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Culture

Excellent example of paper 2 by Devin Rentz

It is the sound pounding in peoples' heads that is so loud, most people have become accustomed or even deaf to it. Culture is the essence of mainstream. It is the dominant system of language, norms, folkways, mores, beliefs and values of a given society. It is imbued in children from the time they are able to be instructed. Its presence is overlooked simply because it is everywhere one looks. It is not necessarily a sinister bunch of ideas lurking in the shadows, but to realize the effects, both positive and negative, it has on the thoughts and actions of people, it deserves a closer examination. Mother Culture, which will be explored more after an understanding of culture is established, is a term used in Daniel Quinn's novel, Ishmael, to describe a peoples' early culture, their perception of this culture, and its relevance to the offspring culture they are presently a part of.

Culture arises from social relationships and social groups and is a product of social construction. The actions between people and the meanings that are consciously ascribed to these actions are the bedrock of any culture (Anderson and Taylor, 75). This idea is also the foundation of the sociological perspective of symbolic-interactionism, which states that the interpretation of an action, rather than just the action itself, is what actual communication is. Culture is shared, taught and learned, and is not a biological or genetic topic. This is what fundamentally puts it into a sociological category rather than a psychological one. The need for food is a biological drive, while the question of what food to eat or how to prepare dinner is answered by the culture a person is a member of, not a string of DNA (Collins, Law and Miraglia).


Since culture is passed on from generation to generation, the process of 'passing the torch' is a flashpoint in the continuity of culture. One of the most important tool to facilitate the transfer of culture is language. Language, including both written and vocalized words, is a complex system of metaphors for actions, objects and abstracts occurring in the physical and mental realities of a culture. It can be used to communicate and inform other people of experiences they have never experienced. And, like a game of telephone, pieces of a culture can be lost in translation and other pieces misconstrued. In George Orwell's futuristic, dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty Four, the government is actively involved in deleting words from public usage in order to limit the thinking, and the actions that can follow thinking, of the population (Orwell, 78.) This fictional situation is in line with the Sapir-Whorf Synthesis which claims that languages determines the understanding of reality (Anderson and Taylor, 59.) The dynamic properties of language use, in combination with new discoveries and the evolution of ideas over time, ensures that culture is always changing.


It is important to note, however, that cultures resist change. People depend on culture to place them in a stratified society and the economic model a culture accepts to tell them what to do. A culture that is changing too quickly can experience cultural lag, which is a change in some parts of culture that is not happening at the same speed of other parts of the culture and culture shock, which is the disorientation of people in a rapidly changing or significantly different cultural situation. An example of cultural lag is the rejection of abortion by evangelistic and fundamentalist Christians to the legality of euthanasia in Oregon. Many Americans feel culture shock when returning to the United States after living abroad and finding their locality very different from the way they had left it.


These reactions stem from the values, beliefs and mores of a culture. The way a culture tries to organize its legal, political and economic systems has everything to do with what it views as right and wrong, true and false. The negative connotation that the word deviant carries with it wherever it goes is a manifestation of the pressure a culture puts on individuals to conform to what the majority believes and values.


Mother Culture as described in Ishmael is the perception of the history of one's culture and how it affects the people of a culture that traces its roots to the Mother Culture. In the United States, there is a tradition of individuality, independence and industriousness. These values stem from the origin of the United States in the Enlightenment Period when religious minorities found refuge here and so much of the population was comprised of refugees and immigrants. Titles of nobility did not hold any water and people were judged by their contributions of labor and knowledge to society.


In Ishmael, Quinn mostly focused on the negative aspects of Mother Culture in the United States and Western world, and the need for change. There still exists the Enlightenment idea that rationality makes humanity superior to other forms of life and there is a consequential cultural idea that nature was made only for humanity and its domination of nature (Quinn, 126-128.) Quinn, throughout the text, tried to influence the reader to escape what their Mother Culture told them so that they could see that they were as much a part of nature as the next organism and that the survival of life was dependent on humanity not trying to exterminate other life forms that did not aid in the growth of human power and population (Quinn, 130.)


Culture is not necessarily something to be eschewed. It is what allows a society to function. Of course, this is under the assumption that functionality is valued by a culture, but some axiom is needed to make normative judgments about culture. It could also be argued that biologically, humans need to be able to function to survive as humans are a pack oriented and dependent mammals, but this also makes the assumption that survival is a moral imperative, but, I digress.


With societal cooperation and harmony as a virtue, culture can help accomplish this. People living under the same cultural system are able to work together to accomplish things that they could not do alone. The building and management of cities is a perfect example of this need for cooperation. Cities such as my father's hometown of Detroit, MI are having serious issues with people who do not see eye to eye on the way things should be done. Some want political institutions to stretch out a greater social safety net for those who are falling through the cracks of poverty and drug addiction, while others claim that the population needs more respect for the American virtues of hard work and 'pulling oneself up by the bootstraps.' These issues are greatly exacerbated by racial tensions, economic recession in the auto making sector, and a mayor in the midst of a sexual scandal, demonstrating the role of cultural mores in the areas of sex and marriage.


Culture is the drive behind why societies do what they do. In order to prevent wars, civil wars, environmental destruction, crime, mass psychological dysfunction and poverty, culture must be examined to find the source of any problem. It is no surprise that the culture one is born into, and lives and breathes has a great, yet not always perceptible effect on a person. Let's take a closer look.

Bibliography

Andersen, Magaret L. and Howard F. Taylor. Sociology in Everyday Life. Thomson Wadsworth, United State of America.

Collins, Peg, Miraglia, Eric, and Law, Richard
http://www.wsu.edu/gened/learn-modules/top_culture/culture-index.html
26 May, 1999

Orwell, George. 1984. Harcourt, Inc. New York, New York. 1949.

Quinn, Daniel. Ishmael. Bantam/Turner Books. 1992.