Just like a fish can not see water, you can not see culture, yet it influences all of our decisions. Culture is the values and beliefs shared group of people. Most cultures have their own language. If the culture is an ethnic group, it is a formal language such as French, a subculture like a motorcycle gang will use own slang. Related to culture is religion, the separation between culture is a recent one. Even if a person abandons the traditional religion of their culture, it will continue to influence their decisions. These unseen influences originate in our subconscious.

A fish can not see water, you can not see culture

Culture causes you to see things differently

Ever since humans gained consciousness, social norms, beliefs, rituals and group behavior became the heart and soul of human activity. Culture is the social programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one category of people from another, as the famous Dutch cultural expert Hofstede says. We know from our own personal life that any group of people together for a longer period of time will develop its own culture whether explicitly or implicitly stated, based on the mix of people in the group and the task at hand. Fish Can’t See Water: How National Culture Can Make or Break Your Corporate Strategy

If you are talking to someone of a different culture, if will appear as if you see things differently. This opinion will result in the politically correct attacking you and saying there is a universal set of human values. Science says otherwise.

Researchers discovered that Europeans and Eastern Asians see things differently. Both groups were shown a picture. Tests showed that the Europeans would identify a central figure and then concentrate on this central figure. By contrast, the Eastern Asians would spend most of their examining how the scene around the central object connected to it. If there were many figures in they often looked for connections between them. More details of this study are available here Westerners and Easterners see the world differently.

Further studies and brain scans show that culture affects the programming of the brain. The brains of Europeans and Eastern Asians are physically identical. Using a computer analogy. The physical brain is a computer; culture is the operating system installed on the computer. Different types of operating systems like Windows, Android, Linux or BSD can be installed on the same machine. Each operating system will change how the computer behaves.

What is the purpose of culture?

Culture has a purpose, and the purpose is to help the group survive and succeed in their physical, political and spiritual environment, as measured by their own success criteria. A culture can be strong or weak, and effective or not, in achieving the objectives of the group. Only time will tell how long a culture can maintain its vitality before eventually leading to the demise of the group that created it. In business, strong corporate cultures emerge over time as repeated behavior, results and success reinforce the existing behaviors, values and principles of thinking. A single individual, the founder or a very small group of individuals, most often shapes these core cultural values in the early phases of the group’s existence, based on their own personal experiences, beliefs and values. Fish Can’t See Water: How National Culture Can Make or Break Your Corporate Strategy

The purpose of culture is to provide a set of rules which all members of a group follow which have evolved to fit a particular environment. These rules might be conscious or unconscious. What would be an explanation for why Eastern Asians see things differently from Europeans? Linked to the way Eastern Asians see things is the cultural desire for harmony. Why would Eastern Asians want unity more than Europeans?

How a culture adapts to its environment

One of the biggest changes in human history was the development of agriculture. With a constant food supply, it was possible people to create stable communities which later would develop into towns and cities. One of the most important crops where grain ones. Grain can be stored for extended periods of time and it is possible to transport it long distances. Due to the differences in environment, Asia and Europe differed in the type of grain they produced. Asia produced rice and Europe produced wheat, barley, rye and oats. Rice has the advantage in that it can provide five times as much per an acre compared to wheat or barley using traditional farming.

The growing of rice differs from wheat crops in that it requires cooperation with your neighbors. Asian farmers need to flood rice paddies; this means the water must flow through the neighboring farms. The passage of water requires extensive cooperation with your neighbors. If two neighboring rice farmers are having a disagreement, it might stop the water from flowing to other farms. The consequence is harmony must be maintained between the two farmers, or the entire community will be unable to plant their crops and starve to death.

By contrast, a wheat farmer can build a fence around his farm, providing his activity stays within his farm it doesn’t affect others. If two neighboring farmers decided to have a feud, similar to the Hatfield and McCoy feud which lasted for over ten years it didn’t have an impact on the other farmers, they had no reason to get involved. As Steven Pinker shows in the Decline of Violence, these types of feuds were common in Europe and America until recent times.

Did you have rice today?

