Thursday, October 30, 2008

Culture and Humanity: Learned Behavior the Basis of Human Conflict Amongst the Others by Jake Adams

Culture and Humanity: Learned Behavior the Basis of Human Conflict

By Fahim A. Knight-EL

What is culture? And does culture ultimately fuel divisiveness as opposed to cohesiveness and unity, which is transmitted via a systematic structure—involving folklore, mores, values, customs, rituals, etc., and from this, society adopts learned behavior. Most sociologists simply define culture as being learned behavior. This means for the most part that predetermined genetic coding is being cast aside and our environment perhaps is being taunted and viewed as having the greatest influence on human development, as far as determining psychological and sociological orientation. Sociologist defines culture as, “consisting of all the shared products of human society. These products are of two basic kinds, material and non-material. Material culture consists of all the artifacts or physical objects, human beings create and give meaning to—wheels, clothing, schools, factories, cities, books, spacecraft, totem poles. Nonmaterial culture consists of more abstract creations—language, ideas, beliefs, rules, customs, myths, skills, family patterns, political systems. (Reference: Ian Robertson; “Sociology” pg. 53).

However, prejudices originate from learned behavior, which is the basic definition of culture, coming from Auguste Comte, Max Weber, Émile Durkheim, C. Wright Mills , etc., and even before these sociologist Ibn Khaldun of Northwest Africa, the father of sociology in 13th Century had devised many of the social theories that the above theoreticians would later use. Learned behavior is the foundation of culture in which if correlated with our socialization process, ordinarily this is how our worldview is shaped (good, bad and/or indifferent).

The word "prejudice" comes from the root word to prejudge which means: "to judge a person, issue, or case before sufficient evidence is available" I do think this word is often used a lot out of context. For example, the two words Racism and Prejudice are used interchangeably but there are some distinct differences between the two. For one to be prejudice toward something or someone, as far as making a determination without factual proof is reckless and outright wrong. Racism, by its simplest definition, is the belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. People with racist beliefs might hate certain groups of people according to their racial groups. Now! If someone commits a racist act towards me and I view it as racism, them I am not prejudging that person, but I am probably calling a spade, a spade.

Does culture unconsciously and unintentionally create bias and we as human beings rely on and adopt predisposed attitudes and prejudices which have been passed on; this train of thought eventually affects, shape and alter our worldview and ability to accept others unconditionally without referencing what we have learned about individuals, groups, society, cultures, etc? Our stored mental stimuli seems to always be the driving force relative to our ability to recall what we have been taught—good, bad or indifferent are forever guiding our assessment and evaluation of others. May be our social programming is the root cause of man’s inhumanity to man—our ability to commit all types of atrocities against humanity ranging from acts of genocide, ethnic cleansing, violence, institutionalize racism, hate crimes, and our capability to carryout all forms of oppression and repression against other human beings; which may differ from us in racial and/or ethnic make up, having different religious beliefs, different sexual orientation and express life from a different cultural persuasion. Moreover, in some instances there is intra-culture conflict and it is no less genuine. (Reference: James Redfield; “The Celestine Prophecy”).

Tolerance is often applied in a subjective manner based on our own cultural bias. Culture is necessary, but its not sufficient and do we truly possess the ability to unlearn those negative mental stimuli that has darken our lens and clouded our judgment to appreciate unlike civilizations and recognize the value of other cultures from their vanish point—in the areas of refinement, cultivation, and valor free of judgmental and dominant cultural bias. We all are guilty at times of unfair generalizations and cultural bias and these sentiments serves as artificial barriers which keeps human beings divided.

This writer is of the opinion, after many years of practical work experience in the field of education and studying the intellectual, social and psychological development of infants, toddlers, pre-school and children in general; that children’s educational development takes place in stages (influenced by both social and psychological stimuli). The educational theorist Jean Piaget characterizes this developmental stage as sensorimotor stage (0-2 years of age) during which children learn through the senses and motor activities. This theory is based in innate learning which means that children perhaps are already genetically and DNA coded to make certain social and psychological adjustment upon exiting the womb, specifically in this stage to their environment without coaching.

