It depends on how you define the word “better” and it depends on your values.
The best definition of culture that I could find on the internet was on Dictionary.com:
The sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguishes one group of people from another. Culture is transmitted, through language, material objects, ritual, institutions, and art, from one generation to the next.
This is what I mean, when I say culture. You can have a family culture, a religious culture, a societal or national culture, and even an academic or scientific culture.
This is not an argument about race, ethnicity, or gender. It’s simply asking the question, “Are some ideas better than others?” Culture is simply the sum of the ideas, values, and beliefs of any set of people.
So going forward, no matter how I might phrase something, I’m talking about ideas themselves, not the worth of the people behind them. This means any people group could apply those very same ideas, and get the same beneficial results.
Without being tempted to equivocate, most people would say, “Yes, some ideas are better than others,” though they may not agree what those ideas are at any given moment. Yet they would agree that there are varying aspects of truthfulness, effectiveness, or correctness to certain ideas.
Some ideas are morally suspect, yet they are super effective at marshaling support from a populace. Some ideas are morally praiseworthy, but would simply never work due to human psychology, and would themselves require invasive and coercive means to change human psychology, which would then render the entire idea as reprehensible as the former.
Some metrics that cultures might be measured by are innovation, risk-taking, cooperation, organization, crime, punctuality, patience, and adaptability.
One of the most important measures, in my opinion, is adaptability, which can be viewed as a measure of how receptive a culture is to innovation.
So, let’s talk about innovation and adaptability.
Any time humans invent some new aspect of culture or technology, there are people that resist that change, and end up being out-competed, left-behind, or marginalized as a result. How many of these types of people a culture has, and how powerful and influential they are, can determine the entire future of a society.
Let’s take one of the first “game changing” inventions: writing.
Believe it or not, some people were against writing things down, even some very intelligent people. Socrates was a classical Greek philosopher, who today we know about mostly through his pupils Plato and Xenophon, precisely because he refused to write anything down. Here is one of Plato’s accounts of Socrates:
And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours [writing] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality. Plato, The Phaedrus – a dialogue between Socrates and Phaedrus written down by the pupil of Socrates, Plato, in approximately 370 BC.
As wise as Socrates was, he dismissed writing as wasting the human mind’s potential for memory. It’s akin to Nikola Tesla dismissing Albert Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity as nonsense.
A quick segue: Tesla vs. Einstein
This is a classic case of “When smart people reject good ideas.”
I’m being nerdy here, but this is worth noting. Tesla vehemently disagreed with Einstein about both General and Special Relativity:
Tesla said that Einsteins theory of relativity is “a mass of error and deceptive ideas and opposed to common sense.” He’s also quoted as saying:
I hold that space cannot be curved, for the simple reason that it can have no properties. It might as well be said that God has properties. He has not, but only attributes and these are of our own making. Of properties we can only speak when dealing with matter filling the space. To say that in the presence of large bodies space becomes curved is equivalent to stating that something can act upon nothing. I, for one, refuse to subscribe to such a view. Nikola Tesla, New York Herald Tribune (September 11, 1932)
Nikola Tesla was a bona fide genius. Decades later, Einstein has been proven correct about relativity in repeated scientific experiments. In fact, the GPS on your smartphone is counted among the proof of the validity of special relativity. The atomic clocks in the GPS satellites, because they’re traveling so fast, move ever so slightly slower than the atomic clocks on the ground that your cellphone syncs to. In order for your location to properly be determined, the clocks need to be in sync. Once Einstein’s equations are used to work out the time difference, the clocks can be placed in sync and your location determined. Without Einsteins equations, GPS does not work and you get locations that are many hundreds of meters off target.
Can you remember Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro) schooling Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) in this regard?
Eddie Morra: No, I haven’t been talking to anybody, Carl. I’m not stupid.
Carl Van Loon: I know you’re not stupid, Eddie, but don’t make the classic smart person’s mistake thinking no one’s smarter than you. Limitless (2011 Film)
Back to Socrates
It’s well established today that written language is a precursor to any advanced form of science, mathematics, economics, property rights, and really any type of formalized education or method of discovery. Yet, at it’s outset, some people were against it. The job of “village elder of spoken history” who told the oral history of the tribe would suddenly be usurped by anyone who was able to transcribe his words. The village elder’s hubris might make him obstinately against writing, making up some superstitious or spiritual reasons why writing should be forbidden.
Luddite: a member of any of the bands of English workers who destroyed machinery, especially in cotton and woolen mills, that they believed was threatening their jobs (1811-16), or a person opposed to increased industrialization or new technology Google dictionary
Why is writing such a necessary ingredient to the advancement of a culture? It’s because the human brain can only hold so much information at once, and when it comes to short term memory, often holding one thing comes at the expense of dropping another. How many numbers can you remember in sequence before you forget the sequence of numbers? Can that tiny sequence of numbers and basic addition and subtraction take you very far…like to the moon on a Saturn V rocket?
Doing any series of complex calculations requires you to remember or problem-solve not only the next calculation, but the series of return values and previous calculations used to get to you where you are. Writing is memory on paper, and you can always go back to correct mistakes, make improvements.
Without writing, something as basic as Algebra would never have been invented. You can forget more complicated math like Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus, or Statistics.
Some people are better at memorizing strings of numbers and letters than others, especially savants, but those capabilities often come with other difficulties. Would you trust an autistic savant to drive you to the airport?
