Friday, March 17, 2006

Slater: Why America is Polarized II

Much to my surprise I found a reply from Philip Slater, Author and Playwright, last night. Following is his email reply to the email documented in my previous blog entry: Slater: Why America is Polarized and the answer I emailed to him a few moments ago:

In a message dated 3/16/2006 5:51:44 P.M. Central Standard Time, Philip Slater (private email address removed) writes:

"Dear Jacke:

You seem to have misunderstood much of what I was trying to say--partly, I think, because it's very difficult to cram a book-length set of ideas into a short article, and partly because you seem very attached to the idea that nothing ever changes.

First, I did not say that human nature is culturally-determined. I said that how cultures DEFINE what human nature is culturally-determined. Cultures do determine what parts of "human nature" are valued and encouraged and what parts are devalued and discouraged. Research studies show, for example that altruistic behavior is innate in humans, and even in mammals. It is, in fact, an important survival mechanism for a comparatively weak and awkward species. but our capitalistic culture encourages competition and selfishness, tells us that 'nice guys finish last' and 'winning is the ONLY thing', etc. Control culture demonized sexuality. Connector culture, when it becomes dominant, will probably demonize aggression.

I don't know where you're living if you think nothing has changed since the 1950s. Or maybe you're not old enough to remember. Why do you think fundamentalists the world over (for there is essentially no difference between Muslim and Christian fundamentalists in what they advocate) are in such a rage?

I thought I made it clear that no 'pure' version of Connector culture could ever exist for long, any more than a 'pure' version of Control culture could, although both have been attempted. It's a question of emphasis. But the emphasis is changing, and will continue to. And if you think control is the be-all and end-all of human striving then I feel bad for the way you're living.
It's true that control has been an exaggerated part of human striving for a long time in most of the world. Most cultures have a myth of a "Fall", when humans gave up the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of trusting to nature, and tried to control their food supply through agriculture. There's no turning back from that fatal move, but we are beginning to learn from it.

Philip Slater"


Dear Dr. Slater,

I don't know how you got the idea that I am, or seem, very attached to the idea that nothing ever changes. You have misunderstood me. What never changes is that our world is constantly changing. What you misunderstand is that I was speaking about human nature. Though the world and all of its societies and cultures are always changing, human nature does not change. It is unclear what you meant in your reply when you wrote "I said that how cultures DEFINE what human nature is culturally-determined." While it is true that cultures may value different aspects of human nature more than others, human nature is, in and of itself, immutable and yet, in your original article you wrote:

"We've been steeped for so long in this cultural system that many people assume its customs and norms are locked in our DNA. They think Control Culture is just "human nature". But what was "human nature" two thousand years ago is very different from what "human nature" was twenty thousand years ago, or what it will be a thousand years from now. Human societies have managed to persuade people to act in the most varied and outlandish ways, and to believe their odd habits "natural"." (emphasis mine).

You appear to confuse actions and habits, and perhaps even fads, with human nature, Dr. Slater. Why you choose to confuse the two, or guide others into an unclear understanding of the distinctions between the two, I can only guess. It seems to me that if you want to be taken seriously that you would want to distinguish between habits or behavior and human nature, instead, you have implied that human nature is in a never ending state of flux or, I have considered, that since you have enclosed human nature in quotation marks every time you have used it, that possibly you believe human nature is a fallacy? It compels me to define the meaning of human nature for you and for the readers of my blog:

Human nature, 1. the quality inherent in all persons by virtue of their common humanity.

Quality, n. 1. a characteristic, property or attribute: useful qualities.

Inherent, adj. 1. existing in something as a permanent and inseparable element, quality, or attribute.

Humanity, n. 1. the human race; mankind.

(Source of all definitions: The American College Dictionary (New York: Random House Inc., 1951)) (some emphasis mine).

Dr. Slater, don't get me wrong, I very much appreciate the time you took out of your schedule to reply to me, however, it does not take a Harvard Ph. D to see that you are suggesting that human nature is mutable. It does appear that you suggest that human nature is effected by the culture of the time in which a man lives and that it is mutable. This is not true. Human nature is immutable.

