Monday, October 24, 2005

Some Thoughts on Culture

So Melly got me thinking about cultural dilution. I promised a lengthier answer and here it is.

Before we can talk about cultural dilution, we first have to figure out exactly what we mean by "culture". The American Heritage Collegiate Dictionary at says that culture is "The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought". That fits reasonably well with what I think is our common conception of the term.

"Socially transmitted" is the key. Society is in a constant state of flux, and so is culture. Thought patterns, beliefs, notions of art, everything that makes up our society's culture vary almost from moment to moment, certainly from generation to generation. Culture is not static, carved in stone, unchangeable. Just look at the music that is accepted in today's culture and compare that to the cultural norms of 50 years ago. Look at clothing, public behaviors like the treatment of women or blacks, furniture styles, methods of entertainment. A visitor from the 1950's dropped into today's world would be completely lost, as would any of us in the reverse situation.

Cultural dilution is a myth. Since the very beginnings of human culture, each generation has bemoaned the destruction of their culture by the generation succeeding them. This is human nature. We want our children to be like us, otherwise we loose touch with them in some ways. Communication between generations becomes unreliable as the younger generations' attitudes and beliefs shift away from ours. We feel threatened as out children and their children explore and adopt ideas that are strange to us. We feel left out, marginalized.

The cultural dilution myth is the story of the death of the old and, implicitly, the birth of the new. It is our rage against what we see as the dying of the light. What this myth says is that the ideas that we found so fresh and new in our youth are now outdated. Our ideas are being supplanted by those of our children, and that hurts. We use the myth to distance ourselves from the hurt by removing it from being personal and making it societal.

Only our personal cultures can be diluted. On a societal scale, there is no dilution, only evolution. No matter how much we want to remain stable and secure, or moribund, depending on your point of view, society moves ahead. Few people can adjust to that movement as they age. I know I cannot. I can only watch from the cheap seats as the game rushes up and down the field. I don't even know what the score is anymore.


At 9:21 AM, Blogger Melly said...

So are saying that I'm getting old??? Is that what you're saying? :)

Wow. Excellent response, Carter. You really made me laugh at the end.

I totally understand what you're saying too, it makes lots of sense. *sigh* I might just have to agree...

At 9:49 AM, Blogger Joel said...

But is participation voluntary?

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Carter said...

Melly: Almost everybody's old in somebody's eyes. As long as you stay young in your own eyes then what anybody else thinks doesn't matter.

Joel: Everything is voluntary except death and taxes, and you could argue about the taxes. :-)

At 11:17 AM, Blogger Mama Rose said...

Nuh, uuuhh! I'm from the 50s and I blog with the best of them. I'd iPod, but I can't afford one. And I wouldn't be lost if I had to go back, although it would be interesting to expenience that period as an adult. BUT--change your time frame so it's outside of currently alive people's lifetime, and I agree with you about being lost in another time.

I don't think you have to become totally out of touch with cultural changes just because you get older. I think it's just easier to let it go by. But as a writer who sets her stories in contemporary society, I have to do my best to keep up. I can't have the younger characters thinking and acting like they were born in my generation. :)


At 4:29 PM, Blogger Carter said...

I agree that you don't have to get out of touch as you age, but the vast majority of us do. I keep up with current societal culture as well, but only as an observer, and I still grieve for the parts of my personal culture that have fallen by the wayside. And sometimes rant about them. Like courtesy. Heh.


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