Some people are bad at memorizing strings, yet are able to hold other more abstract ideas and concepts in their head, in a way that is intuitive to them and unintuitive to others. Give those people a pen and paper, and prepare to have your civilization taken to new heights.1
Even if you’re Shakespeare and you come up with Hamlet, without writing, who’s to say that you’ll remember all the lines perfectly? Or they won’t change from time to time. What happens if you suffer a head injury and forget some of it. What happens when you die? Will your grandchildren really hear the same play that you memorized, with the same words spoken as you so eloquently spoke them, and the same mastery of the English language?
Writing immortalizes your words, meaning that the village elder who dies in a hunting accident, or the 90% of a tribe that dies from Ebola, can no longer wipe out the accumulated or generational knowledge of an entire culture.
Pen and paper is humanity’s back-up hard drive.
Genghis Khan is famous for conquering most of the known world, in an empire larger in expanse than Alexander the Great. One of his lasting legacies is creating a written language for his people. The Mongols (the assortment of Northern Asian Steppe tribes he led) had no written language, so he tasked one of his Uyghur 2 retainers with creating a written language for the Mongols, based on the Uyghur script and decreed it the written language of the Mongols, mandatory to learn.
His empire benefitted because of it. There’s no way he could’ve known what a “killer app” writing would be, at best he knew that it would help him keep records and administer his empire.
Newspapers only exist because of writing. The internet only exists because of writing. The concept of “computer code” or even codes and cryptography in general only exist because writing exists. You’re only here reading my words, from half a world away, because of writing.
The ability to send a message that no one else can decipher, unless they have a key that you gave them, is game changing in the profession of war.
It’s impossible to have ever played Sid Meier’s Civilization video game series, and remained a Luddite.
Modern Arguments against the “new-writing”
Today, a new form of writing has been receiving push-back: typing.
Penmanship, spelling, and grammar aren’t considered worthy of instruction, so they’re pushed aside for word processing. result: Surprisingly few high school students can write clearly. Clifford Stoll, High Tech Heretic
I’m a professional in the area of web programming and software development, and I have to ask myself, “When was the last time I had to write something by hand?”
The very last time was my signature on an electronic terminal using an electronic stylus. The last time I used a pen was to scribble notes on a piece of paper as I worked. The last time I was requested to write anything was filling out a new-patient form for my daughter’s pediatrician.3 So I still use handwriting, but the economy is changing very quickly to one where handwriting isn’t needed.
Signatures – even usernames and passwords – will soon give way to biometrics. Why? Because anyone can look at and forge your signature, and though people can do the same with your fingerprint, it’s much harder. So soon, we’ll be signing with our fingerprints everywhere. It’s the perfect signature. Touch ID and ApplePay already do this to a certain extent, with Touch ID working in concert with stored usernames and passwords, but giving you quicker access to information that requires login info.
Have I ever had a work deliverable that required handwriting? Nope. The closest has been to include a superior’s signature on an official Electronic Direct Marketing email.
When was the last time I wrote a hand-written letter to anyone, in cursive? Years ago. I still know how to write in cursive, but I don’t write letters anymore. I type emails. I type text messages.
When was the last time you saw anyone write a check? Occasionally at the grocery store (and I hate going to the grocery store), I’ll see an elderly person paying by writing a check. I was taught to respect my elders, so I don’t complain and I squeeze out a fake smile, but inside I’m thinking, “Really? A check? The clerk could have taken care of three of us by now, but we’re still waiting on you.” I try not to judge, because I have a suspicion that will me me in 60 years, slowing everybody down because I’m still stuck on Apple Pay because I don’t want to get an implant in my forehead or my right hand (see what I did there?). That’s assuming grocery stores still exist in 60 years.
I don’t even like Hallmark cards. The only time they get used are for friends weddings, and often times I eschew those as well. Hallmark cards are sentimental things that I want to throw away, but I feel guilty about throwing away. If the end result is guilt, really, I want nothing to do with it. Photographs and your presence is enough for me. I don’t need your sweet birthday card haunting me from the inside of a storage bin.
So all that is to say, that cursive is being replaced by typing in many school districts, and it’s upsetting the sensibilities of many older educators.
Many developing cultures were wary of photography when first introduced. Some common beliefs are that a photograph can “steal your soul” and it is seen as some sort of witchcraft, or black magic.
At first, many Native Americans were wary of having their photographs taken and often refused. They believed that the process could steal a person’s soul and disrespected the spiritual world. Over time, however, some Native Americans came to cherish photographs as links to ancestors and even integrated them into important ceremonies. Carolyn J. Marr, American Indians of the Pacific Northwest, Library Of Congress
An influential Yao chief on Mount Zomba with whom I was on terms of intimate friendship for years, refused to allow himself to be photographed, fearing the consequences on his life. At last I was able to persuade him to give me a sitting, but on the sole condition that the picture was to be shown to none of his subjects but to be sent out of the country as soon as possible. He feared lest some ill-wisher might use it as a means towards his bewitchment. Rev. Alexander Hetherwick, The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 32 pg. 90 (1902)
Without the invention of photography, we would have never discovered the Big Bang, or redshift, or most of what we know about astrophysics. People in other parts of the world would never know what other cities really looked like, or what Earth looked like from space. We couldn’t even have a viable space program without photography.
