Saturday, August 8, 2015

Adendum One to Two Cultures

My friend Ron White has an interesting comment on the last post at Facebook. 
Other than oppressive/oppressed..."Culture" is IMAGINARY... it's a disease of the mind... It's an objective that we all know who's who. Gender, Race, Tribe, Ethnicity, Nationality are all subjective, malleable, and designed to create "have's" and "have-nots." And (of course) everyone would rather "have" than "have-not."
I replied:
I don't think that "culture" is imaginary. I just think that the only non-arbitrary distinction between one culture and another is the one that I identified. That said, I very much agree that all the demographic distinctions you mention are almost always Nietszchean inventions: they are framed not for understanding but for manipulation.
I think a clarification is in order.  A culture may be non-arbitrarily defined by a trait.  There is a population of dolphins off the coast of Florida who corral their prey by using their tails to fan up circular walls of sand.  So far as is known, this is the only population of dolphins in the world to use this strategy and it apparently has to be learned by each new generation.  That marks out this population as a distinct culture. 
Likewise past human cultures have often been defined by a particular technology, as for example a style or technology of pottery.  This kind of cultural classification can be very useful but it is an altogether artificial classification.  Just because these two sites feature the same kind of pottery doesn’t tell you whether they shared other cultural traits or considered themselves to be somehow the same people. 
This kind of cultural classification is non-arbitrary because it looks for a common feature that can be documented.  It is useful precisely because the classification is artificial: the observer is corralling the phenomena. 

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