Saturday, July 14, 2012

On Cultural Heritage

 I debated if I would comment on this essay: “The Collectivist War Against Cultural Heritage” by Brandon Smith, here.   After the idea wouldn’t go away, I obviously had to.  As a person who studies American culture and a professional in Heritage conservation I probably need to comment.

Basically, Smith rants about how big government is supposedly taking over our lives and is a threat to our individualism.  “Collectivism” is used as a dirty word.  His first paragraph sums up the essay

Two things make man what he is; his soul, and his memory.  Lose one, or both, and he ceases to exist.  He might as well buzz over his own garbage like an insect.  When a society is drawn into the repugnant shadow of totalitarianism and collectivism, it is usually because the masses have abandoned (or been enticed to abandon) a piece of their inner and outer heritage, something which kept the darkness at bay, a lesson from the past, or a principle long honored.  In the wretched and psychotic quest for the “perfect” establishment system, we are even often encouraged by the elitist ilk to slough off the warm remnants of our cultural inheritance like so much skin and “look forward” to a bright and more promising tomorrow, where everything will be different, and certainly, better than today.

Normally, I wouldn’t comment on such a rant. Smith is a young blogger, b 1981 based on his profile, and he markets a Safe Haven place in Montana, in Kalispell, were people can get off the grid.  What is silly about this idea is that it is consistent with our American heritage for people to rant and rave like this, and to set up commune-like places to get off the grid.  This is not new to anyone who has read American cultural history.  A minority of every generation has felt compelled to do similar things as Smith is advocating.  So, I am uncertain what Cultural Heritage he thinks is being lost.

It certainly is not “individualism” as I understand that concept. Those that know me would easily say that I am okay with being a loner. It is hard for me to ask help from anyone. I take care of myself and my own. I am happy to help others in need as long as it doesn’t turn into some long term commitment.  I don’t like social connections that reduce my options (although I will engage in one that seems to expand my options).

Also, take a look at the safe haven concept he presents at his home page.  It is a collectivist’s wet dream: social networking, help each other, living socially, etc.  His definition of collectivism is bizarre.  To him, it is big government forcing people into railroad cars. He spits out the other curse words (socialism, fascism, totalitarianism) with glee.  I see him as a faux individualist.

Let’s be clear here.  Individualism and collectivism are not opposites—they are two sides of the same coin.  In American culture people like Smith often contrast them but do so out of ignorance. 

An individualist is a person who chooses to keep much of the pressures and challenges of society to a minimum because they are afraid of being overwhelmed by them.  They also try to control those social activities that do exist in their life.  Individualists are more comfortable in low context cultures and situations.

A collectivist is a person who embraces the pressures and challenges of society and likes being embedded in social activity.  They give themselves over to it (and being in control is optional). A collectivist is more comfortable in high context cultures and situations.

This paradox of how to live in society is likely the defining cultural trait of American culture.  It is there for all cultures, but for Americans, it is a crucial problem.  And, it has been well studied.  The best reports are:

Bender, Thomas
1978   Community and Social Change in America.  Rutgers, University Press, Piscataway, New Jersey.

Dumont, Louis
1986  Essays on Individualism: Modern Ideology in Anthropological Perspective. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Madsen, Richard, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler and Steven M. Tipton
1985   Habits of the Heart:  Individualism and Commitment in American Life.  New York, Harper and Row.

They are dated but well worth the time to read.

We are not losing our cultural heritage. We are living through the normal cycle of cultural high, then awakening, then unraveling, then secular crisis, and then repeating.  We are in the crisis era which will end with people being pushed or forced into more social conformity.

I don’t like that anymore than Smith seems to.  But this process is not the loss of any heritage; it is our American heritage cycling once again, just as the seasons change. 

I have always liked autumn.


  1. @L Moore

    That was an incredibly weak critique from Moore, which read exactly like the kind of naive ranting and raving that he accuses me of.

    Moore starts out using an old Alinsky tactic (though I'm not sure that he even knows who Alinsky is...) by attempting to attack the superficial traits of my character as a writer, instead of confronting any of the information presented in the article above.

    First of all, I'm not sure what my age (he seems to consider 31 "young", which I suppose, is a matter of opinion) has to do with the content of the article. Secondly, he uses the strawman argument that I run a "commune", which is absurd, and reveals his unfortunate ignorance of what Alt-Market really is.

    Moore makes the same idiotic and misinformed assumption that many pseudo-intellectuals make; to confuse the definition of what Collectivism actually is.

    For them, ANY group or organization is somehow, regardless of their nature, "Collectivism". What Moore is too uneducated to grasp is that there is an immense difference between Collectivism and COMMUNITY.

    Collectivism is forced organization which sacrifices individual liberty and identity for the supposed sake of the group or nation. One of the defining attributes of Collectivism is that it denies and prohibits individual freedom .

    Community, on the other hand, nurtures individual thought and action. The group is strengthened not by a hive mentality, but variety and uniqueness of thought. I would highly recommend that Moore read the works of Carl Jung and become more informed as to the meaning of the term "Collectivism" before he composes ridiculous hit pieces based on his erroneous world view.

