Culture As Interface

(This piece follows The Dynamic Planetary Context in the FS Main Thread.)

This article introduces a framework for understanding and assessing cultures and their institutions. This framework will serve as a simple but powerful guide in our search for viable institutions that, working together, can enable the thriving sustainable cultures of the future.

I’ve created the following 8-minute video as a way to introduce the framework in a multi-sensory, dynamic way. It’s an important step in creating the groundwork on which the Foundation Stones can be built. I hope you will enjoy it and find it useful.

(Using video in this way is an experiment for this site. If you have feedback on what you like and/or ways you feel the video could be improved, please send it via the comment form. I hope that if English is not your first language, you will still find my speaking understandable. For a list of the sources for various images used in the video, go here.)

How does culture-as-interface fit in?

Before moving on to making use of the culture-as-interface framework in future articles, I’d like to share some observations about where it fits into the context of our times.

People have been thinking about the relationship between culture, the wider world and innate human nature for thousands of years. I’ve summarized some of this history in a companion article. In spite of this long history, my sense is that culture-as-interface is only now becoming a useful framework for at least the following reasons:

1) High-quality direct information about the innate nature of our minds, with minimal cultural overlay, has become available only recently through neurobiology and related areas of psychology. In order to treat something as an interface, you need to have two independent contexts for it to fit between. In the past, ideas about our innate human nature have been too entwined with culture to serve as a useful independent factor.

2) Likewise, the quantity and quality of information about the wider world (both human and nonhuman) is so much better today than it was even a few decades ago, much less a few centuries ago, that it also has become much more useful as an independent factor on the other side of the culture-as-interface “sandwich.”

3) Changes in the nonhuman world (e.g. climate change, depletion of natural resources) that used to take centuries or millennia to make a discernible difference now take only decades, and this gives the relationship of the nonhuman world to culture a whole new importance. Just because some institution seemed to work 20 years ago is no guarantee it will still work in another 20 years. If we are to “skate to where the puck is going to be” we need to take the changing nonhuman world explicitly into account in a way that we never had to before.

4) Many of the dysfunctions in current major institutions (government, education, finance, business, health care, law, etc.) can be traced to ignoring the connections among culture, our innate human nature and the wider world. Increasingly, these dysfunctions are luxuries we can no longer afford.

5) The challenges we face are global and urgent. We need to be as proactive and skillful as possible as we evolve viable institutions for the future.

So here in the early 21st century, we have both a much greater need for, and much stronger informational support for, the kind of integrated understanding of culture and its dynamic context that the culture-as-interface framework can provide.

For all of these reasons, this framework feels like a great tool for the Foundation Stones project and an idea whose time has come. I’m already finding it very useful and I look forward to sharing its fruits with you in upcoming articles.

Robert Gilman, December 21, 2012

Do you see ways this article could be improved? If you do, please let me know.

(The next piece in the FS Main Thread is The Human Operating System.)