I struggled to understand the concept of culture even while I studied for an anthropology degree. Eventually I learned it’s what societies say is and isn’t ok.. It’s passed on by way of friends, family, school, religion…
Regardless if you’re living the tribal dream or running the rat race, we’re all governed by culture.
I’ve heard a lotta people say America doesn’t have culture. Oh the absurdity. It nearly knocks me out my seat. Every cohesive society has culture, just as every group accepts and rejects certain behaviors.
Let’s take a look through my emic (insider’s) perspective (anthropologists: don’t hate). To me America has an exceptionally commercial core, and human connection is remarkably shallow.
After returning from a multi-year trip around the world, renowned philosopher and poet Aleister Crowley remarked that:
|“Neither Europe nor Africa can show such desolation as America. The proudest, stubbornest, bitterest peasant of deserted Spain; the most primitive and superstitious Arab of the remotest oases, these are little more than kin and never less than kind at their worst; whereas in the United States one is almost always conscious of an instinctive lack of sympathy and understanding with even the most charming and cultured people.”|
It’s not a lack of culture in the US that caused Crowley’s feelings of isolation, but a culture partially centered around separation (individuality), totalitarian work (production), and wealth (greed).
I don’t believe we modern Americans have to bear the blame for this.
As byproducts of our cultural lineage, we owe our denatured community experience to “intellectual” developments starting around 800 years ago in Western Europe.
With so many people living today, there’s practically an infinite number of cultural models to follow. The problem is, human diversity’s fading as fast as the market economy expands.
As Anthropologist and National Geographic Explorer Wade Davis suggested in his Ted Talk, cultural diversity today faces far graver threats than environmental diversity.
The technology produced by Western societies has changed the world for a long time to come. Whether you love it, hate it or leave it, industrial culture’s made one hell of an assault on the sacred, or humanity’s original religious, animistic beliefs.
The dogmas of monotheism and the age of reason eventually created cultural views that demystified the experience of life. Eventually all religion had to be removed from the state, creating a vacuum filled by the “advancements” of science and profiteering.
What happens when you figure out your culture’s mostly insane, when you see democracy can be a weapon of evil under a tyrannizing or (in this case) all-too-complacent majority? Do you love it, and run the wheel in the hope of catching that sweet sweet cheddar? Do you hate it, and become an ascetic by devoting yourself to ancient texts? Or do you combine the two, sell your stuff and journey around the world?
Now we’re talking…The time is right to build a new frame of mind around concepts like cooperation over competition, community over individuality, and respect over exploitation…
And maybe the path isn’t righteous at all. Maybe it’s simply honored by respecting the beauty of life in recognizing that we aren’t more rightful owners of the planet than whales, birds or (especially?) mushrooms…Of course creatures die for others to live, but non-humans operate in the circle of life much differently than we of the industrial cultures do.
By now you’re probably thinking that I hate American culture.
No friggin’ way. Despite its crazy contradictions, I love being an American!
But it wasn’t until I started traveling that my perception of home really started making tectonic shifts.