Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Cultural evolution

I saw a couple of stories over the weekend that made me think about that thing we call "culture".

First we have the story about Iranian actress Leila Hatami who was greeted at the Cannes film festival by festival president Gilles Jacob in the classical French manner, i.e. with a peck on the cheek (one, two or three depending where you come from). Nothing earth-shattering about that you might think, but then the Iranian "culture ministry" criticized the greeting claiming that it was an affront to the chastity and dignity of Iranian Woman and had tainted the image of Iran to the world. For what it's worth to the people of Iran my immediate thought when I saw this picture was, how nice, an Iranian acting like a normal human being for a change and taking part in a healthy exchange of artistic excellence between nations, but  then I guess I'm an optimist like that.

I also happened upon some unsavoury pictures of the annual cull of pilot whales and dolphins in the Faroe Islands. I'm no tree-hugger when it comes to the consumption of meat and the management of livestock but even so the images were disturbing. People offer many excuses and reasons for this act, culture, tradition, food, rites of passage and fishery management but for me it simply boils down to some obvious facts, these animals are highly social and intelligent and dragging them into shallow water and dispatching them one by one with knives and hooks is not a humane way of killing other sentient beings, whatever the reason.

Both of these stories have supposedly immutable "culture" and tradition at their root, but as we know from history, culture is a transient thing, the nature and content of culture changes over time like water flowing from its source to the sea, there are many twists and turns, the pure spring water becomes diluted as it follows its course, sometimes the whole course itself is altered by the effects of larger forces, I concluded that evolution and change is the only "culture" that truly defines human beings.

If your traditions stink, change them.


A Heron's View said...

Precisely and it is only because of persistent challenge that any society changes.

Steve Borthwick said...

HV, I have to agree, easiest thing in the world to do is nothing.