People segment themselves with other people who are like them. Humans tend to find comfort with those who are similar. The case can be made though, that this segmentation can stagnate a culture. While it is true that culture itself is a set of long held traditions, values, and beliefs; all cultures need to have some exposure to others to grow. So, in what way does segmentation hurt culture, and those who are in it? Could it be because of the stagnation of the culture?
To start off, what exactly is culture? According to Washington State University, “culture resides in all learned behavior and in some shaping template or consciousness prior to behavior as well” (Miraglia, Law, Collins). While most people typically think of culture as music, clothing, language, etc, culture is much more than just those examples. Culture is everything. Culture is the way we sleep, talk, and eat. Culture is how we view the world. The way we interact with others is also a part of our culture. So culture really is everything, but if that’s so, then how does it “stagnate”?
Culture stagnates when nothing new is introduced into the culture. All cultures evolve, and change within the context of that culture. However, when a culture segments itself away from other cultures, it can not change, because there is nothing coming into the culture to change it. One example of this is when Japan closed itself off to the world in 1633. Due to threats of western invasion, the Tokugawa Shogunate instituted a set of laws that would close Japan’s borders and ports.
Between 1633 and 1868, the culture of Japan saw little to no change. These seclusion laws lasted until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. When Japan finally opened itself up to the world, it found that it was woefully behind the Western powers in terms of technological advancements. Why was a nation that, before 1633 had been largely on the level of the modern world, now a third world country? Because the culture had stagnated. Culture includes the technology that a group of people uses. So when Japan segmented itself away from the world, it had no need to improve the technology of it’s culture. This is because Japan did not care about what the rest of the world was doing, and felt no need to improve it’s technology. Once Japan was forced to open, influences from outside of Japan caused social changes within Japan.
Cultures need a small amount of outside influences to change. This is not to say that cultures must open themselves up completely and forget about their traditions. Traditions are the backbone of culture. However, each culture is able to put it’s own unique twist on an idea. Sometimes, a culture can see what their neighbors are doing, and assimilate that into their culture. Other times, a culture can learn from their neighbors mistakes. Regardless of how one culture is influenced by another, every culture can learn something from another culture. This give and take between cultures is a continuing cycle of change, regardless of if the culture knows it. Where things start to become complicated is when we get to sub-cultures.
A sub-culture is best described as a culture within a culture. We can look at American culture, and the plethora of sub-cultures it contains. There is African-American culture, Native American culture, LBGT (Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transsexual) culture, Southern Culture, and numerous others. These cultures don’t mix well and are what David Brooks meant in his essay “People Like Us”. According to Brooks “Even though race and ethnicity run deep in American society, we should in theory be able to find areas that are at least culturally diverse. But here, too, people show few signs of being truly interested in building diverse communities” (Brooks 253) This is not to say that there aren’t any open-minded people from the above mentioned cultures. Every culture has narrow-minded people. These people have fundamental differences with other cultures and feel the need to push themselves away from other cultures. They fear that their own culture will be deluded or even collapse from influences from these other cultures. Other times they fear rejection from members of other cultures within their community. Regardless, these people segment themselves away from those who are different. This contributes to the stagnation of the entire culture. The culture can’t grow if it is completely polarized by the sub-cultures.
Cultural Segmentation is not just in a physical, geographical sense. It can also be mental. In an interview on the program “Insight & Outlook”, Richard Rodriguez states that “We are not talking about diversity in any real way. We are talking about brown, black, white version of the same political ideology. It is very curious that the United States and Canada both assume that diversity means only race and ethnicity. They never assume it might mean more Nazis, or more Southern Baptist” (Rodriguez 246). Rodriguez is saying that many people only pay attention to the color of a person, not the way they think or the situation they are in. He goes on to talk about how affirmative action is offensive to individuals of a minority background who wish to be treated like everyone else (Rodriguez 247). We segment ourselves from those who are different subconsciously. While we might think that programs such as affirmative action are helping “minorities”, they push away the minorities because the programs are saying that because a person is different, they need special treatment. This stagnates the individual participants of the culture. Those within the culture find that the work that they have done for the culture is meaningless, because other people are being given the same privileges for doing nothing.
Ultimately, cultural segmentation stagnates both the individual and society as a whole. We can see that the segmentation of different cultures can have a harmful impact on a nation. We can see that the segmentation of Sub-cultures within a larger culture can have a stagnating effect on the culture as a whole. We can see that cultural segmentation can negatively affect individuals on a personal basis. All of this comes together to tear apart a society. However, societies can heal, and rebuild in a continuous cycle. While cultural segmentation will always be a part of human society, the damage could be reduced if people treated one another truly equally, instead of separating themselves with categories such as liberal or conservative. If we were to quit acting as though those with differences from ourselves were our enemy, rather than someone who just has a different way of looking at the world, then we would be better off in the world.
Brooks, David. “People Like Us.” The Little, Brown Reader Ed. Stubbs, Marcia, Barnet, Sylvan, and Cain, William E. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006. 253
Miraglia, Eric, Law, Dr. Richard, and Collins, Peg. “A Base Line Definition of Culture.”
Washington State University 26 May 1999
04 December 2003
Rodriguez, Richard. “A View from the Melting Pot.” The Little, Brown Reader Ed. Stubbs, Marcia, Barnet, Sylvan, and Cain, William E. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006. 246-247