Saturday, October 26, 2013

Culture and Economics, how they're related, in reference to the United States and elsewhere

I see both of them as having a positive role to play in the construction of a healthy society. Material economic life can be built up, and it conditions people, but it the cultural values aren't there, it either won't last long, or it'll slowly decay. Unfortunately, while the positive contributions of culture, in the sense I'm meaning it, are easy to spot, the decay takes quite a lot longer before it becomes noticeable.

Cultural values here are meant to mean basic values held by society itself that shapes individual's understanding and interaction with the world at large. I see this as being quite independent from aspects of culture such as ethnic or religious culture, and instead having to do with what people on the ground actually believe, sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly, and act on.

Literacy and valuing learning, for example. Here in the U.S. college has become a joke, something that many, many, people party through while doing the minimum to graduate, just to get a piece of paper. Reading outside of college is at a very low point. I think it's more than possible to extend the apathy about learning to apathy in applying that learning in the outside world.

 Compare this situation with India. Here you have a culture that values learning, values literacy, and values applying all of that in the outside world, such that people who come from towns and cities that otherwise have very little in comparison with those of the U.S. possess a much deeper understanding of their chosen subject matter. Learning and higher education is valued over there as a thing in itself, not just as a way to make money, and being an educated person gives one status, as opposed to making one a nerd or what have you.

And the folks in India who have these educations are contributing to the growth and development of their country, moving it along, while we put more emphasis on football.

If we really want to get the U.S. back on track, we need to address not just inequality, which has progressed to an obscene and unheard of level here, but our cultural climate that is setting the country up for eventual failure on the world scene as well as destroying whatever non-material quality of life we still possess.

Both need to be developed in tandem, and addressed in tandem. The inequality is most likely linked to the climate of il-literacy and the prioritizing of material values before all else, which in the long run sabotages life, though it enriches some in the short term.

Often the calls for a more rigorous attention to college work are met with questions about what exactly will that translate out into in dollars? If people had taken that approach at the start of when this big pile of money that the United States sits on was being built, it wouldn't exist.

*on edit: student loan debt is an issue, and the fact that students in the United States who want to study hard have to contract it is an indicator of where we stand culturally on these things. Nevertheless, for every sincere student taking on debt there are many who still don't give a fuck and take on the debt anyways.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Veterans protest shut down of war memorials because of government shutdown---democracy at its finest

Because, of course, the reason it's shut down is because of the GOP, who these folks support. Not only that, but other agencies thought to be 'inessential', such as the EPA and food inspectors, have been sent home, but these folks aren't missed. No sir. Just the national parks, whose closure, as opposed to having non-toxic food, is an outrage.

You know, for all the talk about 'this is a Republic, not a Democracy', it's the Republicans who most act like the caricature that they paint. It's the moronic parent-teacher associations in small towns, representative of grass roots democracy at its finest, that leads to anti-evolution curriculum in the schools, along with most of the other outrages against common sense that typify primary school in the United States. It's the grass roots Tea Partiers that believe that Obama was born in Kenya, along with a host of other half-digested falsities. And its the grass roots veterans and friends lead by the inimitable Mrs. Palin that are protesting a shutdown that they themselves caused, yelling at Obama for being a bad, bad, man for closing national parks.

At times, looking at the scenery of the United States, where any damn idiocy is tolerated,  I would like to think that if we just had a requirement for footnotes and references to be supplied to any of these things in order for them to receive serious consideration, we'd do much better.

*on edit: to which I can add, that in the hype about the supposed 'controversy' regarding global warming, we have people with PhDs who actually go out and study the world pitted against people whose only distinguishing feature is a willingness to sit up late and read conspiracy theory websites, and the Bible. The two points of view are not equal, and there's no damn reason why Gunther from Arkansas, random anti-Climate Change fanatic, should be given equal time.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Seattle and Western Washington's strangeness, or, the travails of a new region

The strangeness of Seattle and of Washington State west of the Cascades doesn't come from progressive values or from people doing things that are in themselves necessarily strange. Instead, it comes from a generalized feeling of difference, of being in a place where everyday life exists in a familiar but slightly different form, one whose methods are recognizable, and navigable, but still off enough to have to be relearned. 

Seattle and Washington, taking that  to mean western Washington for the moment, constantly defy attempts at stereotypes. Coffee, Pike Place Market, ecological values, and the heritage of grunge rock, are all there, but they don't define it anymore than a glossy travel magazine's one off would.   Stereotyping Oregon is easy, especially Portland. When you go there you can recognize the city as possessing magnified tendencies that are found elsewhere in the country, and "Portlandia" trades on  it. Instead of organic chicken farms run by gurus,  Seattle's uniqueness comes from businesses that reinvent the types that they come from, in ways that are often not spectacularly weird, but second takes on familiarity.

Settled very late, Washington still plays catch up to the rest of the country. Western Washington is cut off from its eastern neighbors, both in state and out, by a forbidding mountain range on one side, and north enough that it's beyond the direct influence of California culture that Oregon experiences.  With no obvious model to go from beyond membership in a generic United States culture, it's still constructing the cultural and physical infrastructure that other states have absorbed naturally from their neighbors. It's still an unfinished work that's being created as we speak, and resembles a related country in formation.