I ask what is culture because we all seem to accept there is such a thing and we can take it with us wherever we go in the world and continue to follow it even if it is alien to others.
Recently I have been doing a lot of thinking and have come to some conclusions. They may not be ones that all people accept but I think they are ones we should be considering with an open mind.
The world is a varied place, in environment, weather, geology, etc. People, like animals, plants, and weather, are all a part of this world. The fact that the landscape and environment are so different in so many places is important. Some large land masses have vast swathes of the same type of landscape, geology, soil, weather, amount of sunshine, etc. This encourages many people throughout this large land mass to adapt in similar ways, create similar language, similar habits and traditions. These adaptations are based on the land, the seasons, the soil, the plants, the animals.
Sometimes there is a small land mass which has a big diversity of landscape, environment, plants, animals. People who live in these small land masses will find themselves speaking different languages in the form of dialects, accents. The traditions they create are based on the type of land they are living on, the plants and animals available, and the weather they have. Some plants cannot grow if the land is too wet, has too little sunshine, is too uneven, has an acidic soil, has the wrong animals/insects to pollinate the plants etc. Culture builds up when people learn how to work with their land, their environment, their weather, etc. This culture will be determined by the seasons too: in the north the sunshine levels will be lower, the temperatures usually lower or for less time, the seasons will be more diverse throughout the year, and some plants which people eat will not always be available so will require some form of preservation to sustain the people throughout the harsh times.
Others will have much hotter climates, or humid ones, with a lot more sunshine, allowing different plants to be grown and eaten. How these plants are grown, how people adapt to their environment is what forms the idea of “culture”.
To help people remember what they should do to survive all the year round there were created rituals and rhymes which people used at specific times of the year. For example, at the darkest part of the year, December through to January, there would in many places be little or no sunshine so few plants grew. It would often be cold too, making it difficult to do any work, and the weather often was too bad to work anyway. People lived in closed spaces with fires to keep warm. They would eat food and drink that they had preserved throughout this time, and it was often soporific making them rest and sleep a good bit of the time. At this time people would have a social gathering, and offer vital hospitality to those who had not been able to preserve enough food for themselves – hence the giving of goods at this time.
During other parts of the year the sun would shine and little water would be available. People would hide indoors at the hottest part of the day and rest, because they would dehydrate, use up precious liquid, and generally wait until the worst of the sun had gone before venturing out to do more work. To work during the hottest part of the day in desert/arid areas can be detrimental a person’s health. That is why they wore clothes suited to the environment. In sandy areas the wind whips up the sand grains and dashes them against the skin unless there is some form of cover to protect it. This is why so many middle eastern countries, and desert areas, have people who travel light, but also wear clothes which cover the whole of their bodies. The clothes are a form of protection against disadvantageous weather.
Those who continue to wear such clothing when they move to lands with far less sunshine, more water, different environments, are damaging their health by continuing to wear these clothes which were created for a different environment. Sunshine is a vital part of the creation of Vitamin D. By moving to a land which had a much lower amount of sunshine throughout the year and wearing fully clothing, prevents the skin receiving enough sunshine to enable the body to create this vital vitamin.
There was a study made in the UK which showed that people in the north of the island of Britain received a lot less sunshine than those in the south of the island. In fact there was only the correct sunshine rays for 6 months of the year, compared to 12 months in the south. This is due to the latitude and angle of the earth against the sun. It was found that people in the north of Britain, regardless of their ethnicity had lower levels of Vitamen D compared with those indigenous people in the south. It was also found that even in the south, those who had a darker skin, and who had originated from a different hotter country also had less Vitamin D than others in the south of the island.
It has been scientifically proven that some people do over generations adapt to their environment. The Sherpa people for example are known to have a genetic modification which enables them to make the most of the limited oxygen in their mountainous environment. People from lower landscapes find it very hard to cope with the rarified oxygen levels, but the Sherpa are able to cope very easily. There are other examples of people genetically adapting to their environment but it does take generations, and many of the rituals and procedures people follow in various areas are important to their survival and in some instances could be classed as a religion. A religion after all is only a belief system. The rituals within a religion will have been formed by the need to adapt to the environment. Not all religions can be easily adapted to different environments. It is up to people to do the adaptations.
