What is Culture and why is it significant?
Like with our study on governance, let’s find out the etymology of the word culture as we attempt to define it.
According to Harper, Douglas (2001), Online Etymology Dictionary, the word culture comes from a Latin Word ‘Cultura’ which means “a cultivating, agriculture,” It is connected to ‘colere’ which means to “tend, guard, cultivate, till“. So its first applications in the fifteenth century referred to agriculture.
“Culture was first used to talk about cultivating a field and only later transferred to cultura anima, ‘the cultivation of minds or souls’” —Wolf, Eric R. 1994 Perilous Ideas: Race, Culture, People. Current Anthropology 35:1-12.
“… cultura animi is the phrase used by Cicero. There is a sense in which Sophocles talks about it under another name: paideia in Greek refers to roughly the same kind of thing. What it means is cultivation of some kind of raw material. When Bacon talked about culture as the Georgics of the mind, or Holbach talked about education as the agriculture of the mind, these were perhaps not very delicate or very evocative expressions; nevertheless one knows what they mean. They mean that there is some raw material presented which is then to be improved in some way, to be tended, to be made something of. That is the original use of the word ‘culture’ – of ‘cultus’, ‘paideia’, ‘humanitas’, ‘urbanitas’, all these various words which are used for it in various ages”.—transcriptt of a tape-recording of the first of three Gauss Seminars given by Sir Isaiah Berlin at Princeton in 1973
The part which is of interest to our discourse in this blog post is cultura anima, or ‘the cultivation of minds or souls’. This phrase was first propounded by Cicero when he used agricultural metaphor to describe the farming or development of the soul of man in his Tusculan Disputations. The human soul comprises the mind, will, emotions and intellect. It follows then that the cultivation of the human soul is the cultivation of the human will, mind, emotions and intellect. This cultivation eventually leads to a worldview, ethical persuasions and value systems.
Why is culture important?
Culture or the cultivation of the soul is important because the cultivation of our minds, will and emotion determine whether or not the farm of our souls will yield weeds and undesirable harvests or a fruitful, productive and excellent worldview (the way we look at and respond to issues) in the areas of governance in the family, religion, education, media, the arts, entertainment, and sports, Economy, and finally Government. A fruitful soul of an individual or nation is a productive, peaceful and prosperous one.
This is what propaganda theory is all about—tending or cultivating the mind of the populace towards a particular agenda. If the agenda is a good one and benefits the entire nation, then the agriculture of the soul of the populace will yield good and positive results for all like a higher standard of values, ethics and living.The million dollar question though is, who determines what is “good” and what is “bad” for the society? Usually, this is done by the elite or ruling class in any society. But is this the right thing to do in a a world which espouses the democratic ideal? I will leave that as food for thought to you dear reader.
Let us consider one more etymological definition from “Excerpts from Raymond Williams, Keywords”. It reads,
“The fw is cultura, L, from rw colere, L. Colere had a range of meanings: inhabit, cultivate, protect, honor with worship. Some of these meanings eventually separated, though still with occasional overlapping, in the derived nouns. Thus ‘inhabit developed through colonus, L to colony. ‘Honor with worship developed through cultus, L to cult. Cultura took on the main meaning of cultivation or tending, including, as in Cicero, cultura animi, though with subsidiary medieval meanings of honor and worship (cf. in English culture as ‘worship in Caxton (1483)). The French forms of cultura were couture, OF, which has since developed its own specialized meaning, and later culture, which by eC15 had passed into English. The primary meaning was then in husbandry, the tending of natural growth”.
From the above we see the connection between culture and colonies or colonization, religion, cults, etc. We also see that culture has a link to a people worship, honor and protect. I would stretch this definition as far as saying that the spirit of a people inhabits their culture. The culture of a people is the abode of their thoughts, ideas, customs, values, etc.
If corruption is brewing in a particular nation, that gives us a clue to as to the content of the culture. The visible culture is a tangible reflection of the type of cultivation the soul of that nation and its people have undergone. If the mind has been cultivated not to value transparency and accountability, the necessary result will be rife corruption.
The bold and courageous Ghanaian, the first peoples of sub-Saharan Africa to wrest independence from the British paving the way for Black Africa’s liberation from colonial rule, after having been through many military dictatorships seem to have shrunk into a mere shadow of their former selves. How did this happen?
The minds of the people over a period of time were farmed or cultivated with trauma and brutal experiences of oppressive regimes, bloody coup d’états and dictatorships. This discolored and twisted their worldview making them accept the rulership of one political part for almost two decades. The once courageous, aggressive people seem to have become passive receptors of whatever lot they found themselves in. This is a counterfeit worldview contrary to that of those who fought for independence and African unity.
In recent years since 1992, it is great to see the old culture of bravery and courage being restored. This has lead to successful democratic transitions of governments and economic development for the wonderful people of Ghana.
We must farm our minds in such a way as to restore values such as honesty, integrity, responsibility, righteousness and justice to the fore of our collective psyche. It must not just be a mantra as we have done for decades. It must be reality and action—a pervading cultural revolution towards righteousness and justice that transforms our national psyche and advances national development positively with the dividends being shared by all–not just the bureaucrats, politicians and elites.