Twisted out of Shape

One of the biggest questions for our time is this:

How far can human nature be moulded by culture?

In other words; how far can we bend the branch before it either springs back or breaks?

A tree can be manipulated into all manner of distorted shapes through repeated slight adjustments. An individual, and a society, can be manipulated in much the same way. With the former, the moulding force is the human hand; with the latter, is is culture.

As each generation dies, they take with them the lived experience of how things were. All that remains of their time are memories; tall tales that spring from mouths, books or screens. But their experience dies with them; successive generations cannot know what it was like to live then. They can imagine, but they cannot know - smell, taste, touch ... experience.

We can lament a time gone by, but all we can know is our own time. All that is normal to us - all of our measurements, regrets, dreams - are born from within our own time.

An idea of a time gone by will only take root with us if it can connect to something similar in our own time. We lament the simplicity of a bygone era, because we ourselves remember such simplicity in our own lives. If we have nothing to equate it to, then it will not take root. It will remain abstract, a funny story.

The time we grow up in, no matter how distorted it may appear to the ghosts of times gone by, cannot be anything other than normal to us. We have no other frame of reference. If we are (un)lucky we can imagine something different. But generally speaking we will be discouraged from doing this. 

Can a tree forget its shape? It seems that this is what is happening to us. Our society changes incrementally, and each change is normalised by each successive generation. Before you know it, the tree is bent and twisted; and yet it feels no loss, sees no damage. Because to it - its memory of times gone by erased with age - this shape is normal.

And if it knows no different, then where is the harm?
As long as it can sustain itself in such a shape, then there is no harm.

Is there?

So why is it that we protest change? That we lament times gone by? Because when we are dead, there will be no-one to know what they are missing out on. The mass of those left living will experience a world perfectly normal and acceptable to them. At the fringes there will be those who can imagine something different - haunted by a picture of a tall healthy tree - but these voices are marginalized, branded 'luddites',  'unrealistic' or 'hopeless dreamers'. To imagine something else is unrealistic because it does not accept what is real - in other words, things as they currently are.

So to return to the question:

How far can human nature be moulded by culture?

How far can the tree be bent before it springs back or dies?