The Shaping of Life


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Here All Along. Sarah Hurwitz. A Course in Meditation. At Home in the World. Thich Nhat Hanh.

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Alexander Gardner. The World Comes to You. Michael Stone. How to See. The Jesus Who Surprises. The Middle Matters. Lisa-Jo Baker. And sometimes glomming onto the idea of culture's potency can have disastrous results. The now discredited broken windows theory held that a culture of crime can quickly take root if citizens are not bonded together to keep up their neighborhoods and remain serious about punishing minor crimes. The theory resulted in an uptick in intense community policing, but was not actually responsible for the drop in crime rates of the late s.

It did result in the incarceration of many African Americans for petty crimes. Using culture as the lens to explain success and failure also obscures more widespread and harder to control socioeconomic and biological factors.

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To truly understand culture's role in shaping us, we must understand that culture is not just the inert repository of ideas and customs we all live with, but that it too is shaped by various factors. As President Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope , fending off claims that black culture is to blame for African Americans' plight, "In other words, African Americans understand that culture matters but that culture is shaped by circumstance.

We know that many in the inner city are trapped by their own self-destructive behavior but that those behavior are not innate. Culture shapes us, but many events mold culture and we shape these just as much. To blame our culture for the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, would be wrongheaded and many in the media have pointed this out for reasons beyond psychological self-defense.

Even if culture is a primary factor in our lives, and that largely depends on the person's receptivity to culture, it would be nearly impossible to create a culture ahead of time that is conducive to producing better behavior and healthier thoughts. This is because much of culture depends on our biological and evolutionary hardware, which is in flux. And our evolutionary heritage is largely one of aggression and violence, despite our pains to sublimate these influences through cultural activities like art and religion. Thus, if we are to blame anything for a tragic mass shooting, it must be our vestigial aggression.

Interestingly, some scientists believe that culture may be adaptive and thus help our brains function better to help us reproduce more successfully. This would cast culture in relief as something that is both important for our survival and also subject to the whims of those harder to control and much bigger forces in life. At the least, it absolves filmmakers who explore issues of violence and responsibility, like those that made the most recent Batman installment. More broadly, it could account in part for how some cultures help their members achieve.

Yet we shouldn't get too hung up on pitting cultures against each other, as Romney did in Israel.

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And superiority, as far as culture is concerned, lies in this harmony and nothing else. There are no higher or lower cultures. There are cultures that are more or less true. The benefits to brain development or reproduction would surely be just as great in exploring others' ways of life as immersing oneself in a single nation's or group's traditions, however beneficial that one culture may be. US Edition U. News U. HuffPost Personal Video Horoscopes.

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