consumer_whore.gifIt’s always controversial to discuss cultural differences, or differences between any groups.

I’ve noticed some common self-tardation techniques used to avoid the cognitive dissonance of noticing cultural difference, and to claim that groups are basically the same:

1) Relax, you think too much.
2) If it bothers you, go back to where you came from!
3) Change the subject asap to point to underlying similarities.
4) Immediately say that there are no groups, there are only individuals.
5) Reflexively counter with Pavlovian regularity that it’s the same in your own culture, or that the differences are a small matter of degree.

I’m always surprised how deeply people reject comparisons between groups. It’s like we are all fearing a repeat of World War 2, if we admit to ANY group differences. Or do we feel bad about saying things that might make others feel bad? Or do we dislike our own group being in any way maligned?

If one group of 100 has 80 people who have a strong dislike for insults and direct confrontation, and another group has 80 who love to take the piss, it’s a P.C. self-tardation to be hush hush about that.

There are advantages and disadvantages everywhere. I know it pisses people off to go ahead and actually name what these are – to actually point. Differences piss people off. I’m very aware of that. But it’s my nature to get some sick thrill from short circuiting peoples cognitive dissonance filters. I piss people off for a reason, and I do it consciously. The intent is good, as I see cognitive dissonance filters as a crutch, at best. Only temporarily useful.

I think the reason people get so wormy-squirmy about facing the discomforts of cultural clashes is that we see a difference between judging others and understanding others, and we would prefer to embrace others within understanding than reject them with judgment.

A multicuralist might think “It just seems to work better for me to focus on understanding and not judging.” but I think this kind of compassion doesn’t go far enough. We have to judge, and then love them anyway.

For me, I don’t see that there needs to be a difference between judging and understanding; we can judge, and be inclusive.

In fact I think I should say that in starker, stronger terms. I think we have no choice but to judge, and we can do so either consciously, or unconsciously. Sure, we can try our best to be agnostic whenever a judgment call creeps into awareness, but that’s just hitting ourself over the head with the self-tardation hammer.

I think we have an innate sense of in-group, and out-group, and we are very wary of putting people into the out-group. And that this type of thinking is flawed. Judgments and categories and values don’t need to place people in or outside our care and concern – we can love and value the imperfect. Rose tinted glasses don’t love as much as clear ones can.

Its when the culturall differences are not value neutral that it gets emotionally difficult to make comparisons. For instance, the Germans are renowned for holding craftsmanship, design, and engeering excellence as values to be celebrated. The Japanese are famous for their strong sense of aesthetic; they get nearly orgasmic when the cherries blossom. And then, relatively speaking, there must be cultures that don’t value how their house or yard looks, or that don’t value workmanship.

If it is a negative trait that is being discussed, such as lying, or being rude, or being immature, or thoughtless, or not valuing education, people get squirmy about pointing to a group and accurately labeling the differences.

I don’t see the problem with having strong views and using ones own culture to make a value judment upon another.

Certainly, nuance is always called for. But nuance that can see grey does not obliterate all contrast and definition. Nuance, reason, and a willingness to learn are needed. So we use honest and open dialog for that – the more fearless the more penetrating. And body-language-dialogs break cultural barriers most pleasantly.

It doesn’t have to be about Manchester United vs Brazil; it doesn’t have to be about us versus them, right versus, wrong, black versus white. But no matter how inclusive and understanding we are, no matter how pragmatic, values are simply inescapable. And cultures get higher and lower marks in various areas we value.

At this point perhaps you are thinking:

– Relax, you think too much.
– If it bothers you, go back to where you came from!
– There are no groups, there are only individuals.
– It’s the same in my own culture, the differences are a small matter of degree.

And if not, well, you’ve got to love them anyway.