Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cultural Lag

New Zealand Constable,
Cathy Duder, stops two nude
bikers, tells them to wear helmets.

Cultural lag occurs when aspects of a culture do not keep up with technological advances. This can create problems with the social and cultural life of a people. I think we are seeing a good example of this at the moment when it comes to our political culture. It seems that our politicians, on both sides of the aisle, have not yet come to grips with the fact that with modern technology in the form of audio and videotape they have to stop lying all the time (as politicians have done consistently in the past). We have seen repeated cases of this in recent months, where someone denies having said something and a videotape is produced to prove that, in fact, they did say it. So many have been caught at this it would be impossible to enumerate them all, but Bush, Cheney, Palin, McCain, Rice, Rumsfeld, and many others come easily to mind. Now President Obama has been caught in the same way, denying that he ever campaigned for a public option, and there is footage showing that he indeed did just that. I doubt that the full meaning of this technological trap has been fully realized as yet. It would seem to me that eventually politicians would have to realize the “good ol’ days,” when they could just say anything that they wished for the moment, are past. But what might be frightening about this, is, what if they all told the truth? What would happen if they confessed they were trying to steal oil rather than export democracy? Or they were voting against something because they could not disappoint the companies that had given them money? What about a politician exposing the lies of his colleagues? I’m sure you all know from personal experience that your life would be hell if you were forced to tell only the truth, as when your spouse demands you agree that something that looks awful, that you believe is terribly ugly, like someone’s new baby, for example. Anyway, it is hard to decide which is worse, having politicians lie constantly or the threat of having them tell the truth. When we dealt only with printed matter things weren’t so bad, modern technology might well be said to have made things worse. Indeed, if politicians are not allowed to lie, our social system may collapse. To lie or not to lie, that is the question. There is no easy answer.

“We can’t afford it.” This is a claim we hear regularly, mostly from Republicans, but also from conservative Democrats as well. Thus it is we can’t afford health care. We can’t afford to give up our reliance on oil, or coal, or nuclear, or whatever, because we can’t afford it. We can’t destroy any dams to save the salmon because we can’t afford it. We can’t take any serious action on global warming because we can’t afford it. We can’t replace our crumbling infrastructure because we can’t afford it. We can’t do anything about our broken educational system because we can’t afford it. We can’t afford to have an endangered species act because we can’t afford it. And so on and on, ad infinitum; but we can afford “wars,” lots of them, and we can afford to even begin new ones, and we can maintain somewhere in the vicinity of a thousand (mostly unnecessary) bases all around the world, and we can afford a defense budget greater than all the rest of the world combined, and we can afford nuclear bombs, missiles, planes, tanks, submarines, cannons, land mines, poison gases, and other horrible weapons of destruction. In short, if it kills and maims and destroys, and causes untold misery, we can afford it, but if it threatens to improve the lot of mankind even one iota, we can’t afford it. This is a strange world we are living in, and it doesn’t say much about the mythical superiority of the human species. Don’t be surprised if we are one of those species inevitably doomed to extinction because, again, cultural lag does not permit us to keep up with our technology.

This is an interesting time of the year, here in our little county. Hunting season is about to come to a close and the hunters are all entering a contest to win a new hunting rifle. To enter you have to have your game butchered by one of our local butcher shops, then pose holding the gruesome head of your kill, deer, elk, moose, bear (a bear head for some reason won’t do, it has to be the whole bear), for a photo that appears in the local weekly. This year, for the first time in a very long time, we were even treated to pictures of a couple of dead wolves (they were legally hunted this year for the first time in I don’t know exactly how long). I don’t know precisely how they determine the winner but they always do. Also exciting is the glimpse we get just before Christmas of the “hill people.” I call them hill people because I don’t know how else to described them (delicacy does not permit me to call them hillbillies). These are people who live somewhere “back in the hills,” where many of them have no electricity, running water, or much of anything else. They don’t appear often in town but they do come in for supplies, especially around now. Many of them look like they haven’t bathed or washed their clothes for months, one of them I missed so far this year, comes dressed in deerskins with a huge hunting knife hanging from his waist (actually, quite a lot of them wear hunting knives). More often than not they arrive in old pickups with a gun rack and a dog or two, or three, riding in the bed. Many of them are on food stamps, of course, but I did see a couple the other day peel off some big bills for what I took to be several months worth of supplies. A terrible thing happened this month, every bar in town was closed down for licensing violations, except for one non-smoking bar (the non-smoking had nothing to do with it). I bet all those smokers who never go to that bar were forced to go. How they must have suffered! You see, things are not all a bed of roses here. Anyway, Happy Holidays to all, and good night.

Lying increases the creative faculties, expands the ego, and lessens the frictions of social contacts.
Clare Booth Luce

Hawaiians tend to think that forcing small children to sleep alone is a form of child abuse.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"...but we can afford “wars,” lots of them..."

You probably already know this but:

I'm reading a book on the history of New Zealand. This tiny country was able to "afford" socialised healthcare in 1938. But then they don't devote half or a third of their budget to the military.

The US is the "can't do" nation.