A failure of institutions


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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15 Responses

  1. Avatar Aaron W says:

    “Actually the genocide of a language is called ‘linguicide’ and is one of the most pernicious acts of cultural tyranny I can think of.”

    Although this is a side note, I couldn’t agree more. There’s something inexplicably sad about the normalization of language in the US, or even the widespread adoption of English in some smaller European countries.Report

  2. Avatar gregiank says:

    The TNC post was indeed great. I’d push back a bit about how institutions have failed. Not in the example of the Navajo reservation, but Sorn’s post describes feeling not smart enough or without possibility due more to local culture and upbringing. It was institutions that let him save himself. Here in AK we have a similar problem as on the Navajo Reservation. We have many native speakers who are preserving and passing on their languages, which is great, but many villages don’t have any jobs. Walking in two worlds is inherently difficult when one world is hanging by a thread.

    The handful of comments about lefty mis-perceptions of the positive impact of joining the military are spot on.Report

    • Avatar Boegiboe says:

      @gregiank, I think us “lefties” would like to see an institution that is as supportive as the military but that doesn’t specialize in killing people according to orders. Many in the military are lucky enough to never have to take another life, but they could be ordered to at any time, and not for reasons of defense. Those who do take lives, or who lose friends, or who suffer severe injury are sometimes bitterly scarred, becoming people who might have succeeded with or without the military but who now never will.

      I don’t put down the many success stories, but let’s not paint too glowing a picture of an institution that, in the end, is designed to take away your choices about who you do or don’t kill. The goal of the military is to put those life-and-death decisions in the hands of the American civil polity, which is increasingly all too willing to use other humans as weapons.Report

      • Avatar gregiank says:

        @Boegiboe, Well of course the whole war and killing people thing is a big issue. But the point is for many, many people the military is a way to escape poverty, small towns and grow as a person. The military has helped a lot of people grow and mature. It would be a wonderful world if there were a million more opportunities for people without having to be taught to kill, or fix a truck or cook for a couple hundred people. But in our world and in many communities joining the military has significant positives. Denying that leads to a major blind spot to many leftys have.Report

        • Avatar dexter45 says:

          @gregiank, Sorry, but I think that the “whole war and killing people thing” isn’t a big issue, it is the issue. I went to school with three people who are dead now because of war and I know a few who are psychologically damaged because of war. Most leftys I know don’t say that nobody benefits because of milatary service but wish to live in a world where the choice isn’t between potential murder or absolute poverty. Also, as a person who lives just outside a small town, what is your problem with small towns. Finally, I wish I knew how to fix trucks and could whip up a good meal for two hundred people.Report

  3. Avatar Sam M says:

    But isn’t the full implication of this diconcerting to a lot of people? To affect this change, I think it presupposes that you accept that the culture you are from is fundamentally flawed, or at least so far gone as to be irretrievable. How else can you accept or take advantage of “a decent cultural education”?

    Accepting it would seem to mean accepting that your previous cultural education–on the rez, in the ghetto, in the trailer park–was “indecent.” Which of course leads to all kinds of charges of cultural imperialism, cultural genocide, etc. Most of you probably aren’t old enough to remember the blow up over Ebonics, but ultimately, that plays a huge role in this. A “decent cultural education” basically means telling people that their language, their customs, are wrong. If they weren’t why would anyone be telling them to change them?

    This is controversial stuff, man. Can we accept that people form the rez or the inner city need culturally reprogrammed without first agreeing that… well, what CAN we say about those cultures?


  4. Avatar Trumwill says:

    On the language thing, in some ways it is quite sad when languages die. But I also feel that it’s extremely important to their well-being for them to learn English if they’re going to be exposed to the broader nation and world. It would be ideal for them to learn both, but as Gregiank points out we’re talking about people hanging by a thread and I would add that it’s not just important that they learn to speak English but that they learn to speak it very, very well (the way one speaks a language natively). The first priority, I would think, is to teach them to be able to integrate into the larger society even if that means (unfortunately) leaving aspects of their native culture behind. To say otherwise – that hemming to the culture is more important if we have to choose one – is to sacrifice their well-being so that we won’t feel guilty about intruding on their culture.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      @Trumwill, The trick with the reservations is that…well…it’s so damn tricky. They’re basically little countries within a country that are entirely dependent on the federal government – little enclaves dependent on welfare and utterly cut off from commerce. But for many, leaving the rez is the same as leaving your tribe, your cultural heritage altogether. And at the same time it’s almost impossible to introduce any sort of economic investment into the rez.Report

      • Avatar dexter45 says:

        @E.D. Kain, Culture changes can be a hard thing to deal with. A long time ago I had the luck to work on forest fire near Mt. Denali with a crew from Fort Yukon, Alaska. One of the men on the crew had lived in New York City. I asked him why he left and he said because there is nothing to do but go to bars and drink. Those men were smart and extremely good in the woods, but could not handle cities. I think it is a pity that it is hard to do business on the Rez. I was talking with my wife about a month ago and said that if I had Gates money I would call a few buds and see if they wanted to spend a few billion on windmills. The space the Navahoes have is large, very beautiful in a stark way and has a steady supply of wind. It does not take much water to make a lot of hydrogen and there are several large cities close to Four Corners.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          @dexter45, So true about some people and cities. I was talking to a mountaineering guide out in Wrangell-St. Elias NP. He said there is one guide who, after spending a weeks leading mountain climbing trips in remote AK needed days to readjust to civilization. The thing is, he lived in McCarthy,Ak a town of about 30 year round residents and couple hundred in the summer. But he still needed to readjust to that big a town.Report

  5. Avatar gregiank says:

    @dexter- i don’t have a problem with small towns i lived in one for a few years. I’ve known many people who loved growing up in them and were glad as hell they could get out. I don’t disagree at all that there shouldn’t be a choice between poverty and war. That is, as i said, not the point at all. The military offers actual good things to many people. While its not my road, I’ve known many young people, i used to work in a homeless shelter for teens, who craved discipline and a strong supportive sub-culture and an epic trial to prove themselves. The military offers that. It would be best if we rarely used those young people but that doesn’t mitigate the call of the military for many.Report

  6. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Just want to say that this post and others recently but especially this one go to the very most core problems in American society, and I want to give credit where it is due. These questions at the point where where the social institutions on which we rest our claim to be a society of opportunity meet social reality is really the fundamental problem we face as a society, and it’s impressive and heartening to see it taken on by people of my generation. I’ve been motivated by it since coming out of college (though 9/11 happening just at the same time altered my set of pressing intellectual concerns rather drastically for a number of years). I don’t have much to add to what we see in Coates’ and Erik’s posts here. Both of these questions – how to critique and improve the performance of institutions of social advancement in light of the vast diversity of the social contexts in which they are expected to operate without (necessarily) giving in to an impulse to dismantle them, start over, or abandon their mission – and also the tension between the fact that the military is not an educational institution but rather one with a very specific, very real function relating to a fundamental need of the society (other than development of youth, and, yes that function may/will involve killing people), and the fact that nevertheless it is inevitably an educational and growth experience for all who enlist, and in some case perhaps the best one available, or the most appropriate one for what they need to develop into the person they want to be. These are, I think, unresolvable tensions in our body politic, and at any one time, merely reflecting on them and considering the most modest of actions regarding them is the most we might expect to be able to do. And that seems to be what’s going on here, so I wanted to voice my appreciation. Have a good weekend, all.Report