Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Cultural Appropriation": Yet Another Confused Idea From the Lefty-Left

So, in case you hadn't heard, if you use anything from another culture, you are guilty of "cultural appropriation." Oh, and that's bad. Bad, bad, bad.'s a little's clearly and always horribly bad according to the Tumblr crazies...but, then, if you're male or white or western or educated or well-to-do, or your gender matches your sex, then you're evil anyway according to those I'm not sure whether it's worth worrying about any of the finer points about your evilness...

Unfortunately--and as I predicted--some of the "SJW" nuttiness is starting to seep into more mainstream parts of the web. Here, for example.

Ok, ok...I know it's just Jezebel...  I'm not saying this stuff has infected the Washington Post or anything...

A better title for this piece would be: "A Completely Unnecessary and Really Pretty Dopey Primer on Cultural Appropriation." Let's look at the definition of the sin proffered there, huh?:
"Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else's culture without permission."
Well, just no.

You just don't need permission to "take" (i.e. employ or enjoy) something from another culture.

Are you Mongolian? Do you like basketball? Then good on you. Do you need my permission to, say, wear, a Carolina basketball jersey, or to play basketball? No, you do not. Are you Japanese? Do you think bluegrass rules? You damn straight it does...  Do you need permission from some American to listen to it or play it? Of course not. Are you from, say, Ghana? Would you like to read some C. S. Peirce? Do you need to ask an American philosopher's permission? What an absurd suggestion. Who put that kind of nonsense in your head? Read away, my friend. It belongs to humanity. Nobody gets to tell you what you can and can't read. I mean, look, it's not like folks in the Appalachians and Ozarks expect folks in the rest of the U.S. to ask permission to listen to bluegrass...but if we're going to go down that batshit crazy road, we might as well force cultures to ask permission from sub-cultures...

Anyway: in general, there is simply nothing wrong with reading books from other cultures, reading and speaking other languages, studying other histories, enjoying the artworks of other cultures, enjoying jokes from other cultures, nor any other similar thing you can think of. I love the bagpipes, for example, and if you think I'm going to stop listening to bagpipe music because I haven't gotten written consent from the Scots, you've got another thing coming, McBub. Similarly Judo, as another example.

The very idea of "cultural appropriation" as some kind of moral crime is flat-out idiotic.

Which isn't to say that anything goes. One can be disrespectful toward a culture... I reckon, to refer back to the Jezebel piece, that one might possibly make a plausible case that "Navajo panties" are not the 100% most awesome idea that anybody ever had... It is, I'd say, possible to treat a culture disrespectfully--and it's reasonable to suggest that that's bad. Of course the "SJW" and left-left types who made up the fictive sin of "cultural appropriation" drip with contempt for Western culture...but let that pass for now... I do suspect that cultures have something like a kind of weak moral standing, and that it's probably bad to disrespect them when they deserve respect. (Not every aspect of every culture deserves respect, of course. Slavery didn't; female genital mutilation doesn't.) And Americans may very well have special obligations to American Indian cultures...what with our having tried to destroy them and all...  But to note that cultures often deserve respect--which seems true--is a far cry from asserting that "cultural appropriation" in the intended sense is always bad--which is false.

In their never-ending quest to feel more and more superior to more and more people, the far left continues to conceive of new putative sins... But, as usual, even a wee bit of thought shows that the alleged crime of "cultural appropriation" is nonsense.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps you just should read about these concepts again. You seem to not have gotten them at all. :D

5:47 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Nope, I understand 'em fine.

They just don't make any sense.

8:29 AM  
Anonymous Karl said...

Don't forget that the power dynamic between the cultural borrower and the one who is borrowed from matters by the very definition of cultural. Therefore it's a waste of time to make some of the comparisons you were making.

Regardless, you're pretty much on point. The entire concept of cultural appropriation is flawed. It's based on the premise that cultural appropriation is inherently destructive because it
A) Destroys the subject culture
B) Constitutes a form of theft
Both points can be argued against. The whole concept of cultural appropriation is too fuzzy and leads to needless bickering. It's blanket nature leads to having to make hyper detailed contextual discriminations between what "is" and "isn't" cultural appropriation. This is pretty much admitted by most proponents of the theory. Also, the way cultural appropriation has become totally conflated with racism without understanding the accurate degree of overlap (culture and race are two different words for a reason) leads to nonsensical and emotional arguments.

We are still able to point out the immoral actions of cultural exploitation and insensitivity (largely due to ignorance) without this flawed concept. Sadly, lumping everything under the "cultural appropriation" umbrella really does everyone a disservice.

3:37 PM  
Blogger Chris Juricich said...

The key to 'cultural appropriation' isn't that different cultures enjoy or embody certain other cultures' styles or essences, but specifically that when dominant cultures take it from the less dominant cultures, then the dreaded CA has occurred. If Mongolians enjoy basketball, not CA. If you as an American like burritos...according to one're culturally appropriating. Equal cultures borrowing from one problem. Dominant cornrows worn by white women? Bad.

Personally, I'm trying to keep an open mind but there is a large part of me that just thinks its a big pile of whine.

9:52 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I think you're right about what CA is supposed to be, Chris. And I, too, am inclined to think it's a (lol) "pile of whine"...but, like you, I'm fighting to keep an open mind.

I think your description, though, shows that "appropriation" is a misleading term for it, since "appropriation" per se isn't the problem, even according to people who believe that there's such a thing.

When pushed to the wall, they either fall back on *disrespecting* a culture--which is different-or on, as we might say, "appropriation + power"...a formula they love...but, again, that's a different thing...

or so I'd argue.

Anyway, thanks for the comment.

9:58 AM  

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