What is "Culture"? LO20093

AM de Lange (amdelange@gold.up.ac.za)
Fri, 4 Dec 1998 14:22:53 +0200

Replying to LO20020 --

Dear Organlearners,

Fred Nickols <nickols@worldnet.att.net> wrote:

>There is no such thing as culture. It is a construct, a label,
>a name for vaguely perceived patterns in behavior and artifacts.

Greetings Fred,

What you have written, is shocking, but makes much sense for me. How?

Let us compare culture with its complementary dual nature to see if we can
learn more of what you have said. The OBJECT nature has been studied
extensively in fields such as botany, zoology and physiology. Because
there is sufficient coherency between these fields, they are collectively
refered to as the SUBJECT biology. In other words, biology reflect the
whole of botany, entymology, zoology, physiology, etc. Now for the
shocking statement:- There is no such a thing in nature as biology.
Biology is an account of the "black box" nature, but it is not nature.
Biology is not even part of nature, but it is part of culture.

Actually, nature is more than living things. What about inanimate nature
which are reflected by study fields such as physics, chemistry, geology
and meterology? In other words, the name biology does not reflect the
SUBJECT of which its OBJECT is nature. In fact, we do not have such a
subject which reflects the whole of the physical (material world), living
and unliving. In other words, we do not have a subject which reflects the
whole of all the fields of natural studies. I believe that this lack of
wholeness in the SUBJECT is a serious deficiency once we realise that
wholeness is essential to the OBJECT nature. By saying that wholeness is
essential to the OBJECT nature, nature is not a "black box" any more
because we now acknowledge that it has one a-priori detail. By doing such
a thing, we initiate a profound paradigm shift.

When we look at culture, we have the same problem with the additional
complication that the "dog bites its own tail". We must distinguish
between the OBJECT culture and our studies of it in fields such as systems
thinking, anthropology, sosiology, psychology, education and even
mathematics. Unfortunately, we do not have sufficient coherency between
these fields. Thus we do not have a collective name for them which we can
refer to as the SUBJECT of culture.

The obvious name would have been anthropology (Greek: "anthropos"=human,
"logos"=word.) because culture result from the action of the human mind.
Furthermore, the anthropologists have indeed created the most encompassing
definitions of culture. However, because of a lack of coherency,
anthropology does not reflect the whole of all the fields of cultural
studies. Even systems thinking which is in a slightly better position than
anthropology, does not qualify as the SUBJECT of the OBJECT culture.

Let us assume for argumentation purposes that anthropology is indeed the
SUBJECT of the OBJECT culture like biology is the SUBJECT of the OBJECT
nature. We have concluded above that there is no biology in nature because
nature is a "black box". In the same sense there is no anthropology in
culture because culture is also a "black box". Let us take it one step
further. The complementary duality nature+culture is also the result of
studies which belong to a certain SUBJECT of an OBJECT. What is the
SUBJECT? Some say its philosophy and others say it is systems thinking. I
prefer to call it "deep creativity". What is the OBJECT? Some say it is
reality while others deny that it exists objectively. I prefer to call it
Creation, again a "black box" Whatever we call it, the duality
nature+culture is not this "black box", but part of its subject. In other
words, whereas this "black box" Creation exists objectively, nature and
culture exist only subjectively. It is in this sense which I understand
your (Fred's) sentence "There is no such thing as culture".

I have mentioned the additional complication that the "dog bites its own
tail". Let us again assume for argumentation purposes that anthropology is
indeed the SUBJECT of the OBJECT culture. In the case of biology/nature,
the subject biology is not part of the object nature because biology is a
product of the mind. Thus biology is a part of culture. In other words, in
nature the subject is not part of the object. Likewise the subject
anthropology is a product of the human mind. Consequently it is part of
culture. In other words, in culture the subject is now part of the object.
This is the "dog biting its own tail". This circular complexity is the
reason why studies of the object culture have not yet uncovered one
"single law" like studies of the object nature.

Let us again contemplate the question of essences, essentials or
essentialities. We initiate a paradigm shift by acknowledging that
wholeness is essential to the OBJECT nature so that it is not a "black
box" any more. Metaphorically speaking, nature has become a "very dark
grey box". This is exacly what Jan Smuts (the father of holism) did with
his book (1926) "Holism and Evolution". Should we acknowledge a second
essence like openness, then nature pales into a "dark grey box". Should we
acknowledge a third essence like otherness (diversity), it pales into a
"grey box". How many essences are there which we have to acknowledge until
nature, originally a "black box" has become a "white box"?

Likewise, following the paradigm shift, we acknowledge that wholeness is
essential to the OBJECT culture so that it is not a "black box" any more.
How many essences are there which we have to acknowledge until culture,
originally a "black box" has also become a "white box"? Are there any
correspondences between the essences of nature and the essences of
culture? It is questions like these with which I hammered my mind while I
was busy discovering the seven essentialities. These seven essentialities
are the essences of nature and of culture. Thus the seven essentialities
are the essences of what I prefer to call Creation.

Fred, you also wrote:

>You will more quickly wrestle the wind to the ground than you
>will change culture.

Again, what you have written, is shocking, but makes much sense for me.

Culture, like nature, is very complex. The complexer anything becomes, the
slower it changes. We can distinguish between gradual and step (quantum,
discrete, saltatorial, revolutionary) changes.

