EXEMPLARY DECONSTRUCTION: Culture

"Culture" is an example of a word we can, and need, to use, but we do not understand. It is not so much a dangerous suspect concept, but it is a fluid or fuzzy concept. Let us look at it.

If we take a dictionary definition, that culture is "the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time," it is the "etc" that gives us problems.

When we think about the word "culture" it is easy to wander in exploration in one of the many aspects of the "etc", the deep "etc", of culture. We need this word to thin, about the multiplicities of, well, cultures we know about on our planet and its histories. To avoid getting lost in the very interesting aspects of human culture, let us answer the seven questions.

1. What are the underlying metaphors for the concept?

  • The common intellectual use of the word comes from anthropology, and we think of the folkways and thoughts of what used to be called "primitive" tribes.

2. What are the connotations and feelings associated with the concept?

  • "Culture is less of an emotive word than say "race" and it is distinguished by a certain respect. We do not need to judge other cultures, but to appreciate them, unless the cross any of many specified moral lines that we are presently using in our culture.

3. What are the problematic aspects of the concept?

  • "Culture" is not high on the list of misleading concepts.
  • The problem is we do not take our analyses deep enough. We are trained to appreciate other cultures, as though this is something straightforward and simply possible.
  • There are problems with truly understanding other cultures. I can go live in the woods like a native American, but I can never truly think that a certain planet is a God, or that a particular hill is a certain being who was turned into a hill for disobeying an ancient cultural practice.
  • We use this word as a defense of certain ways in which we act. We also use it to understand certain ways in which we act.

4. How does the concept tend to misleads us?

  • Mislead by the very basic word delusion: that it stands for something moderately specific.
  • We look at cultures the way we look at scenic views from a turnout on the highway, we "admire the view" but we do not "admire" the rod, the parking lot, the cars and the people standing all around us. Similarly | metaphorically, we look at foreign cultures without seeing the Internet, cellphones, mass media, and many other similarities of our present state.

5. What are the contexts of this concept?

  • "culture" is used to speak about groups of people, sharing a vast variety of practices, customs, languages and beliefs over time. Our minds cannot truly get around all these beliefs.

6. What are some concepts closely related to this concept?

  • multi-culturalism (which probably requires its own page)

7. How should we talk about the things this concept is used to talk about?

  • Think harder about this.

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