The author Joseph Campbell in his book titled, “Myths to Live By” stated, “And so, it seems to me, there is a critical problem indicated here, which parents and families have to face squarely: that, namely, of insuring that the signals which they are imprinting on their young are such as will attune them to, and not alienate them from, the world in which they are going to have to live; unless, of course, one is dead set on bequeathing to one's heirs one's own paranoia. More normally, rational parents will wish to have produced socially as well as phys­ically healthy offspring, well enough attuned to the system of sentiments of the culture into which they are growing to be able to appraise its values rationally and align themselves constructively with its progressive, decent, life-fostering, and fructifying elements.” (Reference: Joseph Campbell; “Myths to Live By” pg. 220).

However, at this stage of children’s development like other mammals it is instinctive learning that drives development and is the cement that joins us together with other species, but later on it is our Homo Sapiens-Sapiens (thinking individuals) status that separates us from other species. This writer agrees with much of Piaget theories about physical environment and cognitive development and its correlation to children educational learning.

Lev Vygotsky educational theories differed from Piaget in that Vygotsky maintains that “Learning is not developmental; however, properly organized learning is a results in mental development and sets in motion a variety of developmental processes that would be impossible apart from learning. Thus, learning is a necessary part and universal aspect of the process of developing culturally organized, specifically human, psychological functions.” This simply translates to mean that a quality learning environment impacts and can increase development. Vygotsky refers to this concept as the zone of proximal development.

The theorist Abraham Maslow advocated the self-actualization theory, it was based on what Maslow defines as the hierarchy of needs in which he essentially maintain that unless human beings satisfy certain basic needs their full potential can not be actualized. For example, 1). Food and water. 2). Safety and security. 3). Belonging and love. 4). Achievement and prestige. 5). Aesthetic needs. Then in Western culture; it later evolved along side Charles Darwin theories and the philosophy of “survival of the fittest”

I am somewhat in agreement with the theoretician Maslow that advocated his theory of hierarchy needs relative to the essentials of food and water, safety and security, belonging and love, achievement and prestige, and aesthetic needs must met in order foster the potential of self-actualization. Thus, once the hierarchical needs are met as a primary necessity, it is easy for learning to evolve as secondary in the scheme of what is considered important. Children learn better when hunger and safety is not an issue and there exist a positive social structure that addresses those essential hierarchy needs. But, what are they learning? and are these social-culture imprints preparing us with culture bias and do our cultural socialization predisposition coding triggers what ever lessons we have acquired from the experiences of our various cultures—good or bad and we then often seek to impose our cultural relevance on others, either directly or indirectly.

Can we trace our cultural decadence back to 1492 when Christopher Columbus left Europe under the flag of Spain and was on a sailing expedition to travel to India and the far East in lieu of exploiting the spice trade market and in search of gold and silver in order expand the financial coffers of Ferdinand and Isabella, the King and Queen of Spain, but got lost and mistakenly landed on the island of Hispaniola (which is modern day Haiti and Dominican Republic) in the Caribbean. An island of social harmony and tranquility—occupied by the Arawak and Carib people (misnomer named the “Indians”); these were the Native Americans who lived in this region sixteen thousand years before the Europeans. (Reference: Michael Bradley: “The Columbus Conspiracy: An Investigation into the Secret History of Christopher Columbus”).

Wa Thiong'o stated, "But its most important area of domination was the mental universe of the colonized, the control, through culture, of how people perceived themselves and their relationship to the world. Economic and political control can never be complete or effective without mental control. To control a people's culture is to control their tools of self-definition in relationship to others. "For colonialism this involved two aspects of the same process: the destruction or the deliberate undervaluing of a people's culture, their art, dances, religions, history, geography, education, orature and literature, and the conscious elevation of the language of the colonizer. The domination of a people's language by the languages of the colonizing nations was crucial to the domination of the mental universe of the colonized." (Reference: Asa G. Hilliard; “The Reawakening of the African Mind” pg 159; quoting from source wa Thiong'o, N. (1986). “Decolonization the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature”. Portsmouth N.H.: Heinemann pg. 16.).

