American Cultural Blinders

June 21, 2018 at 1:10 am 5 comments

Being native-born American is like being from this large, very wealthy and influential family that is well-known for doing many great deeds, but also has done many ethically questionable things that helped make them gain their wealth and power. The problem is, you don’t even know what many of those things are, but when you interact with people from other families (countries) they hold you accountable to some degree for those actions. Sometimes I find out what country someone is from either in person & online, and at the back of my mind I wonder what we’ve done to them? Any proxy wars, puppet governments or corporate colonialism? Or sometimes I run into people that are really great fans of U.S. policy towards their country in a way that makes me cringe. It’s great that we supported that wretched dictator, because at least he was anti-Communist!

As Americans we often don’t even realize what many of our cultural assumptions are especially if we haven’t had the chance to travel much. Even when we do travel we may get the sanitized or oversimplified tourist version of a country. And since American culture is so spread throughout the world it’s tricky to know what is already familiar or unfamiliar to people in other countries. I often both over- and underestimate cultural similarities and familiarity with American cultural tidbits when interacting with Canadian and British friends and acquaintances for example. And that’s just with two other Anglosphere countries!  I pride myself in being more cosmopolitan and savvy about different countries compared to the average native born American, but that’s a really low bar! As the saying goes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and I’ve found that admitting that I don’t know much and just slowing down and listening to people and observing goes a long way in reducing misunderstandings. I’ve so far travelled to both Canada and Mexico, which is more than many people have but still, not very far afield culturally.

So I was going thru Melas the Hellene’s Polemical Topics in Polytheism and trying to respond to the questions but found that the way they were framed didn’t quite work for me. But I couldn’t quite articulate why. Then I figured it out, they just didn’t quite work in an American cultural context. This is an unexpected problem for me to have, I’m rather spoiled since so much of the Internet- especially the Pagan/polytheist blogosphere that I run into consists of Americans and heavily American influenced viewpoints. I’m glad to find more blogs from different cultural perspectives and written in various languages, though I really have to go out of my way to seek them out. I thought I might have to re-frame the topics to my cultural context.  I’m often not sure when it’s necessary or helpful to explain aspects of American culture since often times other people throughout the world understand us better than we do ourselves! Then later I read thru more of Melas’ posts and realized that he himself was raised in the United States then moved to Greece. Finding that out definitely adds some context to his various opinions on American culture, Greek culture and Hellenic polytheism. I’d be interested to see other Hellenic polytheists (whether of Greek ancestry or not) weigh in. I don’t know much about Greek or Greek-American culture, my experience is pretty much limited to a attending a Greek-American festival held by an Orthodox church in my city and visiting the Greek area of Chicago. Also there’s this movie I’ve seen that stars Nia Vardalos, but I’m not going to mention the title of it, I suspect the association is probably annoying enough!


But here’s another essay that I found by a Greek-American polytheist that seemed to me a helpful moderate perspective between totally divorcing Hellenic polytheism from modern Greek culture and people and being stuck on ancient Greece and believing the practice should only be restricted to people of Greek descent. As a person of Irish/Scottish/English/German heritage who has worshipped Greek gods but would like to better understand their cultural context, I found it very insightful and I also saw many parallels with my experiences connecting to people from or in Ireland. 




Entry filed under: American, Politics/Culture, Sociology. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. solsdottir  |  June 21, 2018 at 3:57 am

    Enjoyed your post, allthough it did make me think of the old Mark Critch videos where he interviews Americans who are clueless about Canada, while we know all about you. Given the imbalance of power, however, that’s only to be expected. I’ve always found the Americans I’ve met to be open-minded about Canadian culture, if inclined to make maple syrup jokes.
    I’ll certainly be checking out your links – it’s always good to get a new perspective.

    • 2. caelesti  |  June 21, 2018 at 7:25 am

      Yes, I told one of my Canadian friends on FB that she could teach a civics class here! I’ve been trying to learn more about Canada, Manitoba & Ontario in particular as my grandfather immigrated here from Winnipeg and my aunt lives in Kitchener Ontario (she has dual citizenship). And I’m in Minnesota so many Canadian jokes could also be made about us.

      • 3. solsdottir  |  June 21, 2018 at 5:36 pm

        Your family history must be fascinating! It shows how intertwined our two countries are, whatever anyone says.

  • 4. caelesti  |  June 21, 2018 at 7:45 am

    The commenters on the polemical topics posts seem to be mostly right-leaning (or more than leaning!) Europeans. They keep claiming that they “aren’t alt right” while saying numerous things that sound very alt right to me. Mostly I engage with Melas because while he clearly has positions I disagree with, he’s civil to people he disagrees with. Trying to get outside of my socio-political comfort zone is really hard these days.

    • 5. Melas the Hellene  |  June 23, 2018 at 3:06 am

      Thank you for the kind note. It’s very refreshing to find engagement between people of different opinions or paths and I hope nothing but more civility and understanding will continue between us. I have noticed some commenters on my site do have certain views inclining towards the alt-right which I may disagree with, although I strive to give and take because there are certain truths on all sides and that’s the very reason we should be sharing our opinions together. It should also be a consequence of our polytheism because there’s a kind of pluralism that’s native to the notion of acknowledging other Pantheons and traditions. Loving polytheism is also much more important than loving our own opinions. You’re very welcome to join the conversation on my site at anytime and I will be following and engaging with your future posts.

      P.S. The most regular commenters on my site are two Americans and one Canadian. I can understand, however, that ideas related to “ethnic polytheism” that they & I share (more or less) are more European than American.


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