« Glossary Index
is the collection of manifestations of human achievement. It is the quality in a society that comes from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc. As such it is a virtue
to be honored.
is not trivial. It is not decoration or artifice, the songs we sing or even the prayers
But it is a blanket of comfort that gives meaning to lives. It is a body of knowledge that allows the individual to make sense out of the infinite
sensations of consciousness
, to find meaning and order in a universe that ultimately has neither. Culture
is a body of laws
and traditions, a moral
code that insulates a people from the heartless, or soul
-unaware, that history suggests lies just beneath the surface of all human societies and human beings.
Abraham Lincoln said that culture
alone allows us to reach for the better angels of our nature.
Full Glossary Index
If you want to know what happens when the constraints of culture
and civilization are lost, merely look around the world and consider the history of the last century.
An anthropologist from a distant planet landing in the United States would see many wondrous things. But he or she or it would also encounter a culture
that reveres marriage, yet allows half of its marriages to end in divorce; that admires its elderly, yet has grandparents living with grandchildren in only 6 percent of its households; that loves
its children, yet embraces a slogan -”twenty-four, seven” that implies total devotion to the workplace at the expense of family.
By the age of eighteen, the average American youth has spent two years watching television. One in five Americans is clinically obese and 60 percent are overweight, in part because 20 percent of all meals are consumed in automo~ biles and a third of children eat fast food every day. The country manufactures 200 million tons of industrial chemicals each year, while its people consume two-thirds of the world’s production of antidepressant drugs.
‘The four hundred most prosperous Americans control more wealth than 2.5 billion people in the poorest eightyone nations with whom they share the planet. The nation spends more money on armaments and war
than the collective military budgets of its seventeen closest rivals. The state of California spends more money on prisons than on universities. Technological wizardry is balanced
by the embrace of an economic model of production and consumption that compromises the life
supports of the planet. Extreme would be one word for a civilization that contaminates with its waste the air, water, and soil; that drives plants and animals to extinction on a scale not seen on earth since the disappearance of the dinosaurs; that dams the rivers, tears down the ancient forests, empties the seas of fish, and does little to curtail industrial processes that threaten to transform the chemistry and physics of the atmosphere.
Humanity’s potential is discovered in the contributions of all cultures on this planet, just as we are now recognizing what once was missed in the wide variety of world foods, so also we can view every culture contributing aspects of what is good to all.
Like a sacred repository of spirit
and mind, any one of world cultures
, any one of the 7,000, could provide the seeds from which humanity in all its diversity might be reborn.
What all of this means is that biologists and population geneticists have at last proved to be true something that philosophers have always dreamed: We are all literally brothers and sisters. We are all cut from the same genetic cloth. It follows, by definition, that all cultures
share essentially the same mental acuity, the same raw genius.
“Together the myriad of cultures makes up an intellectual and spiritual web of life that envelops the planet and is every bit as important to the well being of the planet as is the biological web of life that we know as the biosphere. You might think of this social web of life as an ”ethnosphere,” a term perhaps best defined as the sum total of all thoughts and intuitions, myths and beliefs, ideas and inspirations brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. The ethnosphere is humanity’s greatest legacy. It is the product of our dreams, the embodiment of our hopes, the symbol of all we are and all that we, as a wildly inquisitive and astonishingly adaptive species, have created.
All peoples face the same adaptive imperatives. We all must give birth; raise, educate and protect our children; console our elders as they move into their final years. Virtually all cultures would endorse’most tenets of the Ten Commandments, not because the Judaic world was uniquely inspired, but because it articulated the rules that allowed a social species to thrive. Few societies fail to outlaw murder or thievery. All create traditions that bring consistency to coupling and procreation. Every culture honors its dead even as it struggles with the meaning of the inexorable separation that death implies.”
It is perhaps useful to reflect on what we mean when we use the term modernity, or the modern world. All cultures
are ethnocentric, fiercely loyal
to their own interpretations of reality. Indeed, the names of many indigenous societies translate as “the people,” the implication being that every other human is a non-person, a savage from beyond the realm of the civilized. The word barbarian derives from the Greek barbarus, meaning one who babbles. In the ancient world, if you did not speak Greek, you were a barbarian. The Aztec had the same notion. Anyone who could not speak Nahuatl was a non-human.
We are all culturally myopic and often forget that our current culture
represents not the absolute
wave of history but merely a world view.
Does it matter if the wondrous world cultures and their belief systems disappear?
“Well, would it matter to the people of Quebec if the Tuareg of the Sahara lose their culture? Probably not.
No more than the loss of Quebec would matter to the Tuareg.
But I would argue that the loss of either way of life does matter to humanity as a whole. On the one hand it is a basic issue of human rights. Who is to say that the Canadian perspective on reality matters more than that of the Tuareg?
And at a more fundamental level we have to ask Ourselves:
What kind of world do we want to live in? “