I’ve had this sort of nebulous notion that culture itself is a problem. Not any particular culture, mind you, but rather the entire concept of culture. The exclusivity of the group over the individual. A lot of people will hold up individualism against collectivism, but what if that’s just scratching the surface?
Culture is the thread we weave all our isms out of: tribalism, nationalism, and so forth. Identity culture is the nichification of culture writ large. It’s the perpetuation of the need to be aggrieved, oppressed, put-down, whatever.
So I wrote a piece about the whole Alex Knapp vs. The Oatmeal controversy that Ethan touched on earlier. I talk a bit about geek culture and this problem with being forever-aggrieved, forever prickly and defensive. But I’m not picking on the geeks – I am a geek, after all:
My blog is dedicated to all-thinks-geeky, whether we’re talking about fantasy novels, video games, or science fiction film. But I’ve never understood what it means to be part of a dedicated fan culture. I’m bad at being a partisan. Just lousy at it.
I’ll defend the things I love from critics, true, but I’ve never really understood why or how this is the basis for culture. Perhaps I’m simply antagonistic to the whole notion of culture, and especially identity culture, to begin with. Culture, after all, is rich soil for the spread of “isms.” And “isms” are bad weeds in Eden. That there remains such a partisan conflict between the Tesla tribe and the Edison army is something I was not particularly aware of before now. Perhaps this is merely evidence of my own ignorance. Perhaps I am not hip enough to be a geek.
Still, innovation, creativity, progress – half of it is happenstance, half of it is the collision of ideas, the upturned earth of serendipity and joyous conflict. The place where culture itself smashes like breakers on the craggy, inevitable shore of biology and human nature.
I’m not sure, but it seems that to truly propel humanity forward, to truly grapple with our progress, we need to overcome the premise that says culture is the be-all, end-all of everything human. Maybe there’s a certain danger there, maybe we disrupt important foundations in the process; maybe human nature is such that culture is inevitable, that cliques and tribes are the gravity we crumble under, coagulate beneath. Maybe lots and lots of good things come out of the slow crafting of culture as well: solidarity, custom, strength in numbers, etc.
Maybe culture is simply part of the story we tell ourselves in order to survive, a way to cast ourselves in the inevitable fiction we weave about ourselves. An armor against the unknown.