Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Why Parents Aren't Passing on Traditions to their Children

I mean, she tried to get back to the old ways:
A woman has been charged with a class A misdemeanor after egging houses and cars with her daughter and several other minors.

44-year-old Jennifer Terry of Ogden, Utah, allegedly drove her companions around on Aug. 20 and threw between 10 and 15 dozen eggs at 10 to 20 homes. Terry told police they committed the vandalism because she “didn’t care” and because of family problems, the Standard Examiner reports.
Why, you ask, is the culture changing, leaving so many people feeling adrift? One reason is that a lot of what people did in the 50s and 60s now seems dangerous (street drag racing, riding bicycles without helmets), unhealthy (heavy drinking), unkind (see the whole anti-bullying, anti-microaggressions movement), sexist, racist, or criminal (egging houses on Halloween).

Over the past decade I have spent a lot of time pondering the ways the culture is changing and how people feel about it, and one of the things I keep coming back to is that a culture is an organic whole. The culture of small towns and tight-knit neighborhoods of the 1900 to 1960 period had many features that we now deplore. But you can't make big changes in a culture and expect that everything else will stay the same. Tight-knit communities are often tight-knit because of conflicts with other groups; when the Irish kids stopped fighting with the German kids, and taboos against inter-ethnic marriage fell, something was gained in openness but lost in group cohesion. That's just one example but I have a sense that, as the Hagakure says, "This understanding extends to all things."

To get back to our egging story:
One victim claims the egging damaged the home’s stucco to the tune of $2,343, while another says it necessitated repair to a car’s ignition that cost $3,000.
Where did these numbers come from? Did the first guy decide that the egg stains required replacing dozens of square feet of stucco? Even if he was hit with a dozen eggs, that seems like a lot to me. And how on earth could you disable a car's ignition with an egg? That must have been one of the luckiest shots in history.

4 comments:

David said...

Interesting story--but I wonder, is culture really an organic whole? Yes, if you change one major part, other parts will change as a result. But it seems to me cultures are bundles of contradictions, with very old bits being almost forgotten and then revived, new bits coming in that seem important and then disappear, institutions flourishing despite the irrelevance of their original cultural rubrics. Every new movement promotes its hostile anti-movement. No organic being could survive with its components in such a mess and working at such cross purposes.

David said...

Thinking further, I wonder if ecosystem isn't a better metaphor for a culture: always changing but capable of periods of stability, boundaries that are always permeable and uncertain but still useful analytically, and generally subsisting in a state of internal tension that acts, for a while at least, to give it a kind of seeming wholeness.

John said...

I'm reading a book about the Highland Clearances in Scotland. In the 1750 to 1800 period many people, both Scots and travelers, commented on the contradiction of life for the Highland peasantry: they were desperately poor, living for months on nothing but oatmeal and milk, constantly in danger of starving, with short lives and frequent bad health. Yet they had an amazing culture of folktales, folksong, local politics, clan feuds, etc. Some who knew them thought them the happiest people in the world. Driven from the land they moved to Glasgow, got jobs, ate a lot better, lived longer, and gradually lost the traditional culture that so moved outsiders.

No doubt you are right that cultures contain many random peculiarities, but on the big scale they are wholes that cannot be too much altered without being destroyed.

David said...

I would stick with my suggestion. American civilization, even American suburban civilization is not a whole. Nor are most of the great civilizations. Most have been hugely altered in the last 200 yrs, and yet their contours are still recognizable and they haven't been "destroyed." This may be different for an isolate under tremendous pressure like the Scottish Highlands. But American civilization is not such a whole. Indeed, it is not clear to me that early twentieth century American culture of the sort you're describing could be said to have been destroyed. It continues to embody the same contradictions--by which I mean such things as the tension between secularism and religion, or the individual and the community--though the relative strengths have changed, without any side being "destroyed." After all, how else could we introduce all the changes of the twentieth century, and still slide back into a Gilded Age, culturally as well as statistically?