal world of unadulterated competition and a constant quest for notoriety and attention.
Our culture of flagrant self-exaltation, hardwired in the American character, permits the humiliation of all those who oppose us. We believe, after all, that because we have the capacity to wage war we have a right to wage war. Those who lose deserve to be erased. Those who fail, those who are deemed ugly, ignorant or poor, should be belittled and mocked. Human beings are used and discarded like Styrofoam boxes that held junk food. And the numbers of superfluous human beings are swelling the unemployment offices, the prisons and the soup kitchens.
It is the cult of self that is killing the United States.This cult has within it the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation; a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation; and the incapacity for remorse or guilt. Michael Jackson, from his phony marriages to the portraits of himself dressed as royalty to his insatiable hunger for new toys to his questionable relationships with young boys, had all these qualities. And this is also the ethic promoted by corporations. It is the ethic of unfettered capitalism. It is the misguided belief that personal style and personal advancement, mistaken for individualism, are the same as democratic equality. It is the nationwide celebration of image over substance, of illusion over truth. And it is why investment bankers blink in confusion when questioned about the morality of the billions in profits they made by selling worthless toxic assets to investors.
We have a right, in the cult of the self, to get whatever we desire. We can do anything, even belittle and destroy those around us, including our friends, to make money, to be happy and to become famous. Once fame and wealth are achieved, they become their own justification, their own morality. How one gets there is irrelevant. It is this perverted ethic that gave us investment houses like Goldman Sachs … that willfully trashed the global economy and stole money from tens of millions of small shareholders who had bought stock in these corporations for retirement or college. The heads of these corporations, like the winners on a reality television program who lied and manipulated others to succeed, walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses and compensation. The ethic of Wall Street is the ethic of celebrity. It is fused into one bizarre, perverted belief system and it has banished the possibility of the country returning to a reality-based world or avoiding internal collapse. A society that cannot distinguish reality from illusion dies.
The tantalizing illusions offered by our consumer culture, however, are vanishing for most citizens as we head toward collapse. The ability of the corporate state to pacify the country by extending credit and providing cheap manufactured goods to the masses is gone. The jobs we are shedding are not coming back, as the White House economist Lawrence Summers tacitly acknowledges when he talks of a “jobless recovery.” The belief that democracy lies in the choice between competing brands and the accumulation of vast sums of personal wealth at the expense of others is exposed as a fraud. Freedom can no longer be conflated with the free market. The travails of the poor are rapidly becoming the travails of the middle class, especially as unemployment insurance runs out. And class warfare, once buried under the happy illusion that we were all going to enter an age of prosperity with unfettered capitalism, is returning with a vengeance.”
Refer to; Plato’s Allegory of the Cave
"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."
∴ Karl Marx
Cultural relativism is a principle that was established as axiomatic in anthropological research by Franz Boas in the first few decades of the 20th century and later popularized by his students. Boas first articulated the idea in 1887: “…civilization is not something absolute, but … is relative, and … our ideas and conceptions are true only so far as our civilization goes.” However, Boas did not coin the term.
The first use of the term recorded in the Dictionary was by philosopher and social theorist Alain Locke in 1924 to describe Robert Lowie's “extreme cultural relativism”, found in the latter's 1917 book Culture and Ethnology. The term became common among anthropologists after Boas’ death in 1942, to express their synthesis of a number of ideas Boas had developed. Boas believed that the sweep of cultures, to be found in connection with any sub species, is so vast and pervasive that there cannot be a relationship between culture and race. Cultural relativism involves specific epistemological and methodological claims. Whether or not these claims necessitate a specific ethical stance is a matter of debate. This principle should not be confused with moral relativism.
As a critical device
Marcus and Fischer’s attention to anthropology’s refusal to accept Western culture’s claims to universality implies that cultural relativism is a tool not only in cultural understanding, but in cultural critique. This points to the second front on which they believe anthropology offers people enlightenment:The other promise of anthropology, one less fully distinguished and attended to than the first, has been to serve as a form of cultural critique for ourselves. In using portraits of other cultural patterns to reflect self-critically on our own ways, anthropology disrupts common sense and makes us reexamine our taken-for-granted assumptions.