Let us first think of nature. Step changes in fundamental particles happen
in the order of attoseconds (billionth of a billionth of a second). Step
changes in inorganic molecules happen in the order of microseconds
(millionth of a second). Step changes in complex biomolecules happen in
the order of seconds. Step changes (mutations) in micro-organisms happen
in the order of millions of seconds (a couple of weeks). Step changes in
macro-organisms happen in the order of trillions of seconds (hundreds of

In the world of culture step changes happens much faster. At the edge of
complexity such a step change is known as paradigm shift. A paradigm shift
corrects many anomalies, inconsistencies and incoherencies in one
strategy. Major paradigm shifts do not take hundreds of millenia to
happen, but rather time intervals in the order of centuries. They happen
slightly faster in the natural sciences than in the humanities because of
the lesser complexity involved. A very interesting (but almost unknown)
major paradigm shift happened in the 13th century when Roger Bacon of
Oxford announced that physics would not advance until physicists have
learnt to observe before they speculate and to use mathematics in their
descriptions. Three centuries later Copernicus gave substance to the claim
concerning observations and another century later Newton gave substance to
the claim concerning mathematics.

Leibniz, a contemporary of Newton, announced that the natural sciences
like physics, alchemy (now chemistry) and biology would not advance into
new worlds untill they have learnt to acknowledge monads (wholeness) in
their studies. Two centuries later this claim was substantiated by the
emergence of thermodynamics, relativity theory and quantum mechanics. The
associated paradigm shift was from casual interactions to holistic
interactions -- a shift to wholeness.

The lesson which we must learn from these major paradigm shifts is that
they were caused by a small number of indivuduals rather than the
established scientific society practising "normal science" as Kuhn puts
it. Furthermore, each major paradigm shift corrected many "sore points in
one blow". Paradigm shifts were also the exception rather than the rule.
Lastly, none was without drama and conflict of interests.

Fred, in this sense, I would like to add the following to your advice:

>If your aim is to have your interventions "stick" or "take" or
>be more lasting, then my counsel to you would be to focus
>on getting others to see the value in the changes you want
>to make and getting them to help you make those changes.
>Lasting change is about getting others to champion those
>changes; it is not about manipulating some will o' the wisp
>called "culture."

Decide whether you need a gradual or quantum change. In the case of a
quantum change you will have to address most of the organisation's "sore
points in one blow". Make use of a small number of committed, motivated
and competant people to drive the change in all the major facets. (The
major facets for a LO would be the five disciplines). Lastly, remember
that change is process. Neglect the process and few cultural outcomes will
result. Become creative. Get yourself a "creativity praetor".

I should have stopped now, but I have not painted the context for the last
two sentences. Sabine's third question was how culture could be changed.
That question concerns the process and not its outcome called culture.
What will be the main characterestic of the process? For example, the
outcome of the process learning is knowledge while the outcome of the
process believing is faith as well as wisdom and ethics). So what will we
use as name for the process of which its outcome is culture? Creating! The
main characterestic of the process is creativity. We cannot expect culture
to change when the creativity of each member is impaired, even if it is
merely the culture of a chartered organistion.

The creativity of each member of an organisation can be impaired
internally and externally. The internal impairment of a person's
creativity have to be resolved by Personal Mastery. The best way to
resolve this impairment is to make short courses in creativity for all the
members regularly available.

The external impairing can happen in two ways. Firstly, the impairing can
result "globally" because of the cultural environment in which the
organisation operates. For example, diversity may be important to the
organisation, but not the cultural environment. A typical case is a
university in a third world country. This "global" impairing is very
difficult to resolve. It cannot be done without the cooperation of the
whole cultural environment. It requires associations (partnership) with
the leaders of all walks in the surrounding society.

Secondly, the impairing can result "locally" from the organisation's
culture itself. In other words, the organisation is organised in such a
manner that it impairs the creativity of its members. For example,
wholeness may be fragmented. A typical case again is a university
organised in a hundred or more departments which function independently,
even those within a faculty. This "local" impairing is also difficult to
resolve. It cannot be done without the cooperation of all managers from
the top and middle level. They will have to improve their own creativity
through both Personal Mastery and Team Learning.

Great care must be taken not to improve the creativity of the members of
an organisation on an "ad hoc" basis. Hiring without any planned strategy
one "guru" after the other to present "crash" courses on creativity has
done more harm than good to many an organisation. Make rather use of a
respected consultancy on a long term basis. Creativity should figure as
soon as possible as the central feature in the Shared Vision as well as
the "official" Systems Thinking of the organisation. Furthermore,
organise for a permament manager called the "creativity praetor" who has
top level management power and thus is directly responsible to the CEO for
the organisation's "creativity dimension".

Fred, my last advice to Sabine would be to get herself a "creativity
praetor" or become that person herself. Without such a "creativity
praetor", very little purposeful change, if any, will happen in the
organisation. Better can be expected when (to use your words) "wrestling
the wind to the ground." In the Roman civilisation the "praetors" played
the most important roles next to the "caesar" himself. Wheras the Roman
praetor administered civil law, the "creativity praetor" will have to
administer creativty, not by enforcing laws, but by spontaneous learning.

Thanks for reading so far.

Best wishes


At de Lange <amdelange@gold.up.ac.za> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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