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The Role of Culture in Society

Updated: Apr 17

An empress in an art museum.

Culture gives people within a society a common collective consciousness and subjects to discuss, which in turn strengthens the ties between people and makes society more socially cohesive. It also gives people a sense of collective identity and a feeling of belonging to a place and/or a group of people larger than themselves.

However, one of the functions of culture is to limit individuality under specific circumstances in order to preserve the collective identity and cohesiveness. For example, in Israel, a man who dresses up in an SS uniform in public would most likely be condemned by Israeli culture. This is because the Holocaust was a horrific event that caused great suffering to the Jewish people, and wearing an SS uniform is seen as a symbol of that suffering.

This is an extreme example of how culture can encourage certain behaviors and condemn others, all in the name of preserving the societal identity. Culture can also limit one's actions, even if it is not always dictated rightfully. For example, in some cultures, women are not allowed to hold specific jobs. This is because these cultures believe that women should be restriected, only because of their gender.

Therefore, it is important to be aware of the ways in which culture can both promote and restrict freedom. Conforming to a local culture wholeheartedly would therefore be a mistake that would harm your own growth outside of whatever it may try to dictate or impose.

A common example of the limitations that a culture attempts to force is through the use of the expression "the fashion police"—some sort of an unofficial figure of authority telling people what they should wear and what they shouldn't. This is sure to be condemned by individualists, because such authority has no actual right or authority to supervise our private wardrobes.

And thus we have the two-sided coin of culture—an "armorsmith" of the collective, and a "warden" of eccentric individuals and of those who choose less preferable paths.

Like in the official bodies of democracies, the notion of culture should not have complete loss of control, as that would harm societal identity to societal people, but shouldn't have complete control over everything in society. That would harm those who are more of "black sheep" by nature.

Culture shouldn't, either, be completely abandoned, especially in modern times where people of the same culture are likely to be complete strangers to each other. In such cases, culture fulfills the position of giving them something in common in the name of cooperation. And we need to cooperate in order to survive as a collective and perhaps evolve beyond that function, as well.

Speaking of common identity—as the world becomes more and more interconnected through the internet, social media, and the learning of international languages such as English and Spanish, the existence of localized culture becomes under the threat of globalization.

As globalization becomes more dominant than our local cultures, there is a less need for the latter as we can all occupy ourselves on the content of the former. This could lead to a decrease in patriotism and the common man's desire to feel emotional attachment to their local country, which means the role of culture itself becomes less and less effective to the cultivation of local societies, communities, and countries.

In 2020, with the terrible expansion of the COVID lockdown, cultural institutions such as theaters and concert halls have taken a heavy blow. A blow that some of them might not be able to recover from. As there are much more modern alternatives to said institutions, such as Netflix, YouTube, and social media, the current functionality of the long-lived "higher" culture and arts should be, therefore, questioned. Why do we even need cinemas, technically?

As everyone can become a content creator, whose content can be accessed by anyone across the world, the role of culture seems to take a transition from local to international. This means that there will be less interconnectivity between man and his country at least in this aspect, and more division between local societies. That is due to an increasing lack of common identity and relatedness.

If my thoughts are correct, this could explain the separateness in the U.S., for example, as less and less people have things in common with one another beyond their opinions, ethnic origins, and the fact that they are Americans. We can thus conclude that the age of nationality is coming to an end due to globalization, due to the fact that people connect and relate less to each other and more to diverse foreign influences.

If a country wishes to preserve the common identity of its citizenry, there will be a need to make significant changes in its education system, and try to give a reason to the future generations to actually care about their country beyond the fact that it exists and that they are within its borders. North Korea does a very extremist job at it by sending people who are suspected of being influenced by the South to concentration camps.

While a reasonable country does not need to do that, local culture is to be restored to its former glory if we wish to increase the feelings of love, pride, and belonging to the country we were born and/or raised in. Otherwise, we will gradually lose our local identity and patriotism in the name of the international culture, forming through the media.

Finally, a question—when can one know that they are patriotic? When can we know that we the local culture is doing its job properly?—It's when we can look at a stranger that has the same citizenship as we, and actually feel like they are a part of us and vice versa, and not as a stranger like many of us may believe they are.

However, as long as we treat our fellow countrymen as foreign strangers, including our very own neighbors—we can rest assured that we are more connected to the posts and videos on the internet rather to the very country we were raised in and/or are raising our children in.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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