What Is Culture?

a cavemen woman looking a hieroglyphic in a cave wall
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The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines culture as: “the customary beliefs, social forms and material traits of a racial, religious or social group.”

An alternative definition might be “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices as diversions or a way of life shared by people in a place or time.”

Such definitions of culture are from a sociological perspective. Culture, being broad in its meanings and often misused, can also be defined from biological or anthropological viewpoints. Even bacteria have cultures!

But seriously, as regards human culture, it has something to do with a set of circumstances, beliefs and behaviors shared by a distinct group of people in a specific place and time.

During Paleolithic times, our cavemen ancestors lived a nomadic lifestyle and traveled within bands of around 20 or more individuals—primitive tribes or clans.

Naturally, culture developed, albeit in a smaller scale among the tribe members through their use of language, hunting/gathering techniques, survival knowledge and rituals.

Interaction (including gossip) with other tribes also reinforced the spreading of ideas and artifacts through this medium. Slowly but surely, a general understanding of life and the world spread among the cave people of the Paleolithic era.

For those who view culture as the appreciation of art, music, beauty and creativity, it is safe to say that our cavemen ancestors had it. Proof exists in exquisite cave art (parietal art and petroglyphs) of that era.

It seems that human culture, just like its bacterial equivalent, thrives best in communities—when organisms/humans are left in one place to develop.

Consider parts of Asia, where rice-growing communities have old and deep cultures. When groups of people have a readily available and accessible source of food, they tend to have more time to apply to skills other than those centering on survival.

Free time is available for creating works of art, craft making, philosophizing, gossiping, writing and storytelling. Artisans and craftsmen arise.

Especially in communities that have never been conquered or colonized completely, the people become very set in their ways, resistant to outside pressure for change.

As the population increases, such communities spread their culture through migration and intermarriages in neighboring communities.

Nowadays, culture spreads like wildfire. The Internet, technology, improved communication methods and speedier travel are just some of the prerequisites of modern globalization.

The rapid dissemination of information, products, gossip and trends means culture as we know it is now gradually becoming homogenized, from food choices and clothing styles to entertainment and architecture. What was once regionalized and unique is now becoming less exotic.

At the same time, we are becoming more exposed and universal in our views. We now play DOTA with somebody in Korea, drink Ethiopian coffee at Starbucks and purchase Brazilian soccer jerseys on Ebay.

So culture, in this respect, is something that human beings share through interaction. Exchanges between cultures have an intangible yet undeniable effect on our crafts, beliefs, values and art.

More and more, it seems that cultural development is directly proportional to the mode or technology used to spread cultural characteristics. Let’s just hope that in the process, we retain enough identity to maintain the diversity that makes us uniquely human.

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Maite Cavemen

MAITE is the shaman of the tribe. Her knowledge of nature’s secrets is unparalleled and her powers are vast and supernatural. Her main weakness: impatience

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