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Jul 7, 2012

Anthropologist Discovers Invisible Cultures

I'm sick of the political wrangling in the US and we still have 3 months of suffering before the next brief reprive! But I may have found a way to ease that frustration.

When greeting another, a Japanese will bow where a westerner will shake hands. Neither is right or wrong, they are just different rituals developed in and appropriate to different environments. It's not hard to learn the other's ritual, but simply understanding the difference goes a long way toward comfortably living together. While an American might have reason to be upset if a neighbor replied to their extended hand with a bow, simply seeing a cultural difference gives both the American and the Japanese permission to enact different rituals, honoring both the person present and the culture they come from.

We enlightened moderns have become pretty good at respecting the cultures of others when we are made aware of them. But following a recent visit with a wise native man, I'm thinking our society is not the unified melting-pot we often pretend but is actually a salad of different cultures derived not from place or race but from worldview.  Lacking a deep wisdom–culture growing organically out of a land– like the First Peoples– we don't realise that while we act as one (under expectations we assume we all share) we really hail from different cultures altogether. Those differences are important, honorable, and– I believe– the cause of much of our political strife.

When I think about the increasingly substantial walls between liberal and conservative, evangelical and mainstream, hip and square, rural and urban, youth and age– they indicate a real difference that indicate not right or wrong so much as different flavors that develop appropriate to certain environments. This to me is evidence of culture. When I meet a neighbor who exhibits strange characteristics I tend to not marvel at but criticize that difference; unless I find they are from another culture; then my judgement turns to respect and genuine interest. I find she's not violating our shared cultural norms so much as she's just upholding norms from a legitimate culture other than mine. I may still find the affect strange but not the person.

Adopting this kind of attitude to the other would save us a great deal of strife in politics, I feel. Liberals and conservatives now seem to see each other as members of the same culture who are "wrong" and are violating some unexpressed standard and therefor need correction (and who better to show them the error of their ways than our righteous selves!) But viewing the same people as members of a distinct but different culture oriented to a specific environment and developed with certain values, including their own history, myth and ritual, suddenly the "wrong" brother from our own culture becomes the guest from another culture who simply has distinct (but still "right") beliefs. We then naturally understand that though their traditions and values might be different from our own, they are no better or worse. With such a simple change in attitude it might be easier for us to live alongside people who are different from us. That would be a nice change!

"In the capital, ministers from the Liberal and Conservative tribes have now met to form a confederation. They have announced they wish to bury the hatchet, combine their territories and work together to solve problems using the strength of their combined traditional cultural perspectives and expertise. Conservatives are pleased to use their natural abilities to oversee security and fiscal responsibility. Liberals' traditions give them special insight into handling social health and foreign relations. Following this historic covenant there unfolded a great celebration, where the tribes regaled each other with gifts in a grand cultural exchange and shared their traditional foods, music and dancing."

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Tim Holmes Studio

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I'm a sculptor/filmmaker living in Montana, USA. I am using art to move the evolution of humanity forward into an increasingly responsive, inclusive and interactive culture. As globalization flattens peoples into a capitalist monoculture I hope to use my art to celebrate historical cultural differences and imagine how we can co-create a rich future together.

I see myself as an artist/philosopher laboring deep in the mines of joy. I've had a good long career of exhibiting work around the world and working on international outreach projects, most notably being the first American to be invited to present a one-person exhibit in the Hermitage Museum. Recently I have turned my attention from simply making metal sculpture to creating films and workshops for engaging communities directly, tinkering with the very ideas and mechanisms behind cultural transformation. I feel that as we face tragic world crises, if the human species favors our imaginative and creative capacities we can cultivate a rich world to enjoy.

For me the deepest satisfaction in making art comes in engaging people's real life concerns rather than providing simple entertainment or decoration. Areas of conflict or tension are particularly ripe for the kind of transformative power that art uniquely carries. I invite any kind of challenge that serves people on a deep level.