According to John. J Macionis, Culture is the values, beliefs, behaviors, and material objects that together form a people’s way of life. Culture includes what we think, how we act, and what we own.
Every society possesses a specific kind of culture, formed after centuries of practice and firm belief in it to be true, or may be, the best amongst other cultures of the world. There are many factors that affect the formation of a specific culture. It can be religion, region, geographic location and, most important of all, the financial condition of the people. Different countries own a different culture depending upon their living standard.
Like everything else, culture too, has its pros and cons. It gives us freedom in certain of our actions and it restricts us within certain limits at times. It is hard to confine a culture being completely ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Let’s find out how a culture gives us freedom or erects impediments in our way.
Culture: a constraint:
There are many ways in which culture becomes a hurdle in one’s way through life. Since we are living in Islamic Republic of Pakistan, most of the examples given will be with reference to our Pakistani traditional culture or Islamic culture, if it is Islamic.
Culture has its own boundaries, cruel boundaries which are hard to break. We cannot get away from them at our personal will. A very clear example of this is ban and criticism on Shoaib Akhtar – the fastest bowler in the world. When our national teams go on international tours, they are expected to represent our Pakistani culture there. If any member of our team goes to a bar at night and dances with girls, it might be considered an act of individual freedom with respect to western culture but not in ours. It doesn’t allow them to do whatever they want. So the road ahead is blocked.
Another example is the ban on Pakistani women to participate in beauty contests like Miss World, Miss Universe etc. It is regarded unethical and un-Islamic according to our cultural view point. Now if a girl, with Pakistani nationality, is brought up in some other country and decides to participate in any contest of this sort, she will have to face the opposition. The reason is that Pakistani nationality is attached and our culture too.
Another example could be the migration of families from west to Pakistan or some non-Muslims who come to live here after embracing Islam. They can learn the religion soon but it takes time to adjust in a completely changed culture. This phenomenon is termed as Cultural Shock. In this way, again, culture becomes a hurdle for our adjustability in a new environment.
Does Culture Provide Freedom?
Now let’s see the other side of the picture. How can we benefit from culture or how does it give us freedom?
In many ways, culture provides justifications for certain actions of the people which otherwise would have thrown them behind the bars. The practice of Karokari and Wani in Balochistan and frontier provinces is a very clear example of this kind of ruthless use of culture. Our religion and law discriminates this practice; many NGOs are also working for the abolition of this system. Even an illiterate person feels sorry for the victims of this inhuman tradition. But the people who are doing this take refuge in the excuse that it is a tradition ranging back to their fore-fathers.
Similarly, the caste system in tribal areas of Pakistan is also an example of this negative use of culture. People who are born poor, low caste families remain static at one point. They never get chances to improve their lives because they belong to a culture where their only aim of life is to serve their ‘lords’. This practice is even worse in India where the ‘untouchables’ were used to be treated at the lowest level of inferiority. And the main reason was that culture, backed by religion, provided the grounds upon which they could exercise these socially unacceptable practices.
In old times in Greece, it was a custom to sacrifice a young and beautiful girl in the name of their gods. This was done for the betterment of the society or to avert an upcoming threat like some natural disaster or an attack from the enemy states. This ritual was also supported by religion and cultures both. So it is culture which is providing freedom to a certain class and justifying their unethical deeds.
Every society offers different kind of freedom to its people. Sometimes this freedom also becomes challenge for the society. In US, like most of the high income countries, individualism is the key value of culture. Every one is free in his actions until or unless his/her actions do not interfere with someone else’s freedom. Now this freedom of choice and belief in individual responsibility has given rise to a “culture of victimization” (J. Best, 1997; Furedi, 1998). People blame others for their actions. Examples given by researchers are very interesting. For example, a young man kills two people for nothing and blames his psychiatrist for not treating him well; a person jumps in front of train, gets injuries but escapes and sues that train was unable to stop in time. In one of the examples, a murderer blames the fast food for his insane action. Main reason behind this kind of attitude is freedom. This is a kind of exploitation of one’s freedom and rights to pursue personal goals in life.
So here we are. After having discussed culture from different perspectives, I come to a point that no culture is completely good or bad as I said in the beginning. The things we see as pros in our culture might be daunting cons for another culture and vice versa. Here comes the importance of objectivity. One needs to be objective while judging some other culture. Having an ethnocentric view can also deviate from the right path and can raise suspicions about other cultures without any solid grounds. So it is always better to avoid Ethno-centralism and to think how the humanity can be served through our culture.
by Atique (183/10)