Culture is tradition. That is, it is the set of standard and expected behaviours that a person (or animal?) (or plant?) has negotiated over time with those around him or her. The fact that every person in the culture has to negotiate with every other person in the culture is what makes it similar to an ecosystem. That is:
- no two negotiations are alike
- a person is changed by every interaction with another person, which is different every time, which means the person brings something different to every future negotiation
- that creates a web of interaction that is changing all the time, just like an ecosystem
What is interesting to me today is that there are no boundaries to an ecosystem. So, there are no boundaries to a culture. For example, no culture completely insulated from other cultures. Even if a group of people were out of contact from all others (forever?), they weren’t always, and they have their biology in common with the others, and they may run into artefacts from others, like noise, litter, pollution, land uses, contrails in the sky, cities that light up the night sky, etc.
If you are out there, we will assimilate you (you heathens?)! Of course, you might assimilate us first. In fact, we will negotiate an assimilation, since we will affect each other.
The fact is that cultures have negotiations with other cultures (ecosystems also occur at many scales and extents in space and time!), so we can now go from one “group” to another easily, often without even noticing the boundary, such as it is.
What is interesting is that people can now go from one culture’s turf to another’s without really worrying about stepping on anyone’s cultural toes. At least, as long as certain rules are followed. And it is those rules that I’m wondering about. Are they another culture-to-culture negotiation, or are they an elimination of culture in the interests of allowing us to deal with all the tourists while maintaining some kind of living, and our sense of self esteem and status.
Just a couple of stories: I was at a B&B in Quebec’s north shore region and didn’t know that breakfast was supposed to be quite minimal, like a continental breakfast, so I should not have asked for seconds of the cook’s lovely oatmeal. Next time, I’ll try to be more sensitive to the traditions of where I travel.
I also had the experience of being with a Chinese national while travelling in Africa, and couldn’t help being embarrassed by the way he went poking around into people’s huts (in certain areas) with his camera.
But in general, we all get along and behave ourselves. This is, of course, still an ongoing, sometimes bloody, process with some of the tribal desert groups that are being overwhelmed by more global standards/cultures. But, in fact, this is not much different than bar fights in my neighbourhood, where someone feels insulted because of how someone else looks or behave (some of us really must learn the correct songs in a given pub!). Diss!
So each person has their own culture, which is negotiated with those around him or her, and which is spread around groups of others that one associates with. And a different set of rules has also been negotiated for use with others that one does not normally associate with, and which are more and more strict and constraining depending on how “strange” and different and far away the people are that we are spending time with.
So I think culture IS a set of rules that grow organically and ecologically.
Knowing this (I’m willing to negotiate the details, of course) means we can make smarter decisions about getting along.