The critical function of cultural relativism is widely understood; philosopher John Cook observed that “It is aimed at getting people to admit that although it may seem to them that their moral principles are self-evidently true, and hence seem to be grounds for passing judgement on other peoples, in fact, the self-evidence of these principles is a kind of illusion”. Although Cook is misconstruing cultural relativism to be identical to moral relativism, his point still applies to the broader understanding of the term. Relativism does not mean that one’s views are false, but it does mean that it is false to claim that one’s views are self-evident.
The critical function was indeed one of the ends to which Benedict hoped her own work would meet. The most famous use of cultural relativism as a means of cultural critique is Margaret Mead's dissertation research (under Boas) of adolescent female sexuality in Samoa. By contrasting the ease and freedom enjoyed by Samoan teenagers, Mead called into question claims that the stress and rebelliousness that characterize American adolescence is natural and inevitable.
As Marcus and Fischer point out, however, this use of relativism can be sustained only if there is ethnographic research in the United States comparable to the research conducted in Samoa. Although every decade has witnessed anthropologists conducting research in the United States, the very principles of relativism have led most anthropologists to conduct research in foreign countries.
Comparison to moral relativism
Virtually all anthropologists today subscribe to the methodological and heuristic principles of Boas and his students in their research. But, according to Marcus and Fischer, when the principle of cultural relativism was popularized after World War II, it came to be understood “more as a doctrine, or position, than as a method.” As a consequence, people misinterpreted cultural relativism to mean that all cultures are both separate and equal, and that all value systems, however different, are equally valid. Thus, people came to use the phrase “cultural relativism” erroneously to signify “moral relativism.”
People generally understand moral relativism to mean that there are no absolute or universal moral standards. The nature of anthropological research lends itself to the search for universal standards (standards found in all societies), but not necessarily absolute standards; nevertheless, people often confuse the two. In 1944 Clyde Kluckhohn (who studied at Harvard, but who admired and worked with Boas and his students) attempted to address this issue:The concept of culture, like any other piece of knowledge, can be abused and misinterpreted. Some fear that the principle of cultural relativity will weaken morality. “If the Bugabuga do it why can’t we? It’s all relative anyway.” But this is exactly what cultural relativity does not mean.The principle of cultural relativity does not mean that because the members of some savage tribe are allowed to behave in a certain way that this fact gives intellectual warrant for such behavior in all groups. Cultural relativity means, on the contrary, that the appropriateness of any positive or negative custom must be evaluated with regard to how this habit fits with other group habits. Having several wives makes economic sense among herders, not among hunters. While breeding a healthy scepticism as to the eternity of any value prized by a particular people, anthropology does not as a matter of theory deny the existence of moral absolutes. Rather, the use of the comparative method provides a scientific means of discovering such absolutes. If all surviving societies have found it necessary to impose some of the same restrictions upon the behavior of their members, this makes a strong argument that these aspects of the moral code are indispensable.
Although Kluckholn was using language that was popular at the time (e.g. “savage tribe”) but which is now considered antiquated and coarse by most anthropologists, his point was that although moral standards are rooted in one’s culture, anthropological research reveals that the fact that people have moral standards is a universal. He was especially interested in deriving specific moral standards that are universal, although few if any anthropologists think that he was successful.
There is an ambiguity in Kluckhohn’s formulation that would haunt anthropologists in the years to come. It makes it clear that one’s moral standards make sense in terms of one’s culture. He waffles, however, on whether the moral standards of one society could be applied to another. Four years later American anthropologists had to confront this issue head-on.
Irishman Mark Boyle tried to live life with no income, no bank balance and no spending. Here’s how he finds it. If someone told me seven years ago, …
"Irishman Mark Boyle tried to live life with no income, no bank balance and no spending. Here’s how he finds it.
If someone told me seven years ago, in my final year of a business and economics degree, that I’d now be living without money, I’d have probably choked on my microwaved ready meal. The plan back then was to get a ‘good’ job, make as much money as possible, and buy the stuff that would show society I was successful.
