In a previous article, I mentioned a 1990s or early 2000s cable TV advertisement which showed people of different cultures later morphing into people in black modern suits. The narrator was saying that diversity and culture are in danger because of modernization by globalization. I’m still looking for this ad, but I also still disagree with its message that losing cultural identity is harmful to society.
If people say that modernity and traditional culture need not be enemies, I agree. Mass media after all likes to highlight rivalries, not only in politics but even science versus religion, science versus art, and other things. However, if it comes down to it, I’ll choose modernity over national or traditional identity.
|SUPPORT INDEPENDENT SOCIAL COMMENTARY!|
Subscribe to our Substack community GRP Insider to receive by email our in-depth free weekly newsletter. Opt into a paid subscription and you'll get premium insider briefs and insights from us daily.
Subscribe to our Substack newsletter, GRP Insider!
I’ll clarify an idea before I proceed. I disagree that what brought about the modern culture could be called globalization. It’s more of free market capitalism, where goods, services and ideas can be freely sold or exchanged across borders, cultures and divides; hierarchy or control by any authority is minimal to absent. Globalization actually has a few players monopolizing or regulating international trade, sometimes even trying to manipulate society and culture to their needs. Esteemed webmaster Benign0 actually criticized it.
Back to the ad under discussion, I disagree that modernity has threatened traditional cultures. Instead it brought us more freedom, world prosperity and relative peace (to earlier times). And we still have our cultural identities, actually. Modernity does exert a pressure on culture, but a good one; more on that later.
Let’s look at it from another angle. Youtuber Lindybeige has a video explaining the book Why We Fight by Mike Martin on why people easily join conflict despite common sense telling them that it’s better not to. He says the sense of belonging to a group identity is a major cause, since a person will likely seek the favor of the group he wants to belong to. When the group fights another group, even for a nonsense reason, the person will fight with them just to maintain their favor. That is tribal dynamics as far as I know.
Another point by Martin is that wars led to societies getting bigger, such as smaller states getting absorbed by bigger states through imperialism. As societies get bigger, they tend to get less violent. So the summary that Lindybiege gave was, violence does bring about peace and is the reason for the relative prosperity of today. As he said, there’s loads of humans now. It implies that the tendency for violence because of identity is good. Of course, I disagree with this.
For me, free market capitalism brought about by liberal values, as I mentioned above, is the reason why there are loads of us now (My view of this is informed by Deirdre McCloskey, who uses the term liberalism or liberal values to describe the support for individualism over collectivism, different from the liberalism associated with the left, woke and progressives; it’s more of libertarianism). The tendency for violence is one of the hindrances. I believe Martin took a very narrow, “small picture” look at the factors involving conflict and societal size and simply left out the influence of liberal values. The numbers perhaps may have looked to him like violence and peace had a proportionate correlation in the eras he looked at. But once you look at the bigger picture, a different conclusion emerges.
Traditional cultures form a concept of group identity as a focal point for survival. Since life was much more difficult then, village-level tribes tend to kill or enslave people outside of their identity, as I explained in my eliminationism article. This is also the cause of racism and bigotry as well as a lot of human-made inequality, which are actually means to facilitate survival.
But the village autocrats can also be cruel to their own people. Aside from what I’ve described, there’s ostracism or bullying of a village member who doesn’t “fit in” or is “different” (like a geeky person). Then there’s gossip. There’s the dictatorship of other villagers on who your mate should be or whether or not you should have a haircut. Either you conform or we whip you to conform… or you get kicked out or killed in extreme cases. This is the kind of cruel life that Disney heroines often lament in song.
Then came the age of enlightenment, industrial era, liberal values and free market capitalism. They created an abundance of good and services, not to mention medical advances, that greatly increased survivability and life expectancy. It also led to recognition for human rights and individuality. Being individualistic was no longer seen as a danger to other people as in tribal days. You don’t need to be tied to your tribe anymore to have the right to live.
And so our world became bigger, leading to more peace. Instead of finding common ground in tribal loyalties, we found new common ground in international products, such as fictional properties. For my generation, it was Transformers and GI Joe and other toy properties. Others are popular music, personally 80s music and new wave. Hobbies like scale modeling and video games, among other things, brought together people from across the world. Identity was no longer the focal point of survival, but was for fun, and I think that was better.
