06 September 2007

A means to an end

Culture is not only a function of what happens inside our minds, but is also a function of our interactions with people and what we say to each other.

Since these interactions and messages are multidirectional – i.e. they happen up and down the social hierarchy, as well as across the social spectrum, and even obliquely cut through social orders and structures – and their assimilation in our minds is invisible to us, culture is never a smooth flow of various parts of our lives (past and present) coming together to make a flawless whole.

We get the feeling that something is happening gradually, almost invisibly, spreading through our populations, reaching a point which then becomes noticeably visible to us. Immediately, sociologists, trend-spotters, advertisers and marketers (myself included), and a few others (Malcolm Gladwell included) pounce on it as if great discoveries are made in human understanding.

Articles and books are written, the media steps in to popularise the concepts, and great advertising and marketing campaigns are created for brands. Human behaviour, which is at the centre of our culture, apparently, changes as people begin to realise that they can’t live without a certain idea, product or brand. New lifestyles emerge almost from nowhere, and are much discussed and written about. Now, our ‘new and improved’ life goes on...

This, in turn, gives economic consumption a shot in the arm – leading to the creation and marketing of more, and better, products and brands.

Sometimes, I feel, the whole idea of culture in our modern world is nothing more than an interpretation of the human mind to find ways of increasing consumption of economic goods and services. It is no longer perceived, nor studied, as something that plays a crucial role in human evolution – helping us to understand who we are, what makes us different from others, and why we do the things we do. Culture now serves a means to achieve a business end.

I wonder if this is what Claude Lévi-Strauss, famous social anthropologist, had in mind when he had said, “Culture uses and transforms life to realise a synthesis of a higher order.”

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