I wrote this brief chronicle a few years ago. It was published in the magazine titled Meetings International.
Here is the text, and if you want to write any comment about what I wrote please feel free to do so.
“Culture is a reflection of the prevailing social structure, but not a dead, mechanical reflection. Culture is something that is used to systemise, explain and legitimise the world surrounding the individual. Thereby, it has continuous repercussions on the social structure. One could also formulate the relationship as culture being the medium, or filter, through which man creates his perception of reality.”
From Culture Builders by Frykman and Löfgren.
The term surrounding world is so complex and difficult to grasp that we as individuals lack the skills and perception to completely absorb and understand it in its entirety or its many fine details. Politicians are supposed to be public servants, but many people regard politics as being rife with contradictions and problematic inferences. Many young people in particular appear bewildered or just tired when interviewed on how they perceive politics.
If we cannot even understand the world we are surrounded by we suffer inner chaos that could lead to depression and weariness. We not only need orientation landmarks in our life but constant reminders of continuity and, not least, of belonging if we are to encapsulate sufficiently supportive feelings of security. This is why we attempt to makes things easier for ourselves by creating and nurturing culture.
Culture can be more or less reality based. It is like the furnishings in our home; the wallpaper brings to life what would otherwise be perceived as faded and dreary; the colour of textiles, furniture, cushions and lampshades gives rise to feelings of attractive movement; most things in the kitchen area and dining area contribute to the benefit of having a home. Not forgetting the people: family, friends, guests. The latter I choose carefully as they are the ones who will hopefully confirm the value of the world, or rather the image of the world, I have played a part in creating.
And that is what reality looks like, as seen through our rose-tinted glasses with lenses in the dioptres we have partly chosen ourselves. Partly, not completely. We do not, of course, completely create the culture. We are surrounded by off-the-peg costumes and conceptions. We try on that which seems to fit the frame of mind we find ourselves in, and in the never-ending interplay between that which surrounds us and that which springs up inside of us we form that which we believe to be reality.
This could hold for quite some time. But the complex and contradictory catches up with us in the end. The collisions could be soft or hard depending on the distance and speed. Sometimes it is a full frontal collision and we have to turn around and start again, which is never particularly easy. That which is especially difficult is the abandonment of the imprinted frame of reference we are all bearers of in our common culture, namely that which tells of the forces and powers beyond the control of mankind. Here are all the ancient texts, once printed on papyrus rolls and distributed for thousands of years, not least by churches, mosques and temples. Here is the mysticism; that which our modern science has still not commandeered and which has still not been given any logical or rational explanation. Success for the religions, or religion cultures, is due, in all probability, to its advocates using the carrot-and-whip method, where basically all criticism is prohibited and where, in a variety of ways, it is pronounced, even to this day, that man is a divine creation and that all sermons are in principal beyond the realms of debate.
German sociologist Norbert Elias (1897–1990) became known during the 1970s for his papers on the civilisation process. He maintained that the more differentiated and complex a society, the more problematic it is for individuals to keep control over their inner powers and desires. They could come to lack effective control mechanisms for handling all these inner powers, of which several could covert to outward aggression and violence. In remedying this extremely trying situation the following could happen:
With the help of others a new culture is rapidly built up. The carrying beam of this culture is the notion that the only authority with the right to use physical violence is the nation state. It is alone in creating armed forces and police forces and has sole right to forcefully take action against all and sundry found waffling around the cultural periphery seemingly not willing to submit to the general order of things, irrespective of where said order emanated from and what it is actually saying. Ordnung muss sein! With the hard line nation state, citizens are held in a new form of discipline in which religions no longer have sufficient power. (Norbert Elias released his major work on the civilisation process in 1939.)
Gradually, and not least after the fall of Nazi Germany, new meetings have been created and cultures have been changed. One could say that the degree of sophistication in cultures has been refined and developed. The armed forces and the Church still, of course, have a firm grip on individuals in a great many countries, but in the more modern democracies it is just as important to promote the role of education. The school’s primary task is to convey knowledge (whose and which knowledge?) but also, in consultation with the parents (if possible), to strive to provide the kind of upbringing that is generally regarded as being part and parcel of a civilised society. They learn, for example, that cooperation based on sensitivity and humility is a virtue. Expressed in another way: it is no longer regarded as acceptable for a nation state to have the monopoly on suppression and the use of violent forces. All individuals must be trained in better channelling their aggressions and more impulsive forms of dissimilar, not least sexual, expressions. In other words: self-control please!
But the art of self-control is not easy, as witnessed just about everywhere, not least on the city streets. Neither can self-control be imposed by the individual themselves without help from the surrounding culture. And because the individual is under the constant influence of the powers that be and the groups they have chosen to join, or just allowed themselves to be vacuumed up in, the whole thing becomes a very fine balancing act. It could go either way. It depends on how the culture, this dynamic creation, is built up and how it is anchored in people’s minds and thought processes.
Within a housing association, to take this modern, excellent example, it is quite easy to observe the cultural composition and any failings. When the association’s authority body (the committee and AGM) becomes weak and indiscernible, new wild shoots rapidly appear on the façade of self-control. Some members can take it upon themselves to act without any consideration whatsoever to common values or to other members’ wellbeing. When the association’s authority body becomes obtrusively strong in its disciplinary attitude it could lead to submission and caged passivity.
The tightrope between the outer force and the inner strength of the civilisation process must be constantly maintained, which is best achieved by endless meetings. One of the more important items on the discussion agenda should then suitably be culture, the culture we are all a part of creating. What do we actually create and what are the consequences?