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Author Topic: Thoughts on cultural appropriation  (Read 9326 times)

Fireof9

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Thoughts on cultural appropriation
« on: September 15, 2013, 10:33:22 pm »
Before I even get started here, let me state that this is me working through thoughts on this. I decided to post it cause there are some wise people here who's insight I value. So for my part these are kinda meandering thoughts, not actually any conviction on most of it.

Now.

Aster's thread on Hina got me thinking the great deal of worry many people have over cultural appropriation. I don't think that worry is unfounded either. Far to many people just take and then claim it as their own and I think that is quite wrong.

That said, I have been thinking about how I have never once looked into any deity or spirits or anything from the area I have spent my whole life in. I have always gone with those of my ancestors, the Norwegian, Irish and Welsh. I don't think that is a bad thing at all, I hold my heritage dear to my heart. But I don't live in Norway, Ireland, or Wales. I have never been to any of those places. I have spent my life living in southern British Columbia, either in this little valley in the Kootenay's or by the Pacific Ocean. I feel a connection to the land here that I can't describe really. I often tell people I consider myself a British Columbian before I consider myself a Canadian.

When I am out walking in the forest, sitting by the river, all the times I have sat by the ocean, I can feel the spirit(s) of it all. There is a great connection. But I always try to connect it to some of my ancestral heritage. Thats where there always seems to be a disconnect. I always have felt that the spirits and deities of this land belong the the First Nations people that were here long ago. I have been thinking though, I was born here. I am also native to this land. I have so many more ties to it than I do to my ancestral heritage and countries a world away. So are not the deities and spirits of this land those of my culture as well? Or am I totally missing the mark here?
Really?  So, hey, want to go fishing?  I\'ve got a telescope, and it\'s going to be a dark night, so we should see the fish really well.
...what, I\'m not talking about fishing?  That\'s stargazing?  It\'s all doing-stuff, so it\'s the same thing, right?
-HeartShadow
 
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stephyjh

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Re: Thoughts on cultural appropriation
« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2013, 10:45:13 pm »
Quote from: Fireof9;121804
Before I even get started here, let me state that this is me working through thoughts on this. I decided to post it cause there are some wise people here who's insight I value. So for my part these are kinda meandering thoughts, not actually any conviction on most of it.

Now.

Aster's thread on Hina got me thinking the great deal of worry many people have over cultural appropriation. I don't think that worry is unfounded either. Far to many people just take and then claim it as their own and I think that is quite wrong.

That said, I have been thinking about how I have never once looked into any deity or spirits or anything from the area I have spent my whole life in. I have always gone with those of my ancestors, the Norwegian, Irish and Welsh. I don't think that is a bad thing at all, I hold my heritage dear to my heart. But I don't live in Norway, Ireland, or Wales. I have never been to any of those places. I have spent my life living in southern British Columbia, either in this little valley in the Kootenay's or by the Pacific Ocean. I feel a connection to the land here that I can't describe really. I often tell people I consider myself a British Columbian before I consider myself a Canadian.

When I am out walking in the forest, sitting by the river, all the times I have sat by the ocean, I can feel the spirit(s) of it all. There is a great connection. But I always try to connect it to some of my ancestral heritage. Thats where there always seems to be a disconnect. I always have felt that the spirits and deities of this land belong the the First Nations people that were here long ago. I have been thinking though, I was born here. I am also native to this land. I have so many more ties to it than I do to my ancestral heritage and countries a world away. So are not the deities and spirits of this land those of my culture as well? Or am I totally missing the mark here?

 
This is something to which I've given a lot of thought, being of Native descent, of a nation that's local to my area, but not being Native in the sense of having been raised in the culture or growing up on the reservation. Having roots in the culture and in the area is one thing, and I don't think that the local spirits mind if I say hi every now and again. However, I don't think that I'm entitled to have someone who *did* grow up in the culture teach me about the Native religious traditions, because religion is part of culture, and it doesn't exist in a vacuum. Honoring the spirits of the place in the best way I can know how, from the information I can piece together from what's available to those outside the culture, I see as being OK. It's when I start taking the shiny bits I like from a culture that isn't my own, with which I'm only loosely connected, that I feel like I'm doing something wrong.
A heretic blast has been blown in the west,
That what is no sense must be nonsense.

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Fireof9

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Re: Thoughts on cultural appropriation
« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2013, 10:58:38 pm »
Quote from: stephyjh;121806
This is something to which I've given a lot of thought, being of Native descent, of a nation that's local to my area, but not being Native in the sense of having been raised in the culture or growing up on the reservation. Having roots in the culture and in the area is one thing, and I don't think that the local spirits mind if I say hi every now and again. However, I don't think that I'm entitled to have someone who *did* grow up in the culture teach me about the Native religious traditions, because religion is part of culture, and it doesn't exist in a vacuum. Honoring the spirits of the place in the best way I can know how, from the information I can piece together from what's available to those outside the culture, I see as being OK. It's when I start taking the shiny bits I like from a culture that isn't my own, with which I'm only loosely connected, that I feel like I'm doing something wrong.

 
That makes total sense in a lot of ways. But like all good answers it brings up another question.

Do those spirits belong to the culture, or do they belong to the land? As in, I do not belong to say the Sinixt or Okanagan people that once inhabited the area I live in, so for me to try to honour the spirits of the land in a way that was/is their traditional way of doing so would be wrong I think. However if the spirits belong to the land, then finding a tradition of my own to honour them I don't think would be wrong......
Really?  So, hey, want to go fishing?  I\'ve got a telescope, and it\'s going to be a dark night, so we should see the fish really well.
...what, I\'m not talking about fishing?  That\'s stargazing?  It\'s all doing-stuff, so it\'s the same thing, right?
-HeartShadow
 
Yesterday is history, Tomorrow is a mystery,Today is a gift,thats why the call it the present - Master Oogway

Finding the Owl -my blog
The Gwyddonic Order

Aster Breo

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Thoughts on cultural appropriation
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2013, 12:02:33 am »
Quote from: stephyjh;121806
However, I don't think that I'm entitled to have someone who *did* grow up in the culture teach me about the Native religious traditions, because religion is part of culture, and it doesn't exist in a vacuum. Honoring the spirits of the place in the best way I can know how, from the information I can piece together from what's available to those outside the culture, I see as being OK. It's when I start taking the shiny bits I like from a culture that isn't my own, with which I'm only loosely connected, that I feel like I'm doing something wrong.

I feel kinda the same way as this -- if I'm understanding Stephy correctly.

I don't think I'm comfortable with the idea that the gods "belong" to any particular group, whether based on history or geography, because I don't think the gods can be "owned" by people.  And I do believe that the gods call who They call, regardless of ethnicity or other human boundaries or constructs.

(On top of that, I also believe that the same god/dess can be known to different groups of people, who can be widely separated by geography and/or time.  But I've already explained that pretty thoroughly in my thread about Hina, so I won't go into that any more here.)

But *how* those people worshipped the gods is a different matter.  The rituals, objects, words, gestures, music, dance, etc. are the creations of the people and part of their culture.

So, like I said in my thread about the Hawaiian goddess Hina, I don't think it would be cultural appropriation for me to honor Hina, but it *would* be cultural appropriation for me to try to use elements of traditional Hawaiian ritual to honor Her.  

(I think there's a possible, situation specific, exception for people who are adopted into the culture and trained in the traditional rituals.)

However, I think there are sometimes certain, discreet aspects of a culture that, over time, become more widely used outside the original culture. In those cases, I think it's more ok for other people to use those elements in their spiritual practices, as long as the way they're used is consistent with their historic use.  Having just spent time in Hawai'i, the best example I can think of is the lei.  While I was there, I learned a lot about leis (and would love to learn more!), and I now have a much better understanding of what leis mean, what the different materials mean, how and why they're given, and how they're properly received. The reason I learned all this is because leis have become such an important part of broader Hawaiian culture that they're everywhere. Flower leis are sold at many different kinds of stores, including in Target and in drug stores. Kukui nut leis are even easier to get -- they're even sold in liquor stores.  I received flower leis when we arrived and on opening night (both of which are common lei-giving occasions), a kukui nut lei on closing night, and a shell lei later in the trip. Leis are no longer exclusive to native Hawaiian groups.  So, it doesn't feel like trespassing for me to honor this connection with Hina by making a set of prayer beads in the form of a lei, using Hawaiian materials.  (Although I will likely stop short of actually calling it a lei.)

Another example is certain words that become widely used outside of their native culture.  Tons of place names in Hawai'i are native names, as are many plant, animal, and food names.  There are a number of other words that are in common use, too, including aloha, mahalo (thank you), keiki (children), 'ohana (family), lanai (balcony, patio, etc.), wiki (quick -- and, yes, that's where the "wiki" in "Wikipedia" comes from), and many others.  Given how common these words are in general use, I think it would be ok for me to say "mahalo" to Hina, if I wanted to thank Her.

I don't know if that's how other people think about cultural appropriation, but that's what makes sense to me.
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Fireof9

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Re: Thoughts on cultural appropriation
« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2013, 12:18:44 am »
Quote from: Aster Breo;121813
I feel kinda the same way as this -- if I'm understanding Stephy correctly.

I don't think I'm comfortable with the idea that the gods "belong" to any particular group, whether based on history or geography, because I don't think the gods can be "owned" by people.  And I do believe that the gods call who They call, regardless of ethnicity or other human boundaries or constructs.

(On top of that, I also believe that the same god/dess can be known to different groups of people, who can be widely separated by geography and/or time.  But I've already explained that pretty thoroughly in my thread about Hina, so I won't go into that any more here.)

But *how* those people worshipped the gods is a different matter.  The rituals, objects, words, gestures, music, dance, etc. are the creations of the people and part of their culture.

So, like I said in my thread about the Hawaiian goddess Hina, I don't think it would be cultural appropriation for me to honor Hina, but it *would* be cultural appropriation for me to try to use elements of traditional Hawaiian ritual to honor Her.  

(I think there's a possible, situation specific, exception for people who are adopted into the culture and trained in the traditional rituals.)

However, I think there are sometimes certain, discreet aspects of a culture that, over time, become more widely used outside the original culture. In those cases, I think it's more ok for other people to use those elements in their spiritual practices, as long as the way they're used is consistent with their historic use.  Having just spent time in Hawai'i, the best example I can think of is the lei.  While I was there, I learned a lot about leis (and would love to learn more!), and I now have a much better understanding of what leis mean, what the different materials mean, how and why they're given, and how they're properly received. The reason I learned all this is because leis have become such an important part of broader Hawaiian culture that they're everywhere. Flower leis are sold at many different kinds of stores, including in Target and in drug stores. Kukui nut leis are even easier to get -- they're even sold in liquor stores.  I received flower leis when we arrived and on opening night (both of which are common lei-giving occasions), a kukui nut lei on closing night, and a shell lei later in the trip. Leis are no longer exclusive to native Hawaiian groups.  So, it doesn't feel like trespassing for me to honor this connection with Hina by making a set of prayer beads in the form of a lei, using Hawaiian materials.  (Although I will likely stop short of actually calling it a lei.)

Another example is certain words that become widely used outside of their native culture.  Tons of place names in Hawai'i are native names, as are many plant, animal, and food names.  There are a number of other words that are in common use, too, including aloha, mahalo (thank you), keiki (children), 'ohana (family), lanai (balcony, patio, etc.), wiki (quick -- and, yes, that's where the "wiki" in "Wikipedia" comes from), and many others.  Given how common these words are in general use, I think it would be ok for me to say "mahalo" to Hina, if I wanted to thank Her.

I don't know if that's how other people think about cultural appropriation, but that's what makes sense to me.

 
Makes total sense to me.

I never mentioned it in the Hina thread, but I agree with you about certain deities being known by different names in different places. Not in the all Gods and Goddesses are One God and Goddess sense, but I think there is some that have gotten around.

Thing is, sometimes I feel more like I am appropriating with Celtic and Nordic deity and traditions. It is my heritage, but I was not raised in it. Maybe I am just having a cultural midlife crisis......... or something wacky like that.
Really?  So, hey, want to go fishing?  I\'ve got a telescope, and it\'s going to be a dark night, so we should see the fish really well.
...what, I\'m not talking about fishing?  That\'s stargazing?  It\'s all doing-stuff, so it\'s the same thing, right?
-HeartShadow
 
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Aster Breo

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Thoughts on cultural appropriation
« Reply #5 on: September 16, 2013, 01:07:50 am »
Quote from: Fireof9;121815
Thing is, sometimes I feel more like I am appropriating with Celtic and Nordic deity and traditions. It is my heritage, but I was not raised in it. Maybe I am just having a cultural midlife crisis......... or something wacky like that.

Yeah, I get that.  It's one of the reasons I'm not a Celtic recon.

But... I think there's another piece to the cultural appropriation thing.  I think  how you present yourself to the world is important.  What you do in private is nobody else's business -- even if you're trying to recreate a full-fledged traditional ritual from a tradition you're not connected to in any way.  But I think you run into trouble if you present yourself to the outside world as part of that tradition or culture in some way. Like if you start claiming *to other people* that you're an expert in a traditional practice, or that you're performing a traditional ritual, or that you're a member of a culture (that you're not a member of), or that you can lead a group ritual or train other people in the traditional practice.  Like if I started saying I'm now Hawaiian or I'm practicing traditional Hawaiian religion.

I think that sort of behavior is both cultural appropriation and very disrespectful.  And generally makes the person doing it look like a colossal jerk.

But I don't think that's what you're doing.  The fact that you're considering the issue of cultural appropriation at all is a good sign.

What it boils down to, I think, is:  What you do in public demonstrates how respectful you are of other cultures; what you do in private is between you and the gods. And if the gods don't like it, they'll let you know.
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Sophia C

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Thoughts on cultural appropriation
« Reply #6 on: September 16, 2013, 02:48:16 am »
Quote from: Fireof9;121815
Thing is, sometimes I feel more like I am appropriating with Celtic and Nordic deity and traditions. It is my heritage, but I was not raised in it. Maybe I am just having a cultural midlife crisis......... or something wacky like that.

Sometimes I feel like people are. There are some people I know online who have never been to Britain and Ireland, and know nothing about our cultures, but march in (metaphorically) with their version of things they don't know much about - and then have the cheek to turn around and, for example, tell me that my druidry is fluffy (no, I say, it's British). But then sometimes I wonder in the same way if I'm appropriating, myself - my mother is Irish and my family still live in the same farmhouse in Cork that they've lived in for a hundred years, but I've never lived there, only spent summers there, so can I really do Gaelic reconstructionism with any honesty? 'Tis all a bit mind-boggly sometimes.
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Aster Breo

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Thoughts on cultural appropriation
« Reply #7 on: September 16, 2013, 03:03:30 am »
Quote from: Naomi J;121830
'Tis all a bit mind-boggly sometimes.

Isn't it, though?   :-)

There's one other point I wanted to make, which is implicit in what I said earlier.  Ultimately, I think it's up to the members of the culture in question to determine what constitutes cultural appropriation.  And that will likely vary quite a bit from culture to culture and person to person.

But that's why I think what I do in private isn't relevant to the question of cultural appropriation, but what I do and say in public is key.
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Sophia C

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Thoughts on cultural appropriation
« Reply #8 on: September 16, 2013, 03:10:16 am »
Quote from: Fireof9;121804
That said, I have been thinking about how I have never once looked into any deity or spirits or anything from the area I have spent my whole life in. I have always gone with those of my ancestors, the Norwegian, Irish and Welsh. I don't think that is a bad thing at all, I hold my heritage dear to my heart. But I don't live in Norway, Ireland, or Wales. I have never been to any of those places. I have spent my life living in southern British Columbia, either in this little valley in the Kootenay's or by the Pacific Ocean. I feel a connection to the land here that I can't describe really. I often tell people I consider myself a British Columbian before I consider myself a Canadian.

This is a really interesting issue. On some level, we are all invaders in our lands - certainly when you think of the age of some of the land spirits out there, who must have seen people come and go for millenia. I am not a Pict or a member of a Brythonic tribe, and they weren't members of whichever tribes and peoples came before that. I believe that the gods and spirits of our lands pre-exist us and will go on after us. So to some extent, it's not about how you honour the local spirits - it's about whether you dishonour indigenous peoples in the process. (I think.)

I couldn't go anywhere without honouring the spirits of the land, being the druidic type. When I visited Washington and Oregon and CA, the first thing I did after arriving in each new place was to make offerings. I don't believe that that would have bothered any indigenous peoples in the area (but please do let me know if I'm wrong there), even though the offerings were made in a vaguely Celtic way - biodegradable things burnt in my campfires or left out in a dish overnight, for example. (I do know that American CR considers pouring alcohol on the land to be taboo, because of guidelines they've been given by Native American tribes, and I followed that restriction.) In some places, I felt like the spirits of the land responded to the offerings - mostly in the tree-covered places up north. The further south we got, the less I felt that the spirits even noticed me, which was interesting. I feel the same way in Israel, where the spirits of the desert make no sense to me, even though I keep making the offerings.

Basically, I feel like, if I arrived in a new area and stole the local religion, complete with their ways of honouring gods and land spirits, without converting or at least learning directly from and with members of that religion, I'd be appropriating. I don't think it's appropriation when an American ADF group encounters a local river goddess over many years, and eventually asks her what she wants to be called, are given a name, and use it. (This is the situation for a real US ADF grove.) We live in a modern, mobile, global world. We're going to encounter new gods and spirits. The key, I think, is whether we do that respectfully - to all parties.

But then there's the situation where Celtic recons suggest that if people encounter Kali, they go and worship her in a Hindu context, since that's the cultural and religious context she comes from, and ow my head hurts.
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Fireof9

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Re: Thoughts on cultural appropriation
« Reply #9 on: September 16, 2013, 10:38:56 pm »
Quote from: Naomi J;121830
Sometimes I feel like people are. There are some people I know online who have never been to Britain and Ireland, and know nothing about our cultures, but march in (metaphorically) with their version of things they don't know much about - and then have the cheek to turn around and, for example, tell me that my druidry is fluffy (no, I say, it's British). But then sometimes I wonder in the same way if I'm appropriating, myself - my mother is Irish and my family still live in the same farmhouse in Cork that they've lived in for a hundred years, but I've never lived there, only spent summers there, so can I really do Gaelic reconstructionism with any honesty? 'Tis all a bit mind-boggly sometimes.


It sure seems to be.

See, to maybe get some insight into the nature of any local spirits or deity, logically I would do a bit of research on the beliefs of the natives that once lived around here. But then if I act on what I learned, albeit in my own fashion and way, am I appropriating from them?

I think I have a headache now LOL
Really?  So, hey, want to go fishing?  I\'ve got a telescope, and it\'s going to be a dark night, so we should see the fish really well.
...what, I\'m not talking about fishing?  That\'s stargazing?  It\'s all doing-stuff, so it\'s the same thing, right?
-HeartShadow
 
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stephyjh

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Re: Thoughts on cultural appropriation
« Reply #10 on: September 16, 2013, 10:41:32 pm »
Quote from: Aster Breo;121813
I feel kinda the same way as this -- if I'm understanding Stephy correctly.

