We have all heard the adage, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Of course, there wasn’t ONE correct way to “be Roman”, but there was a general sense and expectation of what Roman culture was, and how to behave in accordance with it in turn. The Roman Republic and Empire was a collection of varied states and ethnicities, that used Latin as a unifying language (as Ancient Greece did with the Greek language).
But culture is a rather inclusive word — far too inclusive for my taste — but I believe I can provide evidence that there exist crucial and better defined variables within the sum of the word ‘culture’.
The one I refer to is actually only number SIX in the list of definitions provided by dictionary.com:
“ Anthropology. the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.”
So perhaps there’s already a crucial problem and we would need to see the word at around three or four before we deem its definition worthy of further analysis. Funny further is that the “difficulty index” on the right side of the page states “ All English speakers likely know this word”: but do they understand it? Thus I write this mini-essay, and as usual, I digress.
And this supposed “knowing” of this word (or any word or thing) prevents true understanding.
Sociologists “knew” what culture was 100 years ago and then 50 years ago; yet as we observe in sociological literature and our own observations of humans and their collective behavior, the definition and associated understanding of culture have been evolving much like humanity itself.
However, it would insult our informed ancestors to state that I alone am among the generation that is first noticing this trend, and that it is the first to experience it. The Greeks did with their numerous “Poleis” — or city states; the Chinese were many states also before being united into the Qin dynasty, which became modern day China; Romans were certainly not always of Rome, and its citizens were as varied as the “Barbarians” from Ghaul in the Western Empire, to the more Arabic-influenced in the Eastern Empire. In sum, this trends occurred all over the world, all throughout history: there was never a unifying culture nor even an accepted duality. Some stark dualities persisted; but the fact that they took place so often within countries, religions or even communities demonstrates micro-cultures at work throughout history.
Let us examine major religions briefly. Judaism is not “Judaism”; it is an umbrella term for different beliefs:
Within Christianity, you have:
- Shia Islam
- Sunni Islam
- Quranists, who reject the hadith
- Nation of Islam, who only accept African-Americans
- There are now Liberal Muslims, who have a much more “Lutheran” take on Quran scripture and don’t take everything literally.
- There are feminist Muslims, who are rejected by mainstream Muslims, even those of which typically align themselves with progressives and Democrats.
- Modernist Salafism, where Muslims are reconciling with more “Western” beliefs.
I use religion only as one example of the Micro-culture phenomenon as it’s more clear (for my purposes at least). For example if I attempted to take my Communion Protestant style at Catholic mass, I would be doing it wrong. If I were a Sunni Muslim and I asserted my family should listen to the Iman for absolute moral guidance, I would be wrong, as this is a belief held by Shia Muslims. In each case, there is an expectation of the group of belief system to be met that myself as the individual is failing to meet. But as demonstrated by the list above, and by most of our personal experiences, doing things the “right” way in a given culture is not so simply and easy all the time, depending on where you go and with whom you speak.
I have provided only a cursory summary of these belief systems, and will only provide as such regarding the conflicts between some of them. This limited analysis actually only lends credence to my concept of micro-cultures, as to terse and mince between all of these different groups would require graduate-length thesis (of which you’d likely not want or have the patience to read), let alone detail the presumed reasons and implications of their various inter-conflicts. Moreover, I am slightly fucking lazy, and I do want to play video games at some point in my weekend, not write a barrage of bullshit about a concept many esteemed intellectuals will drag through more sophist shit if they read, and that few people in general will read at all because I’m bad at being popular. Also, most people are bad at paying attention and want shit like this to be a Snapchat story: thus I digress.
Much of what consists of Micro-cultures is what sociologists call “code-switching”, meaning the human behavior in which a person acts differently depending on whom they are with — especially among a different group of people. For instance, Barack Obama would act more ‘white’ to the general populace, but use ‘black’ slang more freely when among those who identity strongly as black, especially younger people who would think this is ‘cool’. This sort of behavior is not uncommon among politicians, even among white ones. A more general or personal example would be how you act with your parents in contrast with how you act with your friends. There is likely even distinction between how you act with your father and your mother. Another would be how you act with your spouse in contrast with how you react to a member of the opposite sex (or a member of whatever gender you’re attracted to). Important to note here that even if you wanted to act freely and had no reservations, in whole truth to yourself as an individual, your actions or words may not be accepted or even understood by the given group.
Often, upon meeting a person from another culture, sex, or simply of a greatly different life experience than your own, there are small misunderstandings that create confusion and frustration, but they are moved past and there remains enough common ground and willingness to get along for the two individuals to learn and actually get along. Sometimes, however, the misunderstandings and differences are great and the implications for this are vast and severe, as we see in wars between different countries or cultures, even within said country and culture. Examples would be nice now, I know.
In Iraq, there has been an ongoing cultural/religious war between the Sunni and Shia Muslims. In Sudan, war rages between Christians and Muslims. In the United State of America, there remains racial division between whites and blacks, and in the religious between Christians and Muslims. Let us split hairs and colors further.
Among whites we see those who identify as Liberal and Conservative, rural folk, and city folk. Blacks have divides within their ethnicity. Many are deemed ‘too white’ for embracing ‘white culture’, its mannerisms, style of speaking, and for not being critical enough of racial discrimination of whites against blacks. There are blacks who more intimately embrace their African heritage and roots, while many separate this and embrace being “African-American”. I’ve asked several of my black friends if they watch the rather ‘white’ show Duck Dynasty, and they said ‘hell yeah; it’s funny as hell”. Does this make them less ‘black’? Of course not. I asked one further, “Do you identify as African-American or Black?” He said, “If I’m like trying to be professional or in a job setting, I’m African-American; if I’m with my homies, I’m black.”
