Discover more from Future Watch: an anthropological pov
What if culture is the problem?
it didn't used to be
In a casual aside, Duke sociologist Keiran Healy offered a simple but terrifying observation.*
Culture has changed fundamentally.
It used to be the ballast of our world.
Now it creates chaos.
This opens a challenge for those of us who care about culture. (And in this group, I put a great mass of creative professionals: strategists, culture creators, artists, show runners, designers, academics, design thinkers, philanthropists, marketers, futurists, cultural curators, branders, think tank experts, journalists, entrepreneurs, planners…)
The challenge is this: how does culture create chaos?
Can I offer an example of a problem that comes from culture?
“Failure to Launch” is a condition that is said to afflict 7 million young men. It describes the crisis that hits some young men as they approach the beginning of adulthood. They freeze at the end of the “diving board,” incapable of “taking the leap.”
I belief this condition comes from a failure of culture. In this case our rites of passage are busted.
And that makes it a perfect opportunity for an anthropologist to get involved. Because if we know about anything it’s rites of passage.
The problem is clear. If culture is a source of chaos, how and why is this true? And, while we’re at it, where is culture getting things right, and coming up with solutions?
So this newsletter will run on two rails: Problems and Solutions
Each posts will be a case study, and, to make things even more official looking, we will assign each case study a number.
“How to get involved” is another question.
For me, at least, the answer is not to enter the fray as an ideologue or a combatant. We have enough combatants. Plus, who cares what I think?
The way to make myself useful, I thought, is to make this a technical exercise.
The real opportunity is to proceed with the dispassion of an engineer.
Anyhow, that’s my plan.
Let me know what you think, please.
*the Kieran argument:
“Until recently, culture explained why things stayed the same, not why they changed. Understood as a monolithic block of passively internalized norms transmitted by socialization and canonized by tradition, culture was naturally seen as inhibiting individuals. It compelled co operation and prevented cheating, prescribed appropriate behavior and prohibited wrongful action, embodied tradition and abhorred novelty. Since the mid-1980s, however, the study of culture has been revitalized in ways directly relevant to the study of change. Culture has come to be seen as disparate, fragmented and inconsistent.”
Healy, Kieran. 1988. Social Change: Mechanisms and Metaphors. Working Paper. https://kieranhealy.org/files/papers/change4.pdf.