The Meaning of Culture

Disagreements abound in our society, and on many occasions those disagreement are based on well founded arguments, but at times I have come to wonder if the whole basis of the argument is merely that of a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the words used in the argument.

Take for instance the word culture. From the dictionary, we find that the word culture actually has multiple meanings. One of the meanings is as follows.

Culture — the development or improvement of the mind by education or training.

In this definition, we come to believe that culture has something to do with development, that it is not really static in nature, and is therefore not really representative of a particular person, place or period in time. It seems to hint that it is something that requires continuous improvement and that it is not yet complete or whole. Essentially, it is seen as something that requires progression.

Now, here is another definition of culture.

Culture — the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group.

In this definition, we can see a very different version of the word. In this instance, culture appears to be very static. It is essentially a snapshot of a particular group of people. This definition does not indicate that there is anything progressive about it. In this instance, culture is basically a collection of people who are similar minded, who probably speak the same language, go to the same church, celebrate the same festivals, value the same ideas, etc…

This is all well and good, but the problem arises when you are trying to make a logical argument using culture without clarifying what definition you are using. For instance, those in the progressive camp often make statements that seem to indicate that culture is bettered by diversity. Given the first definition, this does make sense, as you will have to acquire a lot more knowledge in order to deal with people who do not share your values, language, religion, etc… Unfortunately, it makes no sense when you use the second definition of the word. In fact, based on the second definition, culture is actually devastated by diversity, and that is what makes conservatives appear a little anxious when you talk about dramatically increasing diversity. It is true that bringing outsiders into a culture may cause it to change, but that change is not really growth at all. For the most part, it actually brings about the death of the old culture and replaces it with a new culture, which may be better, but may also be worse than the old culture it is replacing. That is where the argument really heats up. The conservatives tend to believe that the older culture is superior and should remain, but the progressives actually hate their own culture, and very likely, many of their own people. They see the conservatives as being a part of an old-guard, who go about protecting a culture that is used-up and obsolete. Unfortunately, they can’t edge those people out of power that easily, so they attempt to flood the society with other cultures to improve their chances of victory. Though they would never admit to it, this is probably a huge contributing factor in why progressives are such diversity lovers, and this is the current state of affairs that we find ourselves in right now.