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Thread: Cultural and Personal Identities

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    No Blorg's Avatar
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    Cultural and Personal Identities

    What overlaps, if any, do you notice between your cultural and personal identities? To what extent do these identities influence each other (or is it impossible to tell)?
    and how would you define your cultural identity?


    How do you think your cultural environments shaped you, and how have these environments contrasted with your overall sense of identity?
    Last edited by Blorg; 07-10-2014 at 04:42 PM. Reason: less deprecation 2. typo

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    Sky Anvil Vison's Avatar
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    I think 'being human' is entirely cultural. All of things that define humans as humans must be learned from others that have gone before and requires the internalization of a culture. In that way all the beliefs I have about myself are built upon an internalized cultural framework. Some things are more permenant than others though and changes of identification are heavily linked changes in surrounding culture or my understanding of it.

    One example is that in the area I grew up the controlling social/economic group was comprised of people of Dutch descent. I was not a part of this group and being "not Dutch" was a heavy influencer in how I related to everyone around me and was part of who I thought I was. It was so big that when I was 18 or so and visited a nearby metropolis I saw a poor kid with dutch features and the shock of it floored me. It felt like the rules of the world had broken. Fast forward to now and my personal identity is removed from the entire concept of "Dutch/Not-Dutch." The entire idea feels like it doesnt fit the world I know to exist.

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    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    I'd say it's not just impossible to tell, but basically impossible to separate the two concepts. The idea of having an identity you developed independently of what you absorbed from your cultural surroundings is itself an expression of the kind of reflexive individualism that Americans tend to internalize after, uh, absorbing it from their cultural surroundings.

    There's a lot of things I catch myself doing in Honduras which are apparently characteristically American mannerisms. Things like using the phrases "what's up" and "how's it going" as declarative greetings instead of questions designed to start lengthy conversations. I've heard numerous people from a variety of places--Europe, Asia, etc--remark on Americans' tendency to do this, so I take it to actually be something that makes sense to Americans but not to anyone else.

    Where I live in Honduras, if you're just passing someone on the street and want to merely acknowledge them, you literally say "Adios" rather than "Hola"--"Hola" means you want to talk to them, and going all the way to "Como Esta?" (How's it going?) or "Que pasa?" (What's up?) means you're actually requesting a report on the state of their life right at that moment.

    It's just a convention, but at the same time I'm starting to get why it bothers some people. If you constantly talk like you want to be everyone's friend, but your actions show no real interest in them in the majority of cases, you're going to end up looking insincere and manipulative.

    I knew a French exchange student in high school who once went on an exasperated rant about this (and yes, he actually had a stereotypical movie-Frenchman accent): "I don't understand zis country. Everywhere I go everyone asks how I am doing and zen I tell zem but zey don't care!"

    I'm told this might be why Americans sometimes see French people as snobby. A French person generally won't do the whole "hey, buddy, how ya doin?" thing unless you actually are their buddy and they are sincerely curious about how you're doing. If they don't have a reason to want to talk to you, they'll express this by just not talking to you.

    The "personal identity" thing does play out in unexpected ways for me, too. In Honduras, being an introvert doesn't seem to work as an excuse for not talking to people (which is rude) the way it does in the States. Luckily being known to have terrible Spanish skills does seem to work as an excuse up to a point, so I'm sort of covered. Otherwise I'd never make it anywhere on time or get anything done--you pretty much have to plan in the time you're going to spend catching up with every person sitting on their porch you're going to encounter on your way to the grocery store. Hospitality and appropriate responses to friendly gestures are a big deal. The whole just walking around with headphones in or trying to sit in public somewhere and stare off into space approach to these things isn't recognized as a lifestyle choice--people take it as a cue to be more aggressive about trying to engage with you until they get a response, and the range of responses that are considered acceptably polite doesn't include nodding, grunting, and going back to what you were doing. You need to have an excuse at the ready if you don't want to reciprocate every little gesture of recognition or interest.

    And by "gestures of recognition or interest" we're not talking handshakes--we're talking things like sharing food. I seem to have pissed someone off the other day because I declined a second helping of the food she was serving. Absentmindedly I just said "no thanks" and she gave me a dismissive, scolding "oh, you didn't like it", thus forcing me into extra backpedaling because I forgot I'm supposed to go through a whole rigamarole of "oh, it was great, and I really wish I could have some more, but I've eaten sooo much that my stomach would literally explode if I had a single bite more."

    It's kind of funny because there are a couple of obviously super-introverted Hondurans I see regularly and they just give me this totally silent death-glare which screams "don't. fucking. say. a. goddamn. word. to. me." and I just try to flash back a sympathetic look that says "no, man, I get it, believe me, living here must be rough as hell for you."
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

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    No Blorg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vison View Post
    I think 'being human' is entirely cultural. All of things that define humans as humans must be learned from others that have gone before and requires the internalization of a culture. In that way all the beliefs I have about myself are built upon an internalized cultural framework.
    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Mexico View Post
    I'd say it's not just impossible to tell, but basically impossible to separate the two concepts. The idea of having an identity you developed independently of what you absorbed from your cultural surroundings is itself an expression of the kind of reflexive individualism that Americans tend to internalize after, uh, absorbing it from their cultural surroundings.
    I know I must be missing something obvious, but this is surprising to me. The role that genetics/"nature" plays in the development of personality and cognitive features seems to be contentious/ambiguous, but I wasn't aware that some people think nurture is the only force that defines those aspects of identity. (That's what it seems like you're saying, or maybe I wasn't writing clearly so you misinterpreted what I meant.) At the very least, "nature" obviously plays a significant role in the physical/immediately visible features of our identities, and I'd assumed that it plays some sort of role in the development of "invisible" features as well. If an INTP emerges in a predominantly ESFJ culture, is the only explanation for their INTP qualities that they must have been exposed to INTP-producing subcultures?

    Anyway, I guess I could rephrase the main question as, "how do you think your cultural environments shaped you, and how have these environments contrasted with your sense of identity or identities?" if that's better.

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    Sky Anvil Vison's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dot View Post
    I know I must be missing something obvious, but this is surprising to me. The role that genetics/"nature" plays in the development of personality and cognitive features seems to be contentious/ambiguous, but I wasn't aware that some people think nurture is the only force that defines those aspects of identity. (That's what it seems like you're saying, or maybe I wasn't writing clearly so you misinterpreted what I meant.) At the very least, "nature" obviously plays a significant role in the physical/immediately visible features of our identities, and I'd assumed that it plays some sort of role in the development of "invisible" features as well. If an INTP emerges in a predominantly ESFJ culture, is the only explanation for their INTP qualities that they must have been exposed to INTP-producing subcultures?
    The way that I understand it its a combination of both and the starting place is nature. If nature is a provider of potentialities than nurture is the stage they play out on and take shape. To stretch the metaphor further: A successful performance requires the interaction of players and audience, they shape each other and propel the expression into certain shapes/places. The audience/stage/environment is changed by the performance and the players/physical potentialities/physical structure are changed by the audience.

    Without the audience the potentialities die, an example would be not being exposed to language during the vital stages a human brain is capable not only of absorbing one, but teaching itself to absorb one. Pass that stage and the barer of that brain will be unable to learn language to a "normal" degree. A person learns to define themselves by comparing the package that they are (in which the expression of their potentialities have already been heavily shaped by culture) to what is expected of them culturally and what is considered to be positive and negative. A different culture can make an entirely different product with the same potentialities, however a culture is required for the brain to reach a level of structural maturity where it is capable of creating ideas about self image and identity.



    Anyway, I guess I could rephrase the main question as, "how do you think your cultural environments shaped you, and how have these environments contrasted with your sense of identity or identities?" if that's better.
    I think the biggest identity struggles I have had where I have needed to reconcile what I believed myself to be with what my surrounding culture thought that made me have been in the areas of gender, sexual identity and race. I think those are the big ones for many people.

    I was around 6 or 7 the first time I attempted to reject my gender because I did not believe myself to be the things that others told me my gender made me, namely powerless, stupid and incapable of survival without a man taking care of me. I still identify as a woman and have come to a place where my understanding of what that means for myself is very different from the cultural norm. Sexual identity was very tied to gender for me and once my culturally-bestowed beliefs about gender changed the vast majority of my beliefs about the unacceptability of what I wanted also disappeared.

    Race is interesting. Growing up I was taught a huge amount of white-guilt and occupied a place in local culture as "white, but not white enough or rich enough to matter to matter to white people." This also held me apart from the cultural experience of many of those who I considered my peers as I wasnt a part of their cultural group and it was, like the one you described in your intro, closed to outsiders. My cultural experience has been extremely shaped by the idea of being "other" and "outside" as well as the realities of poor socialization and the effects of poverty and exclusion.

    I currently consider myself to rest outside of my current culture, but still being a creature of it.

  6. #6
    Hasta Siempre Madrigal's Avatar
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    Being raised in Canada, I was very shy and introverted, and mortified of conflict. But Argentina has a very talkative and opinionated culture. People love to confront opinions about anything and turn everything into a debate. If you're the kind of person who keeps opinions to themselves, you'll be at quite a disadvantage because that won't spare you from listening to everyone else's.

    While in North America it is in poor taste to confront people, over here it's regarded as weak and cowardly to keep your real thoughts to yourself. In Canada someone can be smiling to your face and nodding at everything you say, and then they'll turn around and call you crazy when in the confidence of a more like-minded person. If you do that here, the like-minded person will later take it upon themselves to inform the "crazy" person that you called them crazy, and they'll do it right in your face, too, with a big smile. Without a hint of malice - they just don't do hypocrisy very well, and anything that can cause some temporary shock and chaos is regarded as a lot of fun.

    The whole in-your-face thing has made me a lot more open and blunt. Argentineans are also very colorful in how they express themselves, using forceful or exagerated words and a lot of imagery to express their thoughts. More reserved cultures may see this as being arrogant, a know-it-all or an attention-seeker. Over here, it's just the way that a dialogue seems entertaining and worth our while. I don't know where they get this from, I think a lot of the more imposing aspects of dialogue come from the Italians and Spaniards; the indigenous populations are much more introverted and soft-spoken, something our eurocentric culture considers a sign of oppression and lack of character.

    I suppose I have adopted this style of expression a little more than I thought I would, but 20 years here have not converted me completely; I feel bad for people who are ostracized for sharing less of themselves, because I sort of know what they're going through.
    Quote Originally Posted by Hephaestus View Post
    Heh. We've been here years now.

  7. #7
    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dot View Post
    I know I must be missing something obvious, but this is surprising to me. The role that genetics/"nature" plays in the development of personality and cognitive features seems to be contentious/ambiguous, but I wasn't aware that some people think nurture is the only force that defines those aspects of identity. (That's what it seems like you're saying, or maybe I wasn't writing clearly so you misinterpreted what I meant.) At the very least, "nature" obviously plays a significant role in the physical/immediately visible features of our identities, and I'd assumed that it plays some sort of role in the development of "invisible" features as well. If an INTP emerges in a predominantly ESFJ culture, is the only explanation for their INTP qualities that they must have been exposed to INTP-producing subcultures?

    Anyway, I guess I could rephrase the main question as, "how do you think your cultural environments shaped you, and how have these environments contrasted with your sense of identity or identities?" if that's better.
    The thing about the nature/nurture debate is that the science on the "nature" side is so primitive that any particular theory (when it comes to complex outcomes like personality) is mostly speculation.

    The "nurture" side of things has a lot more real research to work with, and so explanations tend to be a lot more solid. That could change as neurology progresses out of the relative dark ages, but as of now the response of human psychological development to environmental inputs like culture is much better studied and thus produces a lot more plausible theories with solid evidence to back them up.

    This wasn't really my point, though, so much as what I was taking as a given. My perspective is that the environmental inputs that affect a person's development fall along a sliding scale of general (things everyone in a large cultural group experiences) to specific (things an individual experiences which are relatively unique to their personal situation).

    It's not that people simply mimic or reproduce the culture they grow up in, though--they react to their environment, and "nurture" focused explanations for personality development are usually based on the idea that emergent patterns in these reactions are what eventually evolves into personality traits.

    The whole "my identity contrasts with my culture" thing is thus problematic--your identity is a product of your culture whether you end up seeing yourself as like everyone else in it or not. The same general forces were acting on you the whole time--they just might have provoked different reactions because of things more specific to your individual life experience.

    Take the whole "my identity vs my culture" thing as an example--Americans love this idea. Find any ideological subculture from left-wing genderqueer anarchists to right-wing Christian traditionalists and you'll probably hear a lot of them claiming that their lifestyle choices and philosophical outlook stand athwart the dominant trends in society. Something about that idea of going against the grain just appeals to people, and I'm only referring specifically to Americans here because it's the group I'm most familiar with as an insider.

    But think about it for a second--why is the idea of "being different" so universally appealing? Could it be that it's because Americans have the idea drummed into them from every angle from the earliest possible ages that individualism and self-determination are the foundation of what their culture is all about? That, essentially, being an individual who bucks the trends of society is actually part of the definition of living up to this culture's definition of citizenship?

    So, if you're American, of course you think you're different and your identity stands in contrast to your culture--you're supposed to think this. Everyone in your culture thinks this because it's a cultural norm here. That meme of individualism and self-determination which you've incorporated into your sense of identity is one your culture implanted in you because it's how your culture taught you to think about your own identity and its relationship to its native culture. Am I explaining this in a way that makes sense? (I'm kind of tired--sorry.)
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

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    The Pompatus of Love C.J.Woolf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Mexico View Post
    But think about it for a second--why is the idea of "being different" so universally appealing? Could it be that it's because Americans have the idea drummed into them from every angle from the earliest possible ages that individualism and self-determination are the foundation of what their culture is all about? That, essentially, being an individual who bucks the trends of society is actually part of the definition of living up to this culture's definition of citizenship?

    So, if you're American, of course you think you're different and your identity stands in contrast to your culture--you're supposed to think this. Everyone in your culture thinks this because it's a cultural norm here. That meme of individualism and self-determination which you've incorporated into your sense of identity is one your culture implanted in you because it's how your culture taught you to think about your own identity and its relationship to its native culture. Am I explaining this in a way that makes sense? (I'm kind of tired--sorry.)
    "Naturally, being Harley guys, these were rebels -- lone wolves, guys who do it Their Way, guys who do not follow the crowd. You could tell because they were wearing the same jeans, jackets, boots, bandannas, sunglasses, belt buckles, tattoos and (presumably) underwear worn by roughly 28 million other lone-wolf Harley guys."

    -- Dave Barry, "What It Takes To Be a Jerk", 1996.
    Your gardening sucks and your avocados ain't fruitin'. -- Sappho the Maestro

  9. #9
    No Blorg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vison View Post
    The way that I understand it its a combination of both and the starting place is nature. If nature is a provider of potentialities than nurture is the stage they play out on and take shape. To stretch the metaphor further: A successful performance requires the interaction of players and audience, they shape each other and propel the expression into certain shapes/places. The audience/stage/environment is changed by the performance and the players/physical potentialities/physical structure are changed by the audience.

    Without the audience the potentialities die, an example would be not being exposed to language during the vital stages a human brain is capable not only of absorbing one, but teaching itself to absorb one. Pass that stage and the barer of that brain will be unable to learn language to a "normal" degree. A person learns to define themselves by comparing the package that they are (in which the expression of their potentialities have already been heavily shaped by culture) to what is expected of them culturally and what is considered to be positive and negative. A different culture can make an entirely different product with the same potentialities, however a culture is required for the brain to reach a level of structural maturity where it is capable of creating ideas about self image and identity.
    That's an interesting way of phrasing it-- I agree.

    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Mexico View Post
    ...My perspective is that the environmental inputs that affect a person's development fall along a sliding scale of general (things everyone in a large cultural group experiences) to specific (things an individual experiences which are relatively unique to their personal situation).

    It's not that people simply mimic or reproduce the culture they grow up in, though--they react to their environment, and "nurture" focused explanations for personality development are usually based on the idea that emergent patterns in these reactions are what eventually evolves into personality traits.

    The whole "my identity contrasts with my culture" thing is thus problematic--your identity is a product of your culture whether you end up seeing yourself as like everyone else in it or not. The same general forces were acting on you the whole time--they just might have provoked different reactions because of things more specific to your individual life experience.

    Take the whole "my identity vs my culture" thing as an example--Americans love this idea. Find any ideological subculture from left-wing genderqueer anarchists to right-wing Christian traditionalists and you'll probably hear a lot of them claiming that their lifestyle choices and philosophical outlook stand athwart the dominant trends in society. Something about that idea of going against the grain just appeals to people, and I'm only referring specifically to Americans here because it's the group I'm most familiar with as an insider.

    But think about it for a second--why is the idea of "being different" so universally appealing? Could it be that it's because Americans have the idea drummed into them from every angle from the earliest possible ages that individualism and self-determination are the foundation of what their culture is all about? That, essentially, being an individual who bucks the trends of society is actually part of the definition of living up to this culture's definition of citizenship?

    So, if you're American, of course you think you're different and your identity stands in contrast to your culture--you're supposed to think this. Everyone in your culture thinks this because it's a cultural norm here. That meme of individualism and self-determination which you've incorporated into your sense of identity is one your culture implanted in you because it's how your culture taught you to think about your own identity and its relationship to its native culture. Am I explaining this in a way that makes sense? (I'm kind of tired--sorry.)
    Yes, I understand. I actually wrote something similar a while ago (about the strangeness of an "individualist community"). But I do think it's hard to generalize about something like that. I'm pretty sure my sense of what I called "alienation" has a more complicated explanation than the American emphasis on individualism-- there were alienating cultural themes in addition to individualism influencing my development of that feeling. It is possible that the only reason I singled out "alienation" as one of the few words to describe my life history and collection of thoughts/emotions is that "it's cool to be an outsider." (But it's not the only reason-- I would like to think it's more meaningful than that. Maybe I should have avoided the word completely, since it's connected to so many cliches, and been more specific.)

    I'm sure everyone feels alienated to some extent, and maybe Americans are more likely than most to feel that way. It's probably impossible to know. But whether my sense of alienation is more or less common than [whatever] is beside the point-- my only point was that it played a prominent subjective role in my sense of who I am.

    edit: not really sure what I'm trying to say anyway.
    Last edited by Blorg; 07-07-2014 at 06:13 PM.

  10. #10
    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dot View Post
    That's an interesting way of phrasing it-- I agree.



    Yes, I understand. I actually wrote something similar a while ago (about the strangeness of an "individualist community"). But I do think it's hard to generalize about something like that. I'm pretty sure my sense of what I called "alienation" has a more complicated explanation than the American emphasis on individualism-- there were alienating cultural themes in addition to individualism influencing my development of that feeling. It is possible that the only reason I singled out "alienation" as one of the few words to describe my life history and collection of thoughts/emotions is that "it's cool to be an outsider." (But it's not the only reason-- I would like to think it's more meaningful than that. Maybe I should have avoided the word completely, since it's connected to so many cliches, and been more specific.)

    I'm sure everyone feels alienated to some extent, and maybe Americans are more likely than most to feel that way. It's probably impossible to know. But whether my sense of alienation is more or less common than [whatever] is beside the point-- my only point was that it played a prominent subjective role in my sense of who I am.

    edit: not really sure what I'm trying to say anyway.
    Do you identify as 'bicultural'? I mean, I have no particular experience with what it's like for people from indigenous communities living in 'mainstream' (white, or at least white-dominated) American culture, but a sense of alienation crops up a lot as an issue in literature on, say, school students from immigrant families. You take all of the individual identity-construction stuff that is a normal part of childhood for everyone and then throw in the fact that these students have two different cultures to conform to/rebel against, which obviously aren't identical and will likely have conflicting norms about certain things.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

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