Understanding “world cultures”

My daughter is taking a required class at high school:  “world cultures.”  My first instinct was to scoff, since I prefer a more classical curriculum, but as I thought about it, I decided it is a very good idea.  That is, of course, assuming it’s taught correctly.  I’m inclined to doubt that it will be, and that’s because we, as a culture, have learned nothing in the last forty-four years.

Forty-four is a pretty specific number, isn’t it?  It takes us back to 1967.  Back then, a short, heated war raged in the Middle East.  Raphael Patai in his book, The Arab Mind, relies upon an anecdote King Hussein of Jordan told in his memoirs to explain how how the Arab “honor” culture dramatically affected the war’s outcome (in Israel’s favor, thank goodness).

As you know, the Israelis, within hours, decimated the Eyptian airforce. However, when King Hussein spoke to a general in charge of the Egyptian fighting, he was assured that the Egyptians had destroyed the Israelis. The young king, who had been educated in Britain and was therefore unfamiliar with his own culture, took this statement at face value and did not send reinforcements — virtually guaranteeing the War’s outcome in Israel’s favor. Had he understood his own people better, he might well have delved behind the honor rhetoric, discerned the truth, and made a history-turning different decision.

The story is in the forefront of my brain this morning because of the news out of Libya over the past two days.  Yesterday, the news reported, Tripoli was won, that Gaddafi was dead or on the run, and his son was a prisoner.  Today the headlines explain that it’s unclear whether any of that is true.  Tripoli may be taken, sort of; Gaddafi is still out there; and his son is rallying his supporters and scoffing and premature reports of his own incarceration.  It’s entirely possible that these original, erroneous stories arose from the fog of war.  However, knowing Arab culture, it’s equally possible that we’re listening to reports from a binary culture, one that is either wallowing in darkest despair or shouting its triumph from the rooftops, regardless of the accuracy of either statement.

It would be too crass to say that Arabs lie.  Lying as a dishonorable thing is a distinctly Western notion.  Instead, they say what they think their listener wants to hear, or what their own honor demands should be reported.  We may have laughed back in 2003 at Baghdad Bob, but we should have learned from him.  He was not unhinged nor was he was stupid.  He was, instead, a product of a culture that describes victory, real or imagined, in hyperbolic terms because those descriptions are a necessary factor in the culture’s own self-image.

One would think that, after decades of wars and dealings with the Arab cultures, we would have figured out that truth, as we understand it, is an infinitely malleable concept in the Arab mind.  Trust, but verify, is too naive an approach in the Arab/Muslim world.  The way in which our media and our politicians should deal with news reports from the Arab world is to say “We’re not believing it until you come back with concrete proof.”  (I was originally going to say “our media, our politicians and our military,” but I devoutly hope that, after ten years of hot war with Muslim and Arab honor cultures, the military is no long so easily misled.)

So, yes, learning about world cultures is extremely important.  I suspect, though, that my daughter’s class won’t teach the important lessons.  Instead, in true politically correct fashion, she’s going to learn that all cultures but our own are spiritually rich and emotionally meaningful.  (I’ll tell you if I’m wrong.)

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  • Danny Lemieux

    Cultures are not equal. But, that being said, there is a lot of overlap.

    For example, we can scoff at the tendency of Middle Easterners (and Middle Asians) to delude themselves. But then, they did not enjoy the Western intellectual traditions (beginning with the Greeks) of logic, skepticism and scientific method whereby to discern “truth”, traditions that we are in the process of discarding today. So, what is our excuse?

    Major portions of our population are just as subject to grand delusions because of their inability to discern between ideology and facts. They are incapable of applying skepticism and logic. Consider AGW, Marxism-Socialism, environmentalism, animal rights, multiculturalism and gender-equivalency feminism: these are grand delusions held closely by significant segments of our society that are undermining the very foundations of our society today. Saddam’s Iraq had Bagdad Bob, we have White House spokesperson Jay Carney. Deluded leaders? The Middle East has many. We have Obama. The Middle East may be beset by howling, rampaging mobs at this time, but the West had WWI, WWII, Srebrenica and the London riots, EUropean scenarios that I fear will soon repeat themselves.

    Ann Coulter is right, in her book, Demonic: how the liberal mob is endangering America, regarding the mob mentality that pervades Liberal-Left group think…and they represent a very large segment of American and EUropean populations.

    What, really, is the difference between ululating, fist-waving mobs in Egypt or Iran and SEIU goons spitting vulgarities and death threats against Tea Partiers or Republican legislators and their supporters on the Wisconsin Capitol grounds?

    What we need to do is make sure that we hew closer to our Classic intellectual traditions and less to those that make us indistinguishable from the Middle East. Culture matters.