As recently as 2011, a Reuters photographer explained the difficulty he had in taking photographs in the Brazilian Amazon:
“Akaron kaba? (Take a picture?) “Nã” (Yes)? “Ket” (No)?”
“Mecomre” (Thank you)
I had always heard that native people believe that photographs steal their souls, and here I learned that in Kayapo, “akaron kaba” not only means “to take a photo” but that it also means “to steal a soul.” Ricardo Moraes, Capturing Souls, Reuters (2011)
Even in Feudal Japan it was said of one of the first photographers in the city of Nagasaki, Ueno Hikoma, that his photography business didn’t thrive at first because the Japanese believed that photographs absorb the energy of people4 and that “illness or death would result from being photographed.”5 The Japanese are a pragmatic people and that superstition did not last long.6
The “Japanese tourist with a camera” is practically a caricature now. Maybe they figured they could steal more energy and balance things out?
The Amish are equally wary of photographs, but for different reasons. For many Amish communities, consenting to have one’s own photograph taken is seen as giving in to pride. Moreover to even own a photograph is seen as breaking the second commandment.7
Most Amish today will not pose for a photograph. Considering it a violation of the Second Commandment, which prohibits the making of “graven images,” the Amish believe any physical representation of themselves (whether a photograph, a painting, or film) promotes individualism and vanity, taking away from the values of community and humility by which they govern their lives. Occasionally, Amish people did have their photos taken, as you can see with the couple in the first image who likely went to a studio for their portrait in 1875. But by the time photography became popular in America in the mid-19th century and photographers and researchers armed with cameras began appearing in Amish communities, most Amish objected to appearing in or posing for photographs entirely. American Experience, PBS.org
Discussing writing and photography is only to say that there are many things we take for granted, that not too long ago, people had a serious problem with, and if you look diligently enough, you’ll still find people that have a problem with it now.
So to be against some new technology out of ignorance, or out of elitism in favor of an old way of doing things, or out of fear, is often to be left behind. These same arguments are recycled every time a new technology comes out, whether it be a calculator, in vitro fertilization, or a smartphone.
The Facebook Problem
Every one of my close friends that’s left Facebook has come back, except for one. My wife left Facebook in November of last year, because she eventually got tired of all the baggage it comes with. You know what I said to her?
“Why leave? You’re just gonna come back.”
You’ll either come back because of a business you want to start, or an election you want to run. Maybe that’s what you’re waiting for, in which case, I’ll see you then.
Trust me, I get it. The Facebook arguments, the drama, the ignorance, the spammy posts, the click-bait, the “Like if you love Jesus” and “Share and you’ll be blessed.” The truthers, the Republicans, the Democrats, the racism, the soft-racism, the political drama, and Kim K’s ass.
It gets to be nauseating after a while. In which case, don’t like and don’t comment. Ignore. Unfollow. Get off Facebook for the day.
Despite all the drawbacks, Facebook is entertainment: social-entertainment, whether it’s watching the cute first steps of your friend’s baby boy, or grabbing the popcorn as you watch your two opinionated acquaintances slug it out over an issue.
Are you not entertained? Is this not why you were here? Maximus, Gladiator (2000 film)
Being on Facebook is no different than watching Football, or going to the movies. You can make those things an idol, or you can use them as a healthy outlet.
And the one person that didn’t come back, is missing out. These are his words to me after a family mis-communication, “Sorry, this is a consequence of me having no clue what’s going on in Facebook.”
As of today, 9 months later, and after months of her stealing my phone to keep up with pictures of family and friends, my wife is back on Facebook. Even my smug snickering wasn’t enough to stop her return.
The Facebook problem is only a problem if you make it one.
Before we become too harsh in our estimation of those that are anti-change, here’s a little question to answer:
Would you would be fine with a stranger being in possession of a completely nude photograph of yourself? Or such a photograph of you in a sexually suggestive pose?
If not, maybe you can translate that feeling into how someone who is introduced to photography for the very first time, might be averse to having a photograph of their face taken by a stranger.
Technically, displeasure at having one’s photo taken is not that uncommon today. How many of us are ok with random people walking up to us and taking our photograph without our permission? Why or why not? It’s not illegal if you’re in a public space (though impolite). Maybe behind your reasons there are some intrinsic beliefs that you own your likeness, or any images or even drawings of your likeness.
If you believe your likeness is in no way tied to your physical person, or spiritual person, how would you justify that you own a photograph of your likeness that someone else takes from a moral or philosophical perspective?
So while we have taken writing for granted, and photography for granted, all these millennia and centuries they’ve been around, the arguments against these things weren’t completely incoherent. Yet, rejection of something as simple as writing can make your descendants subject to colonization by a foreign power whose ancestors did not reject writing, and enjoyed scientific and military advances as a result.
At the time, the average layperson had no way of predicting such far reaching outcomes of doom on their societies for rejecting writing. Maybe a few forward thinkers could think up strategic advantages of writing things down, but would be dismissed as being loons.
“Our God will save us!”
Maybe your God wants you to keep records, have formalized property rights, and a written legal code? Maybe that’s one of the ways he saves you?
What’s good or bad about a culture?
Many cultures outside the US don’t value punctuality. You just get there when you get there. They are less stressed out, live more in the moment, tend to be happier in some indices.
