I’ve always learned best by using analogies and metaphors.
It’s easy, when exploring some topic for the first time, to get bogged down in terminology, and to not be able to see the forest through the trees.
Pretend the trees are buildings and the forest is a city, however, and you might just start seeing that big picture after all.*
When talking about culture, the analogy that comes to mind is clothing.
(I’m not entirely sure if you’re allowed to consider clothing an analogy for culture since clothing actually is culture, but I’m sticking with it nonetheless.)
Think for a second about the many different cultures around the globe, and about the different kinds of jackets they wear.
In the region where I live, the most common type of jacket people wear looks something like this:
If, however, I lived in a significantly colder climate (say, Canada), the most common type of jacket would probably look more like this:
Finally, if I lived in a warmer climate (say, the coast of India), I might be like this guy and not need a jacket at all:
Now, here’s where the jacket analogy becomes useful.
Judging from the wide range of jackets we see in three pictures alone, we might be inclined to say that the people wearing them are entirely different, with fundamentally different needs, desires, and genetic makeups.
But that wouldn’t be entirely accurate.
These three people wear different kinds of jackets not because their DNA is radically different from one another, but rather, because of the requirements of the physical environment in which they live.
Take the naked man and drop him off in Alaska, and I’d be willing to bet he buys himself a parka, too. Take the girl with the parka and drop her off in Seattle during the summer, and I’m guessing she’ll trade that parka in for a raincoat in no time.
Taking It A Step Further
I wonder how many other aspects of culture are like the jackets we wear.
I wonder how many genres of music, how many literary trends, and how many kinds of cuisine are actually normal responses to the diverse environments humans live in across the planet.
More than anything, perhaps, I wonder this:
If I’d been born with my same DNA but into some other culture, would I be just like them?
*See that- that was a metaphor about metaphors. Take that, Inception![divider]
This week’s topic (also known as the Weekly Curiosity) is culture. Check back each weekday at 12:34pm for a new post exploring this idea. In the meantime, here are three ways you can join the quest: