Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Decline of Culture

The word “culture” has lost its authority because it is now burdened with meanings for which there are several other words. In his Prologue to From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to The Present, historian Jacques Barzun suggests that one of the reasons behind the cultural decline is that most people do not comprehend the historical and anthropological significance of the concept of “culture.”

Barzun says that due to overuse, the word “culture” has become commonplace. The intellectuals tend to conjure fictitious mini-cultures which exists within the society or civilization. Here’s an excerpt from Barzun’s Prologue to From Dawn to Decadence:
Culture—what a word! Up to a few years ago it meant two or three related things easy to grasp and keep apart. Now it is a piece of all-purpose jargon that covers a hodge-podge of overlapping things. People speak and write about the culture of almost any segment of society: the counterculture, to begin with, and the many subcultures: ethnic cultures, corporate cultures, teenage culture, and popular culture. An editorial in The New York Times discusses the culture of the city's police department, and an article in the travel section distinguishes the culture of plane travel from the bus culture. On a par with these, recall the split between the "two cultures" of science and the humanities, which is to be deplored—like the man-and-wife "culture clash,” which causes divorce. Artists feel the lure—no, the duty—of joining an adversary culture; for the artist is by nature "the enemy of his culture," just as he is (on another page of the same journal) "a product of his culture." In education, the latest fad is multiculturalism, and in entertainment the highest praise goes to a "cross-cultural event." On the world scene, the experts warn of the culture wars that are brewing. 
Barzun notes that culture is something that tells us who we are. He quotes an old saying: ”Culture is what is left after you have forgotten all you have definitely set out to learn.” The importance of culture is such that even those who hate it and want to destroy it must use the ideas and tools that have been produced within the overall cultural environment:
If the new-minted citizen then turns critic of his adopted country, attacking policies and politicians with impunity, he enjoys this privileged pastime because of the likes of Voltaire, who also had to skip across frontiers to escape persecution and keep dissenting. Even the terrorist who drives a car filled with dynamite toward a building in some hated nation is part of what he would destroy: his weapon is the work of Alfred Nobel and the inventors of the internal combustion engine. His very cause has been argued for him by such proponents of national self-determination as President Wilson and such rationalizers of violence as Georges Sorel and Bakunin, the Russian anarchist.

No comments: