Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Culture - The Quick And Dirty

It's easier to understand if a given disputed culture exists if you have a working definition of culture and then compare the proposed culture to it, and see if it meets the definition. Having borrowed a definition of culture from the University of Minnesota, I looked at "African-American Culture" and "Rape Culture," two cultures that some people understand to be real, others understand to be fictional, and that my meanderings through the Web have drawn me into thinking about over the past couple of days.

African-American culture bears the greatest resemblance to the UM definition. But it's worth noting that African-American culture is fairly narrow. And not all African-Americans are members of it, and not all members of it are African-American. But the idea that culture and race operate in lockstep is strong in the United States and leads to an incorrect understanding that culture and race should be able to stand in for one another. And because, I believe, people tend to over-estimate the similarities between people different from themselves the narrow similarities between different African-Americans can easily be perceived as the sum of the African-American experience. But because people are also just as likely to see the narrow similarities between all Americans as the sum of the American experience, the cultural differences that exist can easily be chalked up to individual idiosyncrasies.

Rape culture, on the other hand, lacks a specific group of people to which you can attach the aspects of a culture. Accordingly, it may be best thought of as a related cluster of cultures, that share a certain acceptance of levels of sexual violence. Because it's defined more by behaviors and interactions, rather than a specific group of people who share a number of traits, this understanding that there isn't a single rape culture is needed to keep it in line with the UM definition. But, you could also just as easily say that what we understand to be rape culture is actually the pieces of other cultures that lend themselves to specific sexual acting out. By this understanding, rape culture ceases to become a singular thing, and is instead a byproduct of other cultures.

In the end, the ecosystem of cultures can be considered a forest. What tends to drive debate is the degree to which a culture is or is not a single, locatable tree. For me, African-American culture is, but it's nowhere near the only tree that describes the experiences of African-Americans in the United States. Rape culture, on the other hand, isn't, but it's such a dense tangle of limbs, leaves and branches that it appears to be a singular object.

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