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Evidence: Harmful byproducts of American culture

This is part of Boston Artist-in-Residence Erin Genia's Cultural Emergency Response project.

What are the byproducts of American culture? They are circumstances that result from regular economic, political or social activities. Harmful byproducts are those that we normalize or accept as collateral damage. They can create short- and long-term emergency situations. They range in scale from the personal, to the societal, to the historical. Some examples include:

  • Climate change
  • Institutionalized racism and white supremacy
  • Environmental catastrophes from resource extraction
  • Mass extinctions
  • Extreme political polarization
  • Global war, militarism and the possibility of nuclear annihilation
  • Genocide
  • Refugee crises
  • Slavery, human trafficking and incarceration
  • Technologies divorced from natural world-based wisdom
  • Extreme wealth hoarding and poverty
  • Pandemics and other epidemics

This list is not in order of significance, and is not comprehensive. Yet, it represents some of the most harmful results of dominant cultural norms. These results threaten people across many borders and have never been treated as a cultural emergency.

Our cultural foundations are faulty

How did we get here?

American cultural norms emerged from the imperial philosophies of Western European colonialism and the Roman Empire. The United States is a settler-colonial state that gained its economic wealth and political power from:

  • genocide
  • land theft
  • slavery, and
  • war.

The country has a deep legacy of causing ongoing trauma to Indigenous people and marginalized people. Boston was an epicenter of colonization. The City bears some responsibility for perpetuating the cultural standards that have created cultural disasters. It is past time to come to terms with this record of wrongdoings and change course.

We must look at the ideas and actions in our culture that create emergencies and cause trauma. What harmful philosophies are driving systems, institutions, and individual behaviors in American society? Some examples that are embedded within our cultural ideologies are:

  • toxic individuality and separation from the natural world and others
  • hierarchical and binary thinking and authoritarianism
  • misogyny and toxic masculinity
  • short-term thinking
  • idealizing greed, consumerism and extractive practices
  • violence as a tool, coercion through brute force
  • Western cultural supremacy and assimilation
  • historical amnesia
  • competition over cooperation
  • the “captive mind”
  • wastefulness and the squandering of energy, resources, and labor
  • cultural appropriation, and
  • undervaluing youth, elders, and the extended family.

This is not an exhaustive list. We need to do more work to identify harmful cultural constructs that lead to hazards over time.

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