Culture is the villain


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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13 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    I think you need to think this through more to get anywhere. Humans are social animals. It is the tiniest percentage of humans who live truly alone and quite a few of them are sort of crackers. You put humans together and you will have some sort of culture. Culture, in the form of tools, crafts, agriculture, etc, is what made us who we are. But even if you go back to hunter gatherer societies 60000 years ago, they had culture.Report

    • Avatar Erik Kain in reply to greginak says:

      Oh I totally agree. It’s just a notion more than anything. Maybe it’s how we use it that’s the real problem.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to greginak says:

      I think we’ve got a few definitions going on here, though, which is a very easy problem with a word like ‘culture’. The anthro meaning is something like all of the products of human creation, such as tools, crafts, and agriculture, but also symbols, languages, and myths. Then there’s “culture” as the totality of the ways that a group of people organizes their thoughts and experiences- i.e. “American culture”. Maybe you could call this “all of the things you can learn as a member of your society.” Finally, there’s a sort of Matthew Arnold idea of “culture” as the most elevating works of thought and art- culture as something that we achieve as individuals by coming up to its level.

      The idea of “culture as the problem” is interesting. I’m not actually sure that what the 19th century thinkers called culture exists any longer or is even possible any longer. That’s been my nebulous notion, but I think you might be getting at the same thing, Erik.Report

  2. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Erik, culture is only one of a pair of villains in this picture. Two great forces are at play in our lives: the diktat of culture and the diktat of the self. E. O. Wilson goes into this in some detail. We shall never escape from the tyranny of either. The best we can ever hope for is some harmonisation of both.

    Though culture is a great Bed of Procrustes, the tyranny of the self seems more cruel. We are our own worst judges.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Dasein and mitsein.

      I suspect what Erik is thinking of as culture is in-groups (which, I think, is what hes’s referring to as “identity cultures). The existence if in-groups, and therefore out-groups, is a source of a lot of problems. Unfortunately, it’s just the way we are.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Chris says:

        Just so. Dasein and Mitsein. This is an era of self-service identity. We can transcend our little in-groups with surprising ease these days. Having watched the world for a while, I observe the greatness of the American Mitsein is this happy transcendence.

        As Erik correctly observes, there’s a certain danger in that transcendence. Maybe we do disrupt important foundations in the process. But I would argue human nature is more than the inevitability of die Unterdrückung der Kultur. We do not crumble under the weight of cliques and tribes. Those tribes now depend upon our membership and participation. Those tribes no longer have the power to shun. From this lack of power comes the current hysterical rants of the once-powerful arbiters of culture. Oh tempura, o morels.Report

  3. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Further to Blaise’s point, what you seem to recoil from is tribalism. “Culture” is not only tribal in nature and what we commonly refer to as culture contains non-tribal elements as well as the tribal ones.

    Question: given that cultural disagreements are inevitable, must all disagreements contain the seeds of inter-tribal conflict?Report

  4. Avatar b-psycho says:

    There’d be no problem with culture if people didn’t insist on forcing others to join theirs. That people persist in doing so suggests to me that they fear the extinction of theirs if people are allowed to pick others — which further strikes me as a sign that they define theirs in overly rigid terms and should try a bit more fluidity.

    That which refuses to move eventually dies. Yelling “stop!” doesn’t work, ever.Report

  5. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    With no disrespect intended, I’m inclined to wonder about your use of the term geek with: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” At least for my decades in the tech world, geeks built stuff. There were hardware geeks and software geeks, who often warred with one another. I took great pride in being labeled a “renaissance geek” by my peers, because I did it all, from math to software to hardware, and could lecture and write about it as well as do the work. While geeks do tend towards certain tastes in popular culture, those tastes are not what makes them geeks. Feel free to tell me that I’m out of line and that language has passed me by (wouldn’t be the first time). Or tell me that your day job really does make you a geek and I’ve just missed that along the line.Report

  6. Avatar Chris says:

    “You are an idiot. Now let me recommend a book to you.”

    I wonder if that ever works.Report