Home » The Classification of Cultures

The Classification of Cultures

Sam Vaknin’s Psychology, Philosophy, Economics and Foreign Affairs Web SitesCulture 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. While in the first type of cultures, Man is meaningless were it not for the outside systems which endow him with meaning In the latter the outside systems are meaningless were it not for Man who endows them with meaning. Virtually Revolutionary Cultures versus Structurally-Paradigmatically Revolutionary Cultures All cultures no matter how inert and conservative evolve through the differential phases. These phases are transitory and, therefore, revolutionary in nature.

Still, there are two types of revolution : The Virtual Revolution is a change (sometimes, radical) of the structure while the content is mostly preserved. It is very much like changing the hardware without changing any of the software in a computer. The other kind of revolution is more profound. It usually involves the transformation or metamorphosis of both structure and content. In other cases, the structures remain intact but they are hollowed out, their previous content replaced by new one. This is a change of paradigm (superbly described by the late Thomas Kuhn in his masterpiece: “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”).

The Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome Differentiating Factor As a result of all the above, cultures react with shock either to change or to its absence. A taxonomy of cultures can be established along these lines: Those cultures which regard change as a trauma and those who traumatically react to the absence of change, to paralysis and stagnation. This is true in every sphere of life : the economic, the social, in the arts, the sciences. Neurotic Adaptive versus Normally Adaptive Cultures This is the dividing line: Some cultures feed off fear and trauma.

To adapt, they developed neuroses. Other cultures feed off hope and love they have adapted normally. Neurotic Cultures Normal Cultures Consuming Distinguishing Past Oriented Future Oriented Static Dynamic (Emergent) Consensual Conflictive Exogenic-Extrinsic Endogenic-Intrinsic Virtual Revolutionary Structurally-Paradigmatically Revolutionary PTSS reaction to change PTSS reaction to stagnation So, are these types of cultures doomed to clash, as the current fad goes or can they cohabitate ? It seems that the Neurotic cultures are less adapted to win the battle to survive.

The fittest are those cultures flexible enough to respond to an ever changing world and at an ever increasing pace, at that. The neurotic cultures are slow to respond, rigid and convulsive. Being past-orientated means that they emulate and imitate the normal cultures but only when they have become part of the past. Alternatively, they assimilate and adopt some of the attributes of the past of normal cultures. This is why a traveller who visits a neurotic culture (and is coming from a normal one) often has the feeling that he has been thrust to the past, that he is experiencing a time travel.

A War of Cultures is, therefore, not very plausible. The neurotic cultures need the normal cultures. The latter are the generators of the formers future. A normal cultures past is a neurotic cultures future. Deep inside, the neurotic cultures know that something is wrong with them, that they are ill-adapted. That is why members of these cultural spheres entertain overt emotions of envy, hostility even hatred coupled with explicit sensations of inferiority, inadequacy, disappointment, disillusionment and despair.

The eruptive nature (the neurotic rage) of these cultures is exactly the result of these inner turmoils. On the other hand, soliloquy is not action, often it is a substitute to it. Very few neurotic cultures are suicidal and then for very brief periods of time. To forgo the benefits of learning from the experience of normal cultures how to survive would be suicidal, indeed. This is why I think that the transition to a different cultural model, replete with different morals, will be completed with success. But it will not eliminate all pervious models – I foresee cohabitation.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Leave a Comment