My last post generated a substantial discussion on Facebook (i only wish it would have taken place here), which got me thinking about a phenomenon the Korean at Ask a Korean likes to call culturalism: “the impulse to explain minority people’s behavior with a ‘cultural difference’, real or imagined.” A culturalist encounters a clash between him and an individual of another culture and chalks it up to cultural difference. ‘He’s from a different culture, so this clash is only inevitable.’ But it isn’t so. It’s not inevitable, because we’re really all the same. We’re all human, which means we share the same core values. Isn’t that all that matters? Why must we break down this commonality into unnecessary and cumbersome classes of ethnicities and nationalities and cultures?
In theory, a unified humanity would be best, but in practice, it doesn’t exist. We all know this. Of course it can’t be denied that despite us being one species, different cultures exist, and they clash. Some of the issues i’ve been dealing with since my arrival here in Seoul are due to exactly that: cultural difference. Many advised me before i left the States and continue to advise me now that i’m here to go with the flow and try to assimilate to Korean culture, because i am the visitor after all, and i should respect the Koreans’ ways. But i can’t do that, because i don’t believe in culturalism. Like i said, we’re all the same, which means we are capable of working towards the same goal. It’s because we’re all human that we owe at least one thing to each other: respect.
When someone takes a culturalist attitude towards me, whatever interpersonal transaction that might transpire is immediately broken or nullified, because, once again, i am not a culturalist. And when they refuse to drop their culturalist attitude, i continue to be unable to interact with them in any meaningful way.