The problem with the idea that violence can bring peace is that it can be used to justify wars, like the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A propagandist for the war could say, oh, look, if bigger societies are more peaceful, then the Russian invasion in order to revive the bigger society called the Soviet Union to existence is justified.
Youtuber Vlad Vexler explained that the Ukraine invasion was motivated by a cultural factor, namely a search for Russian identity. This dynamic of identity assertion is still found in most collective violence today. The terrorist group Islamic State/Daesh sought to create its own political entity through conquest. There were the Rwandan conflict and Yugoslavian breakup. This shows that, if you want conflict to stop, it’s better to encourage dropping identity assertion and sticking to traditional culture, and letting free market capitalism and liberal values bring peace.
I do recognize that even modern culture has its own problems. Actually, it’s because some business players try to create their own tribalism. For example, if you don’t have a certain product, you are not part of the tribe called “in” and there are messages actually shame you for it. You have rivalries such as the Noranian-Vilmanian one, disputes within hobby communities and, not to mention, sports rivalries. Shills are used to create questionable messages to goad consumption; for example, a blogger is hired to write that a person who doesn’t like to travel the world is a racist (in order to spur travel ticket sales, fuel consumption, etc., by giving non-buyers a bad identity). The proliferation of vanity and self-worship also takes advantage of people’s search for identity, namely, if you are not among the “beautiful people,” you do not deserve validation.
Then you have the wokes. Wokes at first seem to be a product of capitalism, but I think they are actually a product of tribalism struggling against capitalism. “We are a tribe of people who are awakened to issues and their causes, and capitalism is the cause, so we want to bring it and you down, you white supremacists.” Sometimes, they even invoke state action to support their tirades against people who disagree with them. Wokes are among the noisiest in saying capitalism is the cause of exploitation and subjugation, while ignoring the fact that the real perpetrators during the age of exploration/exploitation were older kingdoms (states) expanding empires.
Speaking of kingdoms expanding empires, there’s South Africa in my Silverton Siege article. Apartheid was an act of identity assertion by the Dutch. When you look at racism-supporting messages around the world, notice that they have an identity element in them. Apartheid and segregation are attempts to secure the identity from being soiled by the blood of others. Adolf Hitler really believed this when he led the Nazi party, although his conclusion was that the greatest way to preserve identity and purity was to eliminate the impure. And racial purity was not an idea that was unique to him; it was basically everywhere at the time. Darwinism was also used to support it.
I remember the witch character Kim Diehl from the Soul Eater manga and anime. Because her kind was subject to discrimination, she said that money is the only thing that does not discriminate against you. Sounds sad at first, but to me it sounded like it supported capitalism over cultural identity. Judging a person based on whether they worked and are willing to buy your wares is better than rejecting them because of their cultural identity.
But I do not advocate deliberately trying to erase old cultures the way Mao-era China tried to conduct the so-called Great Leap Forward (that is a great cautionary tale to keep returning to). No, state action is not the way here. But what is really happening today is that, as a result of the flow of ideas, liberal values and intellectual properties, cultures will have to adjust and change. If they resist and hold on to their old attitudes, they are more likely to create more problems such as more conflict.
I believe though that multiculturalism and similar efforts failed because states and other entities tried to force acceptance. Whether it was through policy or bombardment with advertisement and other messages, it made people feel forced and threatened. Try not to force things on people and let the free market and liberal values do their job.
Philippine culture, like many others, is also undergoing change but tries to resist by holding on to identity. Indeed, many have commented that tribalism is one of this culture’s greatest faults. We saw it manifested in the latest election. Many fanatics from the bigger political sides tried to fight other sides as efforts to please their own group with the hope of a reward, the dynamic that Lindybeige and Martin explained. On the collective depression of pink fanatics, it can be an identity thing; if everybody else in my group is depressed, then I should be depressed too.
Some people describe those glued to their cellphones these days as zombies. But people who are willing to be violent towards others for the sake of belonging are probably worse zombies.
Perhaps embracing modernity and leaving identity behind will help solve Philippine problems. It’s a “modest proposal” that webmaster Benign0 called, quoting Nick Joaquin, “Murder mentality.” I’m sure others will call me a traitor for this. But I’ll stand fast. If loss of cultural identity might be the price for peace in the world, I’d be willing to pay that.
I believe, as my cohorts here do, that what Filipinos embrace as their culture is what actually pulls the country down. And those who seem to be anti-dictators, who may also believe themselves to be “heroes,” are the real dictators.