To what extent is culture simply information? A set of ideas about how to live, or a reflection of how we are living. Options for how to go about being human that come to life and play themselves out before us; so, hopefully, we can learn from what we see and decide for ourselves the path we’ll, individually, walk through the realities surrounding us.
It seems one way of conceiving of all that’s going on in this realm: a sort of mirror held up to life that shows us what the ideal is and how things are currently looking (Notes One). Perhaps, in the past, people focussed more on the “ideal”? Holding to the notion that there “is” a right way of living and culture’s the place we’re reminded of it. This idea of culture as an authority, an example, a standard, a rebuke.
Now, though, it seems we’ve rejected that perspective. Culture’s seeming more an exploration of “how things are”, with themes emerging about the state of society and choices people are making standing as a strange sort of example for how to live (Notes Two). As if, having discredited any form of authority, we’re now free to choose between all these other things that are offered.
It’s an interesting shift, as the first scenario is clearly quite controlling while the second gives us all an incredible amount of licence. It’s probably not that clean cut, though, there presumably still are sections of society attempting to control, influence or direct what we consider to be our options. Maybe it’s just a little more subtle and understated now.
At one extreme, don’t we find religion? Those stories that serve to shape entire worldviews by placing us all within wider, often cosmic, hidden realities where our choices all count for something. Higher-level beliefs that effectively inform every aspect of how people are living: the practices, values and priorities their lives will likely be structured around. This idea of there being deeper reason behind it all.
Doesn’t what we believe and focus on affect how we live? Shaping how we see people, the kinds of judgements we make, and which options we’ll consider acceptable. Furnishing us with the fundamental ideas, assumptions and attitudes we’re building our lives on each day, as we run all our choices through the filter of how we see things.
In that way, doesn’t culture effectively “inform” our lives? The ideas we entertain or have in mind coming together to form this sense we have of what life “is” and how to approach it – what matters, what doesn’t; which attitudes serve or hold you back; the things your community will judge or admire you over. All these stories generally telling us how we might live and where it might lead.
Where else do we get our ideas from? They presumably have to “come” from somewhere (Notes Three). And, if they’re subtly shaping how we’re responding to the world, this must be quite a powerful force within our lives.
Notes and References:
Note 1: What’s the idea with culture?
Note 1: Culture as a conversation across time
Note 2: Emotion and culture’s realities
Note 2: Any such thing as normal?
Note 2: Involvement in modern culture
Note 3: How ideas find their place in the world
Note 3: Going towards the unknown