Breaking the Cultural Trance
Culture as Shared Stories
According to Wester's New Collegiate Dictionary, culture is "a: the integrated pattern of human behavior that includes thought, speech, action, and artifacts and depends upon man's capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations b: the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group." Culture is the lens through which we view and interpret the world in which we live.
Every human community has a cultural story field comprised of the shared stories that define the community's shared values, understanding, and expectations. This shared cultural lens A cultural story field is essential to the coherent function of any community. Without it there is no community in any meaningful sense.
A shared culture, or shared lens, is essential to the coherent function of any social group. Functioning without a shared culture can be like trying to have a conversation among people who lack a common language. Culture gives humans a potentially powerful evolutionary advantage.
Most species are limited by their genetic programming to a limited range of adaptive possibilities. The limitations to human adaptation, however, are as much cultural and institutional as genetic. Human culture and institutions are human creations. They represent choice not destiny — and they are subject to change, sometimes with remarkable speed. As a species, we humans have the capacity to choose our future by choosing our culture.
This capacity is most fully developed in individuals and groups that have awakened to a cultural consciousness, an active awareness of culture as a shared lens that is of human creation and therefore subject to choice. It is possible for such groups to adapt their culture and behavior by conscious collective intent to deal with new threats and opportunities such as those now posed by climate chaos and the end of cheap oil.
If a group is not consciously aware that its own culture represents but one of a number of possible interpretations of reality, its members become captive to a cultural trance that can threaten their very survival by blinding them to possibilities that their existing culture rejects or denies. Cultural historian Jerad Diamond cites the case of a group of early European settlers in Greenland whose culture defined eating fish as uncivilized. Consequently, they starved when their cattle died even though they were surrounded by fish.
The New Oxford Dictionary defines a trance as "a half-conscious state characterized by an absence of response to external stimuli." Such a state may be induced by hypnosis. It may also be induced by a cultural story field, thus inducing cultural trance that limits our ability to recognize that the stories that comprise the cultural story field of our particular community are theories subject to continuous testing and change.
Since the beginning of time, most humans have lived out their lives entranced by the culture into which they were born. Demogogues have long instinctively capitalized on this liability by manipulating the cultural field to their own ends, often with powerful effect. During the 20th century advertisers became masters of the arts of cultural manipulation to create an individualistic culture of material excess that serves Empire well, but now threatens human survival. See the BBC documentary series The Century of the Self.
The person who has developed the capacity to step back and recognize the cultural story field as a collection of shared stories subject to choice lives in a state of cultural awareness. The person who has not yet developed this capacity lives in a cultural trance, which limits their creative expression and leaves them subject to manipulation by advertisers and propogandists.
Hope for the Future
The awakening of a cultural consciouusness, i.e., a consciousness or awareness of culture as a human construct subject to choice, is an awakening of our capacity to engage in the conscious birthing of authentic Earth Community cultures.
Increased intercultural exchange spurred by the sudden expansion of global communication technologies is now liberating people by the millions from the cultural trance and unleashing the potentials of the cultural consciousness. Herein lies our hope for the human future. The most important work of the Earth Community Navigator is to contribute to accelerating the spread of the awakening and to coalescing and shaping the creative life energy thus unleashed.