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Culture is the set of shared beliefs and values that serve as the lens through which the people of a particular group, organization, or society interpret their world. A shared culture, or shared lens, is essential to the coherent function of any social group. Functioning without a shared culture can be like trying to have a conversation among people who lack a common language.

Culture gives humans a potentially powerful evolutionary advantage. Most species are limited by their genetic programming to a narrow range of adaptive possibilities. The limitations to human adaptation, however, are as much cultural and institutional as genetic. Human culture and institutions are human creations. They represent choice not destiny — and they are subject to change, sometimes with remarkable speed. As a species, humans have the capacity to choose their future by choosing their culture.


Cultural consciousness

This capacity is most fully developed in individuals and groups that have awakened to a cultural consciousness, an active awareness of culture as a shared lens that is of human creation and therefore subject to choice. It is possible for such groups to adapt their culture and behavior by conscious collective intent to deal with new threats and opportunities such as those now posed by climate chaos and the end of cheap oil.

A shared culture can also be a liability, however, if a group is not consciously aware that its own culture represents but one of a number of possible interpretations of reality. In the absence of such awareness, a group's members become captive to a cultural trance that can threaten their very survival by blinding them to possibilities that their existing culture rejects or denies. In his book Collapse, cultural historian Jared Diamond cites the case of a group of early European settlers in Greenland whose culture defined eating fish as uncivilized. Consequently, they starved when their cattle died even though they were surrounded by fish.

Manipulating culture

Since the beginning of time, most humans have lived out their lives entranced by the culture into which they were born. Demagogues have long instinctively capitalized on this liability by manipulating culture to their own ends with powerful effect. During the 20th century advertisers mastered the arts of cultural manipulation to create an individualistic culture of material excess that serves Empire well, but now threatens human survival. See the BBC documentary The Century of the Self.

Impact of global communications on culture

A primary source of hope for the human future is the increase in intercultural exchange spurred by the sudden expansion of global communication technologies that is now liberating people by the millions from the cultural trance and unleashing the potentials of the cultural consciousness. One of the most important tasks of progressive social movements is to accelerate the spread of this awakening and to coalesce and shape the creative life energy thus unleashed.[1]

See also


Author: David Korten