George Pyle: There is no such thing as ‘white culture’

( Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune ) Members of Bulgarka, a Bulgarian music and dance group, perform during the 32nd annual Living Traditions Festival in 2017. They will perform at the 2019 festival at 3 p.m. on the plaza stage on Saturday, May 18.

Yes, there is a strong argument to be made that it would be better to just ignore the historically ignorant yahoos who are stirring up trouble at, among other places, the University of Utah campus and environs. (Historically ignorant both in the sense of not knowing anything about history and in the sense of being stupid on a historic scale.)

Some things, though, must be said.

There is no such thing as “white, European culture.”

If the thugs who have been defacing public property with calls to “end immigration” and other xenophobic garbage knew anything about the history of the last 500 years, they would know that, in amongst the cool art and music and literature and philosophy, the story of Europe was, until 1945, a never-ending bloodbath of rival cultures, religions, royal lines and pretenders to same.

The idea that there is or was a single white and/or European culture would come as a surprise to those who saw World War II, World War I, the Russian Revolution, the French Revolution, the Easter Rising, the Italian War of Independence (First and Second), the Spanish Civil War, the English Civil War, the War of Spanish Succession, the War of Devolution, the War of the Reunions, the Seven Years War, the Hundred Years War, the Napoleonic Wars, various Jacobite Risings and the wonderfully named War of the Malcontents.

Folks who look like me did not invent archery, armor, muskets, machine guns, tanks, poison gas, trench warfare and aerial bombardment to defend our precious civilization from the Turks or the Arabs or the Abyssinians. We invented them so that white Europeans could kill other white Europeans in staggering numbers, take a break of a few years, and start all over again.

Efforts to cut down on all that destruction (combined with not a little megalomania) led to the unification of various regions, kingdoms, duchies and city-states into into modern nations of Italy, Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom. The European Union and its precursors were an attempt to merge the continent into one, well, not culture, not government, not even economy, but just some thing that was just united enough to stop burning everything down every 50 years.

The success of all those efforts has been spotty at best. First was the violent fission of Yugoslavia and the amicable divorce of Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Now the United Kingdom maybe leaving the EU. Scotland may be leaving the UK. Separatist movements are attracting folks from Catalonia to Flanders to Lombardy to Bavaria.

Asian and African cultures are also too varied and, sometimes, conflicting to be accurately viewed as a homogenized existence. All of them have been subject to the same genetic drift, genetic isolation and other forms of selection (natural and unnatural) that have done to us, culturally, what those same factors over millions of years have done to us and everything else biologically.

To the point that, even as we appreciate the tapestry of humanity, it can be wonderfully pointless to spend much effort worrying about which food, music, art, science, graffiti, fiction, film, fashion, myths and beauty comes from what culture.

For any one of us to turn our back on any of the stuff that came from a different place is not only a seed of violence and destruction but also a stupid self-denial of a good story, a delightful bit of music or a great dinner.

Nothing could be less human. Or more boring.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, thinks his own British and Scottish ancestry is kind of cool. But he isn’t dumb enough to think he chose it. gpyle@sltrib.com