Beta Culture: Earthman’s Journey – Part 7 of 8

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The Houses of Man (cont.)

As you’ve probably already figured out, there are other steps in this bigger-house progression. At some point we discover the door to yet another Outside, and find that our original family home is only a small part of a bigger place – our neighborhood or culture. For want of a better name, call this dwelling place the House of the Tribe.

Again, there’s an uncomfortable period of adaptation in settling-in to this larger space. To become a full member of our tribe, we have to learn to say the right things at the right times, to sing the right songs and make the right pledges. We have to wear the right clothes – the right boots, pants, shirts, hats and belt buckles. We have to learn the right secret handshake – and so many more things. We may even have to have the right parts of our bodies ritually scarred, or tattooed, or cut off.

Historically speaking, this is about as far as most of us get. Throughout history, this tribal house, the house of our people, was almost always plenty big enough, providing us with friends, family, jobs, pleasant recreations (such as badminton, or hunting the heads of the tribesmen in the next valley) and challenges (all the Scouting merit badges, a Phi Beta Kappa pin, a lion skin of our very own), and a ceiling high enough to fulfill all our aspirations.

Every transition out of our currently-familiar place is attended by severe discomfort. That next door always opens out into a much, much larger place, and we have to learn a bunch of new things – the serious and difficult and sometimes frightening work of which can be forced on us long before the advantages become obvious. And again, we have to unlearn some things – we have to go against some of our earlier training.

One of the stumbling blocks to growth beyond the House of the Tribe is the nature of culture itself. Your culture buoys you up in many ways, providing the comfortable support of predictability. On the other hand, it also chops off your wild flights of fancy and drags you back from uncommon insights. Cultures endure because they actively oppose their members growing beyond them, from coming up with anything new. I remember showing up at a friend’s spread in Texas one time, wearing some loose comfortable shoes instead of the cowboy boots we all usually wore. In less than ten seconds, he’d fixed me with an incredulous eye and asked “Where’d yew git them pimpy shoes?”

Our culture also actively discourages the “us” from mixing in any way with the  “them.” To move beyond our Tribal House, we have to unlearn the “us-them” lesson. We have to learn that other people, the ones who have before now been the not-Us, are somehow related to us and worthy of equal treatment.

Talk about culture shock! They speak the wrong language, they eat weird, smelly foods, they’re different colors … and as far as we can tell, they don’t know a darned thing about the appropriate way to act. Even worse, they act as if they have a RIGHT to be all different. They don’t seem to have any desire to learn the correct ways to act and talk and eat. They sometimes even treat us as if WE are supposed to learn THEIR ways.

They have no idea that their women should be covered head to toe, or that there is a specific little hat to wear on Saturday, or that you eat hot dogs and beer (and not noodles, for chrissake!) at baseball games, or that you have to read this book and not that one, and you have to believe in this mystical superbeing – the real one – and not all those silly others.

The process holds an uncomfortable mirror up to our own lives. It can never be easy to learn, in stepping out into this next larger house, that our clothes are no better than theirs. To discover that our secret handshake, which gave us the intense inner feeling of belonging, is no better or worse than any other secret handshake; it is simply ours. The cosmetic and surgical alterations that we so laboriously prepared for and painfully endured – the nose-bone, the ivory ear plugs, the giant stainless steel earrings, the circumcision, the Harley tattoos, the nipple-rings – are (at best) simple curiosities or (at worst) objects of disgusted fascination to most of those other people. Worst of all, the universe seems to falter in its course as we learn that the God of Everything is only a garden-variety myth, one among many, and completely unknown just over the hill.

If we’re lucky enough, though, and persistent enough, and perhaps if we live in a society where enough adventurous rogues have found the next door and learned the advantages of stepping through it, we can move out into what has to be the biggest house of all – the House of Humanity.