culture.jpg“Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress,” is a collection of essays edited by Lawrence E. Harrison and Samuel P. Huntington. Its axiom is that the way we organize ourselves, the values we choose to share and cherish (i.e. shared culture) powerfully impact our prosperity, our liberty, the fairness of our court systems, and the integrity of our governments.

For a time it was in vogue to consider all cultures to be inherently equal and it was politically incorrect to “value” any culture more highly than another.


It may be true that culture should be a matter of individual choice, just as work ethic and saving for a rainy day are personal choices, choices however often driven by cultural background.

Still, I find it inescapable that the individual/culture that works harder/smarter, organizes better, directs human energy and motivation more effectively/efficiently, and saves up against an unknown and uncertain future better survives the flood, the drought, the storm.

Western democracies and quasi-free market capitalism (I say quasi because in other writings I have touched on the excesses to which unfettered markets are prone) are excellent at unleashing human potential and creating economic prosperity. Whether it is because economic prosperity creates a propertied middle class, which can and does demand liberty and human rights or because liberty and human rights are necessary to unleash the human potential required to create prosperity, economic development, and democracy, they frequently go hand in hand.

Caveat: Consumerism does not equate to civilization and material wealth most certainly does not equal happiness. At times the excesses of capitalism cause me shame, AND we have much to learn from other cultures. For example, our rate of incarceration is one of the highest in the world, our infant mortality rate is nothing to be proud of, and our murder rate is one of the highest in the developed world (having nothing, I’m sure, to do with sending so many young men to crime school. Excuse me, prison).

That said, economic progress drives medical progress and if there is an absolute good in the world, it is being able to relieve human suffering, in particular that caused by disease and illness. If for no other reason, that alone is sufficient to make me an advocate of cultures that drive economic progress. That and a love of liberty, freedom, and justice. Yes, technology is a double-edged sword. The same advance in farming that allows us to feed the hungry allows us to become obese. The challenge is not to deny technology or restrict its advance but to grow wise in its application, a wisdom that will no doubt serve us well in many other areas of human endeavor.