Cultural dynamics in a free world

Subhash Kak
6 min readDec 28, 2023

The human mind hasn’t changed for thousands of years despite technology causing circumstances to change greatly. This is how we easily relate to the ancient classics from India, Greece, and Rome that seem to speak to us directly.

As example, consider the deep and delicately balanced remarks on friendship by Cicero, which capture both the intuition about the entangled nature of being and the paradox of inviting suffering by turning away from our own nature:

Nature has no love for solitude, and always leans, as it were, on some support; and the sweetest support is found in the most intimate friendship.

But while Nature declares by so many tokens what she desires, craves, needs, we — I know not how — grow deaf, and fail to hear her counsel.

We love the stories of the great novelists even if they are from different cultures. Storytelling styles change, but the transitions are not always in neat sequence. Thus, the recently popular magic realism genre of the West was entrenched in India nearly two thousand years ago in the tales of Yoga Vāsiṣṭha and Kathā-sarit-sāgara.

The world of the mind is universal, and it transcends time. It is true that technology has brought in new complexity that has altered our experience of everyday reality, but this complexity is in the experience of the environment, just like the paths of ants on a landscape mirror the twists and turns of the landscape. If you leave out the setting, people have continued to behave with each other somewhat similarly across history.

Success in the global village

The modern post-Second World War II draws from the age of European colonialism and the later rise of communism in Russia and China. In many ways the colonial era was anomalous due to the unprecedented asymmetry of the civilizational encounters which allowed the European nations to be brutal in their treatment of the colonized states.

While control of international organizations and relative ease of capital continues to give advantage to the Western nations, the asymmetry is largely gone, as we see from the economic success of China in the last two decades.

With populations expected to fall and international migrations to accelerate, the question of how different cultural groups will perform becomes important. There is a connection between attitudes and attachment to political groups for culture is at the basis of politics, and morality is at the basis of culture.

One of the significant factors for success is self-control and thoughtful action that were traditionally taught in the family. The idea of multiculturalism in which everything goes has ended up hurting groups that rely on schools to teach values.

Below are some statistics for various religious groups in the UK, in which each group represents unique cultural attitudes. The data is in relation to education, subsidized housing, and prison population. While popular culture influences everyone, religious identity tends to pull one back to the core cultural values associated with the tradition.

The darker bars to the right represent higher level education

The first chart prompts the question: What cultural attitudes have made it more likely for Hindus, Buddhists, and Jews to go in for Level 4+ education?

Subsidized housing for various groups

The relevant question here is: Why are Hindus, Jews, and Sikhs least likely to use subsidized housing? Is there a greater emphasis on self-reliance in such groups?

Prison populations

Are the attitudes captured by the first two charts correlated with the demographic details of the prison population?

Women’s status and education

Although there are many factors that impact a community’s success, the treatment of girls in the formative years is possibly the most important. In some cultures, girls are not nurtured, cherished, and educated to the same degree as boys. They may be physically veiled, their social interactions curtailed, and not permitted to question authority figures.

When these girls become mothers, they lack the full complement of skills and values to pass on to their own children, which are important for success in the Age of AI.

We are all product of nature as well as nurture. Nurture includes upbringing at both home and school. The culture within which values are imparted is critical to the flowering of the child’s personality.

For political reasons, it is assumed in the West that culture doesn’t matter and one needs to cater primarily to the physical and emotional needs of the child and the young adult. Many hold this philosophy responsible for the inability of the West to inspire its youth to enter careers in science and technology in numbers that the industry requires. As a result, the US must depend on foreign students and workers in very large measure.

Studies have shown that 85 percent of the brain is developed before the age of five, before the child has even entered school. This is the period when the cultural expectations, as expressed by the mother’s style of raising the child, play a critical role.

Neglect at a young age affects the child’s emotional intelligence, social skills, and ability to play and be creative. Children raised in a cultural complex that lack richness are prone to behavioral issues, low self-esteem, lack of a sense of belonging, depression, and addictions. Even when not physically abused, a child can develop insecurities that last a lifetime.

Cultures that emphasize childhood self-control are more successful than those that don’t. Likewise, children who are exposed to the arts and music perform better than those who are not. Introspection, reflection, and exposure to natural and humanly created beauty help the individual find the source of creativity within.

A superficial understanding of culture makes some to wrongly blame discrimination as the reason why certain groups fall behind in which individuals are unable to discover their own latent creativity.

Poverty cycle in the Age of AI

When cultural communities get left behind in the economic race, they tend to blame societal prejudice as explanation for their failure. In recent years, a politics based on envy has emerged replacing an earlier vision stressing hope.

Some seek a system of quotas to ensure equal outcomes for all groups. Ideas popularized by cultural Marxists (wokes) in relation to race are being extended to all groups:

· That disparities in outcomes are proof of systemic prejudice.

· That equal treatment is a social fiction.

· What is considered truth is the manifestation of the dominant narrative.

The wokes don’t want testing as an instrument of assessment, and they ultimately seek group-normed results. They want quotas in education, contracting, employment, and other areas. Some of them even reject mathematics just because some individuals are not as good at it as others, and advanced math courses have been dropped from many American schools.

The current leadership crisis in Harvard and many other American universities is a result of hiring faculty and administrators based not on merit but on quotas.

In India, an extremist left-wing politician has turned this into the slogan “jitni abadi, utna haq” which means “representation at each level must be commensurate with the population of the group”. This is a ploy to divide people and keep them stuck in the past, for it denies the individual’s agency and freedom that is everyone’s birthright.

Investigating cultural attitudes responsible for success and failure is crucial to find ways to address disparity. But many woke ideologues don’t want answers, they just want to bring the entire system down.

See also:

Open Borders, DEI, and the Bumpy Ride Ahead

A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety

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