    Moore says:

    "A collectivist is a person who embraces the pressures and challenges of society and likes being embedded in social activity. They give themselves over to it (and being in control is optional). A collectivist is more comfortable in high context cultures and situations."

    I rest my case. He obviously has no understanding of the bigger picture of collectivism, which involves not only people who enjoy conformity, but people who expect and even demand that others conform to their ideology, usually in the name of some ill defined "greater good". Collectivism uses FORCE and manipulation to procure cooperation. While community (which is what I advocate at Alt-Market) relies on truth, and the voluntary effort of informed individuals.

    To summarize, Moore proclaims that he has discovered some kind of hypocritical weakness in my position on collectivism, yet, he doesn't even know what collectivism is. This is a testament to the sad and dangerous world we live in today, infested with people who build the whole of their character around fabricated realities. If you want to know why America is facing the most drastic crisis in its history look to guys like Moore, who are more interested in pontificating just to hear themselves speak, rather than doing what they should do, which is sit down, quiet their blathering for a few precious minutes, and actually learn something.

  2. My vacillation about commenting on Smith was spot on. Sticking a hand into a hornet’s nest is done with caution.

    The important idea is that American heritage is not being lost; it changes along well worn cycles.

    Someone has to ask simple questions of Ol’ Brandon. I know he is angry at everything. Can he be more specific? I asked What heritage are we losing? He did not answer. He offered more emotion and acidity but no substance

    I said he was young, a polite way of saying he is immature. Name dropping (Alinski, Jung) and accusing me of accusing him, etc—who’s the fifth grader here? He ignores details--I never said Alt Market is a commune; I said Safe Haven is commune-like. Maybe I should have called it a pseudo-commune.

    He may have a public stage, and Zero Hedge gives him space, but he needs to grow up if he wants to be a leader or public intellectual. His crack that I am a pseudo-intellectual is hilarious; at least he didn’t accuse me of being a full one. Intellectualism is out of style these days, and, when it was in style, it was over rated.

    He has indicated that he wants timeless truths. Here is one about Montana. The natives there don’t like outsiders. If you relocate there, they will take your money and offer superficial friendliness and then you are expected to go away. You will never be a member of their community. It isn’t a safe haven.

  3. Moore continues to pontificate as if he knows what he is talking about yet tangibility is severely lacking, all the while ignoring the content of the article he is criticizing.

    I point out the Alinsky-like nature of his responses because the similarities are quite apparent. He calls this "name dropping" because he is unfamiliar with the material, and is too smug or egotistical to look it up, and learn. Exactly the problem I pointed out in my original post.

    He asks what part of our American Heritage I feel we are losing. Obviously, anyone who paid even an iota of attention while reading my article would have noticed the consistent evidence I present of an attack on the Constitution and the principles of freedom and individualism that it represents. The fact that these values are being delegated to the dustbin of history by people who would like to see their globalist (collectivist) world view imposed on others is apparently not a significant threat to our heritage according to Moore. I suppose he is welcome to his opinion, no matter how uneducated.

    He then uses semantics to dance around his own words. Claiming that using the phrase "commune-like" is not the same as using the phrase "commune". I take this childish game of mental gymnastics to mean that he is trying to distance himself from the absurdity of his original generalization. Talk about immature.

    Finally, I have lived in Montana comfortably for some time now. I have relocated people here, and have made friends with people who have lived here most of their lives. I have lived in every region of this country, and all in all, Montana is my favorite, and I am not alone in this regard. Not surprisingly given his pretentious nature, Moore makes sweeping generalizations about Montana and Montanans based on little or no experience. I welcome him to come out to Montana and see for himself the strong bonds of community that exist here amongst liberty minded people. Though, his know-it-all attitude may indeed illicit unfriendly responses from the people here. One great thing about Montanans I have met is that they have zero tolerance for blowhards.

    It's truly sad that such ignorance as Moore's has to exist, but there is a lesson to be learned here.

    Moore exposes the weakness of the inflated ego in his diatribe. He critiques, yet does not confront the facts presented. In most cases, he overlooks the facts offered and then claims there "is no substance". Yet another Alinsky-style debate tactic. America today is weighted down with people like this, and it has caused our nation incredible grief.

    He also seems to take issue with the fact that I have a "platform", and he does not. If the green-eyed monster is lurking over Moore's shoulder, then I suggest he do something constructive, like putting in the years of writing effort necessary to create his own platform. Instead of conjuring up vapid and inane reasons to critique the works of others just to satisfy his deep seated feelings of inferiority.

  4. Ol'Brandon is a rebel without a cause. He is expressing those very freedoms that he suggests have been lost. He is blogging and organizing and is anyone stopping him? Has he been thrown in jail? Had his wages garnished? Have the police knocked down his door? Is he on the run? He is lucky to live in a country that allows his screaming at the gov. Other nations are not so tolerant.

    Every president and supreme court has reinterpreted the Constitution. It has been amended over 20 times. It is very American to scream at our government and to rethink the Constitution. It is our heritage to do these things. If you don't like a certain decision then become part of the process to reverse it.