Culture

What does it mean for us to be determined by culture? It can mean a series of different things.

 

It can mean that there is a rich and powerful minority who establishes mainstream tendencies and sells it to a majority who wants to be tuned to the mainstream culture, whatever it is. The feeling of being tuned into what’s going on in the world is what they buy. This rich minority might establish these tendencies based on small niches of behavior that spread within other not so rich minorities. Culture creates needs. People need to express themselves in certain ways. Mainstream sells these possibilities and thereby creates culture.

 

It can also mean that whatever man creates, says, does, is culture, becomes culture. So it isn’t that culture determines what man does, but that man and culture are one and the same. One feeds off the other and vice-versa. For what is culture if not the collectivity of actions performed by individuals? A dialectic process where things are imitated and transgressed constantly.

 

There is a deeper sense in which we embody culture through language and gestures and all those things our bodies and minds pick up without our choosing it. Ideas and tendencies come to inhabit us through language. And language is collective. The philosopher is the one who turns against her own language, who pulls unconscious choices to the conscious level. But what is it to say that ideas come to inhabit us through language? How can we know what kinds of ideas are in a way of saying things if we do not know, when we learn to speak, other ways of saying things? Is content, in language, so embodied in the form that it is instantly adopted, along with the form, by speakers? It seems so, for what is language if not a series of contents embodied in words? And what is a competent language learner if not one who can grasp what contents are embodied in what uses of language? But then, to learn other ways of saying things is to learn other ways of being.