  • http://www.jamesgraham.bz JamesG

    Right on! Having lived in and traveled extensively in other cultures I can say you are 100% right. The biggest mistake Americans make in dealing with foreigners is assuming they think like us. They don’t. Even western Europeans are different. One of their fundamental “isms” is jealousy. If one European neighbor buys a semi-luxurious car the neighbors seethe. We Americans congratulate the neighbor and ask for a demo drive. It’s this jealousy that underlies their infatuation with communism and fascism. You’re also right to suspect the schools will never teach this in a rational way. They’ll teach the superiority of other cultures versus our own. 

  • kali

    Book:  We may have laughed back in 2003 at Baghdad Bob, but we should have learned from him.  He was not unhinged nor was he was stupid.  He was, instead, a product of a culture that describes victory, real or imagined, in hyperbolic terms because those descriptions are a necessary factor in the culture’s own self-image.
    How does that explain Debbie Wasserman Schultz? http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=42971

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Danny, why are mobs a bad thing? Isn’t a target rich environment crucial for the proper maturation of the warrior?


  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Btw, if you want to understand different cultures, start by first watching Japanese anime.

  • Libby

    Here’s how I really learned about different cultures: as a software trainer/course developer for an international telecom company, I provided several train-the-trainer classes to co. representatives from all over the world. The first class had attendees from the US, Thailand, Italy, Japan, Germany, Brazil, and Mexico. It was a nightmare, with the US folks mildly hostile (they thought they were smarter than HQ), the Italian attendees obsessively questioning (I rarely could finish a sentence without a question, and then when they didn’t like my answer, they just rephrased the question), the German attendees openly hostile (they refused to do each exercise because they deemed each one “stupid”), the Japanese attendees refusing to speak except during breaks in one-on-one conversations, the Brazil attendee taking delight in pointing out every real and perceived error in the training materials, and the Thai attendees smiling but keeping mostly to themselves. I didn’t fare much better the following week with a brilliant young attendee from India sitting in the front row (while constantly surfing the web for pictures of Bollywood hotties – I could tell when he found a new picture by the expressions of other attendees), the Saudi attendees cracking jokes about women in their country protesting the no-driving policy by driving en mass and then later being beheaded for their insolence), the billing expert from Scotland raising such a ruckus about how we had set up our billing that we had to remove him (to meet w/the Billing VP), and the delightfully friendly and funny attendee from Australia and Africa commiserating about the classroom misbehavior and arranging follow-up meetings to make sure that future revisions of the training met their respective needs.
    I know that a lot of the behavior was driven by the attendees’ personalities, but it became very clear what each culture found to be acceptable business behavior. These observations were reinforced when I later visited most of their offices to provide assistance in setting up the associated business processes.

  • jj

    You got there before I did, James – and you’re damn right: don’t assume for so much as a second that much of Europe – particularly those parts of Europe the Mediterranean washes up on – are any different.  To the Frenchman, nothing counts, by and large, except what is French.  No other culture, language, or heritage is as fine.  This narrow patriotism fuses into fierce national pride – whether there’s anything in the situation of which to be proud or not – and, to a great extent, excludes interest in any other culture, language, or heritage.  If France loses, the French reaction is to belittle the winner, look around for whoever within ‘betrayed’ them, put forth five dozen alibis for their defeat, and intimate they weren’t really trying because the prize wasn’t worth winning anyway.  (This has been tricky at least twice in recent memory, it’s hard to make failing to defend the country against Germany look like a prize not worth winning, but they’ve tried.)  Spain is exactly the same.
    And Amanda Knox is paying the price for Italian determination to be right when the entire rest of the world is pointing out the Italian cops’ startling – but typical – ineptitude.    There’s an interesting book – The Monster of Florence, written by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi – about a series of murders that have been going on in Tuscany now since 1968. The killer – if there is one killer, the ‘Monster of Florence’ – has yet to be found, and we’re up over 25 bodies.  There have also been, literally, hundreds of arrests, at least eleven trials – some resulting in convictions of people for being the Monster – who then had to be released when another body showed up and it was obvious they weren’t il mostro, much to the cops’ ongoing embarrassment.  Preston and Sepzi themselves were both arrested for knowing too much about it, a result of newspaper training in digging, which led to them finding out more than the cops knew, therefore they were suspects!  The chief prosecutor of Perugia is an ass named Giuliano Mignini, who interrogated Preston, and sent Spezi to prison.  Remember the name.  Mignini got himself in trouble for his amazingly bad performance in the case.  By the time he’s done, if he ever is, he’ll have had every male not confined to a wheelchair in Tuscany arrested for being the monster.  (The fact that Preston wasn’t in Italy for the first dozen murders seemed not to matter.)  We hear very little about this case in this country because it’s just too humiliating for the Italians to have to admit that the mass-murdering monster’s going to die of old age with no interference from them.  They have as much chance of getting him – for real – as you do.
    Mignini – despite being under investigation for prosecutorial misconduct with the Monster – remains public minister of Perugia and therefore Knox prosecutor.  He’s been so humiliated, so embarrassed, made such a jackass out of himself with the Monster investigation that even though every credible (meaning recognized as expert outside of just Italy) DNA expert and investigator in the world can’t even put Knox and her boyfriend at the crime scene, he needs her to be, therefore she is, so she’s guilty – period.  And she’s going to stay guilty – and to hell with the evidence, because the Monster’s been such a black eye that the Italian cops can’t have another public f***up.  So, right or wrong about her, they’re right.  And the fascinating thing is, the judge understands that reasoning, and the Italian people understand that reasoning, and so the hell with justice, and the hell with Amanda Knox.  Before her trial started Preston talked with Paul Ciolino, the internationally-known investigator that 48 Hours hired, who just trashed the evidence, the way it was collected, the witnesses, the total mishandling and corruption of DNA (he watched the cops own tape of them collecting evidence).  Just trashed the whole case.  But when Preston asked him – before the trial, mind – if she’d be convicted, Ciolino said: “Say good-bye to Amanda.  She’s been so convicted already that it’s scary.”
    I don’t know in what way the Spanish, French, and Italians are materially different than the Arabs.  or the Greeks, come to think of it.  They eat better, but when it comes to noticing and accepting reality, they don’t seem much better at all.  Mark Twain might have been wrong when he pointed out no place in the world but France would have tolerated the Dreyfus affair – it would have gone over just fine in Italy, Spain, and anyplace int he Middle East.
    But I’m with you, Bookworm, I kind of doubt if that’ll be much of a feature of the cultural diversity lessons.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Mignini probably is the killer.

