Saturday, June 06, 2009

How is culture created?

Looking at Hegel, it's a question to ask. One of Hegel's ideas is that when human beings started they started alienated from their environment and from themselves, and that through effort some of the self alienation has been overcome. One of the ways this would manifest would be through different modes of thought that are possible for human beings to interact with their world by. Modes of thought would start out, say, with people who were illiterate and who hadn't had much experience with the world beyond maybe the village that they live in, and end with people who are highly educated, have both a liberal arts education and some sort of specialized education, understand culture, art, have broad knowledge of the world. Looking at these two points of views as modes of thought, you could say that A interacts with the world in a much different way than B. Of course the ranking of the two in hierarchy is both classist and chauvanistic, but lets keep going with it for the purpose of argument.

Let's say that B is the goal that everyone should be moving towards. You could say that B has a much bigger scope of experience than A. The question then is how to get from A to B. One of the classic answers would be to say "Go back to the Greeks and Romans", but saying that just puts the question one step back. If the Greeks and Romans were cultured, were more like B, then how did they get that way? How did anyone get that way, for instance, since it seems that a lot of what is considered culture in B's case does not directly involve doing things that are related to work and to the outside world.

An answer could be that culture is created through the interaction and dialogue of people in their free time, the sorts of discussion and pooling of collective knowledge that allow connections to be made that otherwise wouldn't in areas that wouldn't normally get a lot of attention. Three people making art at the same time, discussing what they're doing, trading tips, trading thoughts on life, can create more culture than if the three were working individually. Culture is, or can be, built up by collective communication, and books are just records of collective communications and discussions that have taken place in the past. Writing and record keeping is just that, a way to keep records of what's been discussed before and people's thoughts on subjects. Schools are another recapitulation of the process of making culture: you have folks who have engaged in the fundamental dialogue to one extent or another helping people with no experience in it to understand some of what's going on.

I would hope that everyone would have a chance to sit in the circle and around the fire, either in reality or metaphorically, and share knowledge, stories, and insights, thereby adding to the store of collective knowledge and building up culture even more, even contributing to a state of things where in comparison to previous generations, future ones will be seen as possessing a different mode of thought. In fact, I'd see this right to free thinking by dialogue as being as fundamental to a person's well being as the right to the products of the work that they materially build and contribute to.

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