I’ve conversed with many Somali co-workers who call themselves “black”, but many ‘blacks’ (being African-American and deriving in part from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade) don’t feel this is right, as being ‘black’ is its own ethnicity: theirs. However ‘black’ also refers to a broad spectrum of darker skin color and African-heritage and can therefore logically apply to many races or peoples from Africa. If we were talking about ‘white privilege’, a Somali male (not wearing hijab) would potentially be discriminated against due to their skin color. Some Somalis would technically qualify as African-American, but again many would not refer to them as such, given that they are a distinct ethnicity — Somali — therefore, be Somali-American. To complicate it further, many see a woman wearing hijab, and would label her as Muslim first, especially if much of her is covered and this ethnicity cannot be determined.
Of course, someone will want to refer to someone as the correct ethnic name so as to not offend a person. It is clear that someone from France is French and someone from America is American. But are they? Someone from Catalonia (part of Spain) may not like being referred to as a Spaniard, given the current political conflict in the region. Compounding further is that someone from South America is also American and many South Americans take issue with the USA laying sole claim to it. Okay, beyond that, someone might not identify as American first, or at all, and will prioritize their ethnicity or religion. Perhaps some do not feel fully ‘American” as they are deemed less so by others if they don’t behave or vote a certain way.
More recently, there are a motley of different genders people identify as: cis, trans, polyamorous, sapiosexual, demisexual, etc. (rather the internet makes these more well-known). Of these sexual identities, one might be more active in a respective ‘sexual’ cultural or political community than others; some might only behave in accordance or correlation with the given sexual identity i.e. being homosexual and engaging in homosexual acts, but either not identifying as ‘gay’ or simply not giving the label of such much importance or priority. The sociologist and writer Michel Foucault did not like labels and though he had sex with men, wished to not be called gay.
Perhaps one of the more consistent differences in cultures, common in all parts of the globe, is differences between older and younger generations’ cultures. Older generations tend to have a veneration for the “good ol’ days” and scornfully deride their children for their more ‘progressive’ and undisciplined behavior. What is edgy and provocative now will likely be conservative and prudish 50 years from now. This is not without good and scientific reason: the human brain finds it increasingly difficult to synthesis and store new information as there simply is less room given all that has been previously learned, combined with the human body’s decreased ‘neurogenesis’ with increased age beyond one’s 20s. Put simply, it is difficult to do something different, especially radically different, when you have been doing something a given way for so many years. Yet it would be foolish to dismiss the older generation’s words and culture, considering much of what they have done has ‘worked’ in some manner, and they have put into action and behavior what was once merely theory and ideas.
What follows is a constantly shifting and inheritance of culture from old generations to new, soon followed by a momentary upheaval and remaking of said culture by the younger generation as they come of age into adulthood. Regardless of how established, accepted or ‘correct’ a given culture is, it will be changed inevitably, reliably, with variances in time given the economic and political climate. Part of this is not only due to new ideas and attitudes about the world and its peoples or economic development, but technology itself and how it affects people. Within 20 years, culture has been radically altered by computers and the internet. Not only can a given person learn troves of information never before available to even scientists 50 years ago, they can express themselves from virtually anywhere on the globe, and they have the ability to connect with various cultures and people from around the globe. Technically we are more interconnected than at any point in human history. Yet we are also less connected in some ways. Despite the increase of ‘global citizens’ — those attuned to many peoples and issues affecting the entire planet — people are still quite segregated, both as cultures and individuals. The current generation, bittersweetly referred to as “iGen” by the professor of Psychology, Jean M. Twenge. IGen reports more instances of mental illness and difficulty paying attention than previous generations. This might be at least in part due to more knowledge and recognition of mental illness, but also technological means to express and report it. Some individuals seem to seek out “safe spaces” and solidarity among their given cultures, which is typical human behavior, but is interesting when contrasted with the opportunity to contact so many different kinds of people. We are connected to what we want to be connected to (or what advertisers have targeted us with via the things we search for/click on). What results is online tribalism. We sort and associate accordingly. Most often it is the more (unfortunately) traditional sorting via race/ethnicity, class, political party or gender.
Thus, I submit there is an illusion of choice and freedom present here via the internet and smartphones — always being potentially connected but actually disconnected. With the smart phone, you are presented with the opportunity to talk to someone different, without actually talking to them in person, where one touch and hear, and read nonverbal cues from the person, and require sustained attention, thus handicapping the person for both the virtual encounter, and potentially in personal physical encounters. Both persons attention becomes fragmented across many different people, thoughts and activities Moreover, the respective parties are at least partially shielded from the social consequences e.g. calling someone a ‘nigger’ in a physical, personal encounter would likely result in social rebuke, suspension from school, or a good ol’ fashioned ass-beating.. Regardless of religion, race, or economic status, people become less fulfilled and interconnected despite having more available. Without delving too much into these interpersonal interactions specifically, it can be safe to say that the internet has become its own macro-culture in many regards, acting as an umbrella for many micro-cultures. Between all of the different forums, political sites, and media available, different cultures have found outlets for themselves and are both able to cross and meld with others, and segregate themselves from others.
Micro-cultures take respective root within the Macro-culture.