These so-called Native Americans had a very sophisticated and complex culture, in which to the European Conquistadors immediately demoted and deemed it as a heathen civilization and viewed the indigenous people as being sub-human and inferior because they differed (by race, ethnicity, dress, customs, dietary practices, worship practices, etc.) within the context of cultural dynamics and do we even in 2008 only pay lip service to the concept of multiculturalism and the chants of us living in a pluralistic society and in reality, it is an illusion. The United States, in particular and the global society in general, promotes itself as being diverse and tolerable of different cultures; and do our societies functions off these premises or has our learned behaviors imprisoned and rendered us forever confined to prejudices and stereotypes due to ignorance and a lack of exposure that doesn’t extends beyond the superficial. (Reference: John Henrik Clarke: “Christopher Columbus & the African Holocaust: Slavery and the Rise of European Capitalism).

Wa Thiong'o continues, “But the biggest weapon wielded and actually daily unleashed by imperialism against that collective defiance is the cultural bomb. The effect of a cultural bomb is to annihilate a people's belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves. It makes them see their past as one wasteland of non-achievement and it makes them want to distance themselves from that wasteland. It makes them want to identify with that which is furthest removed from themselves; for instance, with other peoples' languages rather than their own. It makes them identify with that which is decadent and reactionary, all those forces which would stop their own springs of life. It even plants serious doubts about the moral rightness of struggle. Possibilities of triumph or victory are seen as remote, ridiculous dreams. The intended results are despair, despondency and a collective death-wish. Amidst this wasteland which it has created, imperialism presents itself as the cure and demands the dependant sing hymns of praise with the constant refrain: 'Theft is holy'.” (Reference: Asa G. Hilliard; “The Reawakening of the African Mind” pg 159-160; quoting from a source authored by wa Thiong'o, N. (1986). “Decolonization the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature”. Portsmouth N.H.: Heinemann pg. 16.).

This is the root cause of human division and has caused historical and present day massive collateral damage and human suffering; or is it something innately in us that drives the human psyche to view anything different as being not equally worthy for consideration and more prone to be ridiculed and subjugated by the dominant culture? For example, directly after September 11, 2001 hoax and bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City and it was declared by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the U.S. Department of Defense that Osama bin Laden and his Jihadist inspired movement of Al-Qaeda committed one of worst military tragedies and allege criminal acts on the continental United States—he was considered to be Muslim and Arab; it did not help that the Bush administration had espoused propaganda which they intentionally induced and created a climate of fear within the United States that reverberated around the world. (Reference: Noam Chomsky; “Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance”).

The United States media depicted Arab Muslims as having a political and religious philosophy bent on destroying the West and had declared America their number one enemy. The Powers-that-be understood that in order to maximize their manipulation and deceitful ploys; they first had to create a culture of fear by blaming 9/11 on Arabs and Muslims in their scheme this was a perfect diversionary tactic—they picked a people who were different from the American dominant cultural with a minority representation inside the country and was essentially powerless. The American people pre 9/11 knew very little about the religion of Al-Islam and the diversity of these ancient people, the religious politics, the various Islamic cultures, the various Islamic sects and schisms, etc.

Although Muslims from West Africa had arrived to the Americas as captives and hostages of Transatlantic Slave Trade as early as the 1500s and some historians maintained that the Moors during the 8th Century had voyages to the Americas long before Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, Ponce De Leon, Vaso Da Gama, Hernando de Soto, Ferdinand Magellan, etc., and had established diplomatic treaties with the Native Americans in the Western Hemisphere before the coming of the European explorers. But in the late 1800s Muslims and early 1900s Islam formalized itself and took root as a sub-culture and counter culture in the United States; with the exception of the Nation of Islam, Islam up until September 11, 2001 had remained in obscurity, but 9/11 for better or worst changed that dynamic. (Reference: Ivan Van Sertima; “They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America”).

