An American White Guy’s Realization About Culture

When I’m faced with a moral conundrum, I often ask myself, “What would Picard do?” I admit that with a great deal of pride. The character Captain Jean Luc Picard was depicted in such a fashion that his decisions and decision making processes offer a marvelous compass for the generations who watched Star Trek the Next Generation unfold. I absorbed that data during a chunk of my formative years between the years 1987 and 1994.

The show ended, although Picard didn’t. He continued on in films for another decade or so. However, television-viewing Trekkies were presented with a new captain: Captain Kathryn Janeway of the starship Voyager. That tale started in 1995 and went on till 2001. I’m rather embarrassed to admit that I didn’t actually watch the series, not a single episode, when it was broadcast. Over the past couple of months, however, I took the time to watch the entire series from beginning to end.

I did this for two reasons. The first was that I wanted to still call myself a full-fledged Trekkie. I believe I’ve seen just about everything that’s been done on T.V. or film. However, the second reason was deeper and germane to a topic that has been of some import to the convention scene, the entire publishing industry, and this nation as a whole. You see, back in 1995, I didn’t want to watch Voyager mostly because it was a female captain. I’d seen a few of the commercials, and she appeared to be bossy and overbearing. That was the perspective of one less-than-enlightened, twenty-five-year-old white male raised in the United States.

I’m older now, and I like to think that I’m a bit wiser than I was in those days. Lord knows I had a lot of growing up to do during my twenties and even thirties. I don’t think I actually started to grow up until I hit 40, but by then there was a lot of uphill fixing to do. I have to add that I didn’t know why I didn’t want to watch Voyager until I’d finished the first couple of seasons during this marathon run of the series. What I’ve come to realize is that my reaction back in ’95 was what many refer to as the “male privilege” perspective or the “indoctrinated male establishment view” of our society. It was sexist and ignorant and particularly stupid on my part.

The male establishment is real, and I would suggest that anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t have a firm grasp of what being part of the establishment is. I’d also bet that the the individual in question is part of that establishment. It all comes down to a notion of culture, and I find myself frequently contemplating what culture means. Hell, I’m a writer, so thinking about such things is pretty much in the job description.

I believe culture is like soup. It’s something we’re immersed in like frogs in cooking pots. The temperature falls and sometimes rises, and we don’t know what’s wrong until we explode. This soup, in part at least, defines how we look at the world around us. It shapes our perspectives on gender, race, religion and preference. It shapes our moral and ethical standards and can make the same individual a saint or a sinner. And the definition of saint and a sinner differs from one culture to another. Culture is shaped by our parents and the generations before. It’s shaped by our neighbors and teachers and government. It’s shaped by what media inputs we’re exposed to and by the religious, spiritual, and philosophical doctrines that may or may not slip into our awareness. It can be as subtle as the scent of daisies or as blatant as a rock-hammer to the base of the skull. And it’s everywhere.

I suggested before that not everyone really understands “establishment,” but I also want to suggest that each and every one of us should take stock of what we see around us and make ourselves more aware of our own culture and how it affects our view of those we encounter who were raised differently. That isn’t to say that we should attempt to mimic someone else’s culture, nor that they should attempt to mimic ours. And it definitely isn’t to say that we should ever attempt to impose our culture upon others. Nor should we allow others to impose their culture upon us.

And therein lies the rub. How do individuals raised in different cultures participate in a singular society? In part, it’s by realizing when our culture has shaped us in a way that restricts the endeavors of others, and in so doing, actually limits our own growth as a society. That’s the mistake I made back in ’95. I allowed my culture, albeit without malice, to limit my exposure to something that had value on both an entertainment and educational basis. As a writer, it’s my responsibility to improve my craft as much as I can with everything I write.

I like to think that over the past few years I’ve done a reasonable job of treating as fairly as I can with both race and gender. I can’t say that I’m perfect, and I hope that my work improves on both of these subjects in the years to come. To give you a frame of reference, there’s at least one individual out there who swears up and down that I’m a card-carrying racist. He also has a difficult time balancing his meds, but the thought that my culture influences me and my writing to the point where someone could conclude that I’m a racist at least gives me pause. I’m obligated to contemplate the possibility, particularly considering my decades-old reaction to Voyager.

Humans aren’t born perfect, and based upon the evidence, it certainly appears as if we don’t die perfect. This journey we’re all on, the one called Life, seems to be one big opportunity to improve ourselves and do our best to get along with as many people as we’re able. The harsh reality is that we won’t ever be able to get along with everyone. We can, however, improve our chances of getting along if we just take stock of our culture and examine closely who, how, and what we’re perceiving in ourselves and others. It may also reduce the likelihood that we, as humans, end up killing each other.

In the final analysis, I’ll still ask myself, “What would Picard do?” However, after expanding my understanding of my own past and the decisions I’ve made over the course of my life, I can understand better what and why “Janeway would do it.” I like to think I’m better for the effort, and I’ll continue to do what I can to expand my understanding of life and the people in it. There is, hopefully, a long road ahead of me, and much of what I learn along the way will be reflected in my writing.

What I’m asking you to do is keep me honest. Share with me your perspective on what I write. Offer suggestions and questions. Open a dialogue, especially if you think I’ve crossed a line or  misunderstood something. That offer stands for the other seven billion folks on Earth, except for that one guy. He burned a bridge that will never be rebuilt. That’s the other thing to bear in mind. No matter what you do. No matter how hard you try, there may come times when understanding isn’t enough. Trying isn’t enough. Sometimes two individuals are so far apart, regardless of why, that the best thing to do is share the planet and do what you can to avoid one another. It’s a big place, and more often than not folks can keep missing each other if they try hard enough.

So here’s to trying and learning and becoming better in our tomorrows than we were in our todays and yesterdays. It’s always possible if we take stock of our own culture and understand that there is a distinct culture for each and every individual that is or ever has been.




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