Saturday, May 07, 2005

17] Whose culture is superior?

Which culture is real?
By Azly Rahman

Happy Mother’s Day and Happy May Day! May the labors of love reign supreme.

I recall an old Malaysian radio advertisement: “May Day … May Day… I’m itching all over!” I suppose this is the predicament we all are in when we speak of the “mother of all issues”: culture!

Mothers give birth to babies. Babies do not know what racism means until they learn from adults. And then they become defined through institutionalized racism produced by the Ideological State Apparatus. The child, is the father of Man, said a sage.

Where are we at on the 50th anniversary of the National Alliance?

Are we more race-conscious now than ever before? Are we really in the postmodern era in which politics of identity is taking its linguistic and semiotic turn – in which the ugliness and the beauty of race and ethnicity is surfacing and rearing their heads? Do we need a better understanding of the word “culture”?

Cultural wars

By the growing number of race-related news-stories, letters to the editors, column writings, and opinions published by Malaysiakini, we seem to be arguing more intensely on the issue of race and social dominance.

We argue on which language is more superior, whose civilization originated first, to who this and that land belong to, or if God actually has a chosen people. We even go on a crusade and jihad based on the superiority of this and that culture and civilization. We then hear of suicide bombings in the name of this and that culture.

We let ourselves be shaped by theories of race and ethnicity. These theories were developed by those who think that human beings are material beings primarily and that race and ethnicity are constructs that must be made real. These theories might have originated from racists themselves.

We design systems of social dominance. We build our politics, schools, cultural institutions, organizations, youth movements, and all kinds of imaginary prisons based on notions of racial superiority. We design economic policies around these notions. We distribute justice based on them. We define citizenship based on these notions. We create imagined communities out of them. We then get trapped by the attempt to redefine what race, ethnicity, and culture means.

We include or exclude human beings using languages that gatekeep. We protect our economic interest using sophisticated language of institutionalized racism. The result: we see a manifestation of poverty based on the identification of race.

We then tried to correct the imbalances using the culture of Classical/Rostowian/Friedmanian economics and developmental/pluralistic politics. We used statistics to measure people and to argue of this and that distribution of the economic pie. We developed the culture of communalism based on the numbers we crunch.

As decades go by, we then see race and class emerging. We did not realize that the seeds of destruction were planted in the very house we inhabit based on the notions of race, ethnicity, and culture we understand – our understanding based on old colonial theories. We charted our future ruins. When the incorruptible becomes corrupt, we saw how some of us design oppositional politics based on these constructs. In the end, we are still trapped.

This is a double jeopardy in our conceptualization of humanity, as we embrace and offer ourselves the deadly kiss of the Machiavellian notion of race, ethnicity, and culture.

At the root of these shackles of social dominance, I think lies in how we imagine ourselves as cultural beings. This is the cultural problematique that goes beyond merely the clever notion of the “clash of civilizations”, as many a Huntington scholar might have us believe.

Culture is the culprit

We continue to debate about culture and religion in our public schools. We might be debating on faulty premises. We might have to look at the issue of culture, race, and ethnicity from a radically different perspective. Let us see what this may mean based on the propositions I will be making which fundamentally begin like this: culture is in the imagination and is not real.

There is no such a concept as 'original culture'. Cultures are systems of construction of realities that is influenced by the historical-materialistic march of technology and capital, that then develops conditions of existence and formulate human consciousness. Culture is fluid and amorphous and is a construct rather than a constant. Culture is not static. Cultural construction can be conveniently used and abused to lend legitimacy to power and its concentrated self.

It is more than just the tools we use and play but also the house that we inhabit. Its definition is problematic; the numbers of definitions are many. The word Malay, Chinese, Indian, American, Indonesian --- all these are cultural constructs that are useful in some ways but useless in others.

Unfortunately it is the uselessness of culture that is often most attractive and get translated into sophisticated racist policies. As racist policies become further institutionalized and as economic interests that go with these need to be protected even more, racial tensions and consequently violence erupts. As these further mounts, we have war and ethnic cleansing -- in the name of cultural superiority.

We are endowed by the Creator these variations in skin color and appearances to have use solve problems of humanity; to understand what needs and wants are, and to discern what is Good and what is Evil.

Cultures can enable human thinking and it can also disable it. It can be shaped, structured, and symbolized based on the influence of class structure of the people/peoples.

This will translate into "high", "low", "mass", "popular", and "sub-culture". With all these subdefinitions of culture comes the status symbols of the object of display, affection, work, leisure, etc, that shape and that are shaped by the economic condition.

Hence, a goblet used in a sultan' s palace might be worth a thousand goblets used by the sultan's hamba sahayas. Or a Rolls Royce used by a royal family signifies a symbol of "high culture" as opposed to a "[Proton] Rusa,” a symbol of "popular culture" used by a family in a remote kampong.