For me, the land and nature, are the most important thing of all. As is the culture formed by learning and adapting to the land in order to survive.
Modern human society has tried to either eliminate or banish nature and the land to small portions of tokenistic greenery.countryside. In its place are huge stone edifices known as high rise buildings, and tarmac/concrete highways for metal containers to travel along. Humans no longer touch, link, feel, the world of nature around them. To me the city is a dead place. Only the people who walk around it give it any life. Lighted advertisements blaze out, blocking out the starry sky for those who wish to see the heavens and the vastness of the universe. Most people actually are asleep at night, so few actually read the signs. The signs use up vast am ounts of electricity, which costs a lot of money, for what? Tomake a statement? To whom? Life is very limited in a concrete jungle. What would people do if the lights suddenly went out? What if electricity was no longer available in these vast high rise buildings?
In the countryside, you can be quite alone as far as other people being there is concerned but there is a lot of life around you. Nature is brimming with life both during the day, and at night. You can see the stars because there is little or no light pollution to block out the vast array of stars above. In the moonlight at full moon it is possible to see a lot of the landscape around us without the need for artificial light. In fact, there are times when we should be without light so that other parts of the natural world can function.
Culture is based on the landscape. City culture is now available the world over, and it is always the same. I can look at images of a city and it is impossible to tell where in the world that city is because they all look exactly the same: blocks of high rise flats and boxes. The roads look exactly the same too. People are too busy travelling miles on these roads to communicate with other people nearby, or even notice them. We all need our own space, it is part of human nature to adapt to our own bit of land.
In small houses several people live together, and they have to adapt to each other to achieve what they wish to achieve. But they usually have a very small space which is theirs, and theirs alone. They can usually do what they wish with that space so there will be different colours, furniture, pictures on the wall, gadgets, etc. Each person to their own, their own environment, their own bit of culture. That is what makes us what we are as individuals.
But the land too makes us as human beings. Nature is diverse, so the culture must also be diverse. Britain has such a diversity of landscape, environment, weather, in a small land mass, along with different resources and geology, that you can go only few yards from a road and be in a different environment. Communities are very small. Each town has smaller communities within them due to the different shape of the landscape. Streets can be in any directions, buildings can be two, three, one, or as many floors as you like, going from one building to another. The new towns are being built similar to the large cities throughout the modern world, but they are drab, dirty, polluted places with little oxygen, too many junk food eating places, with shops that have the same names the world over. They are also so crowded that whilst they may have the most up to date architectural style of building and mod cons, they lack character, and are just a myriad of buildings, all looking exactly the same, no different to pumping out lots of the same items on a factory conveyor belt. Boring, and lacking any beauty,life, or artistic merit of individuality.
The island of Britain is made up of three older kingdoms which are said to have been united. Wales is mainly hills, valleys, with an edging of coastal towns having once been fishing ports. Some fishing still goes on but the modern society has done its best via various means to destroy the sustainability of the fishing industry. Coal used to be mined in the hills and valleys along with other minerals that were also mined. These are either gone, or seriously diminished. The welsh have a long history and many worthy historical events and figures have come out of that kingdom. Now, it is just like the rest of society not only in Britain but the rest of the world. The hills, valleys and coastal towns still exist, but there is little industry connected to the land still existing. Pity. It is a beautiful landscape.
Hills exist in abundance in Scotland, the most northen kingdom within this island. But there is less sunlight in Scotland, also much more rain. There are lakes, known as lochs, and lots of fishing took place there, helping to sustain the people. On the hills tended to be either sheep or cattle, but specific types that could survive on the often quite bleak landscape. The wind is always prominent and can be difficult to deal with. But various clothing was developed to do just that.
