Defending Our Culture
Michael Walker, American Renaissance, October 6, 2017
In debates about white identity, racial consciousness, and the “clash of civilizations,” we often hear the word “culture.” Western societies receiving non-white immigrants are said to be morphing into “multicultural societies.” Police are advised to be “culturally aware.” Commentators condemn what they call “cultural bias” in education and academia. Whites sometimes claim that certain social or ethnic trends constitute “a threat to Western culture.” Different groups may claim special dispensation or tolerance for certain behavior on the grounds that it is “part of their culture.” Sometimes the word “culture” may be substituted for “race” as a less combative or controversial term. However, “culture” can be used when “race” cannot, as in “working class culture” or “youth culture.”
The word “culture” is frequently used and cited, but not much thought has been given to defining it. Unlike race, which is a biological fact—or for those who deny its importance, a matter of skin color but nevertheless apparent—culture is not immediately recognizable in terms of identifiable parameters. One individual is not a manifestation of culture, since culture is by definition a social activity. However, it is essential to understand what culture is if one seeks to identify oneself with a particular movement or group, or to oppose a particular group. Culture is an essential component of the identity that makes man unique among animals and different from other human beings by belonging to one culture and not to another.
The word culture, like cultivation, goes back to the Latin colere, meaning to tend or nurture. Culture is the active tending of an identifiable entity in order to make it prosper. Culture is one of the defining characteristics of our species, even more so than language, which was once thought to be the defining characteristic of Homo sapiens. In recent years increasing evidence has been found of rudimentary language among some animals, notably chimpanzees, but nothing that can be convincingly described as non-human culture.
Culture has two defining characteristics. It is a socially accepted way of behaving that aims at interpreting and/or improving upon the state of nature and in so doing creates identity. Secondly, it is constantly changing while retaining its identity, that is to say, it is unending activity within a defining parameter. Unlike race, culture is not firstly an ethnic phenomenon, albeit it may well arise from an ethnic predisposition. A culture is a social phenomenon.
Human life without culture is possible. The prerequisites of biological survival do not include culture. However, we do need culture in order to be human beings that are something more than simply members of the species Homo sapiens. Human beings are not only cultural beings, they are animals too, and as animals they can prosper with no culture whatsoever; but stripped of culture, humans are only animals. Culture takes the human beyond the mere state of nature and nurtures his identity as more-than-animal.
Culture is the protection and nurturing of an identity that marks out how a given group (national, racial, social or whatever) ritualizes and cultivates its identity, gives it form and significance, and defines individuals as members of that group. Culture is not about what we do but the manner in which we do it and how a group defines itself by embellishing the gifts of nature.
Broadly speaking, there are two different aspects of culture, which I call the culture of salvation and the culture of amelioration. By the culture of salvation, I mean spiritual narratives that seek to explain the destiny of the individual, the meaning of fortune, fate and providence, right and wrong, and above all, the significance of life and the inevitability of death. The culture of salvation “saves” the individual from despair in the face of death.
By the culture of amelioration I mean improvements to the quality of life, be it with scientific and medical advances, or entertainment or enhanced enjoyment of biological satisfactions. Religion and political ideology belong to the culture of salvation. The culture of amelioration includes entertainment, gastronomy, fashion, and sport. The arts include something from both salvation and amelioration, tending more towards one or the other as the case may be; fine cooking would belong more to the culture of amelioration while religious music is more an expression of the culture of salvation. It is in the arts that the two aspects of culture interact and overlap.
It is important that both aspects of culture be present and balanced in a human community. An excess of one or other cultural element becomes destructive, and becomes a caricature of itself. Any religious or political fanaticism that overwhelms ameliorative culture becomes cruel and destructive. A fanaticism that preaches destruction in the name of salvation from a perceived wrong stifles creativity and induces hatred of the culture of amelioration. Ultimately it leads to the leveling of all humans in the name of the destruction of vanities, thus returning each individual human to the biological common denominator of the species Homo sapiens.
Either imbalance creates a cancer on human culture; both salvation and amelioration culture can become caricatures and destroy the culture that brought them forth.
Long periods of human history—contemporary political developments included—are dominated by a conflict between fanaticism, which is salvation culture corrupted by excess, and hedonism, which is amelioration culture corrupted by excess. Fundamentalist Islam and Western hedonism are contemporary examples of two excesses of this kind confronting each other, neither offering humans the opportunity to thrive in a balanced culture. Both claim to be harbingers of living culture, but their promise of salvation/happiness is a caricature of culture. What they offer can be summarized in one word: desolation.
History furnishes many other examples: the Puritan iconoclasm in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, the Jacobin terror of the French revolution, the Bolshevik revolution, the persecution of independent thought or culture and Pagan thinkers by the Roman Catholic Inquisition, and the murderous Khmer terror in Cambodia that regarded practically all culture as “bourgeois” and therefore to be eradicated. The destruction of pre-Islamic monuments by ISIS is a recent example of the ultimate purpose of untrammeled salvation culture.
Likewise, when ameliorative culture becomes dominant, the arts degenerates towards ever-simpler levels of entertainment and all “free time” becomes a chance to indulge hedonism that is indistinguishable from the acquisitive urges of the merely animal. The decadence of late imperial Rome is a much-cited example; life and natural resources were sacrificed to the hedonism and indulgence of an effete pleasure-seeking minority.