     The Japanese express their displeasure with facial motions, body gestures, and clicking of the tongue. It’s actually very rare for someone to be outspoken and actually say what they are thinking. Which is perhaps why tsundere comedy is so popular and novel in Japan. In America, it would be fighting words and somebody would get their face smashed in for some of the stuff that is said.


  • Charles Martel

    One of the words liberals use that instantly pings my BS detector is “colorful.” I will bet you $10, Book, that somewhere along the line your daughter’s multi-cult teacher will use the word “colorful” to describe cultures that act in the ways that JamesG, Libby and jj have so. . . colorfully. . . described above.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Don’t forget that Britain’s gun laws have made you safe by banning guns in your home.


    A woman in Britain is only allowed to use her physical strength. Anything more would be disproportionate force against an attacker.

    Now doesn’t that make you feel safe. Of course, slaves don’t get the luxury of safety. 

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar



    Man unarmed against man with knife, man with knife wins. Man armed with gun, can beat man with knife if man with knife is at a distance.

    A woman unarmed is going to beat a man armed with chairs and knives?

    A woman armed with a knife is going to beat a man armed with a knife or bat?

    Without a gun, a woman can only hope to survive, by doing as she is told. With a gun, her odds of successfully defeating the threat increases to at least 50/50.

    But Britain knows what’s good for you, don’t worry.  

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar


    Best and brightest right from Arabia. Islamic culture obviously teaches people best o on how to be sadists. But they better be careful, for they haven’t met the real S yet. 

  • Mike Devx

    I like to “understand world cultures” so I can see if there is *anything* at all worth borrowing from one of them or another.  Sometimes, you can find, something.  Usually minor.

    Ymar’s #12 may appear to be off-topic, but it’s of a piece with the weirdness described in Book’s post about avoiding truth-telling based on some cultural imperative.  When I see Ymar’s video link, and I think about “understanding world cultures”, all I can say is, Saudia Arabia, yes, I understand you, and yes, I SPIT on you.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    As the Greeks countenanced, some things ought to be hated by a man wishing to seek the virtuous road.

     The Left likes to claim that hate is forbidden, but you easily can notice how much the Left likes to indulge when nobody is looking.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    It’s not always true that greater understanding means people will get along. In fact, often when two cultures meet and they really get to know each other, and they are really incompatible, they really hate each other. Fake heat or mis perceptions can be generated and manipulated, but it’s far harder to do that when it’s a true incompatibility. 

    The Left wants people to always believe that hate comes from ignorant TP and un-educated Palins. The truth is, education has little to nothing to do with hate or harmony. 

  • Charles Martel

    I agree with Yamarsakar’s take on the real dynamic that can occur between two incompatible cultures. As a westerner, I have no respect for, say, Arab culture and am not interested in pretending that it has anything of worth to offer me or the rest of mankind. That said, because I’m a westerner, I’m willing to live and let live. If people choose to fill their lives with mendacity, envy, and the hatred of knowledge and science, so be it. Just don’t drag me into it.

    Wait a minute: I just described the left.