Culture Gods | Manifesting Culture
“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence. It is their social existence that determines their consciousness.” – Karl Marx (Walravens, 26)
Marx’s cautionary words should frighten you as it does me. We can cling to denial and preserve hope, but if accurate, then social-economic status determines not only that which we value, but also our destiny to live the life we desire. Given my own economic status, such a verdict confines me to a sentence of American culture: a horrid nightmare (in my opinion) in a land of Hummers, and deep-fried Twinkies that I neither want nor can afford. Within a paragraph Marx has shackled me inside a prison of capitalism induced poverty that I’m unlikely to abdicate, and true to that fact, I haven’t yet. My treasonous lack of salivating for the ringing bells of my native culture is constantly in conflict with my existence inside it. I refuse to capitulate my heart’s conviction: that my existence is mine for the choosing, and changing my destiny begins with a single choice to abandon expectation. Can we escape our own culture, master reality, and become Gods of our own culture?
In this sense culture becomes a “story” (Bruckmeir 30). One in which we, the actors, can choose to freely “strut and fret” [our] “hour upon the stage” (Shakespeare) or become a puppets unto our masters. Where our values result from our own cognitive dissonance, and where groupthink undermines our self-sovereignty to perpetuate a “collective state of denial” (Bennis).
Escaping the gravity of Marx’s cultural paradox occurs through social transformation, (“Social Transformation,” Wikipedia) and is exemplified by rags-to-riches stories like Oprah Winfrey or Britney Spears, though both adopted their new social class with modified speech and clothing. The best evidence against Marx’s statement on culture is those who completely abandon their's: emigrants. Unlike refugees running from poverty, persecution, or those who are a part of past mass migrations, today’s laws bar the majority of citizens from legally migrating to other countries, while their wealthier counterparts can vanish from their islands of culture. For example, Michael Luick Thames surrendered his American life to live in Germany permanently. Rather than participating in the nationalism and patriotism demanded by his home country during a state of war, Thames chose to depart not only from the norms of his culture, but commit a major taboo and leave it all behind (Nothnagle).
One could argue mobility is a function of the upper class, and what Thames did was consistent with his elevated culture, much like Madonna did in England for love, or Facebook founder Eduardo Savein did to avoid taxes. However, Thames is unique in that he chose to denounce his former culture, consciously disassociating himself. But the most prominent example that we may have free will over our culture is from Mike Gogulski, who rather than adhering to traditional channels of expatriating, chose the most radical way possible: by renunciation of citizenship to one’s nation. Gogulski then became stateless and now continues to live without a nationality. Mike discovered his own self-autonomy was not a result of culture, but a product of his departure from it. Mike entered into his newly self-manifested “culture” not by fortune, fame or social class, but by the flame from a single lighted match to his social security card, and by his own determination that culture would have no dominion over him. He describes the process not as that of becoming a God, but that of “officially becoming human” (Gogulski).
Bennis, J-B. Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor.
Sydney: Accessible Publishing, 2012
Brockmeier, Jens. Narrative and Identity: Studies in Autobiography, Self and Culture.
Amsterdam: John Benjamin’s Publishing Company, 2001.
Nothnagle, Alan. “We’ve Become What We Hate: Why I Left America.”
Open Salon. 3 Jul. 2012. Web. 1 Oct. 2012.
Gogulski, Mike. “Back in the Village Again.” Nostate.com. 9 Mar. 2009. 1 Oct. 2012.
“Social Transformation”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.
n.d. 2 Oct 2012.
Walravens, Jan. Intercultural Communications CMM 271 Reader.
Brussels: Vesalius College. n.d.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Macbeth. n.p. n.d.