Sunday, September 25, 2011

Integrity of Personality

As a result of miscommunicated intention between myself and a friend at a party, I've begun to contemplate a theory I have about something I call integrity of personality. Following up beliefs I hold to be true about purity, I have endeavored to answer the question of what makes a person a genuinely kind person. We cannot assume that mere kind deeds make a person kind, because we don't know their intentions, so therefore I ruled out deeds altogether. This may seem rather too quick, but since we seldom know the true intentions and motivations behind the actions of others it would seem that eliminating the most unpredictable variable would be a prudent action.

I do not wish to flesh out this theory of integrity of personality. It would take many blog entries to do so, and without solid evidence it will always remain a theory that can be observed but not proven. Instead, I have opted to give the interested reader a taste of what the implications would be if this theory were correct. As an aloof Christian, I have become disenfranchised with many superstitious beliefs about what it means to be a kind person. Fundamentalism amongst the charismatic circles of the Christian religion would have an individual believing that outside of God there is no such thing as kindness. They would also have an individual believe that righteousness in deed is essential to being a kind person. When I refer to righteousness I am in fact referring to sexual purity. Often times the definition of righteousness and purity are blurred by the belief that righteousness is obtained through purity. While commonly ignored, this de facto belief denies the basic tenet that there are none who are good except God. If all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God as it says in Romans 3:23, then no amount of purity will save your soul more than sexual ambiguity will. I do not deny that once we have been given new life in Christ that we are called to live differently from the rest of the world, but amongst the fundamentalists this had devolved into works-based righteousness which is in direct conflict with Paul's words to Timothy in the second letter. (2 Timothy 1:9)

Therefore, the implications of the theory behind integrity of personality is this: it doesn't matter if you're the most chaste and sober individual if you are not a kind person. However, if a person is otherwise morally ambiguous and still a kind person then they are demonstrating integrity of personality. Contrary to the opinion of the charismatic fundamentalists, there can be such a thing as kindness of personality without chastity. Feminists should rejoice, since the implications of this are a major undercut to the patriarchal narrative that plagues Christian tradition.

Thoughts, comments, questions, and the like are appreciated as always.

Hoc est verum,

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Prelude: Reactionary vs. Revolutionary

If this whets your appetite, then you'll be pleased to know that I am planning to write a novel for NaNoWriMo about this concept of Reactionary vs. Revolutionary.

College students are probably the most laughable kinds of revolutionaries. They begin to study some other political systems or learn about some injustice in the world and think that they're going to make things better by doing something. They may start using some fancy words, or kid themselves into thinking that going to protests with militant socialists will somehow help the situation. They read about Che and start wearing those ridiculous shirts with Che's face plastered on the front. They may begin to fall out of favor with the local authority, opting to give them the middle finger, all the while living under the protection of the same. They criticize administrations of all kinds for their lack this or that, but in the end they're mostly just making noise.

It reminds me a lot of the high school students who wrote their own version of the "Pledge of Allegiance" and proceeded to show up late to school in the mornings so that they could recite their version of the Pledge (which omitted God, allegiance to the State, and pretty much everything that made the original what it was). The video they made showing off their progressive-thinking act of civil disobedience showed the student organization behind all this was a group of liberal kids who had a history of jumping on the bandwagon of the next most progressive thing to-do. These kids were in high school, an abysmal time for many in many different ways, yet they were claiming to be on the forefront of progressivism? They're little act of rebellion did nothing more than put a few bad marks on their attendance sheet and gave Yahoo! News something to talk about for a day while a few thousand viewers commented on it like the peanut gallery they are.

As I have gotten older, I too have grown dissatisfied with the status quo. I have begun to question all that I know; challenging it all with what I am learning. This trial by fire as all the tradition I grew up with passes through the flame of reason with hope that all that remains is what's worth embracing of the old traditions. The problem comes when my emotions are running high and I want nothing to do with the traditions of my parents or of the culture I live in, and when the flame of reason doesn't consume everything, I am quickly left with something that makes sense; I just don't want to accept that it does. This rejection of something that makes sense on the principle that it is a part of what you want nothing to do with is a central them of what I called Reactionary.

Reactionary is called so because the actions that stem from this type of thinking are usually a reaction to something. Some people might look at the hippies of the 1960's who were into bra burning, nudism, sexual flippancy, and all sorts of other things and say, "Huh, what a silly group of people." The sad part is that we can find examples of the same type of reactionary radicalism on campuses today. This is not to be confused with Revolutionary activists on campus who are genuinely seeking to change the way things are and (hopefully) improve something about the environment of the campus.

To be continued in November in my novel...

Hoc est verum,

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Inconsistent Significance of Marriage

Marriage plays different roles in cultures throughout the world over. For this topic, it seems appropriate to address the issue from an overarching view of the culture as a whole like Benedict does in Patterns of Culture as opposed to how marriage affects the individual like Schieffelin in Performance and the Cultural Construction of Reality. The logic behind this is that I want to ask questions while drawing comparisons and contrasts to the marriage rituals from the cultures of the Zuñi, Dobu, and Kwakiutl with that of American marriage rituals. Because marriage rituals is relative to the couple, their families, and the cultural heritage they share; it is more accurate to say that I am comparing and contrasting the three cultures described in her book with the idealized and often stereotypical concept of the “American marriage ritual”.

The image of an American marriage ritual is in the setting of church filled with family and friends. The groom stands at the altar which is at the front of the church and is accompanied by his best man, the priest/pastor, and other select few who make up the grooms portion of the wedding party. The bride and her portion of the wedding party make their way out in the oft long-awaited moment as the tune, “Here Comes the Bride” plays to signal her walk down the center aisle of the church. After a speech from the priest or pastor, the bride and groom exchange vows of love, endurance, and faithfulness who then recite the words, “With this ring, I thee wed” in an exchange of rings which are brought to them by a member of the party given the apt title of ring bearer. The religious official gives them new names pronouncing them, “Mister and Misses [first and last name of the groom]”. After all is said and done, the procession of the wedding party and all guests watching make their way to another location for a party in which food and drink is served as well as toasts of best wishes to the newly wedded couple primarily from the best man and close friends or family of the couple.

While there are many aspects of the American marriage ritual which could be analyzed, such as the expenses incurred to make such an ideal ceremony possible, it is not feasible to make an accurate evaluation of how much is spent on average without going beyond the scope of the readings assigned. It is noteworthy that the preparation and planning for such an event is considerable. Many months go into planning the wedding from invitations sent out to potential guests to catering for the wedding reception. Every detail is carefully thought-out and taken into account. Some couples and their families elect to hire an individual who specializes in coordinating all the aspects of the planning to relieve some of the stress which often ensues from trying to organize such a grandiose day. The emphasis is mainly placed on making the wedding “her day”, meaning that focus is on the bride and appealing to her fantasies of how the wedding should be. The groom also has input, but his contributions are not considered central to making the day of the wedding perfect.

In stark contrast, the Zuñi put a very small emphasis on their marriage rituals. The boy goes to the father of the girl whom he wishes to marry and awaits for the father to ask the boy about what he came for, and the boy replies that he is seeking his daughter, at which point the daughter is brought out to answer for herself. If she consents, her mother prepares a place for them to retire together. The bride washes her grooms’ hair and for four days brings her now mother-in-law a basket of fine corn flower. Nothing more is made of the event, which points to a larger underscore in Zuñi culture that they avoid expressions of strong emotion.

Divorce in Zuñi culture is about as equally lacking in ceremony. The wife need only to make it a point to attend ceremonial feasts, have a private meeting with a potential new husband, and then to leave her husbands’ few possessions outside of the house which effectively sends him back to live with his mother. Despite this, Benedict notes that marriages on the whole of Zuñi society last the majority of a lifetime (Patterns of Culture, 74-5).