I don't think I'm comfortable with the idea that the gods "belong" to any particular group, whether based on history or geography, because I don't think the gods can be "owned" by people.  And I do believe that the gods call who They call, regardless of ethnicity or other human boundaries or constructs.

(On top of that, I also believe that the same god/dess can be known to different groups of people, who can be widely separated by geography and/or time.  But I've already explained that pretty thoroughly in my thread about Hina, so I won't go into that any more here.)

But *how* those people worshipped the gods is a different matter.  The rituals, objects, words, gestures, music, dance, etc. are the creations of the people and part of their culture.

So, like I said in my thread about the Hawaiian goddess Hina, I don't think it would be cultural appropriation for me to honor Hina, but it *would* be cultural appropriation for me to try to use elements of traditional Hawaiian ritual to honor Her.  

(I think there's a possible, situation specific, exception for people who are adopted into the culture and trained in the traditional rituals.)

 
That's exactly what I was getting at. It's not about who's allowed to know a certain entity, but rather who's allowed to engage in practices that aren't open to the public.
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veggiewolf

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Thoughts on cultural appropriation
« Reply #11 on: September 17, 2013, 10:22:10 am »
Quote from: Naomi J;121832
...

But then there's the situation where Celtic recons suggest that if people encounter Kali, they go and worship her in a Hindu context, since that's the cultural and religious context she comes from, and ow my head hurts.

This is interesting to me, especially since Ganesha asks me for prayers and offerings that come from Hindu practices (case in point - the prayers I said for Ganesha Chaturthi) but at the same time not to become Hindu.

Am I appropriating?  I'd say yes...and it makes me uncomfortable even though Ganesha asked for it.

Where's the line?
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Re: Thoughts on cultural appropriation
« Reply #12 on: September 17, 2013, 11:10:04 am »
Quote from: veggiewolf;122143
This is interesting to me, especially since Ganesha asks me for prayers and offerings that come from Hindu practices (case in point - the prayers I said for Ganesha Chaturthi) but at the same time not to become Hindu.

Am I appropriating?  I'd say yes...and it makes me uncomfortable even though Ganesha asked for it.

Where's the line?

 
IMO the line is between public and private practice - what I do at home and don't talk about in public is between me and the gods, and therefore if the gods or spirits approve, there's not really a way it can hurt practitioners. When I speak where they can hear me, or where I can influence others to think that's okay to do lightly, then there's a problem.
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Gilbride

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Re: Thoughts on cultural appropriation
« Reply #13 on: September 17, 2013, 11:37:42 am »
Quote from: Jack;122147
IMO the line is between public and private practice - what I do at home and don't talk about in public is between me and the gods, and therefore if the gods or spirits approve, there's not really a way it can hurt practitioners. When I speak where they can hear me, or where I can influence others to think that's okay to do lightly, then there's a problem.


Agree completely. This is the standard I apply in my own practice.

Fireof9

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Re: Thoughts on cultural appropriation
« Reply #14 on: September 17, 2013, 12:26:50 pm »
Quote from: Gilbride;122152
Agree completely. This is the standard I apply in my own practice.

 
I would say that's basically how I have been approaching it as well.

I think my problem lies just in how I see the world around me. Other than living in Vancouver, all the places I have lived were heavily one culture be it Native, Japanese or Russian. I am none of those. While I feel a connection to my European heritage, its still a culture that is a world away. So I guess I feel culturless (if that is even a word), so everything I do feels like I am stealing from something that is not mine to steal from.
Really?  So, hey, want to go fishing?  I\'ve got a telescope, and it\'s going to be a dark night, so we should see the fish really well.
...what, I\'m not talking about fishing?  That\'s stargazing?  It\'s all doing-stuff, so it\'s the same thing, right?
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