But punctuality is partly what makes the US such an economic powerhouse. It’s not necessarily evil to be late, but it’s beneficial to be on time and have a strong “work ethic”, what in America is often traditionally called a “Puritan work ethic.”
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. Ecclesiastes 9:10
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24
If you go to Spain or Greece, people will often take naps in the middle of the day. In France, most stores are closed on Sunday, or after 5pm. In America many stores are open 7 days a week, a few 24/7. It has it’s opportunity costs though, where people are stressed-out, overmedicated, unhealthy, and depressed. 8 If done correctly, that work ethic can lead to becoming an economic and military powerhouse who doesn’t get pushed around by other nations, aiding in the survival of future generations.
I do think some cultures are better than others and my conclusions stem from the things I value. If you have different values, you might think the easy going life of people on a remote island somewhere represents the best culture.
Jews, Germans, and Japanese
When it comes to cultures that I think have the best ideas, my mind immediately goes to the Jews, the Germans, and the Japanese. Now that I’ve made those three groups happy, and offended the rest of you, keep in mind that I don’t have a drop of German, Jewish, or Japanese blood running through my veins. I’m 100% Sub-Saharan African.
Why do I think this way?
When I define “advanced culture” in my mind, it’s somewhat arbitrary, because everyone’s personal values will determine what “advanced” or “better” means. For me, I go by, “doing the things to get what you want out of life in ways that make sense.”
That might mean realizing that you’re not going to get what you want, and neither are your kids, but your grandkids will, if you’re willing to act on their behalf. If you do nothing, then they don’t get to enter the “promised land” either. I think an advanced culture is sober enough to make such a realization and act on it.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can’t keep a good guy down?” Well it applies to those three cultures. It’s not to say that they can’t or haven’t done evil. Actually, it’s the opposite. These cultures have all made more mistakes and done more evil than most of their neighbors. In addition, it’s an observation that despite whatever mistakes they seem to make, they have a way of bouncing back pretty quickly.
How many times do you think the Jews have been enslaved, or conquered, or scattered, or nearly exterminated? Off the top of my head, the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Catholics, Nazis, and the Communists all had a crack at the Jews, but they still bounced back each time.
They have their own written language, their own written sacred history that goes back thousands of years. They are responsible, through Abraham (and Moses)9, for the “big three” monotheistic religions.
And they are magnificent storytellers! Regardless of whether or not you believe those stories, they leave an indelible mark on the mind of a young Jew. Telling stories of slavery, and princes, and being “indispensable” to a culture, even a culture in which you are captive.
People don’t seem to understand that Adolf Hitler didn’t lose WWII because his army was worse than his enemies in any measurable index. Germany was the most technologically advanced nation in the world until their demise. The first color TV broadcast, ever, was the 1936 German Olympics. Germany had an atomic bomb program before the USA.
Germany partly lost because Adolf Hitler decided to round up and kill all his best doctors, and scientists, and academic elite: the Jews. The Jews have a culture of taking on professions that make them indispensable.
Many European countries didn’t allow Jews to own property, so they said, “Ok, we’ll own money.”
Moneylending was one of the few professions open to Jews in Christian Europe. More and more, Jews were restricted to those economic activities considered the least desirable, such as moneylending, and those that did not engender competition from Christian guilds. For instance, medieval merchant guilds successfully blocked Jews from selling their goods in shops or at the marketplace, while craft guilds prevented Jews from manufacturing goods…The dearth of Jews in farming in Europe has a foundation in medieval European prohibitions against Jewish property ownership. William Brustein, Roots of Hate: Anti-Semitism in Europe Before the Holocaust, p. 178
They thought that this would allow them to avoid extermination (like in all their stories), but they didn’t calculate that an entire nation would be irrational to the point of it’s own destruction. Albert Einstein fled Nazi Germany because of Adolf Hitler. It was the same Albert Einstein that convinced the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to put the US to work building an Atomic Bomb.
Hitler made a lot of missteps in WWII. (1) He could have kept his peace treaty with Russia, but he didn’t, and chose to fight a war on three fronts: Western Europe, Africa, and Russia. (2) He ran out his most brilliant scientists based on on false racial pseudo-scientific beliefs.
He could have made one of those mistakes and still won the war, but not both. Hitler made both. You should actually thank him for losing the war, because he actually should have won if not for his overreaching. But humanity teaches us that everybody overreaches.
Today the Jews are living in a fertile paradise called Israel. It’s really beautiful, if you look at photos. They’ve made the desert bloom. They still make mistakes, trust me they do, and they suffer from the occasional PTSD, but they are the grandkids of the people who made the sacrifices necessary for them to have their own nation where they wouldn’t be persecuted by host countries and exterminated.
Say what you want about Israel and the Jews, but I respect the level of sober sacrifice needed to create a nation from scratch in just a few years, and then go nuclear capable just a few years after. Not any group of people could orchestrate such a thing. You have to have people in positions of power and allies all over the world, including in the UN, in the US government, the British government, and the French government.
I’ll just leave this Adam Sandler video here.
Have you ever heard of eruvin? No? Well now you have. Could some African religious group get their own religious ritual items installed in city limits above intersections? Probably not. Jews know how to take care of their own, and get what they want.
You know who won’t let you forget about the Holocaust, and sponsors films and documentaries about the Holocaust, and builds holocaust museums around the world? The Jews.
Anything that happens to the Jews is documented, laser engraved in diamond, and passed down to posterity. You. Will. Not. Forget.
