November 8, 2011

Culture to keep us anchored

Everything we do has culture associated with it. In fact we may say that culture is the way we do whatever we do. It gives us a sense of control, identity and security. Playing music, buildng a home, how we take care of our children, what foods we eat and how we prepare it - all have a culture associated with it. Everything we do has a context in which it is done. So in the same vein, we may say that culture developed as the most fitting way to do whatever we do at a certain time and place, given our available resources and the skills we have learned from that environment. Thus this skill comes from learning the most relevant, practical and most efficient way for us at our disposal. In Maldives we first built our homes with sticks and thatch, then with coral stone, now with bricks and motar, and tomorrow perhaps with glass and steel as the norm. As the context of our existence changes, our culture of doing each of the above - also changes. So, music which we used to play one way in the past changes as our attractions and thus our beliefs of that being the best way to do it, changes. Food and cuisine also go this same way and so do how we build our houses and homes and how we manage our relationships with our friends and loved ones - perhaps even how we deal with our foes. We were masters of our setting given a culture of our own making.

But in the buzz of the modern world, every culture is hostage to the burgeoning wave of globalization. Even though overtly we feel centered and in control, the blindingly fast array of events inherant in this movement, shakes the ground of our traditional berth and leaves us vulnerable. So how is this blindness able to get to us? I would say it is the yearning for the new that attracts us inexorably. While changes in our past held us with familiar values as their underpinnings that emanated from within our communities, the new stimulants are from the outside. The anchors that held us to our ground is loose and we are like floatsam in the flowing tide taking us in the direction that the tide dictates. However, this loss in our grounding is a welcome moment to our senses which are always looking out for new stimulants as we get bored with the old, wherever that may come from. The attractant is indeed what is fashionable, where fashion is what is deemed by most as the way to do anything. How fashions change is very well explained in Malcolm Gladwell's book the tipping point. It is a crescendo of acceptance that make for the tipping point to occur and soon our actions become asymptotically alignend- everyone doing that same thing. That's what we call fashion - like blind ants following blithely one after another, without a care for the consequences. And now more than ever, fashions orchestrated by global big business and other such influences come and go ever so fast leaving us vulnerable to the vagaries of such demands. It doesn't allow us a moment to think of what a farce we may be subject to just to keep us vulnerable and keeping us spending to fuel the advent of alien cultures into our midst with no time to think of consequence.  So where does this leave us as regards national development? In this scheme of things that we call globalization, it must be the recipe of the day - materialism where we forget the idea of community and nationhood and bring in competition and conflict. Who is seen mightier in the world by whatever standard we measure it, leads the pack and we all follow just because it is the in-thing. Not because it is the right thing or the most rational even. That's the story of our food, our coffee, our clothes, our values, our music, our family life too. When can we wake up?

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