NOTES on TRADITION and CULTURE
Culture can have a broad meaning and a narrower meaning. The broad meaning is simply the way a society or a community or country lives, including its food, customs, language, art and religion – everything. The narrow meaning refers to its artistic, music, literary etc achievements, sometimes referred to as high culture. Culture can be, probably should be, dynamic ie open to change, to new influences and ideas, continually evolving.

Popular culture is often or approximately global culture. By definition, popular culture is not high-brow culture, concerned with intellectual and artistic achievement but is invariably low-brow concerned more with life-styles and entertainment and often youth.

Tradition suggests ways of behaviour, aspects of culture etc which are customary or long established. Tradition, in consequence, tends to be conservative, to resist change.

Desirable culture and tradition
Both culture and tradition are often seen as providing a positive framework for societies or communities and a sense of identity. Perhaps this is especially important in manners as well as over responsibilities between family members and between generations. Certain features tend to be the same, in almost all cultures, such as filial respect, chastity in marriage and keeping one’s word – although the extent to which these are actually observed varies from individual to individual and society to society.

Undesirable culture and tradition
Culture and tradition are often, even usually, seen as positive concepts but specific cultures and traditions can be destructive or simply evil. The Dyaks and Iban of Borneo practised head-hunting. A young man from one longhouse had to take the head of any man, woman or child from another longhouse before he could marry. The Maya and Aztecs of Central America practised human sacrifice and cannibalism on a massive scale. The Maori of New Zealand and Melanesians of Fiji engaged in almost perpetual inter-tribal warfare and massacre and cannibalism. Female circumcision (clitoridectomy) in Africa and the Middle East is a common and a very cruel practice which still mutilates tens of thousands of women every year. Caste divisions and the position of the untouchables or Dalits among the Hindus of India produce much social suffering and violence. A lot of cruel custom has been associated with religion – and all of the list above are examples of well-established customs (or traditions) of long-established cultures, some like the Maya and Aztec even termed civilizations.

The most rigidly backward societies are the most strictly traditional and conservative and the link is not an accident. For example, Pakistan has an adult literacy rate of 55%, longevity for men 66 years, women almost 67 and an infant mortality rate of 64 per thousand. Compare Singapore’s literacy 95%, average  longevity for men  80 years, women 83  years and an infant mortality rate of 3 per thousand.

Culture and tradition: consider the following:-
Food, dress, art and music and literature in all forms, manners, social customs concerned with marriage, the family, men and women, love and sex, entertainment, language and religion, education and literacy,  and the relationship between all these.

A full cultural checklist.

Food and food rituals.
Dining habits.
Manners towards family and everybody else.
Family and extended family.
Conversation, greetings, reticence, loud celebration etc.
Sexual attitudes and relationships, formal and informal.
Relations between men and women.
Relations between man and wife.
Casual or commercial sex.
Attitudes to parents and children.
Position of the old.
Business and business ethics.
Sport and the importance attached to this.
Tradition in the sense of ancient customs.
Education and attitudes to this.
Religion, all aspects, conservative, liberal, relative importance of.
Attitudes to expression, freedom of speech and protest or deference.
Attitudes to politics, public figures, leaders, monarchs etc.
Attitudes towards animals.
Craftsmen and skilled traditional workers.
Farmers and other traditional working classes or communities.
Attitude towards the military.
Patriotism.
Attitudes towards hospitality and foreigners.
Languages spoken and forms of these.
Traditional scripts.
Traditional or classical art (in all senses, painting, sculpture, music, literature etc)
Modern or non-traditional art forms.
Entertainment, popular shows, sport, television watching, dances, drinking etc.

A culture can be defined by ethnicity (race) religion, language (dialect and that of education), sometimes occupation (professional or blue-collar or unskilled), location (country and town – urban and rural) by generation or peer group (old and young) by wealth or income, by region (Asian and western) or simply by modernity and former times.

