Friday, March 11, 2011

An amateur's take on cultural psychology

I'm starting to feel a sickening distance grow between myself and the matrix of culture of which I used to reside.
Putting on the jetpack of philosophy and propelling myself up and out of the choking mythological mist seemed like a great idea at the time, but now I look back at the fogs that used to cloud my mind with nostalgia.  I can't relate to a single person around me.

But I'm not the first one to feel nostalgia for an irrational past, it's what culture is built upon.  We all have a personal Garden of Eden that somehow has banished us.  Our life's goals are thus considered to be getting back to that garden somehow.  It is too bad only one true Eden exists, and that is within the uncorrupted mind of a child.

How to be "good" in a culture
        Being good has nothing to do with personal virtue, happiness, self-esteem, or level of personal achievement.  Being good is a very simple activity, summed up largely by the old phrase "monkey see, monkey do."  The great thing about the modern age is that there are a million different sub-cultures to choose from, allowing a much greater range sense of identification with your group.  Nevertheless, adherence to a group to receive acceptance is as shallow as a puddle and provides an individual with no real sense of self-esteem.  Instead of presenting yourself; values, interests, morals, and characteristics in an honest way in the hopes of "reeling in" somebody who really appreciates you, you can adopt those qualities from a 3rd party "culture" to ensure some external appreciation, no matter how shallow it may be.

So then, how does one become "good" in a culture?

Well, first you become an apprentice to a subculture.  You carefully study those you admire on TV, in magazines, at school, online.  This is the process of acquiring a reverence for the culture's music, icons, ideas, fashion, and language.  All of these extremely personal decisions that construct a person's identity are then chosen for them by the subculture they wish to be a part of.  To be truly cool, one must dedicate their time and effort toward understanding, anticipating, and participating in the trends of your particular group.  Great anxiety bubbles up at the prospect of being recognized as "uncool" or "bad" by your particular group.

Even groups now that claim to promote individuality such as "hipsters" have their downfalls.  For instance, if one is a fan of Fall Out Boy (a band that has been judged by many to be a part of the "emo" subculture), they are scoffed at and mocked.  Indeed, the realm of judgement for hipsters seems to remain in music, but through the rise of "scenesters" notions of what activities provide the most amount of pleasure are becoming a new source of conceit.  Partying, doing drugs, disrespect in general, and a lack of self-regulation are the new "cool" pleasure time activities.  Surprisingly, this seems to be a fusion between the world of gangster rap that was popular in the late 90's, early 00's, seeing as money, clothes, and partying are the number one foci of many mainstream hip cultures.

Confidence comes from how many of the cultural ideals you have adopted and how well you can express your borrowed identity.  Instead of confidence providing us with the motivation and mean to achieve great things and attain long lasting happiness, cultural confidence gives us the pretention of power over others.  In the same way that you happily cast aside your own ideas in the student phase of becoming cool, once you have mastered your particular culture, one may have the confidence and desire to expand and revise the culture they once ran with like a lemming.  This gives a false reassurance that the person has maintained some individuality, but more importantly it simultaneously gives them the power to tell others how to lose theirs.  A master in their group may now be the ones running the organizations which help install the subculture into a new batch of self-doubting kids, the masters get to "choose" what is cool next in their own minds, but in reality they have limited the horizons of their own minds through their years of self-schooling in the culture of cool, they are bound to the same cycle.  The conformity is complete and the self has been sacrificed in the end.  Coolness nirvana has been attained.


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