I found inspiration for this article in one of my class, as I engaged in an extensive discussion about what culture truly was. I spurred much commotion in the classroom when I argued that culture was both stigmatic and specious, and that I did not believe it made sense. I found opposition from most of my peers who made snide remarks and brushed off my claim. Some of them even thought that I did not understand what culture was.
Now, the word culture in itself is not a problem for me – insofar as by culture one means human culture. However, when people go on to associate certain habits with certain nationalities, that is where the term becomes a problem for me. Let us start by defining culture as Socrates would have had us do. Culture has two definitions, the first one being: the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively, and The second definition is; the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society. And as you would assume by now, it is not the former but the latter that I am going to assail.
The reason I so neglect the second definition is because I believe it to be an abstraction of reality. It is a failed attempt made by humans to enforce a generalized view of the world. Culture, used in this sense, turns from a benign and impartial word to what I like to call a ‘schismatic meme’. It is the root, essentially, of all stereotypes as it makes us more inclined to pre-judge people based on their nationalities.
Now, what is wrong with this, why is making nationality-based assumptions problematic? It’s very simple. let us assume that environments are the only determining factors of behavior, and that within every environment there are infinitely various combinations of human experience. Then, we can agree that no two people with the same environment will have had the same experiences or will have developed the same personality. This simplified syllogism can serve the purpose of driving us away from using crude generalizations, because people are not the same. Notions of who a person is that are extrapolated from stereotypical thinking are specious and thus should not be adopted.
In every system of what we call ‘culture’, regardless of how complex, there are anomalies. Take for example Ghana which is rated as the most religious country in the world, it is a place where kids are brought up to be zealously religious, and yet there are atheists there. I myself have a Ghanaian friend who broke free from the demagogy there and no longer fits into his ‘culture’. Even though he went through the same dogmatic institutions as his peers and was raised in a religious household, he defied his culture. Logic-buffs may dismiss my argument as ‘special pleading’, but this is not the case. Since the fact that there are anomalies is my conclusion not my premise, my argument is sound.
– Meme is a term coined by professor Richard Dawkins which is defined as an idea or behavior that spreads from person to person. Therefore, a “schismatic meme” is a meme of divisive nature.