In Dobu culture, a boy freely travels nightly from house to house having affairs with eligible women in a neighboring community. When he grows tired of moving from one to another, he begins to awake to late in the morning and thereby not avoiding being trapped by the soon-to-be mother-in-law as she blocks the door effectively preventing his escape. In view of the public, the couple sit upon a mat, presenting themselves as betrothed to the girl’s village community. The boy and his brothers then work for approximately a year preparing crops to present to the family of the girl. They consummate the marriage with with the wife and husband eating each others’ mothers’ cooking. From then on, the husband provides food for himself in his own garden and for his wife and children in her garden. Marriages do not necessarily end in divorce, but take a more form of passive-aggressive abuse towards each other’s property as a result of discovery of extra-marital affairs occur. Though conciliatory acts by the village community on behalf of their respective married member are made, it is usually only enough to keep the couple together in bitter discontent. The entire marriage ritual underscores the importance of food for the Dobu, as their environment is not conducive to agricultural productivity (Patterns of Culture, 130, 134-5, 140).

In Kwakiutl culture, marriage in almost strictly a business transaction. The boy makes his bid for the girl in an aggressive competition directly against the father for the right to marry his daughter. The more renown the father is, the more the boy must pay in order to acquire his bride. This hostility can sometimes lead to physical violence and even death. The groom is also forced to run a gauntlet of the father-in-law’s men whose sole purpose to inflict pain upon him. The father of the bride forces the family of groom to endure the blistering heat of the fire he stirs while be subjected to mockery and threats of death should the groom fail to acquire his daughter. If the groom is successful, he makes a final payment to retain the bride. The father of the bride then bestows upon the son-in-law all of his titles and wealth for the children his daughter will have. The father-in-law sends his payment down river, which is then sunk by the friends of the son-in-law, which in turn causes the father-in-law to pay with interest what he originally owed(Patterns of Culture, 203-5).

Divorce for the Kwakiutl comes in the form of dissatisfaction with the payments he has received to compensate for the children his wife has had. The father-in-law is then left with his daughter and grandchildren and not paid for the right to see the children. This type of dispute can result in a fiercely competitive form of material destruction. If the father-in-law is forced to destroy most or all of what is valuable to him, then the son-in-law has effectively dissolved the marriage and is free to move on to another woman who will bring him higher status through the wealth and titles that will pass to his children through his father-in-law (Patterns of Culture, 208).

Looking at these three cultures in comparison and contrast to the American marriage ritual, I have to wonder what the significance is that there are similarities between them all. For example, divorce in America may be high, but one of the common reasons for divorce is a spouse having an extra-marital affair. While the Dobu culture has no real escape clause for a disguntled spouse who has caught their partner having an affair, Americans can easily file paperwork and go their separate ways. The father of any children from a now broken-up marriage in America is expected to pay child-support, which mirrors somewhat similarly the payment a son-in-law must pay to see his children in the Kwakiutl. The Zuñi, as pointed out earlier, have rather relaxed attitudes towards marriage altogether, yet they do not have high divorce rates.

As someone with high regard for my cultural heritage of marriage rituals, I am forced to ask why it is that the divorce among those who share my heritage is so high. To hypothesize, I would call into question the significance of marriage in my culture. It should be noted that while there is a semblance of the American marriage ritual present in my culture, when I refer to my cultural heritage of marriage rituals they are somewhat more heavy on the emphasis of religious importance in the marriage. For the longest time, I was under the impression that casual marriage equated to casual divorce, but that is simply not true for the Zuñi. I can only underscore the significance of their anti-conflict stance in marriage as an explanation for the ability for their marriages to outlast marriages among the people I share a cultural heritage with. Until such a time as when I am empowered with the resources to conduct my own research, I may never be able to know for certain what it is about marriage rituals within my cultural heritage that could contribute to their failure.


Benedict, Ruth. Patterns of Culture. New York City: Mariner, 2005. Print.