Why Is Culture a Political Issue? Essay

Pages: 5 (1782 words)  ·  Style: Harvard  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Anthropology

¶ … Culture a Political Issue?

People today are living in an increasingly diverse world in terms of culture. Globalization and the rapid advances in communication technology since the middle of the 20th century are issues that have contributed significantly to this. An increasing amount of people have access to online technology and hence to a diversity of cultures and communications across the globe. Paradoxically, culture is also the one thing that all human beings have in common. Nobody can claim to be outside some form of cultural heritage. The general concept of culture then manifests itself in all human activity, precisely because it cannot be discarded, escaped, or negated. Paradigms such as religion, the home, medicine are for example strongly influenced by culture. Culture is also firmly embedded in politics.

Politics is as much a human phenomenon as culture. Like culture, politics in some or other form is part of all human life across the globe. Here also, the concept both unifies human beings as such and divides them in terms of the diversity of political concepts and forms of rulership that exist. Although the United States has popularized democracy, aiming to implement it across the world, many countries resist this effort for a variety of reasons, including reasons that extend from their cultural roots.

In this way, culture can be said to be a political issue, as neither can be separated from the way in which human societies are structured and ruled. Indeed, culture often acts as a determinant for the specific political systems within a country. The reverse is also true; in order to make sense and be valued for their content, political systems need to be compatible with the cultural paradigms of the people to whom they apply.

This point is made by Edith Sizoo (2000). In writing about translating the declaration of the Alliance, Sizoo (2000:1) notes that translating the document is far more complicated than simply rewriting it in a different language. It is also a matter of cultural interpretation. In order to explain the precise difficulty the document presented in this regard, the author provides a definition of culture: the way in which human beings relate to each other, as well as on the wider platform of individuals relating to society, nature and the cosmos itself. Views on these relations differ widely from culture to culture, hence complicating political declarations that are meant to be universally accepted and understood. Sizoo emphasizes that, if such a document occurs only in Western languages, presupposing an adherence to Western cultural values, it can hardly be expected to touch the hearts of millions who are not embedded in such a culture. Indeed, this can only serve to alienate the cultures who are implicitly ignored in such a document.

Such alienation can lead to major conflict situations, as well as minor conflict in for example the business environment. In the world of politics, cultural differences then become all the more evident in terms of conflicts such as the war in Iraq. Cultural misunderstanding or even willful cultural ignorance can lead to grave atrocities across the globe. One such atrocity might be considered in terms of the historical colonization drive by Europe of the rest of the world.

Bentley (1996:18) considers history as manifested in terms of the European colonization drive. According to the author, the historical development of a technological complex in Western Europe enabled the nations here to advance on a global scale. Bentley notes that scholars tend to emphasize different philosophical and political dynamics in order to explain the rise and power of Western European nations. Some for example attribute it to the intracultural development of energies within Western Europe, while others take a rather more negative view and advance exploitation as the main reason for Western power.

Whichever theory is advanced for the phenomenon, the fact remains that Europe began a colonization drive during the 16th century, which resulted in the beginning of globalization as it is known today. All countries across the world to a greater or lesser extent now have contact with each other. Although many believe that this is a positive development, it is also true that cultural and political conflict has been a concomitant phenomenon wherever divergent cultures meet. This is as true in the current manifestation of the world culture as it was centuries ago.

One might also say that religion plays at least as important a part in these manifestations as other paradigms of culture and politics themselves. Indeed, religion is inseparable from culture, and often from politics as well. This is particularly manifest in the concept of the "separation of church and state." The phenomenon is addressed in detail by Daniel Philpott. Philpott goes as far as collocating politics with religion in the single concept of the "politics of religion." It is also true that religion has been at the heart of many a violent atrocity, both in the past and the present. This can be connected to the underlying politics as well as culture of the various nations involved. Philpott (1) uses the concepts of differentiation and political theology to explicate the various possible relationships between church and state, how these integrate, and how the consequent power of these relationships manifests itself in culture.

In this way, Philpott shows that religion is an inseparable part of humanity as influenced by culture and politics. This is particularly manifest in the fundamentalist forms of religion, such as certain adherents to world religions such as Islam and Christianity. In this way, wide-scale clashes between cultures have an extra dimension besides politics. Religion as it were connects culture with politics, and often with volatile results.

The connection between culture and politics can also be volatile on more practical grounds, as in the regulation of trade and medicine by global organizations. The case of the TRIPS agreement and the function of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in this agreement is for example addressed by Tomar. The author emphasizes the function of the WTO as a primarily positive one; via intellectual property and patent protections, for example, it seeks to promote sustainable global development (Tomar 3). In terms of pharmaceutical provisions to developing countries, the costs of these medicines are significantly reduced by the TRIPS agreement. However, the East African community (EAC) has concomitantly sought to retain some form of authority in terms of drug patenting and national policies. At the bottom of this resistance lies the cultural paradigm of resistance to forces beyond a particular culture and political system.

This is a point that Philpott also makes in terms of religion. Strongly religious communities tend towards autonomy or at least freedom to conduct their practices. They are strongly resistant to outside influences, the prevalence of which can spark violence, as evident in the case of the 9/11 attacks. This is a manifestation of clashing ideologies, where neither party is willing or able to tolerate the viewpoint of the other.

Nevertheless, as Tomar duly notes, the WTO and its TRIPS agreement have shown their benefits in concrete terms, especially regarding issues such as the cost of anti-retroviral medicines in the EAC. Concrete evidence such as significantly lower costs for these medicines and the concomitant lives that were saved provided evidence of the beneficial nature of the agreement. This type of benefit then provided a platform for transcending cultural differences and resistance.

The above makes it clear that culture is indeed not only a political issue, but often a religious and ideological one as well. Culture, being inseparable from being human, manifests itself in all other human phenomena. Hence it is also inseparable from the less desirable human phenomena such as conflict as a result of intolerance. In the same way, culture also influences the ideologies of everyday life, even as these could have global impact. One of these ideologies include the desirability of children.

The environmental crisis entails that humanity is becoming too numerous to sustain themselves or the planet much longer unless drastic action is taken. In developed countries, this is a consensual truth and reality. Hence the desirability and value of children is at a considerably lower level in developed countries than in rural communities, where there is not such a close connection with the world or its general problems. In rural communities, life is much more based upon communal values such as the perpetuation of a tribe or family name, for example.

This issue is examined by the authors Zheng and Shi (2004), by means of investigations in various Chinese communities. The authors found that the determinants of having children in these communities are primarily determined by the cultural values promoted by the communities within which individuals live. Rural communities for example attach high importance to the emotional value of children, whereas their value for the family unit and the economic well-being of the family were considered less important. Among industrialized Turkish and German communities, the family value of children was considered most important.

All the communities investigated appear to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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