Multi-cultural identity is the norm
Unless we live in small, very isolated groups (like the bushmen of the Kalahari or Indians living in the jungles of the Amazon) what defines us culturally is likely to be drawn from a number of categories. Thus, an educated Chinese, aged 30 and born in Singapore, might be termed young, professional, modern, urban, Chinese or perhaps anglophone (speaking English) as well as Mandarin speaker, a Hokkien or Foochow if his grandparents still speak the dialects, Buddhist, Taoist or Christian  – and so on.
We should probably not see people just as Malay, Hindu, Chinese etc because this tends to lead to stereotyping. We all have multiple and overlapping identities.

Modern urban culture.
All modern, urban, educated culture will tend towards the same patterns (given an open society) but this does not mean to say they will be identical.
What is common to all modern urban societies is usually:-  tendencies towards more female education and independence, more education generally, more access to media, more wealth, less and later marriage with fewer children, two working parents, more divorce, wider tastes in food, dress and the arts – and also a tendency to get fat, take less exercise, more liberal attitudes towards sexual freedom, homosexuality etc. Of course, these are TENDENCIES only.

Globalisation has not obliterated cultural identities, far from it, the most powerful aspects of which are probably language and religion. The MacDonald’s factor – even if there are identical MacDonald’s all over the world, most local people eat mostly local food most of the time. Popular festivals are still different the world over, Chinese New Year, Christmas, the Thai water festival etc, although we might be more involved in each other’s festivals than before.

Mass Tourism gives us experience of each other’s cultures - even if this is usually fairly superficial.

Mass entertainment there is a global side to this as well – Hollywood, western pop stars, European football teams etc – but there are also powerful regional expressions as well -  Bollywood, Cantonese pop and film studios in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

All flourishing societies change. Customs, cultures, moral attitudes to sex etc all change because our circumstances change.

Culture and you
When you write about culture, relate to the real world, to yourself, what actually happens in life and what you really want yourself. Not what you think you ought to want.

Religion and culture
Religion tends to divide and define, to distinguish between believer and non-believer. The political or communal expression of religion is probably the biggest single social and political problem for mankind today. Some strong religions, especially the fundamentalist versions, provide the greater part in defining culture in their communities. In Malaysia, the terms Muslim and Malay become almost interchangeable. The Christian Copts in Egypt have recently been attacked as they have been in Pakistan. Muslims were massacred in Gujerat in India a few years ago. Muslim terrorists brought down the twin towers in 9/11. Religion can produce extremism and violence and social division – so culturally we should hope for softer, more tolerant and inclusive and private or personal expressions of culture generally and religion in particular.

A FEW GENERAL OBSERVATIONS AND QUOTATIONS

We already have diversity in culture - popular or global culture may help to give us unity by providing common ground.
Popular culture has not weakened religion, nor the use of major languages, both of which contribute much to local culture.
We want the best of two worlds, local variety on the one hand and global unity, communication and tolerance on the other.
Food (especially food!) and dress are not much affected by globalization.

Some quotation
In cultural matters, it is not demand that creates supply, it is the other way round. (Joseph Brodsky)
We should all know how to inherit, because inheriting is culture. (Thomas Mann)
A cheerful, intelligent face is the end (ie purpose) of culture. (Emerson)
Culture itself is neither education nor law-making: it is an atmosphere and a heritage. (HL Mencken)
The law of raspberry jam: the wider any culture is spread, the thinner it gets. (Alvin Toffler)
Culture is simply how one lives and is connected to history by habit. (Home magazine)
Culture, the acquainting ourselves with the best that has been known and said in the world and thus with the history of the human spirit. (Matthew Arnold)
Culture opens the sense of beauty. (Emerson)
Culture opens the sense of beauty; popular culture the sense of unity and tolerance. (Spencer)
Custom reconciles us to everything. (Edmund Burke)
A bad custom is like a good cake, better broken than kept. (English Proverb)
To tie India to the customs of the past would be to reduce her to a sacrificial goat tied to a post. (Rabindranath Tagore)
It will never do if we use somebody else’s eyes rather than our own. (Rabindranath Tagore)

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