The lowlying lands of Scotland are very beautiful, and there is agriculture in this country, but because the weather is not warm for as long as the south of the island, and there is less sunshine, wheat is not an easy crop to grow, so oats became a mainstay in ancient times. Porridge is one of the specialities of Scotland.
There are also various islands surrounding the main island of Britain, most of them around Scotland. Each island is different, has different plants, animals, birds, and landscape. The determination to educate older children by boarding them at mainland schools during the week means the children are losing contact with their birth island environment and many leave their birth island when they are adults to find other work. The land is losing its people, and the people are losing their culture.
England is even more diverse. People have tried to create a single identity for England. Unfortunatelym, that isn’t really possible. The middle England culture applies only to a small part of the island of Britain, and England. There are several mountainous regions within England, as well as large swathes of flattish agricultural land. There were many fishing ports around the coast, but on the eastern side there used to be lots of sandy areas, which often became bogs and marshes. This land has in the main been reclaimed, but it is still flat, and subject to flooding.
Many mineral resources are to found outside middle England territory. Coal was once mined all over the north of England, along with other parts of Britain. Lead, silver, iron, have all been found there and utilised in various industries. Clay, used for pottery, sand for glass, but two other industries, and the processes and rituals that were required to make the most of these resources helped form individual cultures in the various parts of England and Britain. The soil varies too, so some plants can only be grown in certain parts of the kingdom. Then you have stone, flint, slate, chalk, granite, to name but a few hard geological minerals to be found here. Many buildings can be found made of these different minerals, and the result makes a diversity of architecture in both materials and style that can be seen whenever you venture into certain areas within Engalnd. Tin, plus lead, makes pewter, a material which was soft and pliable but used for plates, containers, etc. Tin and Lead are found in the hills of England, and Britain.
The industrial revolution began to move people from the land into towns and cities to find work in the factories, and other heavy industries. Yes, there was wealth and prosperity for many but also poor health, terrible housing, living amongst sewage, and other dirt, always present when huge numbers of people congregate in small areas. Death, disease, crime, violence, all became the culture the people of these huge communities. It was not nice culture, but it was the only way the people could survive, even when it was detrimental to their health. Over the years we have seen the dirty harsh industries disappear, but other harsh cultures have replaced them. People do not see or learn about nature. Children do not know how some of the food they eat originates. They are becoming ignorant of the way nature sustains human beings on this planet.
I read today a tale of a person who was at the checkout in a shop and bought some peas in pods. The girl at the checkout asked whether they were beans or peppers. When told they were peas the girl said that pease were round. It was only when the shopper split open a pea pod to show the contents that the girl learned for the first time where pease came from! The modern culture that young people are learning is which stores/shops/businesses people can buy things, but none ask or learn where these stores/shops/ businesses get their goods from. The goods are just there.
Put these people into the natural world and many would be completely lost. There culture does not provide them with the knowledge of how to adapt to the land if their environment changes.
Human beings survived for so long purely because they learned about the environment in which they were residing, and adapted their culture accordingly. That is why we have survived so long, but today, the determination to standardise culture, environment, landscape and weather patterns, as well as our lifestyles, stops us adapting. If we suddenly lost our electricity, the fuel for our motor vehicles, the heating for our homes, and our homes due to adverse weather conditions, we would be lost, and unlikely to survive either as individuals, communities, or species. Only by adapting to the landscape can we survive, but we must make sure that our culture can adapt to changes which nature brings, not just human beings as at present.
Change is upon us, but we need diversity more than ever now, not standardisation. Adaptable culture is dependent upon diversity, but modern society has little adaptability, relies too much on electricity and technology to do the necessary survival work, and unless we learn the old techniques, the old cultural ways based on diversity of landscape, we will die out as a species.
Culture is important, as is learning about the various types of culture, especially if the landscape and environment should change, BUT it has to be relevant to the landscape in which people find themselves now, not a landscape that they were in in the past.