Over the years I’ve heard of many types of governments. There’s democracy, theocracy, autocracy, monarchy, etc. I’ve always felt these interpretations reflected a certain point of view of how society and governments work.
Recently, I’ve begun to mention that it seems that many governments and societies do not follow the traditional descriptions. One of the problems with democracy, monarchy, etc. is that it describes a way of doing things. It describes a rigid system. If you look at most governments and societies you’ll find that they often are a mixture of these. Seldom are they just one. The US government, for example, can be democratic, autocratic, despotic, and monarchist depending on where you’re at. No one label fits any government, especially if it is a large one. As a result of this, I have become sceptical about using these terms as anything definite or describing any system overall. Because of this, these labels seemed limiting and, probably, restrict our understanding of government and society.
As I have looked at other ways at looking at this I’ve begun to feel that Culture is what runs most societies and governments. I jokingly call this ‘Culture-cracy’. Culture is actually what runs things most of the time . . . not individual people, not even a system.
What does this mean?
By Culture I mean the general manifestations of the character of a people. This often becomes manifested in things like the general stance toward life, attitudes, points of view, patterns of thought, perceptions of right and wrong, morality, belief, traditions, rules, laws, etc. Contrary to what people think, Culture is very fluid and changes from time to time. It is not a constant. In fact, many times it may appear that the Culture has changed but, in reality, it hasn’t. It just took a new form. Only the representations of it has changed but the attitude and stance may remain the same. This means that the heart of the Culture is still there.
It is this – Culture . . . the stance and attitude of a people – that actually run society and the government most of the time. This means that no one, really, is in control. Many decisions, for example, are not made by individual people but by the Culture. The people are only mediums of the Culture really. The Culture, so to speak, moves through them. Accordingly, any system or laws or rules are also only mediums of that Culture. Like people, they are only the tools of the Culture. Any person, law, rule, system, etc. runs according to the pattern the Culture gave it and which gives it relevance. To be in the government, for example, a person must learn the government and its ways. They must learn its ‘Culture’. And when they go into government they implement what they have learned. All they are doing is doing what the Culture says. They are only its handmaidens. Even when a decision is made or something must be done, it is almost always done in the context of the Culture.
Power resides in the Culture. From it, really, all power springs. To have or maintain power, usually, requires a standing and a place in that Culture. To not be acknowledged by the Culture in the correct setting is to have no real power. Even if a tyrant takes over the government and controls with force, he has no real power until he is accepted in the Cultural setting according to the Cultural contexts.
Keep in mind that the Culture is not the people nor is it a ‘people rule’. Often, Culture may go against the people’s interest. It may even bring a people down. Culture, in many ways, is more than the people and it is certainly more than any individual.
Culture has the quality of being the sum total of a people. This includes their origins, their history, their ideals, their hopes, their horrors, their fears, etc. As such, it is made up of the entirety of a people all through history. Because of this, the present is only a small part in the Cultural makeup. What is today for a people that has a culture stemming back thousand some odd years? As a result, if something comes up today that conflicts with the overall Cultural reality the Culture will usually have the greater power. Culture can smash anything as effectively, if not more effectively, as any army can. Many people have had conflict with this aspect of Cultural power, even more so than something like tyranny.
The power of Culture is immense. It, I feel, has been greatly neglected. Most people think Culture is made up of people’s customs or tradition but it’s more than that . . . it’s much more than that. Remember that within things like customs, tradition, and belief (which are generally used to describe Culture) is a whole peoples meaning and worth and place in the world. It is Culture that defines who they are and what they are. It is Culture that gives direction and a reason to live. Within Culture, then, is the heart of life, the reason for being. In reality, this is one of the most precious and important things in the world. Very few people realize that many wars (perhaps most!) were fought to preserve ones Culture and what it gives them. It is something worth defending. It is wise to never underestimate the importance and power of Culture.
And so all these labels, like democracy or theocracy, only describe an aspect of things, a quality of a system. It does not take into account the greater picture of how things really do work and how things function. It does not take into account the attitudes of the people in general. Using these labels is like worrying about the details of a machine and forgetting what the machine was designed for.