Ah, culture… the name for a set of rules and beliefs that binds a group of people together. A fabric of identity for subsets of the human population.
At other times, it’s the manifestation of humanity’s propensity for evil and its unique ability to rationalize it with the flimsiest and most superficial of reasons.
The popular mantra today, especially from the ‘woke’ generation, is to throw it all away because it’s bad but, like its creators, cultures are complex and nothing is bad or good as an entity.
That leaves modern humanity with the challenge of determining which is good, which is bad, what to keep, and what to discard. A good place to figure out the moral quadrant in which a cultural belief or rule lies is to examine its original purpose.
Culture, like every evolutionary feature and every piece of human invention, was introduced to solve a problem, i.e., with a specific set of purpose. Cultures evolved trying to address immediate issues such as security, interpersonal relationships, community building and the likes.
Historically, before globalization and the exponential growth in human knowledge, humanity lived in tribes and the multiplicity of tribes meant differences in interests and competition for resources such as land, water and food.
It makes sense that groups of people with similar interests and experiences, living in close proximity with each other, shared similar beliefs regarding abstract issues such as spiritualism, procedures for security against invading tribes, community building, trust and more importantly, language.
But across all the tribes, regardless of their differences in beliefs and procedures, or more fittingly customs, they all tried to answer the same questions and solve the same problems. The challenge was the extent of their imaginations and execution.
The debate between proponents of tribal culture and the ‘woke’ brigade fail to establish a balance in their arguments because they fail to consider the purpose of the custom(s) they are fighting for or against.
Take a center table in a living room for instance, the decision to replace the table is determined by a complete understanding of what said table is used for. If the table is simply used as a foot rest, replacing it with a soft surface elegant finishing doesn’t affect the purpose, but if said table is used as a writing platform, then it has to be replaced with something with a sturdy surface, which a footstool with a foam finishing wouldn’t be.
As humanity progressed and found more efficient answers to our problems, we realized that cultural beliefs and customs are divisive, oppressive and quite limiting. The very rules that we are supposed to live by were limiting our ability to climb higher to the summit of the human experience.
With the advancement in science and technology, humanity’s dynamic with culture changed. The primary purposes of culture could now be achieved without the chains that came with it.
For those who insist on seeing culture as an everlasting set of rules and beliefs, it’s important to always remember that culture was made for man, and not man for culture. Culture in whatever version of it you grew up with was a limiting, and temporary solution to human questions. With humanity’s insatiable thirst for knowledge and improvement, it is bound to evolve.
Today, superstitions for security purposes and health reasons have been replaced with technological advances such as security cameras and more secure architecture. Geopolitical peace has been achieved through laws, economic cooperation and threat of mutually assured destructions. Existential meaning have answers in the study of evolution.
However, in the evolution of our imaginations, the preservation of our cultural elements is necessary. Not as a way of life, but in history classes as proof of our progress and in museums as evidence of our ancestral creativity.
As human curiosity forges on in unraveling the answers to the thousands of questions we still have, cultural systems and beliefs will be challenged in the application of these new answers.
Regardless of what side of the cultural argument you are on, the ultimate question that you should ask yourself is: ‘Does what I’m advocating for advance the quality of the human experience’?
Written by Seun Adelewokan
Seun Adelowokan is a Humanist. Big believer in Common sense. Arsenal lover.