There is a new dimension of culture emerging. There are classes of culture and culture of classes. Classes of culture are post-industrial tribes that are victims of producers whereas culture of classes are the internal logic of cultures that have been eroded by the forces of globalization and late capitalism.

Classes of culture

Cultures have eroded, been deconstructed, synthesized, and been redefined as capitalism continue to march in its own cultural logic. As capitalism becomes a culture unto itself and appropriates, robs, and raped Nature, human beings become workers and slaves to the system of cultural production.

Workers become human machines under the system of indoctrination of bureaucratization, and next, Taylorism and next Fordism, and now Total Quality Management. Those who design these gentle systems of modern servitude can exploit the worker better; in a sublime, scientific, and systematic way.

Workers are asked to adopt the culture of work of the Japanese and to look East; not realizing that the Japanese continue to further their East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in a post-modern way.

Our government tells the world that we have excellent workers that can be exported globally. These workers, like Mercedes Benz, Jaguars, Bentleys, and Audis, are good brands that can be exported. We take pride in producing good workers at a cheaper rate. The Malaysian people are now embalmed as machines that have culture; not cultural beings that can control the machines.

We are however, afraid to tell the world that we need good citizens that can think critically and to become agents of cultural change; workers that understand who owns the means of production and the process of mental servitude. We are afraid the “brand name workers” might become “brand name thinkers” and create “brand name social changes” in a nation of “other people’s” blue chip industries.

Culture of dominance and hegemony evolved into a new name called ideology, carrying with it the definitions of race and ethnicity.

We create classes of people in the technological sector; those digerati we house in Cyberjaya and who we continue to socially reproduce through an education system that is increasingly training human beings into machines.

This is the new culture we are cultivating; one that is “heteroglosially” global and technological; one whose members are increasingly hypermodernised, hypertextualized, and hyperactive consumer of wants more than needs.

We have evolved into cyber-Malays, cyber-Indians, cyber-Chinese, cyber-Kadazans, cyber-Muruts, and cyber-Senois and cyber-Jakuns’ true to the cultural mold of cybernetic capitalism.

This is the new phenomenon in global cultural construction – the emergence of, no longer linguistic or cultural stocks of people, but personality types shaped by the advancement of economic conditions.

Culture or Human Nature?

If cultures are imaginary concepts we carry as our own personal realities, what then is human nature?

Man is a universal being that exist in its particularity. Man is one and many all at once. The purpose of the existence of Man is to de-evolve into Nature and to free itself from the shackle called “culture”. The “cultured Man” has stolen Nature and has forgotten its own Nature.

Man is a being constructed out of DNA which is color-blind, culturally insignificant, and racially blind.

Man’s evolution is determined by the economic condition first and foremost and by the systems of belief that condition him/her ideologically. The rise of private property and the emergence of the concept of family is the precursor of the rise of the system of monopoly of resources. As human knowledge advances in the hands and in the imagination of those who owns the means of production, Man creates theories of racial superiority that are attractive and useful to the cause of colonialism and next, imperialism.

Better technologies and better systems of educating for colonial dependency create more sophisticated means to define people racially and ethnically. Nationalism, or the sense of “nationhood” became a phenomena to rally people of the same color, the same geographical origin, the same language into fighting for the cause of a the same imagined community that could then be turned into the nineteenth-century concept of nation-state.

Nation-states pose problems to cultural differences within.

What has emerged is a global class of owners, producers, managers, technocrats, laborers, consumers, and pariahs and hamba sahayas of the Information Age – speaking Geek.

We need to embrace the new global definition of culture if we are to step outside of the circle of fire we have build using the language of race, ethnicity, and culture.

Or -- we might have built a wrong house fifty years ago!

On a more positive note:

Happy Mother’s Day. Let us raise our children in Peace, Love, and Tolerance. Into transcultural citizens, preferably. We must go back to Mother Nature.

1 comment:

Wintermute said...

Race informs Culture or, axiomatically, Culture follows Race. If you believe that "there is no such thing as race" or the equally fatuous and science - denying Marxist superstition that "race is a social construct" then how would you explain the unfortunate plight of, say, those products of miscegenation who, when they require a life - saving bone marrow transplant, are unable to to receive such from either parent, but must instead find a similar racial hybrid as a donor?

Lecture: Edward Said


Lecture: Noam Chomsky


Lecture: Jacques Derrida


Lecture: Jean Paul Sartre


Movie: 1984


Movie: Animal Farm


Movie: Chicken Run


Poems: Rumi


Dialogue on Religion: Karen Armstrong


Dailogue on Religion: Huston Smith


















The Bhagavad Gita


Jesus of Nazareth


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Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh)