Comments on: Letters reveal a troubling side of Alistair Cooke Thu, 21 Jul 2016 07:57:19 +0000 hourly 1 By: davidrsmith Sat, 08 Dec 2012 13:44:00 +0000 I’ve searched around for ‘ The Custom of the Country’ edited by David Meghan – can anyone suggest where / how I might read it?

By: paintcan Wed, 25 Jul 2012 23:53:10 +0000 “Perhaps the future will allow no room for cultural or national chauvinism?” I should have added: except on demand!

By: paintcan Mon, 23 Jul 2012 19:06:43 +0000 “spear” should have been “spread”.

By: paintcan Mon, 23 Jul 2012 19:01:38 +0000 @usagadfly- Thanks for the reply. I suppose you are right that all cultures are not equal but it is very difficult to rank them without examples. I don’t think Europeans tend to feel they are living in benighted countries with inferior cultures. I’m quite sure most Chinese don’t. I’m not sure there are any countries anymore that really believe they should feel inferior except in the world of economic and military power. The military and economic power is more likely to arouse fear and resentment actually. The early immigrants came here to make a living for the most part and that’s what so many legal and illegal immigrants still want. But all the countries in the western hemisphere were attracting large numbers of immigrants around the turn of the century.

I once met a Nigerian migrant who was working his way around Europe. I met him on a train to Naples and borrowed his cell phone to inform the person I was meeting that I was almost there. He knew his way around the station and was helpful. I tried to stay in touch but the connection faded years ago. The USA is not the only country on earth and all the developed and developing countries share so much popular knowledge and culture in common, that it is almost impossible to see vast cultural differences anywhere in Europe unless you look to the out of the way and neglected corners of those countries. Hardly any place in Europe seems to be neglected or under-noticed. Everywhere seems to be “consumer friendly” and it doesn’t seem to matter what nationality one is or the language one speaks. I don’t speak any other than the one I was born with (and still can’t spell reliably) and I felt at home in some ways. Urban life is almost the same anyway whenever you see the most up to date places. The world is designed and built by people who have studied in many other countries and not just here. The ideas spear faster than many realize.

The “melting pot” was always more a slogan than fact. The country used to have more pronounced regional differences but they seem so remote and watered down now that we are into the 4th, 5th or 6th generations since my Grandparent’s day. I feel a pang of nostalgia for it, but they also had their resentments about the way they were treated. It did not totally sour them to their new life. They got more than they lost back then. They were children when they passed through Ellis Island and their parents barely spoke English. They did what they had to survive and tended to do what they were told.

Modern people are not so willing to do what they are told, because more advanced educational backgrounds (world wide) make that almost impossible to do unthinkingly.

BTW – I had an Aunt Concetta or Consiglia (I can’t quite remember) but the immigration officer couldn’t read or pronounce her name and she became “Mini” from thereon. Maybe we should thank him – Mini is so much easier to spell. Sometimes those guys would use a translation guide but I don’t think “Mini” was one picked from the book. He may have been humorous and thought she was acute little girl. But “mini…” wasn’t a common expression back then so I don’t know?

I tend to agree that the country is moving toward some kind of inherited aristocracy like the old European regimes. Issac Assimov once wrote that all democracies tend, over time, to devolve into aristocracies. Now it looks like we are no exception.

I don’t think anyone’s little candles of culture have a chance of escaping the blinding lights of mass media and we are all gumming our chops. Somehow the computer algorithms will rule more than we can imagine. Perhaps the future will allow no room for cultural or national chauvinism?

By: jlj Mon, 23 Jul 2012 18:16:34 +0000 What an interesting, insightful article about what sounds like an equally interesting, insighful edit by Mr. Meghan of “The Custom of the Country.” Thank you. None of this truly diminishes Mr. Cooke, but rather points out that turning anyone into an icon is a very, very dangerous thing. Richard Hofstadter got it right.

By: usagadfly Mon, 23 Jul 2012 18:00:47 +0000 @paintcan:

Assimilation always had a goal of incorporating immigrants into the existing culture in such a way that their culture, language and patterns of thought would become indistinguishable from the existing culture.

In other words, immigrants were to become northwestern European in outlook and specifically British, which was that predominate ethnic stock in the USA at its founding. One of the problems with “racism” was and is that it puts up obstacles to this goal. It was believed that humans were born with a nature that was a “blank slate” or a tabula raza, and therefore you could make people into anyone you wished through “education”. Human characteristics were the product of the environment and could be made “equal”. But times change, and goals with them. The USA no longer believes that a “melting pot” is a good idea and instead seeks something more akin to a stew.

The only remnants of assimilation are those which keep the powerful powerful and the rich rich. And what governmental pressures that remain pressure the original “white” society, not immigrants. That is the opposite of “assimilation”, the opposite of the “melting pot”. And those who support this “new” system are rewarded while those who criticize it are ostracized. This path leads to significant social trouble.

So, yes, assimilation is dead. Long live the coalition of independent cultures. But not all cultures are equal, are they? People bridge gaps, and only voluntarily. Not machines. Not guns or prisons. Not discrimination laws whether “positive” or “negative”, if such a distinction is possible.

By: GCHodge Mon, 23 Jul 2012 13:41:43 +0000 I think a person or persons can be judged out side there time, if they only focused on self interest or deny the the existance of a problem that effects others. Especially, if they are in a leadership role of a country where that is their purpose of holding that office is to ensure all people are being treated fairly.

I find it interesting when people use the inferenece of igornance as to what is going on around them as a way to for other now to judge them. People the do not look out for people when they hold the power to render fairness should judge out this times, if not for their handling of situations then for their igornance as a leader not to get involved and rectify the problem.

By: Urban_Guerilla Mon, 23 Jul 2012 09:25:58 +0000 Whatever his background in Lancashire, Cooke played the part of the English archetype (upper middle, if not upper class).

You are lacking in your history if you don’t know that lot loved the south in the civil war and were bang in with the Southern ‘Gentlemen’ ever since.

He may sound like a liberal to you, I always thought he was a Tory.

By: ChicagoFats Mon, 23 Jul 2012 05:56:48 +0000 I could not improve on PatientType’s comment if you paid me handsomely. However, I would add in support of his reasoning that knowledge and understanding do not come to us out of context. When your upbringing and social environment are arranged to make you feel comfortable with an unjust status quo, you need exposure to the consequences of that status quo as well as some triggering action to get your thinking running in contrary paths. Hard to blame a white upper crust liberal in 1954 for thinking that separate but truly equal would be a far better arrangement than the one that was evident all around him.

Sir Harold’s piece is thoughtful and seems to attempt to find balance in assessing Cooke’s contributions, yet it still seems (to me) another example of the criticism so often directed at people, whatever their social status, who wish for things to be better and dare to speak some of their less controversial concepts and are pilloried for not being enlightened enough, vocal enough, or willing to sacrifice enough, in support of a cause which inevitably begins generating a highly visible class of true believers. We saw a lot of this in the 60s. The phrase, “either you’re part of the solution, or you’re part of the problem” frequently assumed that the speaker’s idea of a solution was the only one that mattered.

To have a man of Alistair Cooke’s background and influence speaking out in any way against segregation and racial injustice was a positive force. Perhaps he didn’t totally get it. Or perhaps he did, and chose not to engage in a fight he could not possibly win. Why damn the gentleman now for not being a white Huey Newton?

By: paintcan Mon, 23 Jul 2012 01:49:18 +0000 @txgadfly – what do you mean assimilation is dead? People I know and some celebrities have adopted children from other countries and across color lines. What can one retreat to if, as you say, assimilation is dead? Newcomers to a country will want to learn the second language but perhaps try harder to keep their first. They may not be conformists the way the Ellis Island immigrants sometimes submitted to anglicized versions of their names or even attempted to forget their own ways of life and customs. My grandparents were encouraged – even humiliated – into forgetting their ethnic roots and even the first language. The modern world is making it possible, it seems to me, to assimilate easily, but to exactly what is a question? Modern immigrants seem to be able to keep their identities until they find their places. Modern media seems to be creating a world that differs in language and cultural emphasis only. The ideas that are presented seem to be global.

I also have a question about your use of the term “tabula raza” or blank slate. What theory of the blank slate with descendants? I don’t understand the reference? I thought the human race originated in Africa? It wasn’t a blank slate. I’m too old to believe in the Garden of Eden.

If not assimilation, than what? Cultural or legal miscegenation is really an insult to the other’s entire being.

Alexis de Tocqueville suggested in his history of the French Revolution than the Convention may have been so willing to annihilate the entire class of Aristocrats in France (over 300,000 people) because they were a deeply entrenched caste system and insisted on marrying only within their own class. They had built a gilded railing around their gene pool. They did so because they did not want their wealth dispersed and it became unthinkable, after centuries of intermarriage, that any one of their members would marry beneath their status. The large disparities of income and the difficulty of rising in class-riven societies made it desirable – almost as a matter of life and death – to rise to the top and close ranks. The Britsh, he mentions, did not close ranks genetically, so to speak. It was still possible in Britain to marry well above one’s station if one could weather the withering looks. The 18th century was apparently more open minded than the 19tth.

Other than for those questions, I think the rest of your comment is right on.

Artificial insemination makes it possible to alter the racial characteristics or one’s own offspring. Why shouldn’t someone consider that except that it might confuse the neighbors? I live in a rural neighborhood that is primarily white and it sometimes feels like a reservation. It is easy to become xenophobic and “anti” many types of ethnicity up here because other people with other ethnicities seem to be a rarity. And in spite of the fact that the entire state is not very large – it can feel crowded simply because many have gotten used to less congestion. It must be hard for foreigners who do not have an old New England ancestry to feel at home in a rural area like this because they are conspicuous in their uniqueness and can face some polite but still subtle exclusion, I suppose? New Englanders tend to be reserved. The Chinese who own the restaurants are durable. They keep their minds on their business and I think “assimilation” will happen when they have a better grasp of the language. But they may sense a certain resentment of the mainland because of economic issues. But no one has harassed them or vandalized their homes of businesses. People in this area don’t seem to be very nasty and the law would never permit it.

Perhaps in the not too distant future people will actually be designing their offspring. In fact – human beings may not actually have the same genetic code by them. They might very well be altered for medical or cosmetic reasons? For example the gene that determines steatopygia as well as a number of other genes governing other maladies could possibly be turned off or reprogrammed? If one had one’s genes altered would one still be considered a human being? My answer would be yes because the changes were built on existing “material”. And the future may not be at all spooked by the possibilities.

But assimilation in the sense my Grandparents understood it is almost beside the point now because of the ability of artificial intelligence to bridge gaps of language and culture. Is that what you mean by assimilation is dead?