Sunday, May 28, 2006

something, i can't remember what, got me started on culture. a few months ago, brady and i were visiting family in the mountains. there was "need" for a late night pilgrimage to wal-mart. as we were walking toward our car, we happened upon a man with a tire iron confronting another man who was trying to get into his truck. the tire iron man hit the truck man, and we proceeded to hop in our car and drive off without making eye contact. (we later found out that the altercation ended in a non-fatal stabbing)
as we were driving home, i made some nebulous statement about why culture is important. as if those guys had spent their saturday night at the symphony- they would be magically elevated. they would not have been drunk on pbr, and commenting on the girth of some lady's derriere. it's a stretch.
there's a system in place there, and it would take far more than a singular cultural excursion to change the shape of fun things to do in murphy, nc on a saturday night.
there is a lot more to be said about the influence of culture than i am prepared to say.
so i started looking at books about culture- just to define it, not with examples, but as a concrete concept.
the first book i found said that "culture" is the third most difficult word to define in the English language. It's apparent opposite, "nature," is the second.
which lead to the next natural question... what is the foremost difficult word to define?
i googled it, but i don't think google really understood my question.
if anyone is reading and they know- or have a guess, please. i must know.
i think that it's love. i can't imagine anything more difficult to define than love...
i digress.
culture is one of the few separators of man and beast.
Accordin to the Online Etymology Dictionary the word is born of:
1440, "the tilling of land," from L. cultura, from pp. stem of colere "tend, guard, cultivate, till" (see cult). The figurative sense of "cultivation through education" is first attested 1510. Meaning "the intellectual side of civilization" is from 1805; that of "collective customs and achievements of a people" is from 1867. Slang culture vulture is from 1947. Culture shock first recorded 1940.
Nature, according to Terry Eagleton from his book, The Idea of Culture, is defined as the opposite of culture- or vice versa.
So. Culture is the uprooting, "cultivating", rearranging of the natural order of the land... and our minds... and our strange human nature. Culture is an attempt to exercise control over nature- to take the reins, produce more better, understand to the point of empathy, weave emotion into intellingence into economy into freedom into love into compassion. Ideally- elevating ourselves beyond the primordial survival instincts we imagine we are driven by.
But who is to say that a particular Wal-Mart beating/ stabbing incident was not driven by a facet of culture? To me, though violence almost always seems animalistic, unnecessary and most unrefined.
So I am supposing here, that for all of our culture, how far have we truly come?
However- the problem with Murphy, NC is that those men were useless to their environment. The problem with many such rural places is that there is no longer a lot of hard work to make people tired and grateful. There is not a system that assigns them a function. They have little value in the small town filled with pretty mountains and poor, ignorant, angry people. Poor because they don't know their land anymore. They have to work at the gas station or build houses for the wealthy folks that are driving up property value, and hence, property taxes. They imagine somewhere that they are doing these little places a favor- pouring their money in, but they are there so briefly- they really do not support the local economy on any significant level- a few guys have jobs for a few weeks- but then, everyone else must pay for the "prestige" of the property their family has humbly tended for several generations.
They are poor not because they have less money then before- they are poor because someone shifted the scale and suddenly their riches have turned to rags by comparison. They are poor because they are homogenized- television and Wal-Mart (among others)- have robbed the nuances of geographic flavor. The heritage, the old stories are drained, colorless, boring.
But, then, there is the culture of homogenization. Wal-Mart is anything but natural.

In the end this rambly little blog is just me puzzling about and painting a little dream over top of the questions. The dream realized would only end in more shortcoming, but, that's why I am me and not the answers, just a bubbling little well of possibility,

1 comment:

Creators said...

The third definition might be 'quality', as Persig explored in, 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'. I still believe he is vastly under rated. Google worked no better for me on a search.

Not so sure about love, though. I personally think the love problem is one of context rather than one of definition. Any time it is used as a noun, then it is misused, it's a verb. As such it is a word that only counts in interaction. For example, you can love your dog, but you can't love your teddy bear, you can only be fond of your teddy or feel sentimental about it, and loving your dog means that you care for it, are sensitive to it's needs and nurture it. All too often love is used selfishly without consideration for it's necessary interactive meaning. I grew up with the amazing expression, 'I love all you children equally.' When the reality was none of us felt loved at all.

And then, of course (the great myth of our times), sex is not a natural expression of love, sex is mere biology. If a sexual relationship grows from a loving relationship, well and good, but a sexual relationship is not synonymous with or necessarily inclusive of love, as reality, as against filmic modern mythology, proves eloquently.

Movies where declarations of love lead to an inevitable trail of clothes to the bed, have to be, at the very least, black humour and at worst, utter and complete nonsense.

Perhaps a modern definition of love might begin with what it is not and clear us all some space.

Contextually, I am not convinced it's that hard to pin down.