Different Cultures Are …Different

This may be a shock to some, particularly those who have never lived anywhere but the United States, but different cultures are different. There are very, very few universal standards. Freedoms that we take for granted are rare, unheard of, or even objectionable to others. Manners and morals we find odd or even objectionable are commonplace elsewhere.

It’s difficult enough making true generalizations but true generalizations that cross cultures are even harder.

I can’t believe that most wouldn’t agree with that. From there it becomes fuzzier. I think there’s also a “deep culture” and that culture is closely related to language. So, for example, that Russian lacks a verb “to have”, affects how Russian speakers think. They can express a concept something like our “to have” but it’s different, more like “by me/near me”. I think we would be prudent to require fluency in English of new immigrants.

So when I see people drawing conclusions about the behavior of 21st century Ghanaians based on the behavior of 19th century Germans, to cite one example, I just have to laugh. Not that there’s something wrong with 21st century Ghanians, something right about 19th century Germans, or vice versa.

They’re just different.

I also think that we’re going to have immigration into the United States for the foreseeable future, just as we have all through our past, and a lot of it. I think we need to go into it with open eyes.

Despite the similarities between the 19th century Irish and the 19th century Americans of the time, Irish immigration into the United States from 1840-1860 produced considerable friction. There was even more friction when the Southern and Eastern Europeans began coming to the United States in numbers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so much friction that we slammed the door for a couple of generations.

For the last 30 years we have had considerable immigration from Mexico and Central America. We have very nearly reached the point at which we slammed the door last time. Now immigration from Mexico is slowing for reasons I have pointed out many times and immigration from Pakistan, India, and China are increasing. The tensions and outright frictions, as we should have expected, from the number of new immigrants from cultures so different from ours are increasing, as we should have expected, while assimilation into American culture may well be more of a stretch than for previous cohorts even as the pressures to assimilate decrease.

I think it’s going to be a bumpy ride but, as I say, I think we should go into it with open eyes.

3 comments… add one
  • bob sykes Link

    The Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Flag are each the product of White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, male culture. The words and symbols simply don’t mean the same to Germans or Irish or blacks or Jews, because the tacit assumptions are not shared.

    The Founders, at least some of them, were highly dubious about German immigration.

    By the way, when I was a school boy in Boston in the late 50’s, our homeroom teacher was an elderly gentlemen who read to us from the Bible every morning. This was prior to the Supreme Court ruling. He was convinced that Jews, Protestants, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox all used the same Old Testament, and he saw no reason anyone should object to something everyone obviously accepted.

  • I think it is quite possible for people of different races and confessions to be good Americans and I am confident that at least one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll, would agree with me. For that to happen they must subscribe to certain core beliefs. As G. K. Chesterton put it, America is a country founded on a creed. If you subscribe to the creed, you are an American. There is more to the creed than a larger paycheck.

    I also think that there are a lot of white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant Americans who no longer subscribe to the American creed.

  • PD Shaw Link

    The Founders were dubious about the German immigrant settlements in rural Southeast Pennsylvania that stood aloof from body politic, maintaining their own language and culture. Jefferson wrote after his Presidency that “it is thought better to discourage [non-English] settling together in large masses, wherein, as in our German settlements, they preserve for a long time their own languages, habits, and principles of government, and that they should distribute themselves sparsely among the natives for quicker amalgamation.” Franklin similarly was worried that the area was becoming a German country.

    As far as I can tell, all of the key founders favored immigration with conditions relating to assimilation, moderation in scale, and/or
    benefits to the U.S.


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