Beta Culture: The Footprint of the Past

One of my many interests is the residual social / societal effects of historical events and social movements.

For instance, the fact that we still say “God bless you” when people sneeze, 14 centuries after the supposed origin of the practice …

One explanation holds that the custom originally began as an actual blessing. Gregory I became Pope in AD 590 as an outbreak of the bubonic plague was reaching Rome. In hopes of fighting off the disease, he ordered unending prayer and parades of chanters through the streets. At the time, sneezing was thought to be an early symptom of the plague. The blessing (“God bless you!”) became a common effort to halt the disease.

… means that when we get some idea in our little human heads, even crazy, useless shit, that crazy, useless shit PERSISTS.

WE KEEP ON DOING IT. Keep on teaching it, for decades, centuries, after it last meant anything real … if it ever did.

I know for a fact that the shadow of the slavery era, and the Civil War, still hangs over the Deep South where I grew up — in attitudes, government action, inter-racial relations, so much more — on both sides of the racial divide.

Living here in New York state, I’ve seen little hints here and there that the Prohibition era, the heyday of organized crime, still hangs over eastern cities. In police practices, in the attitudes and actions of elected officials.

It’s well known that Jews and Muslims still avoid pork, long after any evidentiary reason for it.

Speaking economically: considering the lengthy, ongoing failure of infrastructure in the U.S. – the desperate situation of roads and bridges, the school system, water and sewer systems – the beggaring debts of wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., still hang over us.

I’ve considered that the ubiquity of religion worldwide has had massive and profound effects ranging from lingering social practices, government policy, language, understanding of history, even human psychology and our relation to the natural world.

But again on the subject of war, this catches my interest:

Historians have underestimated the death count of WWI by a huge margin

Look at these Austrian men murdering bound and blindfolded Serbian prisoners. Considering what we know about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, imagine what sort of psyche comes out of that. Imagine the millions of damaged young men coming home after this war, and that war, and all those other wars.

Few of us find it easy to kill others. The military takes mostly-peaceable nebbishes off the street and teaches them how to do it — to shoot, stab and blow up other human beings. It shoves them into the blowtorch of war where they experience the opportunity or necessity of killing and torturing others. After which, with full memories and attitudes intact, it releases them back into common society.

With that package of damage in their heads, essentially as functional sociopaths, they then attempt to reincorporate into society. Where they grapple with their attitudes about women, about freedom of speech, about foreigners, about religion. Voting those attitudes. Spreading them. Teaching them to their kids. Supporting new and more deadly wars, but also the conditions that cause those wars. Accepting without question or protest further government actions, or authoritarian proclamations, or even heinous lies propagated by such sources as FOX News.

Yes, we as an entire culture, an entire civilization, are damaged by the lasting cultural footprint of religion.

But now I’m considering this new idea, that war, just as deadly as religion to both individual human sanity and the sanity of entire cultures, may hang over us as an equally-dark social cloud.

One more reason to attempt to take a new path, develop a new culture, something more reasonable, more human and humane.

  • Smarter than Your Average Bear

    Look at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians – it’s like a generations long case of Stockholm Syndrome

  • Raven Niles

    12 years ago I met my 2nd husband, who was the first veteran I got to know really well. It was an eye-opener for me to recognize the damage that we the people do to our mostly young military volunteers. Sold as a way to step out of childhood poverty (in multiple senses: economic, yes but also cultural and educational). “We”ll teach you a trade”. “We”ll give you money for college”. “We”ll pay you a good wage you can send back home to your struggling family”. Then we take these young people already damaged by their circumstances of birth and build up their self-esteem as they become proficient killers of other human beings. My husband survived his abusive mother only to be broken at the will of we the people. He came out in his early twenties as an angry adrenaline junkie with Special Forces-refined skills as a killer. Depression, PTSD, employment challenges and drug addiction followed. I am proud of his resilience despite many set backs. I recently made a mid-life career switch to nursing, having just graduated with a BSN in December 2013. My first nursing job is at a VA hospital and I am so honored to have the opportunity to work with the men and women of our armed forces. I think many of them were sold a bill of goods and I consider it part of my duty as a citizen to provide them with the best damn care possible because we the people promised it to them.

    • Hank Fox

      Raven, thank you so much for sharing that. I wish the two of you a life of happiness, healing and success.