They won’t let you and I think that’s a good thing.
What do you think Passover is all about? “Remember Egypt!” 4000 years later…
One thing I love about the Jews, is they’re not out whining about there not being enough Jewish movies out there. They make them. They don’t whine about there not being enough Jewish actors and actresses. They breed them and train them. They don’t whine about no Holocaust museums. They build them.
Jews know better than anyone else, that no one is going to share power or privilege with you. You have to take it.
Don’t be jealous, be motivated.
Ok, let’s start at the beginning. Germany wasn’t always Germany or “Deutschland”, it was Prussia first and it had a royal family that ruled over that kingdom. Later it expanded to become the German Empire, which coronated it’s own Emperor.
The most famous ruler of that empire was Willhelm I, the King of Prussia, and the first German emperor. He oversaw an overhaul of the German military, to form the culture of what is known as “Prussian discipline.”
“Where some states have an army, the Prussian army has a state.” Victor de Riqueti, marquis de Mirabeau, French economist (1715-1789)
Germans had a Protestant Christian tradition going back to Martin Luther and later John Calvin, and Emperor-King Wilhelm I was a Calvinist.
During this time Prussia was ruled by Friedrich Wilhelm I., called the “soldier king” (and that was in the time no positive thing, it mostly referred to him having the bad manners of a soldier, while his love of his army was pretty normal for a monarch of the time), despite never fighting a major war. But he did love his army. And also, he loved Calvinistic virtues, and tried to brand them onto the country. These virtues contained stuff like discipline, industriousness, austerity, sense of duty and justice, subordination, modesty, loyalty and many more along those lines.
Theodor Fontane let one of his characters, an officer, say: “Was uns obliegt, ist nicht die Lust des Lebens, auch nicht einmal die Liebe, die wirkliche, sondern lediglich die Pflicht. Es ist dies außerdem etwas speziell Preußisches.” (What lies upon us is not the joy of life, not even love, the true one, but only duty. It is that, which is specifically Prussian.).
In the civilian society, the “Prussian virtues” were at first frowned upon, but by and by, they began to seep in. The son of the “Soldier King”, Friedrich II., used the highly drilled and disciplined Prussian army his father left him behind to achieve victory over Austria in the seven years war. In that war, the fabled Prussian discipline really became what the Prussians were known for, since they would, in line with the Prussian virtues, almost blindly follow every order. In German, this brought forth the term “Kadavergehorsam”, which translates to “following orders as if you were a dead body with no own will whatsoever”.
Fast forward some time until the reform era of “oh shit, Napoleon kicked our asses from the Rhineland to Königsberg” and the introduction of the levy system. With that levy system, almost every Prussian male got at some point in his life exposed to the harsh discipline of the Prussian army – and took it back with him into his civilian life when his duty ended. This was also due to the Prussian army trying to be extremely lawful, some injustices of superiors against soldiers were even taken in front of the parliament. So the idea was, that you had to succumb to the order and be disciplined, but in turn you enjoyed the same rigorous discipline by your superiors. Kartoffelplotz, Reddit “Ask Historians”
So the romanticism of the soldier with the handlebar mustache dying for his state, largely comes from the Prussians. Military drill, decorum, discipline, and even the fancy uniforms with the badges and medals: all of that comes from the Prussians more or less, and every nation state in the modern world has copied their form of military discipline, because it just works.
Why does your government force you to go to elementary and secondary school? You can thank the Prussians for that. They enacted reforms to their education system that made it mandatory, after a crushing defeat by Napoleon Bonaparté. They standardized education and testing and all the European countries followed suit.
Germans had an idea that government was God ordained and therefore was absolute. Americans liked the Prussian education system, so they copied some of it, while largely disagreeing with the philosophy behind it. Americans preferred the contractual relationship between government and it’s citizens, and reserved the option to give the government “the finger” if the situation warranted.
The idea behind the Prussian education system was to train you to be a obedient to authority, educated enough to benefit the state economy and technology efforts, and loyal enough to die for your country.
Why do you think kids “pledge allegiance” in class? The Prussians laid the foundations for that.
So Germany became known for its discipline, and initially shocked the world at how easily it was able to defeat European countries in World War I. They started the war off really well!
Eventually they lost10, and got screwed over in the Treaty of Versailles. They were forced to pay war reparations (loser pays), and they were forbidden to have an army over the size of 100,000 men, or an air force. Their economy was in shambles due to a naval blockade of their country during the war, and it was in this environment that Adolf Hitler was able to appeal to the hurt pride of the German people and seize power.
In the midst of an economy in shambles, Germany rebuilt itself, mostly in secret. Hitler created his own private air force, the Luftwaffe, that rivaled that of America and the rest of Europe (since an official state air force was against the terms of their treaty), and his own private army, the Sturmabteilung. In 10 years, he transformed Germany and built up it’s factories, and military industrial complex, and stored munitions and weapons, and developed technology like the Enigma machine. He made Germany believe in something bigger than themselves, the state, and made them proud again. By the time he was done, Germany was the most technologically advanced nation in the world.
The first color TV broadcast, ever, was at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Adolf Hitler was the 1938 Times magazine Man of the Year.
