How to Destroy a Culture

David Cowles

Oct 20, 2022

OMG, what have I done? I’ve just given you "The Ultimate Imperialists’ Cookbook!"

As you stand on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, it’s easy to imagine that you’re surveying human society’s universal floor plan. You’re not! 


It turns out that human society has developed along a number of different trajectories. The world you and I live in is just one of those trajectories, albeit the currently dominant one. 


What are the defining characteristics of our branch of the social tree? Here are my Top 10 (yours might differ slightly):     


  • Technology

  • Private Property

  • An Entrepreneurial Economy (even in titular socialist countries)

  • Language (with recursive syntax and active voice dominance)

  • Widespread literacy (most people can and do read)

  • Universal numeracy (everyone can and does count)

  • Law and law enforcement (police, courts, prisons, etc.)

  • Nation states

  • A Standing Military

  • Democracy (or at least a nod thereto)


It won’t surprise you to hear that these social structures are not universally applauded. Many efforts have been made to alter the fabric of society. Meet the Utopians, the Luddites, the ‘Reds’ (communists), the ‘Blacks’ (anarchists), and the ‘Greens’ (eco-terrorists). 


Each of these, and many others, have criticized the structure of the current social order; none has been able to effect substantial, long-term change. Ironically, many attempts at ‘reform’ end up reinforcing the very features of society that they were intended to modify.


But it might surprise you to learn, unless you are a regular reader of Aletheia Today Magazine (ATM) and Thoughts While Shaving (TWS), that there are numerous societies, thriving today, that have few, if any, of these defining characteristics.


Are these the radical social experiments of superannuated hippies? Sorry to disappoint. With few, if any, exceptions, these are ‘traditional societies’ with long histories, some reaching back to the Stone Age. 


Many are resistant to change, not out of any sense of 19th century ideological purity, but out of simple pragmatism: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Exposed to the wealth and ‘wisdom’ of today’s dominant culture (i.e., ours), some of these ancient societies have chosen to assimilate. Others have not.  


In previous ATM and TWS posts(“Meet the Piraha,” “Speaking Piraha,” and “Xiaco Can’t Count,”), we have introduced readers to the Piraha, a semi-isolated tribe in the Brazilian rainforest. Let’s evaluate their culture according to my “Top 10” (above): 


  • Technology? Hunter-gatherer.

  • Private Property? Incidentals only.

  • An Entrepreneurial Economy? No innovation.

  • Language? Yes, but lacking ‘recursion’ (no subordinate clauses, etc.).

  • Widespread literacy? Zero literacy. 

  • Universal numeracy? Zero numeracy (in fact, Piraha don’t have numbers).

  • Law and law enforcement? None.

  • Nation State? Irrelevant.

  • A Standing Military? Are you nuts?

  • Democracy? Consensual decision-making.


The Piraha have had contact with the ‘outside world’ for many decades: Brazilian river traders, neighboring tribes in the process of assimilation, missionaries, and, of course, anthropologists.  


Because they are a small tribe and reasonably accessible, the Piraha have had every opportunity to assimilate. No dice! Sure, they value some of our ‘goods’ (chiefly medicines), but they don’t see this as sufficient reason to overthrow their social structure, to abandon their traditions…or to learn arithmetic!


Now from the Stone Age to the Space Age! We’re following in the footsteps of that great explorer of worlds Jean Luc Picard. But times have changed. We are no longer governed by the prime directive. Instead, our leaders have adopted the ‘Columbian’ model of intercultural relations. Sadly, we’ve been told to suppress the indigenous cultures we encounter, forcing them to assimilate.


OMG, what have I done? I’ve just given you The Ultimate Imperialists’ Cookbook (see above): everything you need to know to destroy a culture. As atomic scientist Robert Oppenheimer said, paraphrasing the Bhagavad-gītā, “Now I have become death, the destroyer of worlds.”


Must I spell it out?

  • Create a desire for consumer goods and for the technology needed to create them. (Learn from the successful business models employed by the drug pushers at your middle school…and by Bill Gates: make people want what you have, and then make sure they can’t get it anywhere else).

  • Private Property will evolve naturally from the proliferation of goods.

  • Reward those who undertake economic initiatives.

  • If lacking, introduce recursion and an active voice verb form into the indigenous language. (see below)

  • Emphasize the 3R’s: universal literacy and numeracy. 

  • Introduce laws to protect emerging private property and to regulate burgeoning commerce. 

  • Enforce those laws via a system of police, courts, and prisons.

  • Create a standing army to ward off attacks by neighboring planets jealous of your sudden material success.

  • Replace consensual decision-making with ‘democracy:’ majority rule, representative government, universal suffrage, ‘free and fair elections’ and a secret ballot. 


I have said too much. Let me close with one clarification. Dominant culture requires language that includes recursion (the ability to relate unrelated concepts) and active voice. The first is necessary for propaganda (stereotyping, fake news); the second for production.


 

 

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