This is an independent blog and is not affiliated with any particular church, group or conference. The term Bruderthaler refers to a specific ethnic or cultural Mennonite heritage, not to any particular organized group. All statements and opinions are solely those of the contributor(s). Blog comprises notebook fragments from various research projects and discussions. Dialogue, comment and notice of corrections are welcomed. Much of this content is related to papers and presentations that might be compiled at a future date, as such, this blog serves as a research archive rather than as a publication. 'tag

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mennonite Mnemetic Model

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Multiple-Gene Reproduction (c) source
    In as much as many branches of the Anabaptist faith/ethnicity are borderline anti-intellectual (in the strict sense) and that many lack functioning intellectual organizations beyond periodic conferences, I have taken to outlining my understandings of certain pertinent cultural processes and elements prior to attempting to utilize the more formal terms, models and explanations of others.
    Simply put, the Mennonite culture, per se, is both unique and extremely receptive to non-threatening ideas from the outside.  In order to identify and protect a potential Mennonite or traditional perspective (perhaps even a folk tradition or understanding), I feel that this exercise is both warranted and useful.  The following reflects one such case.
    In attempting to codify and communicate Mennonite colonial culture or that of the gemeinde, I have intuited that cultural activities, traditions and knowledge centers around four key groupings or cultural rolesRitual, Artisanal, Household, and Cultural.

    Ritual cultural activities include elements relating to education and religion, including history, social structures and formal governance.
    Artisanal cultural activities relate skills, knowledge and opportunities for trade and for artisanal crafts and technologies.
    Household cultural activities include the identification, ranking, distribution and performance of domestic chores and basics of food procurement and consumption.
    Cultural cultural activities (yes, I know) include entertainment and non-practical art or creation.
    Note that certain terms such as art, creation, productivity and utility differ greatly between certain Anabaptist groups and wider-Western social norms.  For instance, Hutterites reject forms of creation that do not contain a practical element and forbid forms of commerce that do not include an element of production (or ironically, creation).
    Furthermore, there seem to be four general types of cultural activities.  These would be practical, defensive, heirloom and commercial
    Practical cultural elements are those that relate to the normative day-to-day lifestyle culture of the individual and/or community – how everyday life is actually lived.
    Defensive cultural elements are traits, beliefs and activities that are designed to preserve cultural, ethnic or group values, beliefs, tradition, identity and unity from outside cultural aggression and/or interference.  In the general Mennonite case, especially the historic experience of the Russländer Mennonites, this might also include those traits and elements designed to maintain, preserve and extend entitlements both formal (legal) and informal (understood or perceived).
    Heirloom traditions are those traits or activities that are passed along and maintained for a since of belonging, continuity or ritual but no longer serve a formal ritualistic purpose or contain a measurable value in the everyday lifestyle or the home economy.  Conceptually, heirloom traditions would probably be inefficient and be perceived as backwards, obstinate or inefficient.  This could include superstitions such as throwing salt over one’s shoulder, eating ethnic foods that must be procured inefficiently and isolated linguistic usages (such as Plautdietsche in the USA).
    Commercial  traditions are non-practical traditions that are maintained as a commercial activity such as operating an ethnic restaurant, displaying folk traditions to outsiders as a form of fundraiser (or to promote a non-ritualistic sense of identity), employing out-moded forms of production or the trafficking in customs and skills that were formerly of a practical nature but no longer serve a practical or common use in the day-to-day life of the individual or group.
    It also seems that there are two general types of cultural roles – formal and informal.  Formal roles involve group participation or relate the individual to a group, either contemporary, future or past, are often ritualized and generally perceived as containing or embodying an inherent worth, value or purpose. 
    Informal cultural roles might often be personal, loosely regulated and of value only to the individual in question (perhaps interior, social or psychological).
    I am not sure if all four types contain both formal and informal applications, but it seems that they probably would.  In fact, it might even be essential that each type contain an informal individual manifestation prior to the realization or existence of the formal ritualized group element.
    Beyond this, there might be at least six realms of cultural manifestation (as opposed to roles).  Reflection indicates potential separate realms for linguistics, the material, the intellectual, genetic (DNA), geographic and invasive realms.
    The latter is probably the most controversial or intellectually non-conforming portion of this essay in that these are all modes of culture that contain elements that perform all four cultural roles each potentially comprising or resulting from the four cultural activities, possibly even of both formal and informal elements.
    Generally, I feel that the classic “Eight Traits of Culture” are very useful for categorizing cultures in general – they seem to function more or less as a catalogue tool or database of pertinent trans-cultural elements.  However, this simple model does not seem to be overly useful in demonstrating or even cataloging changes to a culture or the evolution of a culture over time.  In other words, one would have to catalogue each specific culture in each specific manifestation in space and time, i.e. generating a list of identifiable cultural traits for Russian Mennonite in Chortitza from 1864 – 1880, that would differ from Mennonites in Molotschnaya, from Chortitzan Mennonites in 1789 or Russian Mennonites and American Amish. 
    On the other hand, I think that this brainstormed or reflective model bears some pertinence in that it intuitively encapsulates all eight cultural traits, if in a different form, and allows one to augment it with models or theories of cultural change or evolution to show the interrelationship of cultural traits both statically and relatively with references pertinent to both spatial differentiation and temporal changes.  For instance, one can reach into Richard Dawkins Theory of Memes or to Aaron Lynch’s types or characteristics of m(n)emes.  The Mennonite Model of Memes simply proposes a useful model or tree of cultural characteristics and activities that might be useful for describing the evolution and characteristics of minority, threatened or separatist (defensive) cultural groups.  Just as different models of heredity might be illustrated or applied to a generic family tree, this model might be able to help illustrate movement and evolution of traits rather than just cataloguing them.

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