Perspectives on Culture
Culture as Bookkeeping
Culture as Evaluation
Culture as Evolution
Locating Culture in Cultural Clashes
This paper tries to develop a way to understand the gradual evolution of culture in oriental societies. It uses observational method to draw conclusion and inferences. It also attempts to outline the structures within which culture takes shape over a period of time. This paper claims that the presence of innate structure within human beings as an ‘individual’ and as ‘collectives’ shape our development and pulls us in particular direction. The structure which has been developed in this paper to understand the process of creation of culture can be applied in all societies.
(Key Words: Culture, Innate Structure, Oriental Perspective, Evolution, Cultural Clashes)
Perspectives on Culture
Earlier literal meanings of culture were in prevalence. Culture drives from ‘cultura’ and ‘colere’, meaning ‘to cultivate’. It also meant ‘to honour’ and ‘protect’. By the nineteenth century in Europe it meant the habits, customs and tastes of upper classes (also known as elite) (Nayar, 2008, p.4). Culture is not genetically inherited, and cannot exist on its own, but is always shared by members of a society (Hall, 1997, p. 16). It has to be cultivated and constructed. Culture is the sum of total of the learned behaviour of a group of people that are generally considered to be the tradition of that people and are transmitted from generation to generation (Hofstede, 1997).
Meaning and scope of the term culture has been expanded over the decades. Now it has been broadly accepted that there is nothing universal about culture, it is a group identity. Individuals also seek identity within it. It is a tool in the hands of individuals to make sense of social reality. Shared behaviour, accepted as culture, makes certain things acceptable. The beauty of culture is that its practitioners do not realize the true nature of their acts. Culture is collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group from another (Hofstede, 1980).What west sees as forced marriage ("What is a forced marriage?," n.d.) East sees it as ordinary arrange marriage. Culture exists in perspectives.
In fact posing questions against collective behaviour considered a result of excessive influence of alien culture. Human societies act alike whether they are based in west or east to newer cultural phenomenon. Resistance to change is similar in all cultures. It is reflected in how mainstream culture in India reacts to caste and western white culture reacts to racism. Both are predominantly in denial mode. They prefer to believe either it is non-existent and exists at a miniscule scale. Culture is a tool which helps individuals to make sense of their acts. In a way it fixes the contours of morality, ethics and conscience.
Culture is sense making process that makes sense not only of external nature or reality, but also of the social systems that it is the part of, and of the social identities and daily activities of people within that system. Our sense of ourselves or of our social relationships and of reality is all produced by the same cultural process (Fiske, 1982, p. 114).It is important to demystify culture. Lot has been written about culture. In fact it would require a superhuman effort to generate a representative text of the writings so far done by academic and non academic authors on culture. The most interesting thing is each individual understands something or the other by term culture. Whether that understanding is wholesome or not that is another question.
Raymond Williams, who was associated with cultural studies tradition, tackled the issue in complicated and comprehensive matter (Nowotny, 2006). Culture is ordinary: that is the first fact. Every human society has its own shape, its own purposes and own meanings. Every human society expresses these, in institutions, and in arts and learning. The making of a society is the finding of common meanings and directions, and its growth is an active debate and amendment under the pressures of experience, contact, and discovery. Culture is ordinary, in every society and in every mind (Williams, 1998).
The scope of culture can be perceived through the process of its creation. Culture can be broadly described as a process of record keeping, evaluation and evolution. To understand the culture within this trilogy, it is important to understand the concept of ‘inherent structural pattern’ which was identified in Noam Chomsky in his writings. Chomsky says human beings are born with the innate ability to learn language (Cruse, n.d.). As it has been well understood in linguistics that language per se has no direct relationship with tangibles and intangibles it signifies. In the similar manner all human beings are also born with the innate ability to accept, comprehend and ultimately feel convinced by the logical and rationale arguments which will lead to ultimate good. Each one of us possesses that inbuilt structure like we possess the ability to learn language.
