Postmodern Cultures

Culture is as arbitrary as languages. There is nothing necessary about it, apart from the human capacity for culture. It is just another name for humanity’s evolutionary (biological) capacity for language (Sprache in German). Culture is seen as coming in many varieties, each connected to a given human (usually, ethnic) group. Cultures like languages (Einzelsprachen in German) are actualizations of the aforementioned capacity for language. However, languages, though intricately interwoven with cultures, are primary to the latter. It is through languages that cultures are imagined into being. But the process is often almost simultaneous with the imagining of languages. In reality, it is next to impossible to separate the imagining of a language and its concomitant culture, except for the highly formalized and state-controlled process of language planning.

There are no languages without culture, and no cultures without languages. Both are the two sides of the proverbial same coin, that is, of the evolutionary capacity for language. And above all, none can exist independently of its specific human group that creates, maintains and constantly reshapes its language and culture.

The more complicated and intensive the social reality, the more time and effort need to be expanded to its unceasing cultivation. The degree of complicatedness tends to grow with the increasing size of a human group that cultivates its own language and culture. On the other hand, in human groups with millions of members, most tend to take their language and culture for granted. They cultivate both by basically being immersed in them and going on with their daily lives.

In the post(-post<n+1>) modern age, or now when I am writing (2014CE = AH1434 = Hebrew Year 5774 etc), in the West (or the rich North) most jobs that people engage in contribute to the maintenance of the increasingly world-wide social reality. As a result, this social reality becomes more intricate and ubiquitous, but the effervescence is played out through the increasingly rigid standardized units. Earth’s habitable landmass is fully divided among polities of the national kind, meaning for one nation only. Humans are partitioned among nations (I mean ‘human groups’ recognized as nations, not states), each supposed to be housed in its own state, or nation-state. What they speak is construed as languages, and most extant national polities decide on one or couple of them as official. Few do not specify a single one (as the United States) or settle for more (for instance, South Africa with its 11 official languages).

Obviously, this standardization of units for containing culture(s) is a project-in-progress. For example, in some nation-states human groups claim to be different from a given polity’s official nation, and demand recognition in their own right, as the Catalans in Spain, the Kurds in Turkey, The Uigurs in China or the Scots in Britain. This drive for a separate nationhood is believed to be compounded with the desire for equally separate statehood. Languages are equally malleable, as proved by the case of the Czechoslovak language in interwar Czechoslovakia or the recent breakup of Serbo-Croatian, so that each of the post-Yugoslav nation-states could be endowed with its own separate national language.

Hardly anyone does question the standard units of nation, state and language in which, at present, our lives and cultures are contained.

August 10, 2014