Note: In the PsychNews Discussions series, we
invite independent articles on current events 
and comments on PsychNews International

The following contribution is a reply to Paul B.
Pedersen's editorial in the PsychNews 
International 1(7). The article can be retrieved
at http://userpage.fu-berlin.de/~expert/psychnews.

Please send your articles to the PsychNews 
Int'l mailbox: pni@badlands.nodak.edu, cc'd to



               Myron Pulier

In PNI 1(7), Paul B. Pedersen convincingly argues for making 
culture a "central rather than a marginal aspect" of one's
perspective on psychology.

He proposes a model of "multiple orthogonal cultural identities
any one of which may become psychologically salient within any
given situation." Indeed, it is useful to define culture as a
more or less transitory mental state where certain recollections,
reaction patterns, wishes, feelings, etc. become particularly
likely and reinforce one another, only to give way to some other
state; however, the 'culture' part of a mental state is the subset
of components that are shared by others in one's current
affiliation. Thus a person could be part of a teen culture in one
context, or another time be part of a born-again culture when
among some other group of people, or can be a middle-class WASP
while volunteer teaching 'alone' in a impoverished rural community.
Interpretation of such an individual's behavior therefore requires
knowing where he or she is 'coming from,' that is, the person's
cultural identity at the time of the behavior, or to know about
conflicts in alternative cultural identities that this person is
coping with. In addition of course one must consider components of
the subject's mental state that cluster in ways not shared with a
group or family, and which thus help determine how the person will
interpret his or her cultures. These idiosyncratically associated
mental functions also serve to characterize the person as an
individual aside from his or her cultures.

I had more difficulty understanding Pedersen's statement that
"two persons or groups from different cultural backgrounds can
disagree without one necessarily being wrong if they both share
the same positive values but express those values in culturally
learned different behaviors." Often the values of different
cultures clash, so that rather than different ways of promoting
the values what we are seeing is each group "necessarily being
wrong" to the other. This is where some difficult conflicts and
enmities arise that cannot be glossed over by enhancing
communication, and perhaps not even by finding overarching areas
of agreement. In such situations, projecting a liberal
"multicultural" attitude can merely arouse the enmity of 
both sides.

I also was uncertain as to Pedersen's reference to "the health
of our social environment." Is this more than a platitude? How
does he define, recognize or measure such "health?" Was a 
markedly isolated group, such as used to inhabit the 'Frozen
North" or "Darkest Africa" necessarily unhealthy by dint of its
lack of awareness of alternative cultures? The stability of such
groups speaks otherwise.

I enjoyed the article and, apparently, found some of Pedersen's
remarks provoking.

Myron Pulier, MD
Forum Leader, InterPsych P-SOURCE
Asst Clin Prof Psychiatry
UMDNJ-NJ Med School, Newark, NJ