I had hoped I would get a further reply from Dr. Philip Slater, but since I did not I am going to go ahead and post the last reply I received from him. I had not posted it here yet. For background on this discussion, please refer to my previous blog entries: Slater: Why America is Polarized and Slater: Why America is Polarized II.
Following is Dr. Slater's reply to my update on Slater: Why America is Polarized II, followed by the reply I sent him this morning:
In a message dated 3/17/2006 4:11:39 P.M. Central Standard Time, pslater@XXXX (link removed) writes:
Your addendum is correct. The quotes were meant to refer to the perception of human nature. Because in fact, I am perfectly willing to accept the premise that human nature doesn't change so long as you recognize that no one, in fact, can demonstrate conclusively what it is, but only utter culturally-determined opinions about what it is. And those opinions are in a constant state of flux.
What my article is about is culture, which makes people behave in all kinds of strange ways and consider them both virtuous and "natural". Cultures change, and hence the way people behave changes.
Yes, of course competition is part of human nature and we are all competitive as well as cooperative. But for most of human history, until the last 8000 years or so, the latter was seen as more important, valuable, etc. And as the world shrinks, this will become true again.
Traits don't disappear, they are simply discouraged or relegated to certain social and personal compartments. The traits don't change, they are part of human repertory. But their importance changes. Just as an actor is capable of playing many different kinds of roles, but in Hollywood he's likely to become typecast and many of his potential abilities will atrophy somewhat.
I hope this clears up the confusion.
Dear Dr. Slater,
I have been waiting to update my blog with this response in the hope that you would reply to the rest of my email, as you mentioned above, so that I could reply to both this and your continuing thoughts.
I would disagree with you on your suggestion that no one can conclusively demonstrate what is human nature. There, absolutely, are some things or actions which mankind holds in common across the globe. Yes, it certainly is somewhat ethereal, but I am certain that if one put one's mind to it that commonalities could be determined to be human nature.
I agree that cultures go through changes, Dr. Slater, that isn't an issue and never has been an issue. What was an issue for me was what I erroneously perceived as your assertion that human nature changes.
In times of polarization in America do you think it is helpful to the goal of communication to make further effort to define different groups and add labels, heretofore unknown?
What purpose does this serve?
I too am very interested in the topic of polarization in America, but add to that interest the effects that labeling has on discourse in America today. I find communication fascinating. I also think that a more Nationally unified America would be beneficial in many ways to aid in this communicative goal. I can't help but feel that this further, new labeling is detrimental to National unity so I wonder what goal you have in proposing it? Further, I wonder if this is not a bit of the "divide and conquer" philosophy in action. It seems as long as Americans can be kept polarized the less those who would like to change its culture (or control it) have to worry about interference in their cause. As long as Americans are polarized to such an extent it is detrimental to real communication, to real "connecting," if you will. What is YOUR reason for creating a new category of the way Americans culturally communicate in further effort to polarize them, or if I am wrong and you are not trying to accomplish further distinctions and new "modern" labels with which certain Americans will surely tout themselves more elite, intelligent and *hip* than other Americans because they are not trying to "control" but rather "connect" (doesn't that sound special?) , then by all means, please explain the purpose of this "creation" of yours.
I still disagree with you that these two characterizations, "Connecting" and "Controlling" Cultures exist in the firm categories you have defined. I do not believe that you can broadly, or generally, attach these communicative attitudes to people. All people, to various degrees, hold some of the qualities of what you describe as "Connecting" and some of the qualities which you describe as "Controlling," yet, regardless of the approach, the ultimate goal remains the same: Both cultures seek control through different means, in the end suggesting that both cultures are, in fact, "Controlling" Cultures.
Thank you for your time.