Westerners usually fail to understand how important rice is to Asian cultures. Rice due its high yields per an acre compared to traditional European crops gave Asia an advantage. This allowed a higher density population which enabled Asians to build larger cities compared to their European counterparts. When early European explorers reported back to Europe the size of Asian cities, it was written off as an exaggeration. European scientists argued that it would be impossible to feed cities that size, they were correct since they were doing their calculations using wheat or barley.

As a consequence, Asian cultures became heavily dependent on rice. This is reflected in language. Have you eaten today ?, in most Asian languages directly translates into, did you have rice?

Education does not change culture

The myth of the progressive is education changes culture; this is partially true but not to the degree which progressives claim. To prove this, ask yourself the following questions:

  • do you like bacon?
  • do you like beef steak?
  • do you like eating BBQ dog?
  • should you eat your dead grandfather after he died?

The answer to all of these questions depends on your culture. Examining the question; should you eat your dead grandfather after he died?, proves this. It accepted that eating the flesh of human beings is wrong. When asked the question, you will feel revulsion and disgust. Emotions originate from the lower levels of the brain, what is often called the subconscious or reptile brain. As Steven Pinker the cognitive scientist and psychologist shows, most of our decisions result from the reptile brain and are rationalized by the higher levels of our brain.

I asked you the question Should you eat your dead grandfather after he died ?. First, you might think I am joking; I reply no it is a serious question. The question probably causes you to feel disgust or revulsion; you answer no. I then ask Why ?. You will rationalize your answers like it is dirty, you might catch a disease, it disrespects your grandfather, etc. I then slightly change the scenario, your grandfather was in perfect health; he was run over by a car and instantly died, he was then immediately frozen. A pathologist has examined the corpse of your grandfather; it is free of any diseases. In fact, it has been checked more thoroughly than most of the meat you have purchased in the supermarket. Regardless you will argue it is disgusting or revolting.

You find some cultures inherently disgusting

After asking the dead grandfather question, I enjoy making this assertion, even more, enjoyable if it is a progressive or liberal. The liberal will show indignation and outrage, he asserts, all cultures are equal. I then point out, that cannibalism until many cultures practiced recent times, Papua New Guinea being one of them. It was a way to remember and honor their dead ancestors. It is fun to step back, watch the mental gymnastics as he attempts to prove he doesn’t believe some cultures are better than others. He will even make the education arguments.

Why did the people of Papua New Guinea practice cannibalism? Culture adapts to one’s environment; cannibalism was practiced in places where there was a shortage of protein. The risk of starving to death is a greater threat then dying of a possibly communicable disease. With the advent of global trade, the potential for contagious disease is higher than starvation. Hence the cultural practice of cannibalism has been abandoned.

How can you detect culture?

You can not directly see culture; you can only see its influence. A fish in water, where water represents culture is a good analogy. A fish can not see the water which surrounds him, but it affects every aspect of his lifeI stole the analogy from the book Fish Can’t See Water: How National Culture Can Make or Break Your Corporate Strategy. The book is dry and academic, but I found it thought provoking.

One way you can detect culture is to remove all personal biases when observing. Then watch how people react to certain circumstances. Ask questions similar to should you eat your dead grandfather after he died ? and see how people react. Asking the person directly usually, results in incorrect answers. It is like asking a fish to describe water; he can only explain the absence of water.

Further directions

People are in denial of hidden influences that guide our decisions, one of them being culture. By having a better understanding of culture, you can understand what guides your beliefs and what guides the beliefs of others.

The progressives and liberals are in denial that culture exists, ironically while screaming intolerance are intolerant. Steven Leather an establish author with many published books, he could not find a publisher for Private Dancer which deals with a clash between western and Thai culture. The book is unique in that it shows how the same event to members of different cultures. The fear that feminists might label it exploitive of women, and shows some aspects of Thai culture prevented its publication.

By contrast when E. L. James wrote a shallow book called Fifty Shades of Grey which explored similar themes, but did not talk about culture; it was a bestseller, made into a movie and started an entire series. Eventually Steven Leather managed to publish his book, paradoxically enough in Thailand, a country which the progressives alleged the book showed in a negative light.

Culture is something we need to talk about more in an open and honest way. I will explore this and similar themes in future posts. If you would like to be updated when I make new posts follow me on twitter @sir_wankalote, I also have added an rss feed to my blog as per the request of some of my readers.