Culture

Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture (Luke 8:6).

Some men rejoice in skill of hand,
And some in cultivating land,
But there are others who maintain
The right to cultivate the brain.
(Dudley Randall, “Booker T. and W.E.B.”)

The word “culture” is derived from the Latin cultura meaning the “tilling or tending to land.” When culture is applied to people, the metaphor suggests the mind is like a field that must be tilled, fertilized, planted, and cultivated (Witt).

One such method is through education—teachers, parents, and other guardians are farmers responsible for the growth of children. Growth, too, has obvious agricultural roots.

Thomas Cole. The Oxbow. 1836, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Many describe this process with sinister connotations: indoctrination, brainwashing, conditioning. But every human being receives cultivation, even those who choose wilderness.

American sociologist Talcott Parsons describes new generations of children as a “barbarian invasion”—they possess no language, no morality, no culture. Through enculturation, or the transmission of necessary and appropriate skills, values, and norms, these ‘invaders’ develop into successful members of society. This occurs because society, according to the great anthropologist Adamson Hoebel, “does whatever is necessary to aid any one of its members in learning proper and appropriate behavior,” (Grunland). The goal is competence, not control.

What’s important is form. Sow the field with rocks and a society will grow nothing but weeds and whatever smattering of seeds the wind and animals carry. Burn the weeds, flatten the ground, pack the best mulch and top soil, plant carefully, and society creates the perfect conditions for vitality, efficiency, and coherence. The best fruits of science and learning are grown in these conditions.

Thomas Cole. The Architect’s Dream. 1840, oil on canvas, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo.

The farmer must understand the science of agriculture, the language of the land, the nature of the field’s properties and accidents, and the importance of passing on the craft to the farmers who will supplant him. This replacement does not occur by material greed for power, or survival of the fittest, but for the unfortunate necessity of entropy—that Great Dispersal which drowns every person beneath the rivers of time.

For:

It’s not humankind after all
nor is it culture
that limits us.
It is the vastness
we do not enter.
It is the stars
we do not let own us.
(Simon Ortiz, “Culture and the Universe”)

Attributions

Grunland, Stephen A. and Marvin K. Mayers. “Enculturation and Acculturation.” Cultural Anthropology, 1988.

Witt, Brown, et al. The Humanities, seventh edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.

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