1.04.2010

Happy New Year

"Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither." -- Ben Franklin

I basically agree with Rush Limbaugh these days. Or at least with Max Weber. It is a fact of history that American culture was born out of Christian Puritan culture, and then more broadly the Protestant culture that immigrated from Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Now, education has taught me to see objectively: that Protestant culture cannot be said, objectively, to be a superior cultural model to any other culture. Nevertheless, a culture that was has become a culture that is no longer, and the change (gradual as it has been) very well might be ascribed to immigration from cultures other than Protestant Europe. Whatever, tho' -- the question of cause doesn't interest me so much.

My interest is in the result: the result of the gradual disintegration of that Protestant culture that Weber identified as the foundation of American culture more than 100 years ago is now a major problem. Not "objectively," mind you, but seen from within that culture -- it is a problem.

See, my thesis (derived from Weber's) is that capitalism is a system that works only given a particular set of moral circumstances. Like a car's engine won't run on olive-oil, but requires petrol, this country's economy is/was tied to the moral culture of Anglo-Protestantism.

Now, that sounds rough -- might even sound racist or xenophobic to an uncareful ear. But if we keep in mind that culture is "transferable," and not intrinsic or biological, then it shouldn't be such a delicate issue. For example, African American culture, which has been present within American culture since near the beginning, is not inherited and may be learned by people of other cultures. So... the point is: somewhere around the 1960s (finally) and the 1850s (maybe initially?), America stopped "exporting" that culture and started "importing" cultures from elsewhere.

The problem is: other cultures don't make this car's engine run. Now that may not be a transcendentally negative fact: there are other sorts of engines, and other means of "going somewhere" than engines, and hey, maybe there's nothing wrong with just sitting there (there's gotta be a really laid back culture that makes that work?). But the point is: America's "system," lumbering and tottering as it is, was designed to work in conjunction with that Protestant ethic that Weber described.

There's lots of sources for this: Weber, as I mentioned, and Perry Miller, and Cotton Mather himself, and Toqueville, and so on. But none of them lived in the post-Protestant America... whether Elvis ended it, or MTV, or jazz music, or whatever... it's over.

Any thoughts about all of this? I admit, as a person with at least some identity rooted in that disintegrated culture, I feel a little disappointed to see that culture go away... I am disappointed when I hear about airport security and corporate bailouts and trying to save homeowners from underwater mortgages and other things that my Protestant forefathers would've found repulsive. So I do have "a stake" in this, but I also think I can see rather plainly that there's no possibility now of going back in that direction.

6 comments:

Wishydig said...

what's your source on the quote? 'cause i've always loved it, but when i've looked for it, i can't find that franklin actually made it. the closest i could find was in poor richard's almanac. #442:

Sell not virtue to purchase wealth
nor liberty to purchase power.


and if you had been reading my blog carefully since the beginning you would have known this.

you crack me up. i really have no idea how to take your claims of academic objectivity, because i know you don't believe it. you confuse me.

ok.

what are these cultures you speak of without relying on the labels. because i'm not sure you've actually made an argument here. it's still just a thesis. what if i said that olive oil actually does work in an engine. we would each have to look at the mechanisms that might break down to make the point. so... make your point.

Casey said...

Yeah I did the same thing... I wound up just paraphrasing the quote, since I found about five versions on page one of Google's search.

Okay, well: my point is that, entering graduate school wide-eyed and bushy tailed almost ten years ago, I heard very much about "marginalized" groups. Women, minorities, etc. The unstated assumption at the time was that "the center" (opposing "the other" that Santos enjoys referencing) was white male Protestant.

My thesis is that the center didn't hold... if white male Protestant was still the center a decade ago, it really isn't anymore, evidenced by, well, everything. If we take "white male Protestant" to be indicative of a kind of cultural tendency that might manifest as sexual repression, over-concern with manners and hygiene, and all the things that Roger Sterling embodies in Mad Men, that is no longer at America's cultural center.--indeed, I can't think of even one product of that culture in America's pop psyche that remains hip, cool, or even respectable among young people. Shaving? How old-fashioned.

Anyway, did you click the link to Weber at the beginning of my post? My argument is just that if we accept Weber's premise, that the Protestant ethic embodied by the dead-white-male crowd "we" all rebelled against so effectively in the 1990s [which, incidentally, may or may not be authentically "Christian"--that's beside the point], then it might be interesting to consider what happens when that Protestant ethic is displaced as America's cultural foundation.

So let me ask, to sharpen the point of entry for this conversation: do you reject the premise that the Protestant ethic has been displaced, or do you admit that it has-been/is-being displaced, but believe that whatever-is-replacing it can synergize with the social/political order that distinguishes(-ed) America in world history?

My point is that I suspect that what's breaking in America right now is that, having effectively undermined our oppressive patriarchal/racist center, we have lost balance and will require a "reset," which, not incidentally, is what Glenn Beck thinks Obama & Co. are secretly doing. :)

I'm basically trying to recognize, objectively (seriously, here), that the world is full of cultures, and that none is intrinsically better than another (well...), and that white-patriarchal-Protestant is one among the possible permutations of culture. One form among many. And then I'm asking whether it's possible that that form, combined with market capitalism, generated a peculiar dynamism.

Casey said...

I shouldn't have said Roger Sterling embodied those cultural values: rather, he maverickly undermined them... it was more like Roger Sterling's middle-class, church-going cousin in Ohio who was carrying the white-Protestant-patriarchal flag to its demise.

Whatever. This shouldn't be a sticking point. Everyone knew what was meant by dead-white-male ten years ago. Don't pretend you've forgotten now.

Casey said...

Interesting?:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1240875/70-million-Immigrant-fuelled-population-boom-damage-society-say-leading-public-figures.html

Wishydig said...

(that dailymail article was far less interesting than the headline promised. it was centered on a rather vanilla claim i'd say.)

here's what i'll grant: religion today is different from what it was. it's role in society is different.

so the 'founding fathers' were more like a lot of atheists these days than they were like church elders. in their philosophy of ethics and in theology.

but i don't see the white male as removed from the center. evidence of what's "hip" and "fashionable" is irrelevant to the structure of assumptions about power, agenda, reliability, and 'objectivity.'

this is still a very patriarchal society. the idea of a woman's role is still imposed, even if it doesn't intimidate those women who consciously push through it. and racism is still a huge part--explicitly--of a significant part of the population, and a fundamental part--implicitly --of a bigger part.

and that racism has, as it's assumption, white men in power, even with a black man at the head of the table.

Casey said...

I'm totally comfortable with all of your conclusions about the way society is/should-be arranged if you've considered the question of whether whitey is still in power, and whether undermining that power is necessarily progressive.

So you say yes, and yes. And that's fine, obviously.

I just wish it had been taught to me in more conscientious terms -- I wish the assumptions could've been more explicit; that would've made the whole conversation more daring: if we replace the patriarchal-white culture, are we making a good move? Why? Wasn't it that patriarchal white culture that produced the greatest country to live in for women and minorities in the history of history? What will we replace white-Patriarchy with? What are the replacement-culture's values, and how will they influence the lives of white Patriarchs and the rest of the people?

I missed that conversation, if it ever happened. It was always implicitly self-evident that white-patriarchy was a problem, and that "we" could replace it with something more egalitarian. I'm wondering about that, if only because traces of white-patriarchal culture will probably remain even if another culture replaces it in the "dominant" position. Someone is always in power. There's always a minority. Utopian fantasies aside.