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Culture as a conversation across time

It’s intriguing to think how the ideas, characters and messages of culture travel across time in this perennial discussion of what it might mean to be human. It’s a conversation that seems capable of crossing almost any number of years – highlighting, perhaps, the timeless nature of the dilemmas and decisions we all encounter in life. Isn’t a part of culture this sense of helping people understand what it is to live well?

Maybe it’s impossible to pin down exactly what culture’s achieving or hopes to achieve for society. It’s interesting how, for so long, people have told these stories that represent their past and those values that have served them well through the years – this reflection of what’s considered effective, constructive and helpful within that community (Notes One). Also, what’s harmful or dangerous for individuals and the group.

Isn’t every community ultimately concerned with its own survival? With encouraging behaviour that’ll help ensure that outcome. With shaping the thinking and character of its members so they’ll understand the importance of their involvement and the significance of what’s at stake. Isn’t it vitally important we all understand our place in the world and our relationships within it?

And don’t we also need a vision – a sense of where this is headed and why we should cooperate for that end? There’s surely this future element to culture’s stories: preparing people for how best to respond to the challenges of life and potential threats to their community’s existence. For us to give up prized notions of individual freedom, don’t we need a compelling reason to do so? (Notes Two)

Culture, in its way, perhaps attempts to weave us all into society’s present by helping us know, understand and appreciate our past; carry all that’s essential forward; and act wisely for our future. Isn’t “all this” about cultivating the kind of thinking and action community depends upon?

It’s just interesting, then, how modern culture’s often deconstructing, falsifying, and casting despairing stories around us at every turn (Notes Three). Why would a society want to do that? Maybe it’s trying to alert people that their future is uncertain? That the kinds of thinking we’ve been living by have seriously destabilised our social, international and natural environments. That our past and future are both questionable.

Perhaps it’s also that people are now more easily able to realise their vision and churn out whatever proves profitable within the cultural marketplace (Notes Four). If depictions of dystopia and intergenerational conflict resonate with people maybe that’s all that’s needed for such storylines to proliferate. Does it matter if it really doesn’t help much in terms of social cohesion, mutual understanding and so forth?

In many ways, whatever hand was guiding the stories surrounding humanity seems to have given way to quite a different set of intentions. How we might best work with such visions of destruction, despair and distrust is surely quite a crucial question in terms of whether this ultimately serves to help us all move forward together.

Notes and References:

Note 1: Culture as what we relate to
Note 1: Stories that bind us
Note 1: Emotion and culture’s realities
Note 1: Plato & “The Republic”
Note 2: Society as an imposition?
Note 2: Right to look out for ourselves?
Note 2: Do we really need incentives?
Note 3: Dystopia as a powerful ideal
Note 3: Do we know what we’re doing?
Note 3: Art as a way to subvert or inspire
Note 3: Truth, illusion & cultural life
Note 4: Economics & the realm of culture
Note 4: It resonates, but should it be amplified?
Note 4: Playing with fire?

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