You bring up other issues in your reply which I must address. You wrote "...but our capitalistic culture encourages competition and selfishness...." I agree, our capitalistic culture certainly does "encourage" competition and selfishness, however, the manner in which you phrase this charge seems to suggest that there is something wrong with competition. I believe that the competitive spirit is an inherent attribute of mankind, in other words is human nature, as well.

People are faced with choices in their lives every day. People can choose to compete and be selfish, compete and be benevolent, not compete and just get by in life. There are a myriad of choices which human beings must make about how they will live their lives, what will be their priorities, etc. I would assume that when you publish a book you receive pay for it. I assume that because your books are listed at that you would like to continue to benefit from them. Likewise, you have a listing of plays you have written at your web site and provide your email address to those who might be interested in them. Do you charge a fee for the use of your plays? The point I am trying to make is that you are competing in the marketplace of original thought, Dr. Slater.

When you receive your royalties from these works you have a choice of what you will do with the proceeds. Will you buy a new car, will you go to the dentist, will you decide to remodel your home or parts of your home, will you put some of the proceeds in a collection plate at the church of your choice, will you give it all to charity, will you give a part of it to charity? In short, YOU and YOU alone will choose how benevolent or how selfish you will be with the proceeds of the original thought which you have sold in the marketplace. I cannot help but wonder what you envision as the alternative to this capitalistic culture? A socialistic culture? And if so, who is in "CONTROL" of the purse? The "Connecting Culture?" Why wait for the government to demand that you give an equal share of your income to those less privileged than yourself, Dr. Slater? I would happily provide you with my address and you can send me my fair share today! ;)

Again, you claim that I misunderstood what you have written in your eleven to twelve page article and yet you seem to have totally misunderstood the point I was making in my own one and a half page review of same. I would like to be given credit for raising questions which you refused to answer, instead you have chosen to pretend that you were misunderstood. You, good sir, are the writing teacher, I am a simple blogger, living in the Missouri Ozarks with little training in the skill. It would behoove you to articulate yourself in such a way that others, such as myself, could not misunderstand you, however, that said, I don't believe I have misunderstood you at all.

I would love to address your aside that "there is essentially no difference between Muslim and Christian fundamentalists in what they advocate." Perhaps some other time, but for this email I would like to return to the original subject and finish making my point.

Our Nation has historically always been steeped in change, Dr. Slater, that is what I meant by there being "nothing NEW under the sun," this is a quote that comes from the Bible, in case you are not familiar with the phrase. It was written by King Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes, through the inspiration of God.

We have always been changing. There has always been a government in power which was placed there by the American voter. Our Nation and the greater world is not and NEVER HAS BEEN a neat, tidy place but has always been in flux, that is what has not changed, that we are in a constant state of change. Emphasis has always changed and you are right to say that it will continue to change. You suspect that I believe that control "is the be-all, end-all" and offer sympathy for my life? That is not necessary, but I appreciate the sentiment. It is human nature to exercise control over our lives, Dr. Slater and that, good sir, is immutable.

Jacke M.

Note to readers: It occured to me as I was rereading this entry that Dr. Slater was referring to what we "perceive" as "human nature" when he enclosed human nature in quotation marks in the quoted portion of his article. In that case I might have crafted my reply to his email somewhat differently. The fact that it took me so long to grasp his meaning is simply an indication, in my opinion, that he could have articulated himself a little better in that part of his article. Yes, this is an admission that I did misunderstand him, however, I feel that if I misunderstood him that the chances are that many other people may have misunderstood him as well. Therefore, this has been a good opportunity to clarify his meaning.

The greater argument would be over whether a want to control one's own life and effect control over the world at large, including other people, animals and agriculture is human nature. I believe that it is human nature and has been documented throughout history. It is not a cultural fad.

1 comment:

wildwest said...

You got a reply! Congratulations!!