For a while I did it – I had a fantastic job managing a big organic food company; had myself a yacht on the harbour. If it hadn’t been for the chance purchase of a video called Gandhi, I’d still be doing it today. Instead, for the last fifteen months, I haven’t spent or received a single penny. Zilch.
The change in life path came one evening on the yacht whilst philosophising with a friend over a glass of merlot. Whilst I had been significantly influenced by the Mahatma’s quote “be the change you want to see in the world”, I had no idea what that change was up until then. We began talking about all major issues in the world – environmental destruction, resource wars, factory farms, sweatshop labour – and wondering which of these we would be best devoting our time to. Not that we felt we could make any difference, being two small drops in a highly polluted ocean.
But that evening I had a realisation. These issues weren’t as unrelated as I had previously thought – they had a common root cause. I believe the fact that we no longer see the direct repercussions our purchases have on the people, environment and animals they affect is the factor that unites these problems.
The degrees of separation between the consumer and the consumed have increased so much that it now means we’re completely unaware of the levels of destruction and suffering embodied in the ‘stuff’ we buy.
Very few people actually want to cause suffering to others; most just don’t have any idea that they directly are. The tool that has enabled this separation is money, especially in its globalised format.
Take this for an example: if we grew our own food, we wouldn’t waste a third of it as we do today.
If we made our own tables and chairs, we wouldn’t throw them out the moment we changed the interior décor.
If we had to clean our own drinking water, we probably wouldn’t shit in it.
So to be the change I wanted to see in the world, it unfortunately meant I was going to have to give up money, which I decided to do for a year initially. So I made a list of the basics I’d need to survive. I adore food, so it was at the top. There are four legs to the food-for-free table: foraging wild food, growing your own, bartering and using waste grub, of which there far too much.
On my first day I fed 150 people a three course meal with waste and foraged food. Most of the year I ate my own crops though and waste only made up about five per cent my diet. I cooked outside – rain or shine – on a rocket stove.
Next up was shelter. So I got myself a caravan from Freecycle, parked it on an organic farm I was volunteering with, and kitted it out to be off the electricity grid. I’d use wood I either coppiced or scavenged to heat my humble abode in a wood burner made from an old gas bottle, and I had a compost loo to make ‘humanure’ for my veggies.
I bathed in a river, and for toothpaste I used washed up cuttlefish bone with wild fennel seeds, an oddity for a vegan. For loo roll I’d relieve the local newsagents of its papers (I once wiped my arse with a story about myself); it wasn’t double quilted but it quickly became normal. To get around I had a bike and trailer, and the 55 km commute to the city doubled up as my gym subscription. For lighting I’d use beeswax candles.
Many people label me an anti-capitalist. Whilst I do believe capitalism is fundamentally flawed, requiring infinite growth on a finite planet, I am not anti anything. I am pro-nature, pro-community and pro-happiness. And that’s the thing I don’t get – if all this consumerism and environmental destruction brought happiness, it would make some sense. But all the key indicators of unhappiness – depression, crime, mental illness, obesity, suicide and so on are on the increase. More money it seems, does not equate to more happiness.
Ironically, I have found this year to be the happiest of my life. I’ve more friends in my community than ever, I haven’t been ill since I began, and I’ve never been fitter. I’ve found that friendship, not money, is real security. That most western poverty is spiritual. And that independence is really interdependence.
Could we all live like this tomorrow? No. It would be a catastrophe, we are too addicted to both it and cheap energy, and have managed to build an entire global infrastructure around the abundance of both. But if we devolved decision making and re-localised down to communities of no larger than 150 people, then why not? For over 90 per cent of our time on this planet, a period when we lived much more ecologically, we lived without money. Now we are the only species to use it, probably because we are the species most out of touch with nature.
People now often ask me what is missing compared to my old world of lucre and business. Stress. Traffic-jams. Bank statements. Utility bills. Oh yeah, and the odd pint of organic ale with my mates down the local.”