Near my place, you have a few awesome game stores. One stands out, The Subcultures. It looks like a musty wizards den. An archaic monument, filled with tabletop RPGs and many illustrious board games. Awesome to geek out. Though the clerks take it to the next level, these guys know their nerdy shit.
Recently I visited the shop with my (totally not geeky) girlfriend. Though she condones my exotic interests. In this place, she was still culture shocked!
As we were about to pay, the shop clerk/warlock was lecturing a small crowd. He wore a top hat, purple bow tie, and a neatly groomed beard. He elaborated on the value of extra shiny Pokemon cards deck. Explaining in detail why to buy them, what they were worth on eBay, and when to sell. (Go nuts!) But also why you should keep a crisp pack of the cards for your collection.
In general why the hundreds of euros where worthwhile investment.
My GF just didn’t get it.
Most people in the den got it. Respect the collectibles. But for her,… utter madness. How was this cool? The warlock tried to convey his wisdom in vain. As I escorted her outside she kept silently muttering about how crazy the world was.
Now she knows how I feel when we go shopping,…
My way of thinking is right!
Though for some people these values are common sense. For most outsiders buying playing cards worth 100s of Euros seems madness! Every subculture has its own values and norms. Think of the sneaker economy or the world of jewelry.
The language, norms, artifacts, and values of subcultures are different. Collectively agreed-upon rules that are internalized by groups.
If my GF would visit the gaming store every day she would start appreciating collectibles. Same goes for the warlock, if he would be immersed in fashion – he would learn and appreciate Versace dresses and Armani suits.
All these rules are learned – and can be unlearned and replaced. Only true in their relative social context.
Few beliefs have a real true human truth. Ones that are based deep on our natural instincts. Beliefs like; the importance of family, friendships, and community. Very strong – but can be overruled by culture.
Of the made-up abstractions, some are still very useful. A simple example is a language. The word “house” is nothing more than a few lines on your screen. It is only because all English speaking people agree that “house” means “a place to live”, that it holds any truth. If you decide that writing it backward is better, you will have a problem. “Esuoh” doesn’t mean anything to other English speakers. Only because of the convention does this model hold value.
This is how we can have collective religions, philosophies, and constitutions. That don’t hold any objective truth. But because everybody believes in them, they work.
Not your friend, culture is.
Culture grows organically.
That’s why there is a lot of redundancy and bullshit we believe in. A Pokemon card or Gucci dress doesn’t hold any real value – only in culture, it does. That our beliefs are so pliable is great for surviving an ever-changing world.
Just don’t forget to see the bigger picture. Because your flexible mind is taken advantage of.
A rather benign example is Santa Claus. All adults play along with the charade for years. Until you are let in on the dirty secret – it’s all a fucking lie! No red nose reindeer, no Arctic villa, no fat old guy tumbling down the chimney.
All a lie!
I can tell you, I was furious! Not that it was so bad he didn’t exist. But that the entire fucking world had collectively lied to me!
As you grow older, you will recognize culture lies more often. There is more you can be mad about. Why is law different for rich people? Why can’t you walk on the grass? Who decided beer is ok, but weed is not?
There are so many strange little rules we adhere to. Because we believe something “should” be that way. But why do we give power away?
“[…] If power lies with the men who carry swords, why do we pretend that kings hold the power? Power, he argues, is ephemeral, a shadow – “power lies where we think it lies.”
Think about this! Are you afraid because there really are some instinctive parameters? Or are you frightened because your upbringing always told you that something is taboo? Wake up, power is where we believe it is. Most social repercussions can’t really hurt you!
Contemplate before you let your life be ruled by arbitrary culture.
“Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers.”
– Mignon McLaughlin
Hot sexy curvy models
But it is not all bad. I already mentioned language, but there is more collective abstract thinking which has been super beneficial to humans. Methods for us to band together as a big group, to communicate and practice science.
We need it to work together in a tribe, corporation or country even.
How about the human rights agreed upon by the UN – the idea of a right is abstract – but it has made life objectively better for many people all over the world.
In science, mathematics, and programming abstract thinking is really useful! That is why analytical people are attracted to those fields. Your strengths really come to play there.
As our understanding of the world grows – our models come more closely to the objective truth. We went from Zeus to discharging particles. But theory can only approximate reality.
Instead of models, the closest we come to truth is the experiential reality. Beyond the cultural layers of words, theories, and concepts. The world as it is.
This is the way your body experiences input – without your neocortex abstracting everything. But with your beefed up mind, filled with cultural thinking, it is hard to experience your base reality.
Yet we sometimes need this, crave for it even. To experience the world instinctively.
Especially your emotional and social life are not understood through abstraction. Drives are to be felt. But your analytical mind prevents you from truly feeling. Even though these real experiences are what we most long after.
Things like: friendship, happiness, intimacy, sex.
You name it.
Our world is filled with temptations that promise real experience. Luckily there are many practices to bring us closer to ourselves. Closer to what you really experience. To help you let go of the models. Think of working out, meditation, breathing exercises, flow state – all roads to experiential reality.
That is why, if you want to grow more social, there is loads of theory – but in the end, you have to act, experience and learn.
So learn to discern between what your thoughts are and what is really going on.
Find your strategy to let go of what you were thought and be. What will you do?