Worldviews were discussed in a previous article and tend to be a form of personal, rather than communal, belief system. I will now move on to discuss the latter, i.e., culture, therefore.
Community, whether it be a family, clan, organisation, or nation, is based on the economics of needs. It allows individuals to specialise and to create satisfiers more efficiently by developing specific tools, knowledge, and skills. In turn, this benefits all members of the community through the process of trading. One individual or group of individuals will provide a satisfier to address the needs of another, and in return, reasonable reciprocation is expected. The community can also satisfy the social needs of an individual member, and in return, that member is expected to contribute to the group. Community relies on the reciprocal satisfaction of one another’s needs and this reciprocation relies on trading in the social sense and not necessarily the commercial sense.
The majority but not all of us have an inherited predisposition to create and abide by the cultures which bind us together into co-operative groups. A culture comprises: norms or acceptable forms of behaviour; values or things held good by the community; beliefs or those things that the community holds true; and symbols, i.e., modes of dress, logos, rituals, and other physical things with a shared meaning which identify individuals as being members the community.
Norms and values are developed to ensure that satisfiers and resources are equitably traded and do, of course, include morality and ethics. They can be described as good or bad. For example, it is usually held bad simply to take or steal from others. Thus, what we sometimes refer to as the ethics and morals of a community do not have a religious source, but rather a practical secular one.
The norms, values, beliefs, and symbols of a community are initially of a pragmatic nature and are enforced through the process of socialisation. That is, members are rewarded for correct behaviour and receive disapproval for incorrect behaviour. However, with time, these norms may become formally established as laws.
The detail of a culture is not genetically inherited. The diversity of cultures across the world and the manner in which they can rapidly change from generation to generation suggest that cultures, and hence our morals and ethics, are acquired, respond to circumstances and are passed on via social learning. As Richard Dawkins has pointed out, for a culture to be hereditary and change at the rate at which it does, it would be necessary for those who participate in it to breed far more rapidly and successfully than those who do not. This is clearly not the case. However, cultures do form memes, and there is a degree of competition for acceptance between them. This is more so in a global economy where contact between different cultures is greater than it has ever been.
In response to globalisation of the economy, culture in the West is currently moving from a more national/tribal one to a more global one. Many see the global economy as group co-operation on a grand scale, and as bringing great benefits to humanity. We are learning that it requires a more tolerant and inclusive attitude to enable us to co-operate successfully at that scale. However, this change is not without resistance from ideological and other interest groups concerned that they may lose what they currently hold. Difficulties have also been caused by the transfer of consumerism to nations without the infrastructure to support it.
Humanity also faces great risks at the global scale and the move from national/tribal to global morals and ethics needs to be encouraged so that we can better co-operate in tackling these risks.
The political scientist, Ronald Inglehart, using the extensive research of the World Values Survey, identified two key independent dimensions in national culture. These are:
- Traditional vs. Secular-rational values. The World Values Survey describes these values as follows. “Traditional values emphasize the importance of religion, parent-child ties, deference to authority and traditional family values. People who embrace these values also reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide. These societies have high levels of national pride and a nationalistic outlook.”. On the other hand, “Secular-rational values have the opposite preferences to the traditional values. These societies place less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority. Divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are seen as relatively acceptable. (Suicide is not necessarily more common.)”
- Survival vs. Self Expression Values. Again, these are described by the World Values Survey as follows. “Survival values place emphasis on economic and physical security. It is linked with a relatively ethnocentric outlook and low levels of trust and tolerance.”. On the other hand, “Self-expression values give high priority to environmental protection, growing tolerance of foreigners, gays and lesbians and gender equality, and rising demands for participation in decision-making in economic and political life.”
It is argued that a national culture can be measured by assessing where it sits between the two extremes on the two dimensions. More details, including a fascinating map of where each nation currently sits on these two dimensions can be found at: https://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/wvs.jsp.