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Truth, illusion & cultural life

One of obviously many things I find both interesting and important is the ways in which culture blends into our personal and social realities: how stories told there often merge into our ideas of life, how to be or relate, the things we buy and lifestyles we seek to emulate. Through that, we’re seemingly seeking meaning in life through social participation, identity, and those cultural moments we’re choosing to align ourselves with.

In many ways, it’s beautiful. This dance we all do as humans? The ways we’re constantly watching what’s going on, deciding how we feel about it, then going out of our way to transform ourselves in the light of what we perceive as valuable or admirable. It’s amazing really, the creativity of the human mind in playing with all the visual markers thrown our way by cultural institutions (see Notes One).

That last sentence clearly twisted somewhere in the middle. Unintentionally, but sometimes my words take on a life of their own. There’s truth to it though, as I do feel our very human creative and social inclinations are being drawn into quite another world. Whether that’s intentional, and the degree to which it’s a healthy, fulfilling, constructive way of operating as a society is perhaps something only time will tell.

It seems to me that culture’s the place we weave our narratives around our lives. Narratives that sometimes pick up threads from the present or imagine threads from the past, pulling social or historical realities into this other realm to explore them further. Narratives that sometimes take themes or issues from our world then cast them in new lights, often in hypothetical or imaginary worlds that arrange our pieces in different ways.

Culture seems to have this wonderful way of rearranging things: bringing in fresh meaning through juxtaposition, through placing the familiar or unfamiliar in unusual relationship, drawing our inner world of connotations into strange or inspiring places. Now life’s happening on this global scale, there’s conceivably almost endless forms such activities could take by pulling in threads from every time and place (Notes Two).

But, with regard to reality, are we in danger of casting truth aside in preference for neater, more compelling or convenient narratives? History and society being complex, weighty and often dark, it may be appealing to simplify or offset that by re-working things to suit modern sensibilities or agendas. Within that, where does truth stand? Only by knowing the truth would we see the illusion.

If society’s something we have to understand, then filling our minds with potent yet unrealistic ideas could be seen as problematic (Notes Three). If we can grasp the ‘code’ – ways social realities are being represented, plus their true form – then presumably the reworkings of culture are without such great significance: we would see them for what they are.

As with anything, maybe the answer lies in our understanding? In knowing what we’re looking for, what we’re needing, and what it is that’s being offered through these channels.

Notes and References:

Note 1: Meaning in culture
Note 1: Cultural shifts & taking a backseat
Note 1: Revisiting the question of culture
Note 2: History’s role in modern culture
Note 2: Entertaining ideas & the matter of truth
Note 2: Will novelty ever wear off?
Note 3: Plato & “The Republic”
Note 3: Playing with fire?

Picking back up that earlier thought of humanity’s beautiful dance, there was The creativity of living.

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