Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Tyranny of Culture…I think

There are many things of culture one learns as one grows older through social experience in society. Some of these cultural learning processes are unconscious, and one can’t actually point out when, or at what point in time, one actually started to learn them. One just finds oneself in possession of certain epistemic cultural realities. These epistemic realities—or Deweyan, informal pedagogy—affects one in one’s social or personal life.

For those who don’t know philosopher John Dewey, he explains education as happening, largely, informally through the transmission of traditions and norms that sustain a certain community from the old to the young. Since formal education is a small fraction of our general learning, what we learn informally makes the bulk of our epistemic and social life.

These social realities are the normative constraints or directives that happen to guide us without us knowing until we realize the straitjackets they become. The Camusian moment of consciousness, I would say! These cultural straitjackets or enablers, are cultural practices that make our ‘culture.’ I will take ‘culture’ here to mean a set of constraining or enabling normative and traditional factors that shape society.

While some of these cultural factors are admirable, some of these practices can be really repressive. 

I am going to explain a few repressive cultural issues that border on cultural dictatorship. I am not saying that ‘culture’ is bad; however, there are many repressive cultural practices that don’t do anyone any good; but there are cultural practices whose existence is fundamental to societal cohesiveness and longevity. Respect for elders and their wisdom is one good example. In a Deweyan sense, they help the community avoid social or cultural death.

This leads me to comment on some observations I’ve made within our diasporic communities as some of these 'cultural' practices are not only unprogressive, they are also disrespectful. Some Jiëëng communities, especially in community's sociocultural functions, ensure that men and boys are served before women even elder women. This is a cultural practice that I think should be done away with. Elder men and women should eat first before the younger people eat. Well, as Hilde Johnson recently argued, the best way to discredit a given reality among South Sudanese is to call it ‘western.’ Some folks would rush to argue that this is a western way of life without delving into the merit or demerit of the argument presented.

This makes some cultural practices irrationally anti-women.

I have also seen that some men don’t cook even if they know that both of them work.  It might be called ‘our culture’, but given the fact that these families live in different cultural realities to support their children and their families, it would be a good idea for men to support their wives when it comes to household chores. I know there are progressive men who help their wives already. Kudos to them. These are the good men or röör pieth.

I have also observed the expensive and exploitative cultural conditions in which young men and women, who are getting married, find themselves. What makes this cultural practice oppressive is the fact that the tyrannically exorbitant dowry charged by the diasporic communities is just morally wrong. Yet, we dispense with rationality and blame it on ‘our culture.’ Girls, who’d want to save their partners from this cultural tyranny by trying to convince their relatives not to demand too much dowry, find themselves either sidelined in marriage arrangement or derided in the name of culture.

I’ve also seen young men who leave girls of marriageable age in their diasporic communities to go and marry fifteen to twenty-year-olds in South Sudan. These girls are married off at such an immorally tender age in the name of culture. Girls who are above 25 are seen as ‘old.’ Old?

The above listed cultural practices are imposed on us by society—or we chose them in the tyrannical name of ‘culture—and there's little we can do about them as they are imposed on us by our ‘culture.’

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