Culture is defined as, “the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.”
The reason so many different civilizations have developed different cultures is largely due to environmental factors. Surviving in the desert requires different behaviors than surviving in the tundra. Likewise, living in a place where fish and fruit are abundant will lead to a different culinary culture than living in a place where tubers and livestock are abundant. A place where war has reduced the male population will create a different culture than a place where abundant food and resources mean there are plenty of mates to go around.
But what happens if the environment changes? What happens if a warm land turns cold, when once abundant resources become scarce, or when technology eliminates the sacrifices and hardships your ancestors once faced? In order to survive and thrive, your culture has to adapt to the changing environment.
That’s easy to say, but humans are cognitive misers. By default, we go through life on autopilot relying on biases, stereotypes, assumptions, and faith to allow us to survive without having to delay our actions with thoughts. In fact, that’s a large part of why culture exists: because we do the things we’ve always done without thinking about it. This is a natural survival mechanism that has served our ancestors well, but the benefit of this natural instinct becomes a liability when the environment changes because we’re naturally disinclined to change our behavior even though it would benefit us.
Well, guess what? The world is changing. Technology allows us to ship abundant resources from a country on one side of the world to another country on the other side of the world where that resource is scarce or non-existent, and we can move those resources in less than a week. You can even move people out of their environment into a totally new one in less than a day. The world is becoming more uniform. Other than learning the language and the laws you don’t have to do hardly anything different to survive in the mountains of Bavaria as you do in the plains of America. This has only been true in recent history.
In addition, information travels almost at the speed of thought. You can access the same information over the internet in Bolivia as you can in Siberia. In a world where you can take all your customs and information with you wherever you go and still survive and thrive, culture is becoming more and more obsolete.
A lot of people are afraid of this and see it as a bad thing. They feel like they’re losing their anchor to reality, that their rich heritage is being lost, that the world is becoming whitewashed. So they’re pushing back against the rising tide; little do they know this is as futile as fighting the ocean.
The fact is, the world is changing. In fact, the world is changing faster than any time in history. The old ways are becoming obsolete within a year instead of a lifetime. And no matter how you rationalize holding onto your heritage, the basic premise of culture is still the same today as it was in the Bronze Age. Culture is the sum total behavior of a group of people developed in response to the environment in order to create the best chances of survival.
Holding onto the past is the best way to survive and thrive when the environment is the same as it was in the past. When the environment changes, culture has to change with it in order to provide society with the best practices to ensure survival and prosperity.
At this point in history, the past is obsolete. The old ways won’t help you. In fact, they’re more likely to hurt you. If you want to survive and thrive you need to upgrade your culture.
But you might ask, “Isn’t that disrespectful of the past? Shouldn’t we honor the past?” To that, I ask, “Why?” What do you owe the past? Your heritage, your ancestor’s culture, what you call “the past” is just a way of doing things that worked for a different group of people in a different time and a different place. You don’t owe the past anything. In fact, your ancestors worked hard to survive in a harsh world so that you could live today. They made difficult adjustments, and they broke away from the old ways themselves in order ensure a better future for their descendants. You owe it to your ancestors to do everything you can to survive and improve your descendants’ chances of survival because life is more important than rules or habits or ideologies. And the best thing you can do to survive is to adapt to the changing environment: to abandon your ancestors (even your parents’) obsolete culture.
The best way to honor the past is to embrace the future. Upgrade your culture.
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