Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A culture of liberation, or, a culture created by liberation

This is a follow up to the previous post about how to deal with nationalism without becoming a nationalist. Conservatives generally see culture as a repository of values that helps society function through keeping it in line. We have certain rules and mores that have been proven to interpersonally make things better, or to ensure survival, and these form values that should be adhered to in order to keep this process going, or so we're told. Culture in this reading becomes a kind of static prison, something that exists outside of and beyond the individual, that dictates individual life and to which there is no recourse. Culture dictates individual behavior. The liberal position, or at least the enlightenment position, is that people can essentially make up their own minds about how they want to act and rationally direct themselves in beneficial ways without needing an outside force or code to keep them in line. Values don't have to be enforced in order for society to stick together, just punishment when actual law is broken, along with knowledge of what that law is, which is something that's quite different from the intense depth of invasion of self that conservatives advocate for. Rational thought, thinking about how to act yourself instead of just obeying outside dictates is considered to be enough for people to make choices that keep society going and stop it from self destructing. There's an important equation there of decent living with what can be produced by rational analysis. But leaving that for a second there's a problem in that to really rationally make all your choices through analysis would entail spending an enormous amount of time just thinking about every little thing that you have to do. This would tend to defeat the purpose. A crib sheet is needed. The space that's occupied by culture can be a repository of just such a crib sheet. By having values loosely disseminated you help to give people rough guides so that they don't have to make every decision themselves, even though in this scenario they'd still be making most decisions themselves. More importantly, though, if you look at the mental space occupied by culture as something that could contain a kind of crib sheet, the space that's open can in fact be populated by the by products of actual rational action. If culture is a byproduct of some sort of action and deliberation by people in their lives, then it ceases to be a sort of self perpetuating tradition and becomes something that's both highly malleable and under the control of people themselves, as opposed to the other way around.

Let's take it farther. Say that a worthy goal for a society would be the promotion of both individual and collective self realization. Individual self realization, becoming an individual who has realized their potentialities in many areas of life, is seen as a positive value. Communal self realization could follow as an extension of the principle into the interpersonal arena. If people seriously pursue self realization, then eventually what will happen is that foot notes and observations about what works and what doesn't, what problems happen and what possible solutions there are for those problems, accumulate. These things can become the collective wisdom that in turn becomes the culture, or at least the part of the culture that deals with values. Cultural values, then, become the byproduct of the process of liberation and support it, with the process being the primary activity.

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