Essay on Culture and Society: Does Culture Matter?

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Culture is a much profaned or abused word. We are somewhat not sure as to what it actually means. We often take it to mean a superior work of intellectuality. It is regarded as a social distinction. It is thus the counterpart of ‘aristocratic’ distinction under democratic conditions.

At its best, it makes a man take undue or self-flattering pride in his intellectual or aesthetic accomplishments.

At its worst, it transforms one into a prig or a highbrow, looking down upon the rest of mankind. Culture may be defined as the ‘flavor’ of civilization that stresses the material prosperity of man.

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Culture is actually the attitude that a civilized man takes to life and expresses the same through art, music, literature and the like. It is, in the words of Mathew Arnold, acquisition of sweetness and light, a continuing process that covers both knowing and becoming. It is, in short, a refined delicacy of the mind.

A modern writer has called our culture ‘jackdaw culture’—a collection of charming misconceptions, undigested enthusiasm of charlatanism. It is the device of an unlearned member of an upper class to plume himself with borrowed feathers. It is mere outward varnish and veneer that comes from superficial or smattering knowledge.

The Greek work Euphuia means ‘a finely tempered nature’. Human nature is a complex thing made up of many elements. True culture implies that these elements must be properly disciplined, so as to produce a balanced temperament, with all excesses subdued and angularities chiselled, and i.e. straightened. The man of culture, therefore, is one who makes it his chief business in life to study perfection and to make it prevail in the affairs of life.

It is, of course, not easy to make this one’s primary concern in life. It can be done, however, as Arnold said, by habitual association with the best that has been thought and said in this world.

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As Swinburne said, “To have read the greatest work of any great poet, to have behold or heard the greatest works of any great painter or musician, is a possession added to the best things of life.” By such constant association, one’s mind is filled with nobleness, with genial thoughts and feelings.

Cultivation of a sweetness of temper and acquirement of the light of understanding may, therefore, be defined as the aim of one who desires to represent culture in one’s life. And as one keeps oneself in constant association with the best that man has said and done, i.e. with literature and philosophy, history and sociology, one experiences an enlargement of the mind, a sublimation of one’s thoughts and ideas.

If culture means only the graces and ornaments that confer on individuals a kind of social distinction, its value and influence would, indeed, be limited. But the modern age is tending to a gradual removal of separation between man and man, as well as between class and class. Therefore, culture now has come to acquire a value and significance in social life not contemplated in the past. For if culture means pursuit of perfection, it is obvious that the more widely it is spread among the people at large, the better it would be for the community.

Now the pursuit of culture depends on certain basic conditions, the foremost of which are education and leisure. Formerly these were regarded more or less privileges confined to certain privileged section from which others were excluded.

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Thus, the Germans, regarding themselves as ‘god’s elect’, looked upon their ‘Kulture’ as a hall-mark of national superiority of the Herrenvolk, entitling them to dominate the rest of the world. But this exclusiveness is the very antithesis of the view of culture that is regarded as a study of perfection.

Once the blueblooded aristocracy, with all the material resources at their command, tried to acquire the culture that was, in their view, a mark of social distinction. Thus, whatever encourages separatism, exclu­siveness, or a feeling of class superiority, is antagonistic to culture in the right sense of the word.

If culture is a desirable condition of life, it should be available to all alike. For this purpose it is necessary, first of all, to create a condition in which education is made free at all stages. Secondly, to ensure leisure to every worker to enable him to enjoy the privileges of culture. This will be the light that is in him, help the growth of new ideas and consider all things without prejudice. The person will, by the sweetness that is in him, create a genial atmosphere.

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