Then a bunch of bad stuff happened, and they lost another World War. Keep in mind that Germany didn’t lose because they were the “worse team”. They only lost because Hilter went crazy. If Hitler didn’t break his treaty with Russia, and if he wasn’t a racist that created conditions in which his smartest scientists fled the country, like Albert Einstein…you and I would be speaking German right now. Hitler would have won World War II, and Germany would have built the first atomic bomb.
Maybe you didn’t know, but Germany is still paying reparations for WWII. They’ve been paying them for the past 80 years, and yet have managed to become the largest economy in Europe. All this after being firebombed to dust, and completely ransacked by the Allied forces.
Italy wasn’t firebombed. Norway wasn’t firebombed. Switzerland managed to completely stay out of the war. Yet, even from ashes, Germany managed to overtake those countries in mere decades after their devastation, all while rebuilding cities turned to ashes, and paying war reparations for the second time!
I don’t know if that impresses you, but I definitely take notice. Germany is known for their punctuality, their perfectionism, and their engineering prowess. Mercedes Benz, BMW, Volkswagen, and Porsche – all German companies, and coveted exports around the world.
I have very little respect for people who don’t have the will to solve their own problems. Germany needed an army, but international law made it illegal, so they built a private one. They needed airplanes for an air force, so they built their own airplanes in secret. Forget these other countries trying to buy military technology from America.
America: “F-16s for sale, F-16s for sale! They’re stripped down, but just good enough for you to bully a third world country into submission.
Saudi Arabia: “Oooh, I’ll take a few of those F-16s!”
Israel: “Us too, us too!”
Germany: “Keep your bloody F-16s! We want factories and supply and logistics to manufacture our own shit. I think we’ll enter a trade agreement with some neighbors and develop our own European tech.”
The Germans value punctuality, to the point where if you’re late, they’ll just leave. German Prime Minster Angela Merkel did just that to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
You remember Hurricane Katrina, right? Louisianans looted.
Every hockey game ever? White Americans and Canadians riot and loot.
Maryland earlier this year? Black Americans rioted and looted.
It’s clear from US history, that rioting and looting isn’t a “white people” or “black people” thing, it’s an American culture thing. It’s part of that rough and tumble American cowboy stereotype.
Would you like to know who doesn’t riot or loot? The Japanese. Ok, to say they don’t loot at all, is to say there is no crime in Japan, which is false. So let’s rephrase that.
During the 2011 Japanese Tsunami, there were so few documented instances of looting, and such conspicuous order after the disaster, that you might as well round it down to zero.
“We have some reports, confirmed reports, that some money or bicycles were stolen from the house or shops. We confirmed it’s not washed away by the tsunami, but somebody else did it,” says Hironori Kodashima, the vice police chief. He’s standing in front of the temporary police station, wearing a plain blue worksuit because his uniform was washed away.
“But the number is less than 10 so far,” he says. That’s fewer than 10 reports in a city that was home to 40,000 people, though he says there could be more.
Just then, a woman walks into the police station holding a soggy wallet. It has the equivalent of $150 in it. I ask a policewoman if this is common.
“Actually, we get a lot because lots of wallets are washed away, so lots of them are found,” she says.
My translator and I want to find out if local people have heard about any burglaries after the tsunami. I remember some of the Hurricane Katrina survivors in New Orleans who hauled off liquor bottles, Nike sneakers and flat-screen TVs. But Japanese speak of their culture of shame, haji, which frowns on committing an act that would disgrace one’s family. John Burnett, In Japan, Scenes of Much Destruction, Little Looting, NPR
One of my favorite things about the Japanese is a trait that is so obviously beneficial, that I don’t understand why more people don’t see the world this way.
They don’t have a chip on their shoulder.
If something works, and works better than the way they’re doing things, they’ll simply adopt it into their culture!
The reason I prefer the Imperials over the Samurai: both were flawed but the Imperials embracing of the gun saved Japan from European colonization. Kyle Cushing, Youtube commenter
Kyle gets it.
You wanna know what the Japanese did when Europeans landed on their shores for the first time? They looked them right in the eye, and thought to themselves, “Well, shit. These mother f@$&ers are more advanced than we are. If we want to survive in their world, we’d better cram like we’re taking the SATs tomorrow.” I’m a mind reader, if you didn’t already know, and that’s exactly what they were thinking, because that’s what any intelligent person would be thinking.
“These guys have ships that can sail across the world, they have the Maxim gun, canons, rockets and artillery. They have trains. What the f@$& are trains? They control the sea with their Navy. If we so much as sneeze in the wrong direction they will WIPE. US. OUT. Let’s pretend to be their friend and copy all their shit. We might not be able to beat them, but our grandchildren will. Let’s get to work. They’re not gods, they’re just men, and they bleed just like us. They don’t have two heads. Let’s find what it is they’re doing better than us, and do the same.”
Good artists copy, great artists steal. Steve Jobs
Europeans first arrived in Japan in 1543. Japan was unified by the Tokugawa regime in 1600. Before 1850, Japan had the highest literacy rate outside of the West. Keep these three dates in mind, I’ll come back to them later.
The Meiji government abolished feudalism; the daimyos were replaced by nationally appointed prefects in 1871. The new centralized administration expanded state power to carry out economic and social change. Samurai officials were sent to Europe and the United States to study their economies, technologies, and political systems. Between 1873 and 1876, the government abolished the samurai class and its state stipends. Most samurai became impoverished, and revolt resulted in 1877. The reformed army, based on national conscription, quickly triumphed. Samurai continued to exist; many sought opportunities in commerce and politics. By 1889, the political reconstruction was complete. Political parties had formed on regional levels. The Meiji created a new conservative nobility from former nobles and Meiji leaders; they sat in a British-style House of Peers. The bureaucracy was reorganized, expanded, and opened to those taking civil service examinations. The constitution of 1889 gave major authority to the emperor and lesser power to the lower house of the Diet. High property qualifications limited the right to vote to about 5% of the male population. The system gave power to an oligarchy of wealthy businessmen and former nobles that controlled political currents into the twentieth century. Japan had imitated the West but had retained its own identity. Walter McMichael, Industrialization of Japan
What a novel concept, that you can imitate what works, without losing your identity!
Ok, so we fast forward a century to find that Japan royally screwed up in WWII. Japan was the only nation-state to successfully launch a military attack on United States soil the past 120 years.
In doing so, they woke up the “sleeping giant” and got two Atomic Bombs dropped on their cities. But do you know why they were dropped? Because Japan was just that freaking badass and dangerous. The US projected losing up to a million men in the Pacific Theater, if the bombs weren’t dropped.
Japan, like Germany had to rebuild their country from ashes, all the while under US occupation. They aren’t even allowed to have an army anymore.
ARTICLE 9. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. (2) To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized. The Japanese Constitution
They rebuilt their economy so well, in fact, that the phenomenon is literally called “The Japanese Economic Miracle” and it took place from 1950 to 1990, where Japan was catapulted to become the world’s second largest economy, behind the United States. The economic boom started just 5 years after the two bombs were dropped.
So you’ve heard of: Sony, Nintendo, Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Mitsubishi, Hitachi, and Softbank, right? I thought so.
As of 2015, Japan is the third largest economy in Asia, behind China and India. Keep in mind that Japan has a population of 127 million, and China and India have 1.365 billion and 1.25 billion respectively 11. For most of the 70s and 80s, it was the largest economy in Asia, just three decades after being nuked. One could argue that this was only possible because the US subsidized their military spending, by disallowing a military, thus they could focus all their income on nation building, but this isn’t the first time this has happened is it? They did back in the 19th century all while maintaining a military industrial complex.
Guess who is the most technologically advanced nation in the world, right now, as I write? You know how to use Google, right?
Japan is. This doesn’t include military technology as that title goes to the USA, obviously, but in every other technology index they’re on top.
Remember those three dates I had you keep in mind?
“Europeans first arrived in Japan in 1543. Japan was unified by the Tokugawa regime in 1600. Before 1850, Japan had the highest literacy rate outside of the West.”
Where my family is from, the English arrived in 1553. From 1650 to 1850, our empire experienced the greatest economic and social depression in its history because of our participation in the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade. By 1897, our great city of Benin was sacked and all our treasure and art stolen.
Two different cultures are presented with exactly the same problem (there was even a Japanese slave trade), in exactly the same time period, but one survives to become the most technologically advanced nation in the world, and the other is destroyed.
That is the power of culture, and gives some insight as to why I value adaptability so much. If the Japanese kept their Feudalistic government systems, their outdated military, and pre-industrial infrastructure, they’d have suffered the same fate as Benin. Yet, they were able to retain their identity on their own terms, while adapting to survive in a new world.
What do these three great cultures have in common?
Luck. For one thing Japan is an island, and natural barriers interfere with genetic drift and aid in homogenizing a society. If Japan’s religion and culture was just slightly different, or had the Europeans come 100 years earlier, or 100 years later, a completely different administration might have rejected industrialization, sealing Japan’s doom to be that of a European colony.
A history of violence. They’d all hit each other over the head with hammers, and committed whatever genocides were necessary to have a somewhat stable and uniform society 12
Written language. The Japanese have their own symbolic characters going back about 1600 years. The Jews have their own symbolic alphanumerics going back about 3000 years13. If you didn’t know already, English is a Germanic language, and today’s Brits are just the descendants of Germans (Anglo-Saxons) that conquered and settled most of the island. The Germans have their own Germanic (and partially Arabic) alphanumerics, that most people in the west use today and they go back about 1200 years. Before that, many Germans spoke Latin (by force) and that goes back about 2700 years14.
Shared history and identity. The Jews have Abraham, and Moses, and David. They have the Torah, The Prophets, the Psalms. They can literally read the words of these men passed down though the millennia. Their written history is at least 4000 years old. They have all the repeated historical pogoroms, and the Holocaust, and now they have Israel back.
The Germans have the Teutons and the Kimbri, and the sack of Rome, and the entire middle ages and a written history going back at least 2000+ years. They have Martin Luther and the Reformation, John Calvin, Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. They have Prussian discipline. They also have WWI and WWII, mistakes that embarrass them and allow them to learn from history.
The Japanese have the Samurai, and the Ninja, and the Katana, the Shogun, and the Emperor, and a written history going back about 1600 years. They have art and gardens, and unique architecture. They have the shared historical memory of Pearl Harbor, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki: lessons learned.
Their own drawn borders. Israel, Japan, and Germany got to draw their own borders, even if you disagree with how they went about it. Japan went on a little bit of a colonization spree in China, Korea and the Philippines, until the USA kicked them back to their main island.
They are an ethnicity and a country. Germans are an ethnic group who live in Germany. Japanese are an ethnic group that live in Japan. Jews or Israelites/Israelis, if you want to get technical, are an ethnic group that live in Israel.
I know, unless you’re Jewish, German, or Japanese, I’ve made you upset. You’re irrationally mad at me for pointing out that your neighbor has a nice lawn and well trimmed hedges.
Luckily for you, you might be on this next list. There are many things from many cultures, even my own, that I appreciate.
I love how Scandinavians just seem to get along and take care of each other. There is social order, and social safety nets, and everybody pays high taxes and doesn’t even care. They aren’t shooting up each others schools and movie theaters, and the gun laws are strict, but it doesn’t bother them. They have some of the least corrupt governments on the planet. I love how they don’t start wars, and stay out of wars.
I love how Mexicans and Italians are all about family. Doesn’t matter how rich or poor they are, they will make sure to spend time with their families. I love that each family is it’s own mafia, and if you wrong one of them, you wrong ALL of them. In Arizona, I love that if you’re at a park, or a movie theater, or anything that is family-friendly, you see all the big Mexican families there. It’s not just mom and the kids either, dad is always there with them having a good time. The kids always have a male role model in the home. Even if he’s not the best role model at least he’s there and the kids know they’re loved.
“A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.” Don Corleone, The Godfather (1972 film)
I love how Africans in general take care of their elderly and their family. You wouldn’t know this unless you asked, but Africans are always sending money back home to brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, aunts and uncles. Africans don’t send our parents to go rot in nursing homes, we will work an extra job if we have to just to afford for one of the kids to take care of grandpa and grandma. We’ll pay for a nurse to attend to them. All the siblings will chip in money, and it’s not even an issue. It doesn’t matter if they were the best parents or not, or whether you guys “get along.” We take care of our parents in their old age when they’re helpless, and when they do pass on, they are surrounded by family.
I love how Middle Easterners and Africans are hospitable. When they invite you over, you feel right at home. They’ll stuff you with food until you burst. They’ll offer you a place to sleep, and insist you don’t get a hotel. You don’t have to call ahead, you can literally just show up, and they will feed you and whoever you brought. I especially appreciate how Middle Eastern women practice modesty, even non-muslim ones tend to be more modest in attire than westerners.
I love how White Anglo Saxon Protestants tend to always be on time and have structured lives. They have an amazing work ethic, and good family values. They tend to be generally fearless, and will surf, and skydive, and tame scary animals, and swim the English channel. They’re always hiking, or boating, or kayaking or enjoying the outdoors. Their men know how to fight, and shoot, and grow beards, and do generally manly things. They’re very willing to die for God, and family, and country. They’re also currently in charge of the world, so they know how to win.
I love how if you watch Korean dramas, you still think it’s 1995. Their TV programming is mostly wholesome, and they still have boy-bands. They have a great sense of humor.
I love the Irish! I love that an Irishman can get into a fist fight with an Irish police officer at a bar, and then shake hands afterwards, and share a pint. No guns necessary. No freakout. No power trip. Just two human beings with mutual respect, and the ability for a person in authority to exercise judgment on his own.
I get that I’ve probably offended some of you. It must be tiring going through life with a chip on your shoulder, constantly looking for things to get mad at.
To the rest of you more mature, reasonable, and even-handed readers, you might now be inspired to take stock of what it is that makes your culture tick, and how your culture trips over itself.
You know my three picks, and my honorable mentions. What are yours? What aspects of your own culture do you love? Which aspect of your culture do you despise? Do you admire aspects of other cultures, and try to adopt them for yourself or your family? Let me know in the comments.
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Photo Credit: Cryllic (fingerprint), AP Photo/Kyodo News (Japanese waiting in line), Gerry Balding (Japanese tourists with cameras), Stolichanin (photos of 24 famous Germans), Kyoww (various Japanese people)
Like Albert Einstein, who as a child was notoriously bad at math, and even bad at school in general, and would constantly lose his way. Yet, he was really good at abstract physics ideas, which he then was able to prove on paper.↩
The Uyghurs were a group of Turkish speaking people who submitted peacefully to the Mongols around 1207 A.D., and became renowned administrators in service of the Mongol Khaganate ↩
I should point out that the only reason I had to fill out the new-patient form in person, was because I chose not to do it online.↩
In Ueno Hikoma’s case only a year or two, before his business became viable↩
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” – Exodus 20:4↩
Abraham was a Hebrew, Moses was a Levite. Jew generally means “from the region of Judea” which was the land owned by the Kingdom of Judah, from the tribe of Judah. Israel and Judah were one kingdom until a civil war split them north vs. south, respectively. The northern “Israelites” were taken into captivity by the Assyrians and never seen again, probably assimilated into the cultures of their captives (i.e. the 10 lost tribes), while the tribes of Judah and Levi (who lived in the Kingdom of Judah) in the region of Judea, after returning to Jerusalem with the permission of the Persians, began to call themselves “Jews”. Modern Jews decided to call their nation Israel, harkening back to the unified Kingdom under King David. ↩
Though the soldiers didn’t think they did.↩
Population figures reflect 2013 census data provided by Google.↩
That’s how homogenous societies form: war and mixing, or war and genocide. That’s why Europe is so “stable” today. They used to be the most violent continent on the planet for millennia. They killed each other and drew their borders.↩
Earlier if you’re religious and believe the story of Moses and the 10 commandments.↩