The Village

  • America’s Default: The Culture of No Consequences

    Oct 10, 2013. Written by Bruce Ormond Grant

    The definition of culture, like America, has a storied and contested history. Not only do cultures change over time, (due to the influence of social, cultural, political, economic and intellectual shifts) but the very notion of culture itself is constantly changing as a consequence of, among other factors, over determined human interactions. Whether culture is interpreted through the lens of structure, function, process, group membership or power, it is ubiquitous and provides an interpretive blueprint for all. It informs on how and when to respond to individuals, groups, and the full spectrum of environmental activities within the human purview.

    America has always prided itself on its purported cultural exceptionalism. Historically speaking, I would argue that there were at least two spheres of constitutive thought that inhered this concept. First, Americans had moral obligations to each other (that extended beyond those moral obligations owed to those who were related to each other through biology or law), and secondly, Americans understood and valued the importance of each human life. Those thought patterns necessitated critical interest in the social, political and cultural components of individuals (or groups). In this context, Americans understood the idea of a human community; Americans understood the idea of necessary healthy coexistence and interpreted conversation in a contextual milieu of human togetherness and social cohesion. Historically, to be in social violation of some of the customs inhered in any sphere of constitutive thought was thought of as boorish, and had dire consequences. But, as civil society in America changed, there was also a loss of civility itself – and the culture of consequence mutated into the culture of no consequences.

    The culture of no consequences demands that its adherents evidence two basic components of thought and practice: first, its adherents must believe that inability to understand demands conflict, and consequentially, conflict demands the total subjugation of rationality and cultural exceptionalism. The culture of no consequences is communicated through the maximizing behaviors of all actors, including elites, where assumed benefits of actions are valued over costs. It is evidenced through our modern day social, political and cultural behaviors across all ecological levels; it is manners gone badly.

    One set of assumptions behind democracy is that the institution gives rise to the self & group expression of cultural, political and social values that it inheres; as such, people in democratic nations should be more expressive, healthier, happier, socially cohesive and politically expressive. This can be interpreted to mean that each societal stakeholder has enough cultural overlap to converse with each other but not that they can, will, or want to arrive at morally beneficial agreements, even if the aggregate costs of no agreements greatly outweigh the assumed benefits. A socio-political situation in any nation becomes overtly dangerous when there are no consequences for any of the determinant actors in this context.

    Whether at the dinner table with family or performing duties as an elected official, it should be scripted in our cognitive processors that the culture of consequence has historically guided civil society in America to higher regards and steered the ideals of the American socio-political order towards an inclusive moral identity.

    The culture of consequence demands the fight for the inclusive good, it demands the re-imagination of warring parties and difference.

    America cannot default on its moral consciousness.