Today, starting with the first of three field research interviews this month, I start with an introduction in order to ask a question, “When I was young, I wanted to look older. Now that I’m older, I want to look young. Why does it feel so good to have someone tell me, ‘Oh my, you look so young’?” For an interview question, it’s terribly worded, not particularly efficient in getting my point across; however, all six women agree immediately with a resounding, “It’s cultural.” So my next thought is, can we ever move beyond our culture?
In The Rebel Sell, Heath and Potter try to tease apart the cultural and sociological underpinnings of the present day economic impact within our society. Speaking to anti-capitalists first, the authors hope to convey that the antics of the counter-culture (i.e. Occupy Wall Street of the 00s, Hippies of the 60s) are simply another example of moving the counter to the center of culture. “Bohemianism and Business” actually have compatible interests, trying to dress the entrepreneur spirit of manifest destiny into a different outfit, but with the same principals nonetheless. The central ideology for capitalists and anti-capitalists focuses on wanting to be cool. Neither of them would agree with the other. Anti-capitalists would say their “coolness” is in rebellion and nonconformity whereas the Capitalist would say it’s in individuality and personal choice. But these desires come from the same root system of the sale tactic (whether economic or ideological) that transitions from selling to people what they need to selling them what is distinctive.
What I enjoy most in the authors’ approach is their satirical, in-your-face narrative that perturbs everyone, both sides, liberal-conservative, right-left, capitalist-socialist, in the process. Their goal is not to provide a formula, nor an affirmation of what works on either side. Rather, they overturn what anti-capitalists and capitalists hold onto in order to prove their point. By uncovering reality, what strikes me is a possible and needed response in our bondage to culture, as illustrated by the women today in my interview. The answer doesn’t line up with one particular dogma, or party line, or economic dictate. To disentangle cultural assumptions from the way we hope and desire to function in life requires a willingness to address the sacred cows of each “side.”
In another text, The Devil You Don’t Know (Louis J. Cameli), he speaks of how Satan easily deceives us of evil in this world by causing division. Sadly, Satan subtly steers us away from honest conversation with people with whom we agree and disagree. We no longer have safe places to work towards solutions economically, sociologically, spiritually, to name a few arenas. Division creates chasms that break apart opportunities to address true evil as sides find less and less in common, and more and more discord. Unfortunately, the conversations to find answers never occur which ironically are the very changes that both anti-capitalists and capitalists would hope to see.
In the humor of Heath and Potter, a light-heartedness allows for baby steps to stop the blaming so that asking the questions can be the focus. The authors encourage starting with small, workable proposals in the collective action of working together. Rather than allow the “logic of high school” to triumph, conversation in listening to each other could begin to change the framework of how we work towards solutions. Perhaps then, the person who receives the words, “Wow, you look so old,” could see that culture doesn’t have the last word on how we view one another, rather the value of wisdom with age could actually benefit the community in the conversation. The evil of division that seems inevitable and despairing can then be replaced with hope and possibilities of how to change a culture.
One last comment, anyone as a child who sang Free to Be You and Me, originally sung by Marlo Thomas and friends, “had me at hello” (See Introduction). Whether it is Heath or Potter (they don’t disclose), either one, I find myself ready to enjoy the conversation. While I still don’t know where I fall as a capitalist or anti-capitalist, I do appreciate that I’m asking more questions as a result of these two “intellectual martyrs.”
16 responses to “Disentangling Culture”
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Mary, Great thought, “The central ideology for capitalists and anti-capitalists focuses on wanting to be cool. Neither of them would agree with the other. Anti-capitalists would say their “coolness” is in rebellion and nonconformity whereas the Capitalist would say it’s in individuality and personal choice.” Funny how ultimately what they both wanted was gained in the advancement of the culture? How does the saying go . . . “culture” eats “strategy” for lunch??? Great post!
Phil and Mary, one thing that stood to me when I read that “wanting to be cool” section was how in order to acheive that goal, each side needs the other! Without each other, no suitable contrast exists against which to compare. They MUST have each other to push off of, to define themselves against.
Jon, I have heard that described as a low or juvenile form of argument called “framing.” Framing needs something wrong in order to make its case of right. It does kind of feel like that is what is going on. ???
I think when an argument is purely polemic, it begins to feel juvenile. But to a certain degree, if there were no contrasting elements to point to, there is a dimension of description that would be missing. Once again it seems that balance is in order. We should describe both what we stand against AND what we stand FOR.
In the case of the Capitalist/Socialist continuum, without the tension of the opposite pole, either of them would cause devastation on a global scale I think.
Hang on, I need to jump in my 12 MPG Suburban to run down to Whole Foods and buy some organic, responsibly-sourced kale juice…
You all are so cool. I wish I had a suburban! I’ll just drive my responsible practical minivan and feed my kids mac and cheese for lunch.
I totally don’t have a Suburban
So, whole foods and hydroponic garden…you’re on the path to coolness! We live between so many tensions, yet we adjust to living in that tension. However, harmony is also a very good thing. Sometimes, I think that we jump onto the latest bandwagon in an effort to find that harmony that we so desire.
When I read all your comments, I feel like I’m watching a ping pong game, the ball goes back and forth at such a rapid rate, I get a bit dizzy 🙂
Hilarious Jon, So hard to live a life that isn’t contradictory or hypocritical!!!
Mary…I loved your thought, “culture doesn’t have the last word on how we view one another, rather the value of wisdom with age could actually benefit the community in the conversation.” So true…the way I view my graduating High School back in 1997 compared to the way I view them now is totally different. I just wish we could instill that wisdom in the moment.
But in some ways, isn’t the only way we arrive at that wisdom is through time, age and experience? I found an old letter in my high school year book that I wrote to myself. I was so embarrassed by my superficiality and shallowness (almost burned it just so that no one else would know). But I’m trying to love that high school kid, knowing that God will bring her along, granting wisdom on the journey.
By the way, my friend, you have tremendous wisdom. Can’t wait to see what God continues to do in your life.
Mary, Two thoughts jumped off the post at me ‘can we get beyond our culture’ and the role Satan has in the culture to deceive. It seems that Christians have a hard time being truly countercultural in as much as we’ve allowed a good deal of what we accept as our faith comes flowing our way from the cultural. It’s almost shocked that many still call this an ‘American Christian Culture’ isn’t the incongruities with a market-driven, consumer driven culture enough not to allow culture to be a source of spiritual formation? In comes the enemy who keeps just enough ‘Christian values’ in American pop culture so we accept the poison willingly. Sorry I might be going off because I’m preaching on Hosea this Sunday and the correlation with America’s Spiritual Adultery is rolling thru my head.
Sounds like it will be a powerful sermon, Dave.
“can we ever move beyond our culture?”
My answer would be no. We are hard-wired to live within a cultural context. Without culture, we have no idea what to do, how to live, what is important, or how to function socially. The question is, what culture do we choose to live in. I think that is part of the beauty of being transformed by Christ-we actually begin to live within a new culture. Our way of doing, living, determining what is important, and developing relationships begins to be different. It is not so much that we are rejecting culture, but are choosing a better culture.
Great point, Brian. Beautifully said.
Sacred Cows! Lol i could use that as an abstract for what i cant stand about what some denominations hold dear to their faith (faith?). I believe that many people wont never buck up against already formed and developed rituals at the sake of tearing down their golden calf. I will deal with this topic later because many denominations have one!