Some Thoughts on Culture

The term “culture” comes from the Roman orator Cicero, who wrote about cultura animi – cultivation of the soul. The soul, like a rose, needs rich, nourishing soil, a loving care and time to bloom. In a very interesting article “There is no such thing as western civilization” (based on a lecture you can listen to here), Kwame Anthony Appiah reminds us that a culture is not guaranteed through birthright:

“Values aren’t a birthright: you need to keep caring about them. Living in the west, however you define it, being western, provides no guarantee that you will care about western civilization. The values European humanists like to espouse belong just as easily to an African or an Asian who takes them up with enthusiasm as to a European. By that very logic, of course, they do not belong to a European who has not taken the trouble to understand and absorb them. The same, of course, is true in the other direction. … we cannot help caring about the traditions of ‘the west’ because they are ours: in fact, the opposite is true. They are only ours if we care about them. … these values represent choices to make, not tracks laid down by a western destiny.”

The whole vastness of world culture is open to the human soul. I was haunted by this thought recently while visiting an exhibition proudly entitled “Renaissance in Europe,” which proved quite a disappointment. Why cut off Europe from the rest of the world like this? Didn’t Renaissance open doors to the vast universe of other cultures? Besides, the rebirth of the wisdom of Ancient Greece and Rome would not have been possible without Muslim scholars, as Appiah reminds us:

“In the centuries that Petrarch called the Dark Ages, when Christian Europe made little contribution to the study of Greek classical philosophy, and many of the texts were lost, these works were preserved by Muslim scholars. Much of our modern understanding of classical philosophy among the ancient Greeks we have only because those texts were recovered by European scholars in the Renaissance from the Arabs.”

The so-called Western identity is a fairly modern concept: it emerged slowly in the nineteenth century, and gained momentum only in the twentieth century. Yet, it was in the Renaissance when contempt for “non-European cultures” was born. Christopher Columbus maintained that the “Indians” he encountered were characterized by “a lack of culture.”

In his reflections on culture, Krishnamurti, typically for him, tries to look deeper beneath the ostentatious differences between various cultures. He sees the cultural patterns of society as something the soul should acknowledge and ultimately free itself from. He writes:

“So the Indian culture is somewhat different from the European culture, but underneath the movement is the same. … The urge to find out what truth is, what God is, is the only real urge, and all other urges are subsidiary. When you throw a stone into still water, it makes expanding circles. The expanding circles are the subsidiary movements, the social reactions, but the real movement is at the centre, which is the movement to find happiness, God, truth; and you cannot find it as long as you are caught in fear, held by a threat. From the moment there is the arising of threat and fear, culture declines.”

Via http://www.jiddu-krishnamurti.net/en/think-on-these-things/1963-00-00-jiddu-krishnamurti-think-on-these-things-chapter-11

mndla

Brigid Marlin, “Mandala East to West” via http://www.brigidmarlin.com/pages/Visionary/Mdla.html

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19 Responses to Some Thoughts on Culture

  1. 1weaver says:

    over the last 48 hours, i have had this little video playing over and over at random times in my head of a pebble tossed into water and then those ripples…over and over, i am looking at those * ripples *. i was in default mode of earth hits water; solid impacts liquid; impact generates vibe and movement. to see it written of here seems like an anchor of sorts. sun conj my neptune at the mo so i wasnt going to do anything but just ‘rest’ with the scene but of course, my intellect appreciates a channel. so, thanks for this pure and insightful synch.

  2. anitashree says:

    I loved this whole paragraph!!!

    “So the Indian culture is somewhat different from the European culture, but underneath the movement is the same. … The urge to find out what truth is, what God is, is the only real urge, and all other urges are subsidiary. When you throw a stone into still water, it makes expanding circles. The expanding circles are the subsidiary movements, the social reactions, but the real movement is at the centre, which is the movement to find happiness, God, truth; and you cannot find it as long as you are caught in fear, held by a threat. From the moment there is the arising of threat and fear, culture declines.”

    And you know that reminds me of what I read in this Mathew Fox’s book…Many wells One river…where the connection of all religions is there…in just different forms.

    • I am with you! Whenever I research anything I almost always check what Krishnamurti had to say about this. He never disappoints. It is embarrassing but I’ve never heard about the book you mention, though I’m all about deep ecumenism. Thank you.

  3. Jeff Japp says:

    Timely post, Monika, considering the systematic dismantling of culture I am seeing here in the US. People here are scared and angry. I see the potential for a new dark age.

    • I hope this will not come to pass. On the other hand, art has always flourished under all kinds of regimes. I hope culture prevails though you are right that it is getting a heavy beating right now. Thank you for your comment, Jeff. Hope your Sunday is great.

  4. Interesting. I always learn so much when reading your posts.

  5. Don says:

    An outstanding post Monika, especially against the backdrop of globalisation.

  6. Thanks, Monika, what a timely post in view of the momentuous events this week: the USA election to President of Trump, a man who looks to be a culture-wrecker, and the death of Leonard Cohen, a man who has richly contributed to world culture. I was getting ready for the day a couple of weeks ago, radio 4 was on, and I was riveted by a voice and by a cultured, refreshing perspective from someone I had never heard of before, but who I quickly established was Kwame Anthony Appiah. His Reith lectures are just brilliant, and could not be more timely in view of the right-wing wave which it is now clear is sweeping across the West. Thank you for sharing him with your readers! And `although I’ve heard of Matthew Fox, read extracts from his writings, I’ve never read any of his books. Away now to order Mathew Fox’s book…Many wells One river…thanks, anitashree!

    • Dear Anne,
      Thank you so much for the comment, which thankfully has not vanished. I was deeply impressed by the lecture as well, and also I loved the Q&A section that followed it. It seems that he amassed quite reputable names eager to listen to his message. Rightly so.

      I also feel privileged and grateful that I can engage in a dialogue with my readers here.
      Monika

  7. Hi Monika
    I’ve just left a long comment on this brilliant and timeous post – and it seems to have vanished!! Ah me…

  8. What is culture? Hard to say, there are a lot of cultures in this world, and they are constantly changing, vanishing and been borne again. Why is this so? We as a human species are only living today in Europe here, because our ancestors once decided to leave the African continent. So, we should be really thankful for this important matter. And the only real constant in human history is simply MIGRATION, leading constantly to new melting pots of civilization and culture, today and tomorrow, here and there. The idea of nationalism in the 19th century did completely ignore this historical constant, and a lot of problems today are a result of this erratic policy of ignorance which may quickly lead also to totalitarian thinking and behaviour. However, WE ARE ALL MIGRANTS dreaming of a Homeland which can in fact be everywhere in the world.

  9. mathiassager says:

    Yes, culture too is on the other side of fear. Great post, thx.

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