Multiculturalism v Cultural Appropriation

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Multiculturalism v Cultural Appropriation

Post by Eternal_Freedom » 2020-09-24 06:00pm

Posting this in SLAM since I dunno where else it fits. Full disclosure for the purposes of this discussion - I am a white cis-man who is straight but disabled.

In essence, I was taught in school, and by my parents, that we should keep an open mind about other cultures and be willing to explore them, learn about them and so on. We heard a lot of talk about Britain being a multi-cultural society and that this was a good thing, that just sticking to what you experienced growing up was bad, small minded and if taken to extremes, bigoted/xenophobic/racist and so forth.

But in the last few years I have also heard a lot of talking/complaining (predominantly on the internet, granted), about cultural appropriation, and how it is wrong/bad/racist/reinforces colonialism and so on. Just a few weeks ago, there was some furore about the singer Adele doing her hair in what was apparently some traditional style from a different culture, and a lot of people were very angry about this. Another article I just saw, which prompted this thread, was spotted on George Takei's Facebook page, about a disabled man being outraged at, and publically calling out, a pair of siblings using sign language in a restaurant even though they weren't disabled.

I admit that my first thought on that second one was "how is that any different than if they were speaking French but weren't native French speakers?" I honestly don't know if I should feel bad about that reaction. This seems to have become a whole thing that's the complete opposite of what I was taught.

So the question is, what actually counts as "cultural appropriation?" Is it styles of dress? Regional or local dialects? Using non-native languages? Hair styles? Enjoying other culture's food and drink? That last one is quite worrying as I really do love curry, and Italian food.

If there is a distinction, why are some things bad, and other things aren't? Does wearign other cultures typical clothing count as cultural appropriation if I'm wearing it because it's appropriate for the climate I'm in when visiting that culture? Should I (as a severely visually impaired person) be calling people out wearing eyepatches as part of a fancy-dress costume?

And how does this mesh with being inclusive, multicultural, open-minded and willing to explore?
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Re: Multiculturalism v Cultural Appropriation

Post by B5B7 » 2020-09-25 05:39am

What culture does sign language belong to? Before various varieties of deaf sign language were created there were many people who used hand signals or gestures - military, hunters, traffic guides, normal people (and per the stereotype especially Italians) etc.
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Re: Multiculturalism v Cultural Appropriation

Post by Rogue 9 » 2020-09-25 10:03am

The idea that knowing and using ASL is appropriation is ridiculous. First of all, it's a handy thing to know, not only for communication with deaf people, but simply down to the fact that any of us could become deaf at any time; having to learn a new language on top of coping with a new disability is an unreasonable thing to require, which forbidding the learning and use of ASL to the hearing effectively does.
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Re: Multiculturalism v Cultural Appropriation

Post by Solauren » 2020-09-25 05:17pm

Learning any language is not cultural appropriation. I learned Latin in school. That does not mean I appropriated the culture of Imperial Rome!
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Re: Multiculturalism v Cultural Appropriation

Post by bilateralrope » 2020-09-25 05:47pm

Eternal_Freedom wrote:
2020-09-24 06:00pm
Another article I just saw, which prompted this thread, was spotted on George Takei's Facebook page, about a disabled man being outraged at, and publically calling out, a pair of siblings using sign language in a restaurant even though they weren't disabled.
How loud was the restaurant ?

Because there are restaurants which have serious problems with the ambient noise being too loud. Mainly due to minimalist architecture. If it's too loud to comfortably talk, sign language seems the perfect choice for communication.

Even if the restaurant was quiet enough for spoken communication, there is still the possibility that they were practicing sign language because they knew they would need it. For example, a deaf family member.

So yeah, I can't see what he was complaining about. Though I would like to see the article myself as I do have a few questions. Could you post the link ?

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Re: Multiculturalism v Cultural Appropriation

Post by Eternal_Freedom » 2020-09-25 05:52pm

I remembered it wrong, it was apparently a funeral not a restaurant.

So if we've reached the conclusion that learning/using other languages doesn't qualify, then what does? Is it cuisine? Styles of dress? At what point does embracing other cultures become appropriation? Does that term even mean anything or is it another Internet buzzword for people to manufacture outrage over?
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Re: Multiculturalism v Cultural Appropriation

Post by bilateralrope » 2020-09-25 06:20pm

I note that the disability of the person complaining wasn't mentioned. Was he deaf ?

Because if he wasn't, then I get the feeling that his real complaint was that they were talking in a language he couldn't understand.


As for cultural appropriation in general, there seems to be a balancing act there. Let people use aspects of a culture too freely and it will change in ways that they don't like. Restrict it too tightly and it will die out as the restrictions drive people away from it. So I'm thinking it's best to let people of that culture decide where the line is.

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Re: Multiculturalism v Cultural Appropriation

Post by Starglider » 2020-09-25 08:04pm

Eternal_Freedom wrote:
2020-09-25 05:52pm
Does that term even mean anything or is it another Internet buzzword for people to manufacture outrage over?
...obviously? The only circumstance where you could even begin to make an actual argument that this is a bad thing is when foreign cultural artefacts are commercialised and also modified in a way that makes them more convenient for the seller but misrepresentative of the original culture. Generally though it's just one of the many arbtirary guilt/rage generating mechanisms used in the performative outrage/wokeness subculture.

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Re: Multiculturalism v Cultural Appropriation

Post by Simon_Jester » 2020-09-26 04:41pm

The fundamental valid argument behind "cultural appropriation is bad" is that it's easy for a dominant culture to grab bits and pieces of a subjugated culture and wave them around like battle trophies, which can be pretty damn humiliating for the subjugated culture.

This is something of an issue in, for example, the US with Native American culture. You could- and some have- set up an entire field of academic study focusing on all the fictional tropes white Americans crafted in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries to justify picking and choosing bits of Native American culture to borrow for their own imagery. Or (often) to authorize and legitimize the idea of whites somehow "inheriting" the land from the natives in a morally neutral manner, getting to use selected bits and pieces of native paraphernelia, place names, and imagery, while telling tales of smiling Indian benefactors giving things symbolically or literally to the natives. When in fact, as we know, this process was coercive and genocidally violent. Indeed, the brutalization and subjugation still going on today and the boot still weighing on the surviving natives' necks, far past the point at which they could ever pose a credible threat of taking back their old land.

So how does a Native American feel to see a bunch of white people dressing up in bastardized war paint and feathers and whooping and hollering, as a Halloween costume? To see a joke version of their ancestors portrayed in a farcical manner by the descendants of the people who murdered those same ancestors and dispossessed them of an entire continent?

Or even without the jokes and farces, what then? Imagine the alienation and horror of watching an overwhelmingly dominant people, whose ancestors invaded and destroyed your civilization, putting on the trappings of your civilization and pretending accurately to be your ancestors. I'd find it disturbing as hell if, say, the Martians landed, exterminated 95% of humanity and herded us onto reservations, and then started pretending to be humans.

...

Cultural appropriation as about humiliation, humiliation generated by having one's history or one's lived experiences put on display by people one lacks the leverage to influence. It's about the casual arrogance of not having to get other people's culture right because one will never, ever have to worry about offending them, since that will by definition have no meaningful consequences.

Now, there are likely to be cases where a cry of "cultural appropriation!" is just plain unreasonable. In my own opinion the sign language case is one such. But there are many, many cases where it is not unreasonable.
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Re: Multiculturalism v Cultural Appropriation

Post by Soontir C'boath » 2020-09-27 04:00am

I remember the argument we had years ago where American born Chinese (ie. people like me) couldn't even offer their viewpoint to the table on Chinese culture and matters. So having a person who's not even Chinese try to butt in? *nuclear bomb goes off*

Speaking of black hair styles in general, I think they should've eased the outrage that was coming out when it was trending among white women. Especially when it turned out they were ruining their hair. They could've had that as the focus rather than, "black people outrage over little things like hair styles again".
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Re: Multiculturalism v Cultural Appropriation

Post by Broomstick » 2020-09-27 06:53am

I think what really matters is how the minority culture views the action.

Native Americans have, for decades at least - made their objection to cultural appropriation clear, it's just that the mainstream culture didn't give a fuck. There's a whole lot to unpack there and I have to get ready for work so I'll just leave that statement where it is.

Other cultures have, it seems, been OK with a mainstream culture adopting aspects of their culture. I've never heard an Ashkenazi object to American English adopting Yiddish phrases or "kosher-style" deli food becoming common, as an example.

Other times it's more problematic. Black Americans have made a lot of money off White people enjoying their music (although sometimes that money is siphoned off), but there is friction sometimes - lack of credit, allowing Blacks to perform at a venue but not attend as customers in the Jim Crow days, certain words that are seen as OK for Black performers to use but not White... Without "Black music" American music would not be as we know it today, across multiple genres, but some of it does, very much, involve uncredited cultural appropriation that has gone on too long.

I'd like to live in a world where, if a minority culture says "Please don't use this unless you're fully a member of our group" that the rest of the world would respect that. I think if that was respected some of those cultures would be more comfortable with sharing parts of their culture - some. Not all. Not everyone wants everyone else to be them.
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Re: Multiculturalism v Cultural Appropriation

Post by Tribble » 2020-09-27 09:27am

This is a very subjective and difficult question to answer, as there will always be some people who object to any kind of multiculturalism / cultural appropriation.

That being said, IMO the intentions of the parties involved and what aspect of the culture they are appropriating are perhaps the most relevant aspects. IMO this also needs to be seen on a case-by-case basis.

For example, who would you judge more harshly? Someone wearing local clothing because it is the best choice for the environment and the person's own clothes aren't suitable? Or someone dressing up in an a minority culture's clothes for a photo op and/or Halloween costume? I would like to think that the vast majority of people would be more accommodating of the former rather than the ladder.
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Re: Multiculturalism v Cultural Appropriation

Post by Yodhrin » 2020-10-07 08:43pm

I'll be honest, I find the idea of cultural appropriation to be a fundamentally ridiculous concept, and a frankly bizarre one for anyone on the left to express given it seems firmly rooted both in a conception of "intellectual property" that has been browbeaten into the public by corporate interests over the last ~70 years, and in notions of blood and soil and heritage that seem far more at home in the minds of ethnic nationalists than socialists or liberals.

You cannot "own" something so ephemeral as a haircut, or a historical style of shirt or hat, or a musical instrument(the concept of it, I mean). Nor does someone making use of some aspect of a culture you feel attached to personally while not themselves having that same level of attachment actually deprive you of anything. My sense of Scottishness, such as it is, is not harmed or diminished by the endless parade of faintly silly Americans donning kilts and reciting Burns because their great great grandfather on their mother's side once walked within five paces of a glass of whisky. I have grave concerns about landowners in my country fencing off vast tracts of Scotland for their synthetically-maintained private grouse moors are based in the issues of environment & wildlife, inequality of ownership, public access and so on, if someone were to show up to a discussion on the subject and say their problem was that some of the landowners playing Laird and coming up with their own tartans weren't born in Scotland I genuinely don't know if such monumental pettiness would strike me dumb or make me laugh right in their face.

There are arguments to be made about being polite about using elements of other cultures - assigning proper credit where appropriate, trying to avoid actively causing offence where such offense is reasonable and so on - because that's just generally good behaviour in any circumstances, but the idea a given individual or committee or self-appointed twittermob should have the right to go up to another person and say "You are not allowed to wear/use/sing/paint/write about/etc that Thing because it's not yours" for no more reason than they share some quality gained through random accident of birth with the people or peoples who originated the Thing is madness.

And more than madness, in my opinion genuinely harmful. Much like modern critical theory-inspired concepts of anti-racism it divides and distances people rather than uniting them, it focuses on difference rather than commonalities, and it silos people off from each other in ways that are troublesome not just in terms of brewing resentment in a country's majority population or between nations, but also in terms of narrowing the scope of opportunities for the very minority or underrepresented groups it claims to be defending; I recall reading not long ago the lamentations of a black American author trying in vain to get their novel published because the same mentality that says "only X should be allowed to be creative with the culture of X" rapidly devolves into pigeonholing the X's themselves, and in his work neither the plot of the story or the characters spoke to the stereotypical "black experience" in modern America.

Not to mention that there's often vehement disagreement within minority and underrepresented groups about both the validity of cultural appropriation as a concept and about whether any particular instance qualifies or deserves censure. So what then is the threshold? Is a general sentiment among politically active members of the group - who are often not representative of wider views in their community - enough to trigger a bar on use? Should the proclamations of some committee or advocacy organisation, who often end up in their offices based on votes with pitiable turnouts, be the basis? If even a single person from an identifiable ethnic group or national polity or sexual minority etc etc finds the very idea of something associated with their culture being used by anyone outside of it offensive, are we all to forever refrain?

Much better, I believe, to return to advocating the benefits of mixing over monoculture, of creative freedom, and of finding common ground and unity wherever we can.

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Re: Multiculturalism v Cultural Appropriation

Post by Darth Yan » 2020-10-08 02:09pm

Appropriation is rather complex; sometimes elements of other cultures can be used in a way that's rather offensive and bigoted. It's HOW it's used essentially

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Re: Multiculturalism v Cultural Appropriation

Post by Simon_Jester » 2020-10-09 03:27pm

Yodhrin wrote:
2020-10-07 08:43pm
I'll be honest, I find the idea of cultural appropriation to be a fundamentally ridiculous concept, and a frankly bizarre one for anyone on the left to express given it seems firmly rooted both in a conception of "intellectual property" that has been browbeaten into the public by corporate interests over the last ~70 years, and in notions of blood and soil and heritage that seem far more at home in the minds of ethnic nationalists than socialists or liberals.

You cannot "own" something so ephemeral as a haircut, or a historical style of shirt or hat, or a musical instrument(the concept of it, I mean). Nor does someone making use of some aspect of a culture you feel attached to personally while not themselves having that same level of attachment actually deprive you of anything. My sense of Scottishness, such as it is, is not harmed or diminished by the endless parade of faintly silly Americans donning kilts and reciting Burns because their great great grandfather on their mother's side once walked within five paces of a glass of whisky. I have grave concerns about landowners in my country fencing off vast tracts of Scotland for their synthetically-maintained private grouse moors are based in the issues of environment & wildlife, inequality of ownership, public access and so on, if someone were to show up to a discussion on the subject and say their problem was that some of the landowners playing Laird and coming up with their own tartans weren't born in Scotland I genuinely don't know if such monumental pettiness would strike me dumb or make me laugh right in their face.

There are arguments to be made about being polite about using elements of other cultures - assigning proper credit where appropriate, trying to avoid actively causing offence where such offense is reasonable and so on - because that's just generally good behaviour in any circumstances, but the idea a given individual or committee or self-appointed twittermob should have the right to go up to another person and say "You are not allowed to wear/use/sing/paint/write about/etc that Thing because it's not yours" for no more reason than they share some quality gained through random accident of birth with the people or peoples who originated the Thing is madness.
The fundamental problem comes when there's a major power disparity between two groups, such that politeness becomes an asymmetric force.

The majority's passive power to force minorities to be 'polite' and conform to their collective expectations about their culture turns into an implement of control aimed at the minority, while the minority's ability to sustain its own subculture is constantly subverted by the inability to enforce standards of 'politeness' in how their subculture is adapted by their neighbors.

When you can't stop the majority around you from making a joke out of your religion, your art, or the way you express the troubles the majority itself created by oppressing you... The joke itself becomes a form of oppression.

...

Appropriation of the culture of Scotland by white Americans is largely irrelevant to Scotland because America is distant and inconsequential, and lacks the power to meaningfully shape Scotland's affairs.

Appropriation of the culture of Native Americans by white Americans is very relevant to Native Americans. Because to them, whites are the people who surround them, took all their ancestors' land except the shitty useless bits, and to this day enjoy huge advantages of compounded wealth and access to resources. To the point where if it weren't for deliberately engineered institutions, the native tribes would just... dissolve into nothingness as peoples, in all likelihood. There'd be nothing detectable left of them.

As such, the Native Americans have every reason to be desperate to do whatever they can to preserve the right of the surrounding whites to treat their culture with a measure of respect and dignity, to not just co-opt and stereotype bits of it into nothingness.

You have a lot less to fear from cultural appropriation when your culture isn't all you have.

...

Now, the remedy for this issue may not precisely resemble today's objections to cultural appropriation as they now exist, but the problem is real.
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Re: Multiculturalism v Cultural Appropriation

Post by Elheru Aran » 2020-10-10 01:07pm

As to the sign language thing: As a deaf person, I don't give a flying fuck if a hearing person wants to use sign, and if they're sincere about learning more than just a few words, good for them. Yes, there are some cultural issues there, but as long as you're respectful (actually learning words rather than miming gestures, for example), it's just a damn language. It's a way for people to communicate with each other. There's nothing about that that's particularly dependent upon 'deaf culture' other than the obvious 'this is a non-audible language' bit.

Now I'm not saying that hearing people won't get shit from deaf people for using sign language... but 99% of the time, it's going to be because they're doing it wrong, OR they're doing it to be rude (obscene gestures have the same meaning whether you're hearing or deaf, for the most part). There just aren't enough deaf people for most to have strong feelings for/against hearing people using 'their' language, and most deaf people in their lives will encounter hearing people (teachers, interpreters, parents, etc) using sign language to be quite accustomed to the idea of hearing people using sign language.

The only thing I see unusual about the situation is two hearing people using sign language with each other, but I don't have a problem with that, especially considering the context of the incident (two siblings of a deaf person)-- obviously they already know sign language and they're at a funeral, so they can't exactly be talking aloud in a crowd. It's conceivable to me that there are deaf people with enough of a proprietary feeling about sign language that they would get upset in this situation, but honestly? A deaf person, seeing two (presumably) hearing people using sign language with each other, is far more likely to approach them and start a conversation than to get upset about it on the Internet. If they do? It's pretty clear who the asshole is in that situation.
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Re: Multiculturalism v Cultural Appropriation

Post by K. A. Pital » 2020-10-14 12:03pm

Starglider wrote:
2020-09-25 08:04pm
Eternal_Freedom wrote:
2020-09-25 05:52pm
Does that term even mean anything or is it another Internet buzzword for people to manufacture outrage over?
...obviously? The only circumstance where you could even begin to make an actual argument that this is a bad thing is when foreign cultural artefacts are commercialised and also modified in a way that makes them more convenient for the seller but misrepresentative of the original culture. Generally though it's just one of the many arbtirary guilt/rage generating mechanisms used in the performative outrage/wokeness subculture.
Dumbglider’s snarky comments, as usual, demonstrate an unhealthy fixation on modern “woke” Westerners (I guess the previous, unwoke ones who literally plundered nations’ cultural treasures, like entire Greek and Roman buildings, or Chinese relics, were more to his liking), but add nothing of substance to the thread. How predictable.

Of course, the reality is that a lot of people don’t like seeing blackface no more, so you are left with ranting about woke rage cancel sjws. I mean, it’s pretty obvious why blackface, “redskins” etc. shit is offensive, and so normal people don’t do that any more, except a bunch of retrogrades like yourself.

The fact that society has recognized some negative (and often racist) examples of cultural appropriation and stopped doing it, doesn’t mean all instance of it are bad, but it means your pathetic idea that it’s just part of a “wokeness subculture” is wrong.

It’s actually normal culture today, and your alt-right redpilled shit is the fringe. If you disagree, try putting on blackface and we’ll see how long you last in society.
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Re: Multiculturalism v Cultural Appropriation

Post by Yodhrin » 2020-10-14 03:39pm

Simon_Jester wrote:
2020-10-09 03:27pm
Yodhrin wrote:
2020-10-07 08:43pm
-space snip-
The fundamental problem comes when there's a major power disparity between two groups, such that politeness becomes an asymmetric force.

The majority's passive power to force minorities to be 'polite' and conform to their collective expectations about their culture turns into an implement of control aimed at the minority, while the minority's ability to sustain its own subculture is constantly subverted by the inability to enforce standards of 'politeness' in how their subculture is adapted by their neighbors.

When you can't stop the majority around you from making a joke out of your religion, your art, or the way you express the troubles the majority itself created by oppressing you... The joke itself becomes a form of oppression.
I think you've misunderstood what I mean about politeness.