Thus, Islam, Arabs and Muslims appeared front and center, as the number one topic of discussion within a nation that had become so ethnocentric and so culturally arrogant—no one outside our sovereign boarders mattered. However, 9/11 created a hostile, insensitive and intolerable environment mainly aimed at Arabs, in particular but all Muslims in general, they were being viewed with suspicion and Muslim discrimination was going unabated. The American people perhaps already had some preconceived prejudices against foreign Muslims; perhaps for no other reason than they were not Christians and some had followed the lopsided reporting of the Middle East conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians—and had accepted the propaganda that the Arab Muslims were bad people because they practiced a “strange” culture and prayed to a God other than Jesus Christ. (Reference: Obadiah Shoher; “Samson Blinded: A Machiavellian Perspective on the Middle East Conflict”).

These prejudices after 9/11 led to Muslim Masjids and Mosques being attacked and desecrated because there were so many cultural misunderstandings that existed between Muslim societies in East and Christian societies in the West; these misconceptions were shrouded in ignorance and fear base, which was enough ammunition to incite the uninformed and dominant culture zealots who were motivated by racial and religious hatred to inflict vigilante style justice on Muslims and made unfair generalizations against all Arabs and Muslims. Thus, blaming an entire Muslim religious world community for committing a crime that killed over 3,000 Americans—constituting a loss of human life and property.

These vigilante groups immediately began to show their ignorance by attacking and even killing Sikhs and Hindus in the United States ignorantly assuming because these people had brown skin, dressed Eastern in attire appearance, spoke with an accent and wore turbans they had to be Middle Eastern Arab Muslims and better yet terrorist. So Sikhs and Hindus were mistakenly being classified as Muslims and after 9/11 became targets of religious and racial discrimination that was being fueled by the dominant culture. Many of the attackers were not even aware of the historical religious antagonism that existed between the Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, but their racism and cultural ignorance led to indiscriminately acts of violence against innocent people who became the victims of bigotry and culture insensitivity.

The dominant culture was fully aware that cultural ignorance would incite and infuriate a segment of our society that would be willing and capable of inflicting violence and creating social discord against a people that looked different and worshipped dissimilar. Many of these people already had negative convictions of Islam and Muslims, but perhaps had never personally met a Muslim, which to make an intelligent and rational decision about their religious culture, race and ethnicity that may have assist them in debunking generalizations and unfair stereotypes that were being spewed by politically inspired entities. Many Americans had formulated their negative opinions of Muslims from Western media sources and made the ignorant assumption that all Muslims were “terrorist” and had a political vendetta against the West.

Our lack of spiritual development toward accepting and embracing the whole of humanity in all of its cultures expressions; renders us inheritably flawed in the spirit of human compassion and tolerance for all. The failure and unwillingness to make an attempt to comprehend and appreciate the beauty and the differences in people—language, race, religious belief, nationality, etc., have placed humanity on a reckless, as well as dangerous social path.

The majority of Americans had formulated a negative perception of Islam based on sensationalizing of Salman Rushdie 1988 book titled, “Satanic Verses” in which the majority of the Islamic world viewed this book as heresy and blasphemous of Islam, Muslims and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Ayatollah Rullah Khomeini, the former president and religious leader of Iran declared Rushdie’s book “Satanic Verses” and Rushdie as enemies of Islam in which he placed a one million dollar bounty on the head of Rushdie, which sent Rushdie in permanent exile until the death of Imam Khomeini. Imam Khomeini also called America the “Great Satan” and it was these antagonistic media stratagem that America came to identify with Islam.

If culture is based on learned behavior then American propaganda machines had become the biggest influence and the determining factor on how people around the world, as well as those domestically are being perceived; in particular those deemed as America’s enemies and are their difference being exploited to accomplish a political end. These tactics were implemented to foster distrust and suspicion and to simultaneously falsely create a need and urgency for American patriotism and nationalism based on these perceived prejudices that were concocted within the culture fear. The ultimate political objective was the old divide and conquer scheme—the wickedly wise could always play on the sensitive charged emotions that go along with culture ignorance and manipulate these misunderstandings to their advantages. This was the case in America with the Muslim community right after 9/11. These types of political fallacies have an even far more ranging implications—these cultural bias eventually would help shape America’s foreign and public policy.

