Shrugging Off the Burden of Common Culture

If we can identify a common impulse shared by technocratic liberals, conservatives, and libertarians alike, it’s that they all tend to believe that culture is something that can be ignored, and that it amounts to a sort of waste which, being imperfectly accountable on a balance sheet, ought to be ignored when it isn’t being actively denigrated.

Understanding history and culture acts like a tax on time, attention, memory, and behavior. It’s an unseen source of mostly unwritten laws. It makes up physical mannerisms, appearance, verbal tics, senses of humor, taste in food, and artistic styles. It’s the common sensibility that makes it possible for people to cooperate with one another against competitors.

When we focus instead on hyper-individuated culture, in which people accumulate idiosyncratic tastes in fantasy material which may not be shared beyond their  small circle, culture loses its connection to community and to everyday life.

People, particularly the leadership in the West, have turned away from the idea that they have a duty to uphold their cultural legacy. This frees up an enormous amount of time and effort, which most of them tend to fritter away and luxury and pop culture, most of which references nothing but itself and whatever is trendy at the moment. Many educated people have no connection to the history of their own culture or that of any other, despite the pretensions to a shallow sort of ‘multiculturalism’ which is rarely upheld in fact.

The technocratic way of thinking about the state essentially says that as long as the books balance, it doesn’t really matter all that much what happens to the culture that that nation-state governs over. This helps to make it easier to import enormous quantities of foreigners who don’t share cultures with one another or with the original inhabitants. If you just make an economic model that discounts culture, morals, and religion, you can pretend like there are no problems with the policy.

In reality, there are substantial differences between different populations. This would not have been a difficult argument to make at any time before 1945, but it has become a rather difficult argument to make since then — that the one-world-notion is a fantasy that has never been workable. Effective states and organizations can be composed out of multiple cultural groups, but it requires some compromise and synthesis between those groups. Attempting to create such a political synthesis without considering the problem of culture is delusional.

If there’s one way in which post-modern people are united, it’s in declaring that they no longer have a duty to keep the memory of the past alive. Unfortunately for the modern nation-state, it also means that many of those hyper-individuals are no longer all that interested in keeping the nation-state alive, either. People fixate on externalizing as many costs as they can and sucking up as many benefits as they possibly can. This type of behavior is an ordinary human response to incentives, but it’s not an admirable one. Whether it’s Jon Corzine embezzling investor funds or the welfare queen screaming for a new free phone and an EBT refill, the fundamental behavior is the same.

What people don’t  necessarily realize is that maintaining standards of high and low culture are the ‘broken windows policing’ of political life. It’s grandma telling you to tuck in your shirt and chew with your mouth closed. It’s knowing the ten commandments, not stealing bicycles, and volunteering to fight when the country is attacked by a foreign army. It’s not trying to convert your neighbors’ children to snake worship.

The hyper-individualistic ideal of no external obligations can’t work in practice, because the rights of the individual are ultimately guaranteed by common cultural qualities. Without these qualities, people become unintelligible to one another, even if they speak the same language. Their behavior becomes incomprehensible and unpredictable, because they can’t really empathize with the other people or form models of their minds within their own brains.

Intellectuals in particular are fond of shrugging at culture, because it’s a source of power and jobs for them. If the people need an economist to tell them that stealing from their neighbor is bad, the culture has already become so weak and dysfunctional that no number of genius economists will be able to solve the problem.

Liked it? Take a second to support Social Matter on Patreon!
View All


  1. Thanks, that’s very good.

    I like what Ezra Pound said (sorry if I am repeating myself but I think this important): Culture is what’s left over after you forgot what you tried to learn.

    Therefore, culture is instinct, but learned instinct. Myths, fairy tales, customs and aphorisms may be the residue of prehistoric racial memory. They give one a sense of home and identity that must be constantly reinterpreted and reaffirmed.

    We should encourage an interest in storytelling and myth. Without being boring of course. Modernism, on the other hand, intentionally short-circuits and disrupts this habit of thought.

    1. Any time.

      >Therefore, culture is instinct, but learned instinct. Myths, fairy tales, customs and aphorisms may be the residue of prehistoric racial memory. They give one a sense of home and identity that must be constantly reinterpreted and reaffirmed.

      Reaffirmed, reinterpreted, and enforced.

  2. Why should you uphold or strenghten the harmful and incoherent universal “culture” in your nation? Why should you market your culture to e.g. immigrants from Mexico, central-America, and south-America, or other ethnic groups? They dont need or want it. They already have their own culture, or if they assimilate, they assimilate to the liberal “culture”, which doesnt require anything and feels neutral. Why should you uphold or strenghten the nation-state? It has already become malignant influence. Perhaps you could just maintain and reinforce your exclusive European / European-American culture, communities and cooperation?

    1. …That’s the point of the article.

      This should not have been so confusing to you. Read graf 5 again.

      1. Henry Dampier,

        I got the impression that the following is your goal:

        “Effective states and organizations can be composed out of multiple cultural groups, but it requires some compromise and synthesis between those groups.”

        1. What do you think ‘France’ is? Excluding all the non-European French who migrated north recently.

  3. I appreciate that your article does not refer to other writings, but rather your own thoughts – because that is what culture (in the end) is. (And I have not read all your articles either)

    My own thoughts has lately been that culture is in its essence a defensive technique, of a group. This is being reinforced by witnessing how/what little boys and girls learn before the age of 5. Of course they learn so much more and this is why I would like to add a reference describing the “growth” part. Using safety as a base is good, but one forgets that growth is continuous requiring safety to evolve with it. However, this growth should always align with safety, otherwise it becomes frivolous.

    “Culture: it can be seen as the growth of a group identity fostered by social patterns unique to the group.
    The word “culture” derives from a French term, which in turn derives from the Latin “colere,” which means to tend to the earth and grow, or cultivation and nurture. “It shares its etymology with a number of other words related to actively fostering growth,” Cristina De Rossi, an anthropologist at Barnet and Southgate College in London, told Live Science.”

    From all above (including your article), my deduction is that the 1% are out to destroy our culture, leaving us basically defenseless. However, the irony is that defenseless people also have a very low productivity. Defenseless equals productionless.

    With all this not making sense, we have the perfect motive to re-engage our basic tribal defensive posture – ie culture.

    1. May I add to the idea that actions taken beyond the culture-safety alignment is frivolous. This is seen beyond the high-cultural expression and more into the hyper-individuated realm. It starts with working parents not nurturing their child in favor of perceived threats, but spoiling them based on guilt of actual NON-nurturing and rather then spending time making them LOOK good in terms of POPULARITY. Children are therefore taught that their “threat” is NOT being popular. The input of this action is a falcity, where the outcome can only be a falcity as well. However, the unintended outcome is not so much the false perception of threats, it is actually a gross exaggeration of what psychologists call “developmental stress”. The psychology of the child is affected negatively every time a threat affects them that they were not emotionally prepared for (Emotional IQ). One example is precisely bullying despite all efforts undertaken to be popular. A second example is the exposure to real blood (from animals or humans) that is known to lead to YEARS of avoidance behavior. This behavior accumulates over time as stressors occur, resulting in psychologically affected adults. However, these “affectivities” are not medically certifiable despite individuals exhibiting “some” of the characteristics psychologists would have on their lists. One example of this is the emergence of dissociation causing gay people (and) later on even multi-personalities (for protection), another is narcissism which apparently has now become the flavour of management executives. The problem with appointing senior narcissistic managers is that the company will become become “dark” and will slowly deteriorate over time. It is quite possible to suggest at this point that this “new” culture will destroy european civilization – unless it is reversed.

  4. Good post. This is a huge topic that deserves more than a combox discussion but It’s interesting that the Marxists (unlike libertarians) don’t have this view of culture, they regard it as very important and have spent a century modifying it to their ideals, with great results for them.

    The technocratic way of thinking about the state essentially says that as long as the books balance, it doesn’t really matter all that much what happens to the culture that that nation-state governs over.

    Very good line. With the change from “generalisation” to specialisation which occurred in early 20th C, I think that many of our experts gained their credentials through a reductionist understanding of their subject, ignoring the broader context in which their specialty operated, assuming that they were constant givens. Economics is particularly guilty of this, judging its success or failure by simple appeal to balance sheet analysis and ignoring the meta-economic factors at play. Catholic economies were different to Protestant ones because economic activity differed in each due to the cultural factors in which economic activity had to take place. As far as I’m aware, the only economic school which emphasised the study of meta-economic factors was the Ordoliberal one. Current mainstream economic opinion ignores this dimension.

    The other problem here is hyperindividualism which emphasises the particulate nature of every person and sees the guarantee of their rights as something protected by law instead of common agreement. We don’t see our rights as “common good” agreements rather as properties intrinsic to our beings, the common good be damned.

    Also, I don’t think people actively seek to neglect culture, rather they act as if their behaviour is both inconsequential to the common culture and that hyperindividuated expression is the the greatest human good regardless of group norms. It is asking too much for the proles to recognise the consequence of their actions when many of their intellectual superiors clearly can’t. I don’t think that they are lazy, I just reckon they’re stupid.

    1. The barbs in this are more meant for the people at the higher end of the scale. It’s easy to mock the ‘people of Wal-Mart,’ but the ‘people of New Haven’ and the ‘people of Cambridge’ need to be held up by the scruffs of their necks and shaken around.

      It could use a lot more discussion, and it would be easier to knock more than a few progressives loose, given that most leftists now focus almost entirely on victimology above everything else. Certainly it must make a lot of them feel slighted.

      The funny thing about balancing books is that many of the economies run the most by economists tend to struggle with the basics there.

  5. Culture as foundation of civilization : families as foundations of culture.

    Traditional extended families connected individuals several generations backwards and forwards. Constant interaction with your grandfather will pass along many traits and thought patterns from your grandfather’s youth, which he learned from his grandfather, et cetera.

    The dissipation and scattering of extended families, accelerated after WW2, severed generations from one another and mass media / pop culture further exacerbated the issue.

    The grandfather you worked with, who helped raised you, passed along culture. The grandfather you see once a year on holidays is a funny old man who you only understand via anachronistic pop cultural anecdotes.

    The way to rebuild culture necessarily starts with growing families and staying close (and staying put) across generations. Connect with similar local families (traditional catholic church; homeschooling groups; etc.). After a generation a significant amount of local folk culture will spontaneously reemerge (to say nothing of the embers of High Culture such traditionalist groups strive to pass along).

    A rich local folk culture is the necessary basis, the necessary foundation for the flourishing of high culture.

  6. The lack of understanding the importance of culture is one thing that annoys me most about libertarians. If you mention some problem with society, say, drug abuse, they always respond with “so you support laws outlawing drugs?!” What they don’t get is the importance of culture. People don’t get up in the morning and consult lawbooks when deciding how to spend their day. The law is a great teacher, to be sure, but it is only a part of the culture.

    People are social animals. They look around and see what is lauded or encouraged, or winked at by the larger culture and they see what is frowned upon. This includes their sub culture more so than the larger culture. They act like their peers act. They do what their peers do.

    This informs how people interact with one another, including spouses or live in lovers, as well as how they raise their children. Broken marriages and feral children are one result. It isn’t just the economic incentives of welfare, either. The incentives of culture are just as powerful.

    Drug addicts don’t do well economically or physically. You’d think with those bad incentives, there’d be a lot fewer drug addicts. And yet there they are.

Comments are closed.