My search for good news took an unexpected turn this week when a friend asked me:
‘A comment is often made by certain groups of people that immigrants are destroying our culture. I certainly wouldn’t agree with that but actually, my question would be ‘Has the UK got its own culture?’ I actually don’t think it has, and maybe that’s part of the problem?’
That really started me thinking. The word ‘culture’ took me back my university days (a long time ago!) when I studied Sociology which has ‘culture’ at its very core. It answers questions like …
What do we mean by culture?
The word is used by sociologists, anthropologists and psychologists to describe the central essence of our everyday lives. Our culture includes all the procedures and trappings which make day to day life possible – our language, religion, behaviour, values, beliefs, clothes, rituals and social customs. These cultural ‘moorings’ are what make life predictable and help to bond groups of people living together.
How do we learn our culture?
From birth we are ‘socialised’. From an early age we pick up customs and rituals and how we are expected to behave. This becomes our ‘social reality’ and is largely unquestioned. In earlier times we learned about our world through our family, friends and the local community but industrialisation brought with it formal education, a more widespread way of teaching us how to live in our world.
Today advertising plays an important part in our socialisation bombarding us daily with messages on how we should look, how our homes should look and generally what latest gizmo we should buy. Corporations employ huge numbers of psychologists to encourage us to buy their brand.
Around the middle of the 20th century a big change occurred when many people in the world took into their homes a new source for ideas and information – television. Today it’s uncommon for families in the ‘developed’ world to be without a television (or two or three!) and when development creeps into a society television is one of the first desirable consumer items.
If the mid-20th Century exposure of the population to ideas through advertising and television is seen as a powerful tool by which cultural ideas are spread, it’s now dwarfed by the influence of the Internet and social media. The door has been thrown wide open to those trying to influence our thinking and to sell not only Brands but also ideas.
Although in modern times the mass media, social media and a massive advertising industry are the most obvious channels through which values and ideas are spread, they are by no means the only channels. Our social institutions constantly drip feed us messages … Competition and individualism are the order of the day. Co-operation and kindness are usually side-lined. Our schools are a hot bed of competition; employers give priority to maximising profits with lesser regard for the well-being of workers or the natural environment; private properties are cherished while public space is disregarded and run down.
What drives cultural change?
It occurs to me that in thinking about how culture changes I need to get some idea of what drives the change. I’ve come to see that many of the changes in our culture in recent years have resulted from our country’s need to grow the economy and capitalism’s need for investment opportunities. Some cultural changes come to mind:
If immigrants have brought their own culture, with them so contributing to some extent to cultural change, we perhaps need to remember that immigrants are often a good source of cost effective labour and so good for the economy.
The huge growth of road traffic has brought with it many cultural changes. Children no longer play out in the street, neighbours rarely stop and chat when walking to the local shops. Many see the growth of road traffic as a major cause of neighbourhood community breakdown. In our busy corner of S E Essex the massive congestion on our roads could be reduced if we had an efficient, cheap, public transport system. Why don’t we? The car and road building lobbies have a powerful voice in government and car sales add massively to GDP. Much less money to be made out of running a bus service. When calculating the pros and cons of public transport re cars no account is taken of our constant stress and exposure to fumes, the trauma of death and injury cause by road accidents, the loss of green spaces to road building.
The scarey bit – Who has the power to ‘socialise’ us?
Once I began finding out where the messages of how I should live are coming from and how change comes about, I came across another term which seems crucial to my understanding: Hegemony. The idea of Hegemony, which describes the largely unquestioned world view which is taken in by a population has been something of an eye-opener and gives me a hint of good news ahead!
The term ‘hegemony’ was coined by the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci in the 1920s. He used the term to describe how, in a democracy, the domination of one group over others can be achieved by political power which depends on the population taking on certain values and ideas. I’m reminded of Margaret Thatcher’s mantra ‘There is no alternative’ as she pushed through the idea that the ‘good life’ (of excessive material consumption) will be delivered by free markets, minimal government regulation and a tight rein on government spending.
Gramsci was pondering why the population remained apathetic while jackbooted Fascists used torture and violence to take control in Italy in the 1930s and why the Russian revolution had been such a long time coming when millions of peasants were living in abject poverty while a small minority elite were living in luxury. (Can’t help seeing something of a parallel with our 21st century world!)
The British sociologist Antony Giddens described ideological hegemony simply: “shared ideas or beliefs which serve to justify the interests of dominant groups”
Here we come to the good news – The Status Quo is being challenged: Hope is in the Air!
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing’ – Arundhati Roy
Once I began my search for good news I was just amazed at how much is happening in our world which rarely hits the headlines. In our age of ‘the politics of fear,’ it seems to be something of a secret that worldwide people are …
- Stopping developments worldwide when their lands and way of life are threatened
- Seeing through the idea that continually striving for excessive material consumption will bring them the ‘good life’ and are finding more fulfilment in downsizing and enjoying lives of minimalism
- Coming to see that ‘there is an alternative’ – and it’s better!
Has the UK got its own culture?
I’ve come to see that there is usually more than one ‘culture’ in a society at any one time. The culture of confrontation, aggression, competition and chaos, reported in much of the media and seen being played out in parliament, can perhaps be seen as dominant in these early decades of the 21st Century, but many people believe that an alternative culture is growing: Co-operation and caring are taking over from competition and individualism.
Frank Cottrell-Boyce, children’s writer, who regularly visits schools as well as supporting asylum seekers, writes beautifully about the roots of this alternative culture: He says:
‘These roots that reach into the past are unsung and often unnoticed. We need to feed them if they are to continue flowering.’
My task now is to look at the up and coming ‘alternative’ culture – there surely lies the good news!