On Culture

Culture (kŭl′chər)
1) the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.
2) the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.

Essentially, culture is the generalised personality of a society.

When visiting other countries, one commonly considers the greatest discovery to be the strange and otherworldly traditions experienced. However, when looking from outside in, would we marvel at our own? At this idea, I involuntarily think, “oh, but our society doesn’t have any particularly extreme ideas and our traditions aren’t particularly exciting.” But I would think that, wouldn’t I. And so would anyone of the cultures to which they belong.

If culture is a generalised personality, what would the culture of the earth be to an outsider? What would stand out? Would it be our music, our sport, our vanity perhaps?

On the surface at the most basic level, our global community is one of vibrant and varied colour, both natural, in skin, land and horticulture, and created, in fashion and media. Our world is made up of countless sub-cultures, all founded on great loyalty and fierce patriotism. Whether we could pull together as one in the event of intergalactic communication, we may never know.

The most obvious indicators of culture are our performance arts; music, theatre and film. We create a range of pieces that vary hugely depending on the desires of people on any level, from whole continents, right down to the individual. We enjoy music for pleasure, we idolise its creators, and we worship its existence.

From outside our own cultures, our worship is a curious thing. I’m not sure a newcomer would know what or who is the subject of our worship. As well as our religious figures and symbols, we idolise the famous, be it sportsman, musician or even reality star (there are so many celebrities today who are famous for basically nothing more than being stupid or strongly opinionated, it’s bizarre, but that’s a debate for another day). Our worship of this kind varies from person to person.

If one were to look deeper and put the earth under a magnifying glass, a perhaps more sinister identity could be found. We are a race perpetually afflicted with a highly competitive nature. Every one of us will have partaken in competitive sport at some point in our lives, be it racing friends through parks or representing our country in international rugby fixtures. We allow ourselves to invest heavily both fiscally and emotionally. Think back to your youth and the anguish at losing a game of snakes and ladders. We do our best to mask our disappointment, but there is always some feeling of deflation as the box is packed away. We may even vow to win next time.

Greed, albeit reluctant, is another dangerous trait that cannot be escaped from. Greed for the last scone, the new state-of-the-art gadget, the jacket that that celebrity wears in that advert, for a bigger house… It becomes infinitely more sinister when we take competitiveness and add greed, the sum total is war. Marching through land on which one lays claim, leaving death and terror in our wake. It has been a daily reality since Cain and Abel. War changes the cultures of all involved forever.

So what will it be? What does Paul the alien think of us, the skinny pink hairless beings on our multi-cultural planet? What do you think?

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2 comments on "On Culture"

  1. I don’t think we can honestly give an assessment of what aliens would think of us just in the same way as…”oh, but our society doesn’t have any particularly extreme ideas and our traditions aren’t particularly exciting.” But I would think that, wouldn’t I. And so would anyone of the cultures to which they belong.” – we are in the society and have nothing to compare it to outside of this world to say what we are or what we are not. We have no idea if other world’s also do the things we do.

    But to analyse our own actions, I think we must reference the human relationship with nature and the environment. Nature was here first and there are billions of species on the planet, but humans see themselves as the most important things on the planet. But how would an alien see it? Would they see the ants as the most important creatures? Or whales? Or birds? How would it be determined? We see humans as important because of…what?! The fact we create money…a fabricated system? Or our communication levels…another fabricated system? Or, dare I say it, our intelligence? Can we make honey from pollen as an internal system? Can we fly or bury ourselves in an inch of earth to hide ourselves? Or camoflage ourselves…? Or survive on just stored bodily water in hot weather for months?

    How would we be viewed? Who knows! But potentially at another level of esteem to how we view ourselves, be it higher or lower.

    • Emma Nicholson on

      I seem to have fallen into my own trap! I have assessed our world culture from an introspective, typically human point of view and disregarded the rest of the world’s population, by which we are outnumbered massively. Where humans have proved resourceful in our use of the materials around us, other creatures, such as the famous chameleon have provided a far more impressive contribution; their ability to change their shade in response to their surroundings.
      This is a question that no one can easily answer, indeed it probably morphs and changes day by day. However, curious as I am, it is a question I am going to keep in mind as I discover more about the assortment box of cultures the world provides.

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