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The Classification Of Cultures

Culture is a hot topic. Scholars (Fukoyama, Huntington, to mention but two) disagree about whether this is the end of history or the beginning of a particularly nasty chapter of it. What makes cultures tick and why some of them tick discernibly better than others – is the main bone of contention. We can view cultures through the prism of their attitude towards their constituents : the individuals they are comprised of. More so, we can classify them in accordance with their approach towards “humanness”, the experience of being human.

Some cultures are evidently anthropocentric – others are anthropo-transcendental. These two lingual coins need elaboration to be fully comprehended. A culture which cherishes the human potential and strives to create the conditions needed for its fullest materialization and manifestation is an anthropocentric culture. Such striving is the top priority, the crowning achievement, the measuring rod of such a culture, its attainment – its criterion of success or failure. On the other pole of the dichotomy we find cultures which look beyond humanity.

This “transcendental” look has multiple purposes. Some cultures want to transcend human limitations, others to derive meaning, yet others to maintain social equilibrium. But what is common to all of them – regardless of purpose – is the subjugation of human endeavour, of human experience, human potential, all things human to this transcendence. Granted : cultures resemble living organisms. They evolve, they develop, they procreate. None of them was “created” the way it is today. Cultures go through Differential Phases – wherein they re-define and re-invent themselves using varied parameters.

Once these phases are over – the results are enshrined during the Inertial Phases. The Differential Phases are period of social dislocation and upheaval, of critical, even revolutionary thinking, of new technologies, new methods of achieving set social goals, identity crises, imitation and differentiation. They are followed by phases of a diametrically opposed character : Preservation, even stagnation, ritualism, repetition, rigidity, emphasis on structures rather than contents. Anthropocentric cultures have differential phases which are longer than the inertial ones.

Anthropotranscendental ones tend to display a reverse pattern. This still does not solve two basic enigmas : What causes the transition between differential and inertial phases ? Why is it that anthropocentricity coincides with differentiation and progress / evolution while other types of cultures with an inertial framework ? A culture can be described by using a few axes : Distinguishing versus Consuming cultures Some cultures give weight and presence (though not necessarily equal) to each of their constituent elements (the individual and social structures).

Each such element is idiosyncratic and unique. Such cultures would accentuate attention to details, private enterprise, initiative, innovation, entrepreneurship, inventiveness, youth, status symbols, consumption, money, creativity, art, science and technology. These are the things that distinguish one individual from another. Other cultures engulf their constituents, assimilate them to the point of consumption. They are deemed, a priori, to be redundant, their worth a function of their actual contribution to the whole.

Such cultures emphasize generalizations, stereotypes, conformity, consensus, belonging, social structures, procedures, forms, undertakings involving the labour or other input of human masses. Future versus Past Oriented Cultures Some cultures look to the past – real or imaginary – for inspiration, motivation, sustenance, hope, guidance and direction. These cultures tend to direct their efforts and resources and invest them in what IS. They are, therefore, bound to be materialistic, figurative, substantive, earthly. They are likely to prefer old age to youth, old habits to new, old buildings to modern architecture, etc.

This preference of the Elders (a term of veneration) over the Youngsters (a denigrating term) typifies them strongly. These cultures are likely to be risk averse. Other cultures look to the future – always projected – for the same reasons. These cultures invest their efforts and resources in an ephemeral future (upon the nature or image of which there is no agreement or certainty). These cultures are, inevitably, more abstract (living in an eternal Gedankenexperiment), more imaginative, more creative (having to design multiple scenarios just to survive).

They are also more likely to have a youth cult : to prefer the young, the new, the revolutionary, the fresh – to the old, the habitual, the predictable. They are be risk-centered and risk-assuming cultures. Static Versus Dynamic (Emergent) Cultures Consensus versus Conflictual Cultures Some cultures are more cohesive, coherent, rigid and well-bounded and constrained. As a result, they will maintain an unchanging nature and be static. They discourage anything which could unbalance them or perturb their equilibrium and homeostasis.

These cultures encourage consensus-building, teamwork, togetherness and we-ness, mass experiences, social sanctions and social regulation, structured socialization, peer loyalty, belonging, homogeneity, identity formation through allegiance to a group. These cultures employ numerous self-preservation mechanisms and strict hierarchy, obedience, discipline, discrimination (by sex, by race, above all, by age and familial affiliation). Other cultures seem more “ruffled”, “arbitrary”, or disturbed. They are pluralistic, heterogeneous and torn. These are the dynamic (or, fashionably, the emergent) cultures.

They encourage conflict as the main arbiter in the social and economic spheres (“the invisible hand of the market” or the American “checks and balances”), contractual and transactional relationships, partisanship, utilitarianism, heterogeneity, self fulfilment, fluidity of the social structures, democracy. Exogenic-extrinsic Meaning Cultures Versus Endogenic-intrinsic Meaning Cultures Some cultures derive their sense of meaning, of direction and of the resulting wish-fulfillment by referring to frameworks which are outside them or bigger than them. They derive meaning only through incorporation or reference.

The encompassing framework could be God, History, the Nation, a Calling or a Mission, a larger Social Structure, a Doctrine, an Ideology, or a Value or Belief System, an Enemy, a Friend, the Future – anything qualifies which is bigger and outside the meaning-seeking culture. Other cultures derive their sense of meaning, of direction and of the resulting wish fulfilment by referring to themselves – and to themselves only. It is not that these cultures ignore the past – they just do not re-live it. It is not that they do not possess a Values or a Belief System or even an ideology – it is that they are open to the possibility of altering it.

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