Perhaps that’s why all ideologies claim they are fighting for the creation of just world. Communists say they are struggling for common good and establishment of egalitarian society. Capitalists say wealth can be generated and distributed only through their methods. Neoliberals are also claiming that Asia can be as rich as Europe only through their methods.
Theory of inherent innate structure within a human brain is not a creation of abstract philosophical reasoning. It can be understood by careful observations. For a moment keep aside momentary subjugation of ego and superego by Id. To understand it forget about momentary events where wild fantasies and other biological urges which sometimes defeat rational and ethical parts of human brain and lead to commission of criminal acts for a moment. All the human beings irrespective of their differences (caste, colour, creed and place of birth) accept particular behavioural pattern because they are being taught to believe that it will lead to good.
Even the perpetrators of most savage and barbarian practices try to give reasons to rationalize their acts. Perhaps the most monstrous practice of all time existed in India. It was known as Sati custom where widows were burned alive on the funeral pyres of their husband. Masses accepted this practice, they were told by religious clergy that there is place called heaven and hapless woman will not be able to live without her husband on earth. She may entice other men into sexual relations and corrupt entire society.
In the absence of exposure to better ideas people were convinced. It was the unrelenting efforts of Raja Ram Mohan Rai and likes of him who convinced their colonial masters to stop this practice. Britishers earlier used to refuse to ban this practice on the pretext that they have no interest in interfering in the cultural practices of their subjects. There were here only to make money. See the most ironical part, the contradiction. Barbarians are also feeling that their act amounts to no injustice. For them by burning alive a woman they are actually doing a favour to her. In the similar way the more enlightened ones also felt they are saving lives and making society a better and more humane place.
This inherent structure of cognition will ultimately lead to the prevalence of cultural order which is most logical, rationale and ethical. The word morality is intentionally avoided in the preceding line because that is subject to cultural book keeping. Everything is part of culture. Even the scientific developments cannot be seen beyond the cultural contextual realities. Exceptions exist and they will increase in the future. When the Galileo informed humanity and Christendom that our earth is not located at the centre of universe, neither sun revolves around it. Perhaps just opposite is true. He was forced to apologize for his statement (Cowell, 1992). This shows how culture curtails and constraints the space for the functioning of human minds even in the realm of pure science. Now it may not be that relevant today as it was few years back. But it still has subtle influence.
For better encapsulation of concept of culture and to understand its meaning it would be beneficial to locate the meaning of culture in the cultural clashes which are taking place everyday ever since the western colonialists put their foot on non western lands.
Culture as Bookkeeping
Societies collect information about shared lifestyle. They also reinterpret the existing lifestyles through myths and then impose that recorded existing order on everyone. Every existing society propagates the cultural practices through the cultural artefacts.
The mythological stories and religious books are part of that order. Details of everyday life are recorded. Record keeping is done not only for such large events which are of some value to individuals, but even the records of smaller things are kept and perpetuated. Every cultural system traditionally shares the values even about how to cook, how to eat, what to eat and what not to eat.
This record keeping is important part of creating constituents of cultural system. India gives a good example. Inter-caste marriages simply don’t exist. Not even in the vast literature which is being generated in hundreds of languages in India, neither in mythological stories, nor in the popular myths. It is not even happening in our questionably modern and enlightened film and television industry.
This is the impact of the book keeping. Once a practice enters a book and successfully repeats itself then there is a chance that it will be accepted as custom and norm and eventually culture. At the start of twenty first century it was impossible to imagine that same sex marital rights will be given to the people even in western world. As homosexuality entered the record books of culture through media systems over the last two decades, it gained wider acceptance. Ultimately homosexuals won their fight for legitimacy western societies.
Culture is strangely a book keeping. Even at a superficial level, even if two generations in a single family joined the armed forces. They start claiming that joining armed forces is a part of their cultural heritage. In reality armed forces at least in democratic nations has nothing to do with anyone’s family or lineage. There is an open competition. If one deserves a place, one gets it for himself or herself. Having a control over public offices is nobody’s family culture, but it becomes one if one starts interpreting it that way.