There is *taking* offense, ie when your own personal experiences and opinions cause you to react negatively to something someone else has said or done regardless of that other person's intent, and there is *giving* offense, ie purposefully and intentionally using whatever method - in this case someone else's cultural taboos - to demonstrate to them your disdain.

The latter is bad and should be avoided wherever possible unless you're doing it to make a very specific point in an impactful way because no other approach you've attempted has worked. The former is mere disagreement, and rational civilised adults are supposed to be capable of disagreeing with each other without trying to construct a moralising narrative that casts one side as irredeemable "oppressors".
Appropriation of the culture of Scotland by white Americans is largely irrelevant to Scotland because America is distant and inconsequential, and lacks the power to meaningfully shape Scotland's affairs.
Setting aside whether or not that's actually true - and the way those opposed to Scottish independence courted and then trumpeted a critical statement on the matter from Obama during the campaign a few years ago, as well as the current influence the US Congress wields over the Brexit situation between the UK, the EU, and another "distant" source of frequently appropriated culture Ireland suggests to me that it's not to the absolute degree you imply - that isn't the metric that is used by the vast majority of people who consider "cultural appropriation" to be a serious problem that should be "called out". The metric used is "does someone from Culture X find it offensive if people not from Culture X use any element of that culture in anything other than a purely passive and scholarly fashion".
Appropriation of the culture of Native Americans by white Americans is very relevant to Native Americans. Because to them, whites are the people who surround them, took all their ancestors' land except the shitty useless bits, and to this day enjoy huge advantages of compounded wealth and access to resources. To the point where if it weren't for deliberately engineered institutions, the native tribes would just... dissolve into nothingness as peoples, in all likelihood. There'd be nothing detectable left of them.

As such, the Native Americans have every reason to be desperate to do whatever they can to preserve the right of the surrounding whites to treat their culture with a measure of respect and dignity, to not just co-opt and stereotype bits of it into nothingness.

You have a lot less to fear from cultural appropriation when your culture isn't all you have.
See to my mind, this is conflating two entirely distinct issues - cultural appropriation and cultural imperialism. A people absolutely has the right to preserve their own culture, and in the event their culture exists within the context of a larger dominant culture, it's wrong for that dominant culture to try to eradicate the minority culture.

"Cultural appropriation", however, doesn't do that in any meaningful sense, because the existence of an "appropriated" element of a minority culture within a work created by a member of a dominant culture does not negate the existence of the original element or the context in which it exists. This is what I mean when I talk about the whole concept of "appropriation" being founded in notions of "intellectual property" and "ownership" informed by corporate propaganda - a white-anglo chef making Mexican-Chinese fusion recipes for their restaurant doesn't cause traditional Mexican or Chinese recipes to vanish from the fabric of reality; a girl wearing a traditional Chinese dress to her prom dance doesn't make that style of clothing pop out of existence; some frat boy wearing a headdress for Halloween because they liked western movies doesn't eradicate the knowledge of the real significance and history of that item from the minds of Native Americans; the existence of Rock did not make Blues cease to be. They are not in fact "stealing the car" when they draw upon elements of those cultures, because those elements are information, which is not destroyed by use.
Now, the remedy for this issue may not precisely resemble today's objections to cultural appropriation as they now exist, but the problem is real.
I don't agree. Preserve and promote your culture, by all means. Argue that a minority culture existing in the context of a dominant majority culture should be given funding to aid in that goal, and I'll be foursquare behind you. Argue that we should be at pains to educate people about the debts that popular culture owes to the sources it draws from, and I can't help but agree. But the moment someone starts stamping their feet and demanding the right to control whether and how and to what extent other people are allowed to interact with and make use of that culture, for no better reason than an accident of birth and a sense of umbrage over the notion that whatever version of that culture becomes part of the public consciousness is insufficiently "pure", that's where I believe they part ways with reason and reality.

Human creativity is a fundamentally iterative process. All cultures that presently exist are built on the foundations constructed of elements - frequently shorn of all their original context - of previous cultures, which in turn rest on the compacted ashes of the countless cultures that faded into obscurity. No culture is entitled to popularity.

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