To Appropriate Or Not To Appropriate: That Is The Question

I have two things I want to post about and not a lot of time, so I don’t doubt that there will be some typos here.  I was thinking about appropriation again this morning, and once more how it is used today irked me.

Yes, no one has to convince me that Hitler stealing painting, or stealing of artifacts is inappropriate.  Notice the similarity of the word appropriation and appropriate.  If I think of stealing artifacts, or creating artworks, which are fake copies of an original, or promoted as created by someone famous, with just a little integrity we know this type of appropriation is not appropriate.

But is there another type of appropriation that is appropriate.  Think about it.  In most cultures, there are take-ons from other countries, which have made cultures richer.  The Chinese written language was appropriated by the Japanese who had no written language of their own, and so was much of their food and the medicines of the time.  They have also appropriated Western dress at least in most people’s daily life, but interestingly enough the add-ons to their writing system of their own making includes words which have been appropriated from other countries with an intentional desire to show them as not being originally Japanese.  For example, you have air con for air conditioner with a simplified set of symbols to show they are appropriated.

Confusing, right, so let me clarify.  The basic Japanese writing, called Kanji, are Chinese characters, although they may have changed the pronunciation from the Chinese and added new meanings to the characters with new pronunciations, thus leaving many Kanji to have six or seven meanings or more with not all of them sounding the same and changed from the Chinese sounds.  As a result, a Chinese person may be able to read the Kanji, but not know how to pronounce it.

If that is not complicated enough, the Japanese place the verb at the end of the sentence to which they have added there own symbology for the sounds of the Japanese language, since they have more verb endings than any language in the world.  They also use this symbology for prepositions, but here is the icing on the cake.  They have another modified symbology of Japanese sounds distinctly for foreign words, which then distinctly stand out and are changed to Japanese pronunciation.  As in how air conditioner becomes ‘air con’.

Although Japanese is probably the most convoluted, taking from other languages has been a pattern in the development of many languages where if you learn one language, you will know much of another language–such as Spanish and Portuguese.  And what about the very English language that is spoken in numerous parts of the world, and not just the United States and Britain.  Whether or not this has happened through the usurping of boundaries or imperialism is not the question here.  We know those things are not pretty, or appropriate ways of being, though humanity reeks with it.

The thing is about giving credit.  With music this has always been the case.  You learn the roots of different styles of music.  With food, we learn the roots of many dishes with some explicitly called fusion.  With mathematics, we know Algebra comes from the Middle East.  In fact, there are stories that indicate it was formulated to know how to distribute inherited wealth at the time of one’s death.

As I grew up, I learned about many things through appropriation.  To be truthful, what would have been my impression of American Indians or Africans, if I had not learned anything about their culture back then, or about African crafts and stories.

Wrapping up here, there are two things that I have found that disturb me.  One came to me when I heard about a book now popular to help children go to sleep.  What they were working with were techniques found in hypnosis, Ericksonian therapy and Neuro Linguistic Programming.  But the Media promotion on a newscast gave no credit to where this idea comes from, and even further back disputes about if subliminal advertising works or not are in the same stratosphere.  Someone gave me a hard time, because I said the idea was nothing new without realizing that for me it was really appropriation, which I refrained from saying to them.  So then, we have the issue of people not giving credit where credit is due.  For me, this is also not fair play.

What has hit my heart in an unnatural way are the shrieks about appropriation when it has to do with something that society is learning from, acknowledges where it came from, and makes the world a better place.  Please don’t scream at me about the cheap labor that created many products.  Yes, I know, and I am against our sweatshops overseas, and many things that happen in the global marketplace much of which is too long to go into here.  The thing is how do we learn to appreciate other cultures and their gifts?