Cultural Appropriation vs. Hybrid Vigor

“Cultural appropriation”.  That seems to be the big thing these days to prove that people who aren’t fully in lockstep with the far left are really “racists” and other forms of badthinkers.

Wear a hairstyle that someone claims as being from their ancestry (even if yours had it too)?  Cultural appropriation.

Jewelry that someone of a particular ethnicity claims as “theirs” (even if others wore similar jewelry in the past)?  Cultural appropriation.

Want to cook something from a culture other than your own, especially if you mix in elements not original to that cultures cuisine (never mind that the culture’s cuisine itself started as a fusion of cultural elements)?  Cultural appropriation.

In days past we considered the enforced separation of ethnicities and cultures to be segregation and a bad thing.  Today it’s encourages in the name of avoiding “cultural appropriation.”

This is a very foolish approach indeed.

In biology there is a concept called “Heterosis”, more colloquially known as “Hybrid Vigor”.  In biology it’s the case where a cross-breed is stronger, fitter, or otherwise superior to either of the parent lines.  It’s why seed companies sell hybrid corn.  Indeed, the whole field of selective breeding relies on it–two lines, each with their own particular strengths, brought together to produce a hybrid that combines the strengths of both.

And cultures work the same way.  Only the most isolated of cultures on the planet, tucked away in little pockets of the world, are not the result of absorbing and adapting ideas from other cultures.  And even then, we can’t be sure since these isolated cultures tend to lack any written history and oral histories become unreliable with remarkable rapidity.  We don’t know how they originated or what other cultures might have influenced them.

Every culture has adopted elements of other cultures whether progenitors or neighbors.  The phonetic alphabet of the Phoenicians made it’s way, in modified form to the Greeks, from there to the Romans, and from there throughout Europe.  By reading this, you are engaging in Cultural Appropriation from the Phoenicians.

Many people figured out the idea of using gold and silver as a medium of trade but had its weaknesses–ensuring the purity of the metal and the accuracy of the weights being chief among them.  Then the idea of taking pieces of metal of known weight and known purity and stamping them with imprints making the first coins.  This happened in Anatolia (modern Turkey); ancient writers credit the invention of both coins and retail shops with a fixed location to the ancient Kingdom of Lydia.  This quickly spread around the Mediterranean and East along the Silk Road to eastern Asia.  Every time you exchange coins, or shop in a store with a fixed address, you are Culturally Appropriating from the Kingdom of Lydia (or modern Turkey, if you prefer).

Rome was the undisputed king of adopting anything and everything that made them stronger.  Whether religion and the alphabet from the Greeks, later another religion from the folks in the Levant, cavalry from Germanic tribes (and many of the Germanic people as well), and armored cataphracts from the Persians, anything and everything was grist for the mill.  You might say they were the original melting pot.  And the result of that?  Rome lasted as a continuous civilization from its founding in 753 BC (according to myth and archeological evidence suggests mid 8th century BC so it’s in the rough ballpark) to the final fall of the Byzantine Empire (itself a continuation of the Roman Empire in the East) which we can date as the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD.  That’s 2106 years of continuity.  There was a reason that Charlemagne was crowned “Emperor of the Romans”, why later nations would style themselves after the Roman Empire.  Rome was the supreme example they had of not only strength but longevity–and it achieved that by adopting everything it could use from the cultures around it and throwing away the things it could not.  This constant growing, constant changing, constant adopting new ways, both internally developed and from others is why The Byzantines of 1400 AD would have been unrecognizable to the Latins of 800 BC, but that’s the secret.  That’s why it lasted 2100 years.  Continuous, ongoing, hybrid vigor.

Any civilization that is healthy and growing is going to do the same thing.  To do otherwise is to fall into stagnation and decline.  This is the inescapable lesson of history.  This is why the Aztecs fell to Cortez–a handful of Europeans with a handful of gunpowder weapons and a supply line that stretched back across the ocean in a tenuous Age of Sail line, would never have been enough had not the Aztec strength been a brittle strength after long ossification and a lack of new vigor.

Hybrid vigor, what some people criticize as “cultural appropriation” is what makes a culture strong and vibrant.

So why are people trying to stifle it?  Is the stagnation and decline of our own culture their goal?

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9 thoughts on “Cultural Appropriation vs. Hybrid Vigor”

  1. Dynamic cultures borrow shamelessly. By that I mean a culture that is innovating in many areas – literature, art, movies and tv, manufacturing, sciences, technology – will look to any source to see what can be learned. And then take that, improve upon it, and and then see it borrowed by other cultures.
    Motion pictures were invented in the US. The Japanese made films, some of which were copied by US studios (7 Samurai, The Magnificent 7) . British tv shows are bought for showing in the US, and some US shows are shown in Britain.
    “Anyway, my coffee’s cold and I’m gettin’ told that I gotta get back to work” (British rock reference there). Cultural appropriation is just another tool to direct the lives of others, I much prefer the dynamism and variety produced by cultural borrowing.

    1. Accusations of cultural appropriation are a tool for control. Actually appropriating culture, borrowing good ideas from others, is good.

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