Thus in the modern context of culture; is our learned behavior predisposing us early on bigotry, racism, violence and anti-social behavior—can we blame pop culture, music, irresponsible mediums or has our society reached a level of internal and external decadence that is beyond reconciliation and revamping; can we blame societal transitions moving from an agrarian based economy to a knowledge based economy as contributing. Perhaps theses various political, economic and social transitions have made us more sterile and on the other hand static culture is a form of isolation and true culture is forever evolving based societal interactions, which creates motion and allows adaptation, but may still be the breeding ground for anti-social behavior, which lead to a culture of divisiveness and disharmony. Some may argue that this analysis is more applicable toward Western Culture and does not take fully into or account how Eastern Culture differentiate and distinguish itself in application and in scope.

Claud Anderson in “PowerNomics” stated, “Since human rely on culture for survival, culture is an essential empowerment tool. . .Culture usually refers to the norms or systems of behavior and shared values that are passed on from one generation to another. Essentially, culture is a script that is never neutral in its purposes. It either empowers or de-empowers a group. What it does to a group depends in large measure upon the position the group holds in the societal pecking order of acceptability and whether they are in an in-group or an out-group. Culture’s most important function is to promote cohesiveness and trust that bind members together through values such as group loyalty, pride and respect. It is through culture that members of a group know who and what they are, and how to behave.” (Reference: Claud Anderson; “PowerNomics” pg 35).

The institution of family use to be a place where moral and ethical values were taught which reinforced the rules that we had established in the greater society. This writer grew up with his formative years taking place in an urban environment, unlike my parents and grandparents who were products of a southern culture and life. But prior to my parents migrating north, I could remember how personable and friendly everyone was in our little southern town in Georgia; strangers spoke to strangers and there was a sense of community, although it was segregated and there was assigned places based on the politics of race. But people genuinely cared about each other as neighbors and would extend themselves to any length to be of helpful service to another human being.

My family migrated to northern New Jersey this culture was a lot more aggressive, less sociable and people were a lot more territorial, which neighborhoods and communities evolved around race and ethnicity—the Jewish community, Italian community, Puerto Rican community, Asian community, the African American community, Portuguese community, etc. All these ethnic groups in New Jersey had distinct cultures—it was evident by the cuisines served at their restaurants and food markets, their centers of worship, music and festive celebrations, etc., were different from my African American culture.

People have this instinctive tribal motivation, which means I can only associate with you, if we belong to the same race, ethnic origin, religion, same country club, same geographical location, speak the same language, etc., this was more overtly evident in Northern New Jersey than in Georgia. Thus, these "natural" instincts that unites and draws us to one another as a culture; are often some of the artificial barriers that serves to divide us—sub-cultures evolve out of the dominant culture lack of ability to meet the inclusive and pluralistic aspirations of a so-called subordinate group. Yet, humanity is entrapped by our self-serving instincts—TRIBALISM, which defines human relations on the small and grand scale.

This was new for me as a young southern boy first coming in contact with so many divergent cultures and ethnic people. But this writer immediately notice that the majority of these ethnic cultures were suspicious and distrusting of each other and there appeared to be a sense of hostility and often time for no other reason than cultural ignorance and widely held stereotypes. This bred divisiveness, which often led to community conflicts. The enculturation and culture infusion process developed slowly—my three sons who are part of the Hip-Hop culture generation and seem they less concerned about cultural, racial and ethnic differences than the generation that proceeded them.

Perhaps their socialization orientation and upbringing have made them more human by being less concerned about how people differ and more concerned about finding a common denominator in which for the most part, none of the old variables that played so heavily in my culture would be insignificant to them. There is a lot as a father that I admire in my three sons and sometime I think they are too damn free willing; listening to that Rap music—their culture evolves around a culture of technology X-Box, Ipod, Blackberry phones, text messaging, FaceBook, MySpace and global social networking. Some of this is bothersome to me and my wife, but perhaps these young people could be teaching us something relative of overcoming cultural difference—are we willing to learn?

Fahim A. Knight can be reached at

Fahim A. Knight-EL

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