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Emily Alspector's picture

What is Culture?

This word, "culture" is something that I have thought about a lot over my years in the bi-co, in classes on anthropology, psychology, even biology, and though it is one of my main interests, I can't seem to define it. It seems definable in a sense, like love, in that there are no words that can be used to capture its true meaning; it is both undefinable and overdefined. culture can be any number of things, and that makes it difficult for me to take part in conversations about it. At the very least, to me, a culture must consist of more than one individual because members of a culture share something in common. If that is the case, then this issue of "one cannot be disabled alone" is irrelevant. If a culture consists of two people, one of those two will be less abled than the other, and will be more abled in other aspects (this was a point brought up but not really expanded on in class which I think is a valuable point). I dont think this means we can call one "disabled" when it comes to driving and the other "disabled" when it comes to cooking.

The point brought up at the end of the seminar regarding suicidal brains and the idea that these brains think that suicide is the best option for them brings up a lot of good points. First of all, whoever brought up this topic chose, in her wording, to not to put the individual behind the suicidal thoughts at fault for thinking in such a way; instead it was the brain that was thinking this was what was best for it, probably because it was damaged. This separating mind and body and personification of the brain as a separate entity was interesting to me, though I'm not sure what to make of it. Perhaps dualism exists within "broken brains" and mind and body can no longer function as one because they want different things.

Back to the topic, this raised a question in me: are we right in imposing our "culture", this idea that suicide is bad and the brain must be fixed to want to stay on this earth, and how can this cultural imposition be compared to other more obvious examples. Using Natsu's example of the boy who didn't realize he was being inappropriate when he would touch people, if an American shakes the hand of a Japanese person, that is an example of cultural imposition since in the Japanese culture that is not a custom, but if this interaction took place in the US, the Japanese person must adapt to the ways of those around him. If the interaction took place in Japan, the American would be in the wrong, and would have to adapt. However, this American person might not know of the Japanese customs, and unknowingly offends. It seems impossible to learn the customs and avoid being offensive to everyone in every culture, simply because there are so many "cultures", many of which are not readily apparent (ie, colorblindness).

So this problem of cultural imposition has stuck with me for a few years now and I haven't exactly found an answer other than do what you can to respect cultures and differences, but it's not the end of the world if you shake hands with a Japanese person, or ask a colorblind man to help you pick out furniture that matches your endtable (or something equally offensive).

Again, sorry this is so long. My point is that these small things are not what we should be concerned with. The brains that are suicidal (separate from body or not) are the ones that we, as a society, must focus on as needing our help because they are putting themselves at risk. Brains that cannot function by themselves within a culture (which consists of more than one person) and are at risk for lower chance of survival should be labeled "disabled" (or "different", labels don't matter to me as long as action takes place) so that the rest of the community knows that they must take part in helping this individual survive.


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