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Posts Tagged ‘culture’

What Makes A Culture?

Can an individual have their own culture, or must the aspects be shared by a group?  How much can be absent or altered without losing (collective) culture or (personal) identity?

When I think of culture, one of the first things to come to mind is food.  When I get a chance to visit another country, I want to experience their food: the tang in the air, the flavors, the different ingredients.  I’m curious whether food is mostly served at home or at a restaurant?  If Asian markets are any hint, pre-packaged foods are popular in China.  But Asian cooking involves all sorts of raw ingredients I’ve never heard of here in the United States.  Here also we have one of our cultures that only eats either frozen foods or fast foods or snacks.  But aren’t there still places in the world where cooking from scratch is an art?  Some cultures encourage bonding over sharing food in various degrees from a family meal to a family-style where the food is served all in giant platters into which people dip their hands to hospitality.  On the other end of the spectrum is the more formal dining experience, at a restaurant, with plates individually prepared, courses served.  There are cultures more receptive to buffets (my grandparents from Kansas *loved* them), or short-order cooking.  There is something special that some cultures encourage about preparing food together.  Some places esteem cooks highly, while others relegate the cooking of food to the lowliest classes (or women or slaves).  In some cultures dessert is a special treat, for holidays maybe – while some have a dessert at least once a day!  Which cultures care about nutrition?  Which about presentation?  Which about exotic flavors and innovative dishes?  Which focus more on comfort food and cravings?  What are considered comfort foods in various cultures?

I’ve noticed that different cultures have different modes of posture.  Some use chairs, and some cushions.  Some have sofas, others benches.  There are places where squatting is more common than sitting “Indian-style”.  Related to this, I think, is hygiene: how often do the people bathe, and by what means?  What are their toilet facilities like – or do they use fields, dig holes?  How do the people view health, view disease?  How do they treat it?  Do they use prayers or rituals?  Exercises?  Medicines?  Drugs?  Herbal remedies and nutrition?  Oils?  Mineral baths?  Other practices like chiropractors would employ?  Do they gather the sick together in hospitals or tend them at home?  Are there doctors?  How much treatment is limited to professionals?  Do they believe in preemptive medical care like scans or vaccinations?  At what points do they choose not to treat a person any more?

How are drugs and alcohol viewed?  Sometimes there are whole cultures built around the common experience of these substances.

What do people wear in various cultures?  What are the conventions; that is, is it normal for anyone to wear pants?  Robes?  Hats?  Certain colors or fabrics?  What is the style?  How often do fashions change?  How are they changed?  Does appearance matter as a form of art or more a form of modesty?  Is clothing more about the aesthetic or the functional?  How is clothing used to demonstrate distinctions in gender, age, class, employment, marital status, etc.?  Do people alter their bodies for the sake of appearance: foot binding, neck stretching, piercings, tattoos?

It seems to me that different cultures hold different ideas about acceptable risks.  Is it acceptable to let a child play near a fire?  Jump off a log?  Play where he might encounter a snake?  Get into a fist-fight with another child?  This is not exclusive to children, though.  In some cultures taking risks is involved in a rite of passage.  Risks are joined in together, to form social bonds.  Other cultures are much more conservative and careful, I think.  What do people put on the other side of the scale when they’re weighing risks?  Are fun and excitement of any relevance to them?  Competition?  Appearance?  Or do they only consider practical things like preparing for invasions or hunting for food?

Art is such a huge sphere for culture that I don’t even know where to begin.  Cultures have their favorite mediums, subjects, colors, motives.  I can only suppose that certain fonts are the preferred writing of specific cultures, since the fonts on grocery stores appealing to diverse cultures are unique and identifiable even in the United States.  People groups have their own favorite sounds of music, their customary scales in which their music is played or sung.  Some have more instruments than others.  Dancing varies from culture to culture in complexity and energy and purpose.

There are other forms of entertainment that vary depending on the culture.  Even the predominance of entertainment can be a mark of a different culture.  Sports are observed as entertainment, or played for entertainment; in some cultures it seems to be one more than the other.  Some sports are preferred by certain cultures, probably by way of other aspects of their culture (energy, reserve, risk) and inheritance (what did their parents play or watch?).  The complexity of toys, items used for play and entertainment, is also different in foreign places.  Some toys focus more on athleticism, others on skill and focus, and others do most of the work for you, performing for your enjoyment.  Toys can be scientific or domestic – little representations of the working world.  On the other hand, they can be silly escapes from the real world.

Architecture is probably a form of art, too.  But I think it transcends art in that buildings often serve additional purposes.  So, is the architecture of a culture about efficiency? Beauty?  Community?  Symbolism?  Do they use materials found at hand, or manufactured, or transported to the building site?  How big are they – are they too big for one family to raise themselves?  Do people try to live in the same place their whole lives, or are they ambitious for bigger buildings?  Do they live in natural formations like caves?  Do they dig out holes in the ground?  Do they live in trees?  By rivers?  Do they dig wells or irrigation trenches?  Do they build dams?  And how much do all of these things influence other aspects of the culture, like family and friends and food and business?

An aspect of culture in my own country so glaring that I failed to recognize it at first is materialism.  How many things do people own?  Is it a status symbol to own more?  Is sharing encouraged?  Do people show love through gifts?  How do people feel about financial sacrifice?  Do they invest in material things or in businesses – or adventures?  Where do they keep their goods?  Are things owned by individuals or groups or everyone?  Is there a distinction between land as property and removable objects as property?

Cultures have their own stories.  “Own” is here used loosely, because I have found common threads of story in many different cultures.  There are fables about the origins of things, and love stories, and stories of wars and sacrifice.  Some stories even have comedies, the sense of humor varying from culture to culture (and individual to individual).  What is seen as a hero?  Is it the man who slays the most enemies?  The man who rules the most living men?  The man who sacrifices himself?  Different cultures have their different monsters.  They have their own dominant fears, just as they have different favorite virtues.

Values shape cultures.  It seems that in America the dominant culture values independence, and speaking our mind.  I’ve heard of cultures that value the good of the whole.  Some value honor, others hold preserving life as a higher value.  Some value youth, and others value the elders.

Religions are often associated with and intertwined in cultures.  Is there one sovereign God?  What is He/he like?  Are there many gods worshiped?  Are certain animals or plants revered?  How is worship carried out?  Through song?  Pilgrimage?  Sex?  Sacrifice?  Sacred words?  Eating?

Cultures have often established their own rituals to recognize significant events like birthdays, coming of age, marriage, and other accomplishments (like graduation).  They have special ways of holding funerals.  They bring their own unique takes on holidays.  What fun, to see images and artifacts from Christmases in other places or ages!

Language is one of my favorite aspects of culture.  Is it important to the culture?  Is it precise or more personal?  Is it written or mostly spoken?  Is it tonal?  How appropriate are metaphors, slang, and profanity?  What are the customary greetings?  Besides the words spoken, what other gestures are included?  What gestures are seen as essential to good manners, and which ones are abhorrent?  Which ones are just the convention?  One tribe I heard of rubs its nose while thinking, but it is more common for my culture to scratch our head or chin – or to frown.  Does the culture encourage more or less expression of one’s own thoughts – or feelings?  Which is predominant: thoughts or feelings?  Is expression mostly communicated by gesture, action, word, or art?  Accordingly, are the people of the culture more generally reserved – or exuberant?  Are they loud or quiet?  Does everyone speak at once?  Do they take turns at anything they do?

How intimate are their friendships?  How many friends does a person tend to have?  Do they share their friends with their whole family, or is it a private affair?  How do they play?  Is playing part of friendship?  How do they show honor?  How do they respond to dishonor?  Is dishonor a casual joke or a serious offense?  How are reconciliations brought about?

There is diversity in any culture, large or small.  How is that balanced?  Is it suppressed or embraced?  Is there competition more than cooperation?  Do they try to come to unity, or to sameness?  Are differences displayed?  Analyzed?  Intentionally created?  What things are used to emphasize (or manufacture) what they have in common?  I know in some places religion does this, in others wars bring people together against a common enemy, and in others it is the common experience of standardized schooling that prepares them to respond in similar ways to things.

I don’t know if there are cultures without classes, but given that in most there are, how are relationships between the classes?  Is there mutual respect?  Is there resentment?  Are people generally content with the life to which they were born?  Do they practice cruelty or charity towards the classes that are more needy?  Is this voluntary or institutionalized?

How big is one’s sphere in their culture?  Who does a culture encourage friendship with?  Who does it encourage responsibility towards?  What are members encouraged to aspire to?  How much is proximity a factor?  What kinds of transportation do people use (walking, driving, biking, boating, flying, carting, carrying)?  Do people travel for social reasons or economic ones?  Or are there environmental reasons to practice a sort of migratory lifestyle?

Here in the United States we have many cultures living side by side, some whose “boundaries” are only a block or two from a significantly different group.  And with technology the way it is today, we can converse with people far away, travel quickly to see them, view photos they took, and purchase art created in foreign cultures.  How aware are people of other cultures?  (How aware are they that theirs is distinct?)  Are they interested in them?  Do they want to integrate good things from other cultures into their own?  Do they integrate foreigners?  Is this by means of cooperation or an initiation and instruction?  Are they willing to adapt their own culture?  Do they resist change?  Do they try to replace every culture they meet?  Do they replace the cultures of peoples they come to dominate?  Do they have compassion for foreigners or other cultures?  Do they feel superior?  Do they covet what other cultures have or are?

To an extent, family structure is different in cultures.  How do husbands relate to their wives, and what is expected of each within the home?  How do people come to be married?  How many wives may a man have?  How do parents relate to their children?  Who else bears the burden of child-rearing (community, grandparents, school, nannies)?  What kinds of discipline are used?  Are children seen and not heard?  Are they seen as trophies or contributors?  How important is extended family?  Is family more important than friends?  Are there specific obligations towards family members?  How does a family unit relate to the rest of the world?  How much is the government involved?

Some people view laws and government as providing order and security, or as being the at-the-ready conflict resolvers, while others expect the government to oversee all of the individual’s (and group’s) needs.  Some expect the government to enforce justice, and others are content with a system built on bribes.  Do the people believe it is their place to submit, or to reform, or to revolt?  In some places, the government is not only expected to take care of needs, but to take on big societal problems, and solve them.  Governments tend to look out for their own interests, but whether the peoples are ok with that or not is not so universal.  Some governments take in a vast number of citizens, whereas there are some whose range is limited to the immediate family of a Bedouin tribe.

Is business conducted in a personal way?  Does a person go door to door offering their goods or services?  Is there a public common market or do consumers seek out goods and services at specific phone numbers, websites, or stores?  Is a transaction considered between equals, or are service providers a lower class?  Are the servants recognized as members of a household or anonymous functionaries?  Is there a mindset of professionalism?  Who desires the professionalism – professional or consumer or both or neither?  How influential are corporations – the idea that no one person is responsible for the good or service being sold?

There is such a variety of technology, and tools, that are used in different societies, and these can be both representative and influential.  What things are used for communication?  For building?  Transporting?  How much of life is taken up by work?

What is the general schedule?  What is the work week?  How many hours in a day are work?  Is work a means or an end?  Which hours are devoted to sleeping?  When and how do people wake?  When do they play?  When do they have social activities?  Do they work together or finish their work and then spend time together?  When do they eat and how often?

If a group’s language is forgotten, and they move from the land of their buildings and ditches; if they stop playing with their old toys, and their clothing no longer distinguishes them clearly from one class to another – but they carry on a secret family recipe from the old, old days when all those things had been in place, have they lost their culture?  Can they share their recipe, market their spices and vegetables to other people groups, and still have their culture?  When do we say a culture has become distinct?  When do we say it has merged with another?

Should we try to preserve cultures?  Or is a way of life gloriously defined by the personalities and abilities and histories of the people who make up the group?  Is there a difference between dissolving a culture and replacing it?  What harms does the structure of tradition found in a culture cause?  What benefits does it provide?

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Autumn’s Eve Pigfest

 

Sunday night, the day before Autumn, I hosted my second ever pigfest.  We held a potluck autumnal feast that looked fantastic laid out on the table.  And by the end of the night we had discovered that it tasted fantastic as well. 

 

Our discussion went like this (remember devil’s advocacy may be adopted at any time): 

 

Proposition 1: Slavery is biblically acceptable. 

What is slavery?  What is the slavery in the Bible?  Does the Bible accept slavery, or merely regulate it; is there a difference?  Is there slavery today?  How does debt come in?  Are there advantages to slavery (especially indentured servitude) to an economy, a society, or an individual slave?  What makes slavery unacceptable?  What role should the church play in a society that utilizes slavery?  In history, has the church been successful in enforcing the Bible’s limits to slavery? 

 

Proposition 2: Unmarried adults should be allowed to adopt children. 

How is this worse than unmarried people working in orphanages?  Isn’t it better for a child to have one loving parent than none at all?  What are the legal implications when this is allowed?  Is this a selfish decision?  Does a one-parent household enable the parent to spend time with children, or are they raised essentially in an orphanage anyway, by being left to daycare?  If true religion is caring for widows and orphans, should single people be excluded?  How does having children as a single person affect other responsibilities or callings?  Is an unmarried woman less likely to get married if she has a child through adoption?  What about an unmarried father? 

 

Proposition 3: Cohabitation before marriage is the prudent thing to do. 

If everybody does it, how can it be bad?  Shouldn’t you test out a marriage before you make a lifetime commitment?  Are those advocating cohabitation in successful relationships or marriages?  Are they good people?  What is a Christian’s witness if he/she lives with their partner before marriage?  Many people applaud those who wait until engagement for cohabitation; is there any validity to that?  How long a cohabitation is advocated?  Does cohabitation actually sabotage the relationship, whereas starting with commitment (marriage) would enable the relationship to thrive and function?  Is marriage too big a hassle to interrupt a romance?  How should a pastor react to a couple who has been cohabiting?  Should he marry them ASAP or encourage them to repent?  Ought he to refuse to marry a couple living in sin?  Are they still living in sin after a wedding if they have not repented?  What role does a pastor have in a marriage?  Is it endorsement, witness, mere formality?  What about the law?  What makes a marriage? 

 

Proposition 4: We (the US government) should kick out illegal immigrants. 

Where would we kick them?  What would prevent them from coming right back?  Who will pay for deportation?  (It was suggested that the immigrants themselves should be forced to pay, if they can.)  Would this be good for the US economy?  Would it be tolerable for the US economy?  Has the population of illegal immigrants already hurt our economy (for example in the housing crisis)?  How does the lack of border enforcement reflect on our laws?  Are illegal immigrants typically otherwise law-abiding citizens?  What about language issues?  Isn’t America a melting pot?  Shouldn’t new immigrants be expected to assimilate just like immigrants from decades and centuries past?  Could we allow illegal immigrants to remain in the US if they followed a procedure for attaining legal status and citizenship?  Is there a risk to national security?  Since the waiting list for legally entering the US is so long, couldn’t we change that to make it easier to legally immigrate?  Why do we have limits on immigration?  Do other countries limit immigration?  Do they deport illegals?  Is it illegal to be in our country or illegal to get into our country?  Wouldn’t annexing Mexico solve our problem?  Would Mexico welcome that? 

 

Proposition 5: There are some situations in which extreme violence is justified. 

Who decides?  Is self defense the only situation?  What about defending others?  Defending innocents?  What about violent interference with the murder of unborn children?  Does defense only cover defense from murder, or can it be defense from torture or rape?  What about capital punishment?  Is it ever right to take a life?  Is it right to do nothing when lives are at risk – do I have the right to refuse to take a life or use violence if myself or other “innocent” bystanders are at risk of death?  Can I take an innocent life in order to save other lives?  Suppose a two year old is intentionally aiming a gun and pulling a trigger; should extreme violence be used against him?  Why is the Mosaic law so confusing: day or night, inside the threshold or outside, defending life, defending property…?  Does extreme violence refer only to violence leading to death, or to torture, etc.? 

 

Proposition 6: Reading books written in other languages and other eras should be done to encourage independent thought. 

Is independent thought desired?  Can translated works count?  How is that different from traveling to other parts of the world?  Does reading sufficiently immerse you in the culture to widen your perspective?  (It was pointed out that language is often imbedded in culture.  Language is formed to express a certain way of looking at the world, like the difference in description when emphasis is on texture rather than color.)  In what ways does your thought become independent?  Is this practicable?  What about those who don’t read?  Do movies count?  Foreign films with English subtitles? 

 

Proposition 7 (which was interrupted before actually beginning by the coming of 9 PM and the need to go home): Idealism ought to be valued over pragmatism. 

What on earth is idealism and pragmatism?  Do they always contradict?  Is it ultimately possible for them to contradict?  Which ideal? 

 

Some of my favorite things:  People were willing to play devil’s advocate.  The time before the debate enabled a lot of people to meet each other (and one family’s tire to be changed).  There was a lot of participation.  Pigfest format keeps a debate from wearing out the disinterested.  Everyone fit in my house.  One of my friends brought her two infant daughters.  It rained just as the party started, with the sun still shining.  Cleaning up wasn’t too hard.  People had a good time.  I’m able to remember the discussion half a week later. 

 

Things I’ll do differently next time (Nov. 1):  Have more chairs.  Don’t aim for a main meal, but do lots of snacks instead.  Pray by myself ahead of time about my attitude and perspective.  Think more about proposition ideas I might offer and how to present them in the most discuss-able way possible.  Review the rules before we start. 

 

Considerations:  Maybe prescreen propositions.  Increase time from 15 to 20 minutes.  Enlist a new (louder, more aggressive) moderator. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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