|Azly Rahman | Oct 6, 08 11:35 |
The festive season brings me to this argument I am having silently with myself: Must core values of a society be preserved, through the rites and rituals and pomp and pageantry of that elusive concept called ‘culture’? Race theorists would call for a debate between the ‘Essentialist’ and the ‘Progressive’ schools of thought on culture.
In looking at the question of Cultural Essentialism, the arguments for and against it, on whether adherence to this concept divides or unites, and lastly to offer my own view on this important concept, I begin with the general statement that “Cultural Essentialism” is the belief that in every civilised society or a cultural group, exists a core culture which governs the ‘life sustaining’ forces of that particular culture.
From the core, moral or religious doctrines are derived, cosmological views or metaphysical conceptions are drawn, knowledge bases are founded, principles and ethos are constructed, and socialising agents as cultural values transmitters are established. So that the core culture can continue to be passed down from one generation to the next in order for society to be maintained of its order and harmony although technological, political, economic, and ideological winds of change may be sweeping seasonally into the core culture’s residence.
African cultural theorist Peter J. Paris called it "religious social ethics" in which whose "goal has been that of providing a framework for a moral theory that fits the relevant historical data." In summarising his work on the core values of the African people necessary to be rediscovered by the Afro-Americans, Paris called for a systematic transference of essential ideas about the culture; ideas which fit into the definition of a moral theory:
[A] moral theory of virtue requires a set of social conditions that will facilitate the realisation of its desired ends namely, the development of morally virtuous people. In other words, moral development is dependent on a community's capacity to facilitate it. If for any reason a community fails to provide an environment that is conducive for the development of moral virtues the converse will certainly occur. That is to say, the moral character of the community will be reflected in the moral development of its children.
We can discern through the quote above the Essential tenet of the core culture theory; a grand narrative to be passed down for cultural preservation. Paris' illustration of the core cultural theory above can also be equated with those of Canadian philosopher of ethics Charles Taylor's in Multiculturalism particularly in the latter's view on the "politics of recognition" as in the case of the French Canadians.
On the other hand, by becoming an advocate of this concept, we may deny the ability of our postmodern self to utilise the power of our mind to deconstruct the excesses of traditional values and limit our ability to create newer paradigms; designing our own history and experimenting with personal narratives of the subaltern genre.