The next big culture

A caterpillar happily eats its way through the leaves that surround it. It eats about a hundred times its weight every day. It goes on eating for about three weeks until it grows pretty big. It then slows down and begins spinning a chrysalis. Chrysalis is a shell-like cocoon in which insects develop into an adult. Inside the chrysalis, tiny new cells appear and multiply on the caterpillar’s body. The caterpillar’s immune system reacts to these new cells as foreign and destroys them. But the cells multiply so rapidly that they begin to link themselves together. Eventually the immune system gives up. Soon the caterpillar melts and liquefies. Then the tiny cells recycle the liquefied mass into a new entity. The new entity is a butterfly.

Just as the caterpillar held the blueprint for the butterfly all along, every culture retains parts of the one that preceded it. Hence, cultures don’t start from scratch. They build the new by simply rearranging the old. At the moment, we’re transitioning between the new and the old. We can refer to them as the two types of global cultural systems - control culture and integrative culture. Philip Slater is the man behind these definitions. He explains them broadly in The Chrysalis Effect. We’re transitioning between control culture and integrative culture. Since these two systems have such opposing values, the transition is a struggle.

Control culture is about eight thousand years old. In spite of dying, it’s still strong and recovering. It celebrates a state of power in which life revolves around getting and maintaining control. So much so that it separates the mind and body from feelings and nature. It is built on a dependence of authoritarian rule and sees order as something that has to be imposed upon. It prepares a fixed mind with a static vision of the world and the universe. Control culture is a macho culture where parents raise their boys to be ‘from Mars’ – stoic, rigid and aggressive. And because men are trained to be insensitive, women take up areas that men neglect – love, cooperation and nurture. They are trained to be ‘from Venus’.

Integrative culture is still in its youth, and is growing stronger by the day. It celebrates interdependence and permeates artificial walls and boundaries. It is built of democratic ethos and sees order as something that evolves, just like in does in nature. Integrative culture is about embracing and integrating diversity. It made serious inroads only in the last fifty years or so. The women’s movement, ethics movement, gay rights movement, ecology movement, sexual relations movement, the rise of the Internet, the global economy, international law, attitudes to religion and science, and organic farming are some examples of integrative culture at play.

Just as much as integrative culture is growing so is the rise in fundamentalism and control culture. This means we’re being dragged in opposite directions. Slater explains the state of our transition quite accurately. He points out that we’ve never been more concerned over our environment yet never more destructive of it; never more distrustful of technology yet never more dependent on it; never more opposed to violence yet never more fascinated with it; never more ego driven yet never more hungry to lose ourselves in something beyond ego; never more health conscious yet never more unhealthy; and while we’ve never had more ways to connect with each other, we’ve never felt more disconnected. They all tell us one thing – we’re in transition; a rather turbulent transition in which old habits seem irrelevant or destructive while new habits feel awkward and uncomfortable.

Besides, control culture has created a common definition of what we see when we look at something or what we hear when we listen to something. It has trained us to see the world through a predefined lens. This means we don’t experience the world directly. So we attack innovations that seem morally infectious and views that challenge our assumptions.

Perhaps it’s evolutionary architecture at work. Frank Herbert, in his best-selling 1965 science fiction novel Dune, identifies that evolution is a continuous process of integrating dissimilar elements to create richer wholes. It seems that this turbulent process of integrating conflicting elements of control culture and integrative culture is a fitting attempt to form richer entities.

Just as the caterpillar held the blueprint for the butterfly all along, we need to recognise that integrative culture, even when fully established, will still have traits of control and competitiveness. These traits, although diminished in value, will not be entirely disregarded. Could this be the kind of richer entity that Herbert was suggesting - one that demands the sort of acceptance to integrative culture that control culture enjoyed for thousands of years?

As hunter-gatherers for millions of years - much before control culture took over - our survival depended more on cooperation than anything else. Given that the values of the richer entity is far more inclined to integrative culture, the transition is an inevitable development - more so, a necessary one. For it will help us look beyond predefined lens and cultivate a productive approach to solving the world’s problems – from environment to economics, if not entirely being able to solve it. And while it may or may not create more happiness, it will certainly bring about stability.

1 comment:

Emre said...

i enjoyed this one. now i wanna read Dune.

Post a Comment