Utopias part 2 – Culture

Back to this;

Culture is what makes a society work – it is the society working. From how we settle differences to how we celebrate happiness – the way we do the things that humans need to do in order to live together.

There’s two poles of culture types – introverted, and extroverted. Introverted cultures value the individual, whereas extroverted cultures value the group, and conformity to the group. Western cultures are typically introverted, and Eastern, extroverted. It seems that an extroverted culture would be a more sustainable model, but does the demand for conformity stand in the way of the happiness that makes a utopia a utopia?

So whatever cultural elements go into the utopia, is there a combination – a system, that can satisfy both the need for individuals to be able to follow their dreams and be themselves, without that interfering with the sustainability of the system?

In Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, the main character says that our system, capitalism, communism, monarchy, what not, would work, if only humans would be better than they have ever been in their entire existence. And it’s true – if everyone was just nice to one another, and the people in power had the interests of their people at heart, rather than taking advantage of those below them, nearly any system in use right now would work.

Where to look for a model that would work?

Well, anthropologists have looked at the question, and they’ve surveyed people in different cutures.  If you ask the average person in western society if they’re happy with their lives, the average person will laugh at you. But, anthropologists asked this same question of people living in tribal settings, and overall, they answer yes, they are happy with their lives.

These are people in villages that often don’t have anything resembling modern luxuries; but anyone who’s thought about it knows that it’s not luxuries that make people happy. The truth is that humans have many needs, and these tribal cultures have evolved organically over hundreds and thousands of years, in the same way Darwin’s finches evolved specialized beak shapes. It’s not something that can be imposed on a people, the way a king’s law can be, and this natural evolution can only happen when people themselves have a say in how they live.

Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups, they say. Well, tribal societies were not large groups – not by today’s standards. A typical tribe’s population was far less than the average person’s facebook friends list. While one voice railing at an injustice in the population of say, a small city, let alone a modern country, doesn’t get heard. But one voice calling for justice and change among the average population of a tribe (about a hundred to a hundred and fifty people – twenty five to thirty families) is a voice that matters.

A tribe’s population is adaptable, it changes with the needs of it’s people. Modern governments are not adaptable. Besides the bureaucratic red tape and corporate manipulation standing in the way of change for the better, there is the fundamental requirement of centralized government that the rules be the same for everyone, regardless of their circumstances or environment, and a rule that works for one community may not work for another, and neither group has any power to change it.

These small, autonomous communities are weak, though, and easily driven off their land and resources. Another tribe moves in, and imposes their laws on the other people, and nations are born. And eventually we come to this, and wonder what went wrong. A utopia of small autonomous tribes would be easily conquered, and that, of course does nothing for sustainability.

I don’t know if it’s possible for such a thing to exist for any length of time, but I’d still like to think it is. In any case, I’m not going to be so arrogant as to claim it’s impossible, just because I can’t see a way myself.

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2 responses to “Utopias part 2 – Culture

  1. Every society/tribe/nation throughout known history has prepared for war – no exceptions. ( The stated premise of the National War Museum – Ottawa) Humans are in a constant state of conflict of varying degrees of intensity. Ascending to a utopian state under these conditions cannot be achieved without first achieving an end to competition for resources, through agression or effecive defence, Lindsay alludes to this. The implication is: Utopian society, defined in part as being free of conflict, cannot exist because any society that did finally manage a state of perfect peace and all that other universality of outlook and values would likely have done it through war with all of it’s moral and ethical bankrupcy.

    The society that finally manages to enter into that so called utopian state carries that damaged moral baggage as an enevitable outcome of the conflict that allowed the ‘peace’ to prevail. Utopia would be transient at best.

    • I’d like to be more hopeful than I am. I don’t know if it’s possible for a culture to evolve into a state that would work for a global community, or if governments could work out a system that works for all people, without being vulnerable to attack or collapse. Most people think not, but, in the words of Wesley, in The Princess Bride, “Nonsense, you’re only saying that because no one ever has.” No one achieved heavier than air flight before the wright brothers, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t possible.

      The trouble is that we do live in a Utopia, only it’s Utopia for business. And business, corporations and the people who benefit from them, have huge power, and huge invested interest in perpetuating the status-quo. They don’t benefit from looking after people, only the business entity. What they don’t seem to realize is Capitalism is a system that requires constant growth to survive, and it cannot exist in a closed system. Growth is hitting the maximum for the closed system that is earth – there’s no place left to colonize – and no one has spent enough money aiming at the stars to make growth outside the atmosphere feasible, and so, Capitalism is collapsing in on itself.

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