Saturday, 15 November 2014

What matters?


Culture is what matters in the broader scheme of life, not politics or economics. Cultural needs are what we want politics and economics to address, but too often it gets lost in the mass forgetting that is modern life.

When we grapple with issues from immigration to drug laws, from care of the elderly to house prices, the things we want and need are cultural. What we usually get is a turgid mix of politics, economics and posturing - and narrative of course. Always narrative.

The trouble with cultures is that they change too slowly for the impatient rhetoric of social and political activists, too slowly for big business, too slowly for global bureaucrats. So culture comes in last as a political issue fit for the masses.

Take these two extracts from Wikipedia's view of culture. Firstly we have Cicero's cultivation of the soul.

Culture (/ˈkʌltʃər/, from Latin: cultura, lit. "cultivation") is a concept based on a term first used in classical antiquity by the Romanorator Cicero: "cultura animi" (cultivation of the soul).

Next we have a more modern version where the soul has mysteriously disappeared. Not that I believe in the reality of my soul, but it's a pretty good metaphor for something within me that I feel entitled to value. I'm not too keen on its apparent disappearance.

In the 20th century, "culture" emerged as a central concept in anthropology, encompassing the range of human phenomena that cannot be directly attributed to genetic inheritance. Specifically, the term "culture" in American anthropology had two meanings:

  1. the evolved human capacity to classify and represent experiences with symbols, and to act imaginatively and creatively; and
  2. the distinct ways that people, who live differently, classified and represented their experiences, and acted creatively.

I suppose that what I really want to do is to preserve whatever old goodnesses there may be in the world. I am not in the least ashamed of being old-fashioned. There’s nothing whatever that even you could say that will make me ashamed of being old-fashioned.
Ford Madox Ford - The New Humpty Dumpty (1912)

No doubt many of us agree with Ford in that we wish to preserve whatever old goodnesses there may be in the world, but possibly not at the expense of being thought old-fashioned. Unfortunately, any well-established and valued culture is bound to be old-fashioned. It’s in the nature of the thing.

So with a kind of furtive inevitability the modern state drives welfare wedges between generations, between young and old between parents and children. The state needs to wipe its citizens clean, create Locke's tabula rasa to be written on by the official needs of the moment.

The state, global bureaucracies and global business need each generation to forget what previous generations knew until we end up with a culturally cleansed generation fit for global citizenship. One which knows nothing of the past and even less of a world beyond the narratives. One with no culture.


Sam Vega said...

"The state, global bureaucracies and global business need each generation to forget what previous generations knew until we end up with a culturally cleansed generation fit for global citizenship"
Yes - a sound point. I think this is more by accident than by design. Business and governmental bureaucracies survive by meeting the needs of atomised individuals with constantly re-stimulated appetites. Needy, rootless automata.

Cultures are what feed people, and allow them to rest easy. Or maybe they don't feed them, but show them that there is no need to keep feeding - you are OK as you are.

Cultural differences will be kept alive in some respect - probably as simulacra. "The cockney/samurai/Bedouin/Romany experience". They are marketable. But the cultures themselves, they will have to go.

Anonymous said...

I think we have two things here, culture that derives from one's trade or place in life - costermonger or warrior or beggar and something more ephemeral, a development of a broader perspective that comes from experience and life lived. It seems to me that trade or social position based culture is disappearing, I can hardly see John Gay producing "The Call Centre Operative's Opera", no romance or hardship to most modern work and therefore little for the politician to build upon. Perhaps the old costermongers didn't see much romance in it either.

As for a sense of culture derived from experience, I think that settles on traditionally important things, family, honesty and some forgiveness and understanding. Politicians don't really fit here either, they don't seem particularly useful or honest and seize on shiny baubles and then jump about like children - but without the excuse of being children.

Demetrius said...

Not to worry, if the BBC is right a cloud of junk in space will wipe out all our critical satellite stuff. The only question is when.

A K Haart said...

Sam - I agree, it does seem to be more by accident than by design. I think there are some designers in there, but not many and even they may be riding a trend without making any great contribution.

Roger - politicians don't fit in anywhere useful do they. Maybe we are bypassing them in some way and this is the difficult transition. Transition to what, I'm not sure.

Demetrius - wot no blogs?