Monday, January 29


Culture is a funny thing. It gets bandied about so often and so carelessly that to actually find a good definition for it is near impossible. This came up last week during Ethics as we were considering a relativist ethical outlook (every society has its own distinct moral code and it cannot be compared to any others, tradition is its own warrant, yadda, yadda, yadda). To even make relativism viable, you have to be able to identify and differentiate between cultures and so my classes troubles began. I do not remember the specifics of the various theories on culture that were offered, but there was trouble in defining it as circular reasoning arose in calling it 'the beliefs and values one has' or culture became so atomized by examples of a person identifying with their gender, race, nationality, interests, ethnicity and whatever other myriad things that the term culture became useless.

So a friend and I went for a run afterwards and discussed culture on the way. In maybe fifteen minutes (the run was over twenty, but we switched over to a wholly new topic after a while) and after considering whether Star Wars fandom and fashion and other such things constituted a culture, we came to a conclusion that goes something like this. Culture is the set of prohibitions and prescriptions, written or not, that we follow or at least attempt to in our actions. Atomization is prevented because culture is bound by a finite number of actions, but belonging to multiple cultures is still possible.


Webster suggests that culture is 'a : the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations b : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time c : the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization d : the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic.'

Wikipedia says "Culture (from the Latin cultura stemming from colere, meaning "to cultivate"), generally refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activity significance."


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