In pursuit of my Beta Culture concept, I’ve been thinking a lot about Culture over the past couple of years, and I’ve recently been making some interesting connections. I like to think I’m getting close to understanding the meat of it. Here’s a recent thought:
Your culture offers you Values, Ways, and Place.
VALUES are obvious: Honesty is the best policy. People are suckers and deserve what they get. Hard work is the stuff of life. Honor your mother and father. Family above all. Never stop learning. Being gay is an abomination. A wife must meekly obey her husband.
WAYS are all the things your people do, and the way they do them: Wear boots, a big silver buckle and a cowboy hat. Volunteer to serve your country. Every funeral must include a lengthy sermon about Jesus. Cut the end off your little boy’s dick. Go to school only until you’re 14, then work on the family farm. Hold your fork with your left hand, your knife with your right. Shave your hair into a Mohawk and braid feathers into it.
PLACE is the home your culture provides you. It’s where your People accept and welcome you, protect and defend you, and where you do the same for them.
There are “full cultures” that provide Values, Ways and Place for every aspect of life. You could live on an island with a full culture, totally isolated from the rest of the world, and still live a full life. Think of the Amish, or Hasidic Jews, who actually create isolated social islands for their people.
There are “fractional cultures” like Nascar culture or Star Wars culture, gamer culture or Jimmy Buffett fandom, which offer Place, but not a great deal in the way of Ways and Values. In other words, they offer some specialized Ways and Values, but not the full set for all of life. Most of the people in Nascar culture, for instance, wouldn’t have a Nascar wedding, and few Star Wars fans would consider a Star Wars funeral. But on the plus side, there’s the Place: You feel comfortable — you feel HOME — when you’re with your fellow enthusiasts.
Then there’s something I call “U.S. Overculture,” which provides a huge Chinese menu of Values and Ways, but almost no Place. You can live in it, as most of us do, but it includes no welcoming “tribe” of your own.
U.S. Overculture has two very significant features to it:
1) It contains a blended mess of pieces from all the cultures and fractional cultures within it, but ALSO contains a very high percentage of artificial features, Ways and Values which are created by the marketing departments of big corporations, or faddish movements that sweep through the population somewhat spontaneously. —No proposal is complete without a diamond ring. Collect all the Pokemons! Wear your pants sagging below the curve of your butt. Cigarette smoking is what the really cool people do. Take the grandkids to McDonald’s. Oh my GOD, you have to see the TWILIGHT movies! They’re, like, SEW KEWUL!!
2) As it contains no specific People for you to belong to, no Place to welcome and protect you, you’re pretty much on your own as far as figuring out what’s good and bad for you and yours. Standing full in the blasting fire hose of stuff thrown at you every day, you’re at such a loss to evaluate it all, you end up thinking nothing is all that bad, everything is pretty much okay. Sugary sodas, cigarettes, heroin, tongue piercing, riding a motorcycle without a helmet, throwing garbage on the sidewalk, Donald Trump for President, joining a street gang — it’s all just a matter of personal choice, right? And there’s nobody, no wise elder or more-experienced cultural peer to tell you any different.
It seems to me Culture is a need roughly as important to us as breathing, but without Place, the need for Culture can, in the modern world, be easily diverted and perverted to serve the needs of corporate parasites.
But Culture itself can control you to your detriment. Full cultures buoy you up in times of difficulty, but they also cut off all your wild flights of creativity. For instance, though artistic and musical talent is probably evenly distributed in every race and people, there are no Hasidic Jewish rock bands, or internationally known Amish photographers.
Regarding which, I know of no specific culture that focuses as strongly on empowerment of its members as it does on control of those members.
Even my own East Texas Cowboy Culture was pretty strict on what you could and couldn’t do, and in a fairly repressive way. For instance: Cowboys don’t read books, or if they do, it darned sure isn’t science fiction. Cowboys drive pickup trucks and not, Lord save us, Volkswagen Beetles. Cowboys don’t fly on planes, and Cowboys would never, ever eat sushi.
Another thing most cultures do not seem to have is goals — other than the obvious one of keeping people in line, or serving as that protective Place. Some of my recent thoughts about where Culture sits in the world, though, have it as something of an equal social force — in the sense of how much effect it has on our lives — with Government and Business. But Government and Business DO have goals. And I want Beta Culture to have goals.
So: In the design of Beta Culture, two more topics to think about — Goals and Empowerment.
Anyway … still thinking.