Culture and values

My friend Judith has recently started a new job with a Native American tribe. She has been reading some articles that suggest that people turn to their cultures to answer the following five questions, and asks us to respond:

• What is basic human nature?
• What is the relationship of humankind to nature?
• How should we perceive our relationship to time?
• What is the value placed on activity?
• What should be the relationship of people to each other?

Each of these seems like a giant essay to me :) But I’ll try to come up with some fairly succinct thoughts, below. I don’t know how relevant they’ll be to my cultural context, however, as I suspect my personal views are not mainstream in my culture at all.

What is basic human nature? I’m not sure I know what this question means. But I guess fundamentally I see us as swirling particles of aether, made up largely of energy. I mean this in terms of both our physical nature and our conscious nature. I don’t subscribe to any religious belief systems, and I feel that our basic truth is largely unknowable or unperceivable, at least in our physical form. I consider myself agnostic in that sense. If there is any one basic human nature, it exists far below the level of consciousness, will, right, or wrong.

What is the relationship of humankind to nature? I see our energy as interacting with that of others, with animals and inanimate objects, all as one large system. In that sense, humankind and nature are inextricable and the same. We manifest differently, though I don’t know why energy should differentiate itself into various different patterns. Therefore, I see no real hierarchy among mankind and nature.

How should we perceive our relationship to time? I strongly suspect that time has multiple dimensions, as does space. Physics tends to support that, in that the equations work out better that way. I imagine that our mind is only geared to experience time linearly and in one direction – with occasional glitches like deja vu. Nevertheless, multiple time-space stretches out all around us, and we go along within it in a straight line, not knowing how else to go.

What is the value placed on activity? Hmm. This is another one for which I’m not even sure where to begin. Societies, cultures, and religions all do seem to place “values” on specific activities, as in some having more value than others, and some being actively good or bad. However, the question seems worded in the sense of activity vs. inactivity. We need a certain amount of activity to maintain our physical needs. Beyond that, it seems that each person develops their own personal value system that determines which activities have value or priority over others. These may be compatible or at odds with those of the greater society – those that are at odds with society being designated criminals or other pejorative terms. On a more benign level, how each person decides which “work” or “leisure” activities are chosen to pursue is something of a mystery and may be largely circumstantial.

What should be the relationship of people to each other? A loaded “should” question :) Different cultures do place different values on individualism vs. collectivism, which I am guessing is the context of the question. However, I personally feel toward this question much as the previous one. There is no activity or type of relationship that inherently “should” be of higher value than another, except to the extent that it makes a person feel fulfilled and happy within the context in which they exist (whatever that is – culturally or otherwise). It is a mystery to me why some cultures have self-organized along individual lines and others along community-oriented lines. That suggests that both are evolutionarily adapted for success. Perhaps those people that don’t fit within one or the other are less well adapted and are selected out, until there are entire communities that are more or less one way or the other.

Anyway, a set of odd thoughts for the day :)

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