For many years, the West has shown an increasing tendency to regard pleasure-seeking as the driving force of life. Morals, health, harmony, nurturing for the future are subordinated to pleasure and entertainment. A utilitarian creed of the greatest happiness for the greatest number—a caricature of ameliorative culture—feeds like a cancer on social harmony and reduces humans to ever lower, more primitive, less truly cultural levels of ambition and behavior.
Multi-culturalism is the attempt by hedonistic Westerns societies to accommodate non-Western cultures by treating alternative lifestyles or religious practices as harmless manifestations of cultural expression. Tolerating and even encouraging them is itself proclaimed to be part of the “Western way of life.” But it is only dead cultures that can be regarded as harmless hobbies. Living cultures seek to grow and thrive, and if they are religious, necessarily seek to bring people into an ambitious community of believers who have a clear vision of what kind of society they want. A multi-cultural society can avoid conflict only by either reducing cultures to a kind of folklore without genuine input—culture as personal “fun free time activity” with no ambition to change the world—or by creating a society of ghettos in which diverse cultures live cheek by jowl with little interest or awareness of the other, their ambitions held in check by the laws and lifestyle of the overarching hedonist society. But where culture is alive, conflicts are inevitable, because every culture seeks to expand its space and assimilate those within that space.
A balanced culture is one in which the two aspects, salvation and amelioration, interact symbiotically. Culture/cultivation, as noted above, is an activity; not just a state of mind but a state of being. It seems to me that although people are ready to say they stand up for or want to defend their culture, they are worryingly unable to say what their culture consists of or how it can be identified.
Culture is not principally about the rejection of other cultures; it is the practice of cultivating an identity, showing it to the world, thriving within that identity and being proud of it. It means tending one’s own, enjoying one’s own, and loving one’s own. In spiritual terms it means appreciating the importance of the arts, which are the link between the two sides of culture, and resisting the distortion or repression of the arts under the pressure of hedonism on the one side and fanaticism on the other.
There is still too much belief among whites that art is a kind of “cherry on the cake” of group identity, and a widespread misapprehension that cultural choice is just a matter of personal taste, ignoring that taste is a significant marker of cultural well-being or sickness. Likewise, with regard to the culture of amelioration, even those who speak in the name of Western culture are often blind to the caricature of that aspect of culture, a caricature that consists in undisciplined gratification in the pursuit of physical pleasure, a run-away hedonistic culture that is a caricature of the culture of amelioration.
Culture is not taken seriously in political debate. During the recent presidential election in the USA neither candidate showed any interest in such things as falling IQ levels, chronic obesity, industrial farming and exhaustion of the land, ugliness in art and architecture, chemical pollution, or the urbanization and alienation of individual life. These are cultural issues and would have been of major concern if the candidates had been representatives of a flourishing, healthy culture.
Culture is activity. It is the great weakness of movements rightly opposed to the nihilistic tendencies of contemporary society to think that culture is too much of an idea and too little of an activity. Every encouragement should be given to artistic activity and to the creation of communities that identify themselves and can be identified, not just associations of like-minded folk who may meet occasionally for political events. Communities must seek to cultivate a social life so far as possible in opposition to and apart from the dominant anti-culture. At the same time these communities should not be ghettos, but should attract new adherents, win new friends, associates and camp followers.
Americans and Europeans can learn from one another here. Americans are less star-struck by political ideologies and political parties than Europeans. Americans tend rightly to identify political parties and ideologies as only expendable vehicles for ideas, not ersatz families. Conversely, Europeans tend to be more skeptical, more practically hostile to the soulless organization of consumer society than Americans. Even Americans who claim that they suffer under an alien anti-culture or system are often willing to indulge in every material gift of that system. Are SUV’s, fast-food, and shopping malls hallmarks of an imperiled Western culture?
For those conscious of belonging to a culture, the most urgent task today is that we “find one another,” learn to know one another, cultivate faith and friendship. Nobody but the cultivators will plant seeds, tend the crops, defend the people and the land. Tend and defend are the guidelines which I would put forward for the defense of a culture. In practical terms, this means considering the entire culture and not a part of it, trying to live within it and be a member of it in social behavior as well as thought, and to condemn and seek to destroy whatever imperils it. And, as I have written elsewhere for American Renaissance, a hugely significant cultural gesture is reproduction of one’s own kind; infertility in every sense tells a tale of cultural decline.
Along with a sense of awareness of one’s own cultural identity, identifying the enemy is part of cultural well-being. Nature has provided us with simple warning indicators. Ugliness, the interruption or denial of harmony, and sterility indicating a lack of faith in the future, are warning signs of cultural sickness. To reject the ugly and to reproduce the beautiful are the natural self-expressions of the culturally active person. Just as pain is a warning of a threat to the body and bitter taste or bad smell a warning against decomposing food, so is ugliness a warning sign of biological or cultural decomposition.
I offer these remarks as notes towards the definition of culture. Whether they are helpful the reader may judge, but I have no doubts about the importance of understanding what culture is.