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Hawai’i’s Shared Futures By Vision Foresight Strategy

Culture and the Futures of Hawai’i

Aloha kakahiaka, everyone.  I hope everyone had a great weekend; we certainly did!  Today we’re catching up on updating some tactical plans for a client and then we’ll be working on more original writing and presentations, namely the nonprofit futures project and working further on a Summit presentation.

Over the weekend we helped a client facilitate a session they had discussing culture, tourism, and ideas and issues related to marketing (with some emphasis on the visitor industry).  Coming away from the event, it got us thinking more about the broader issues surrounding ‘culture’ and different possible futures for Hawai’i.

Culture is a very interesting, and I think, challenging concept, particularly the way it is used in most conversations.  It is a contested and often ambiguous idea, and yet people often refer to ‘culture’ as an object, like the great black monolith in the classic movie “2001,” something that we are given and something that we point to as if it were a concrete, tangible thing.  It is also often referred to as a sacred, inviolate object, much like the monolith.

The problem is that the things that we are trying to reference with the term ‘culture’ are much more fluid than that.  From the also-ambiguous term ‘worldview’ to beliefs to practices to values, culture is always changing; and it’s supposed to.  Human life today is the result of a great co-evolution: that between biology and culture, each affecting the other.  Humans are the result of a long biological history on this planet.  That biological evolution has in essence primed us for a hunter-gather lifestyle, a mode of living which represents 99% of human history.  It is only in the last 1% of our shared history that we come into both agrarian and industrial lifestyles, where cities were born 5000 years ago, and where the cell phone emerges as a tool of communication.

In this context, the ‘culture’ that we all think of when we employ the term and the ‘cutlures’ that we normally revere, are what humans have been evolving in just the last few thousand years in order to innovate beyond our biology and adapt to a variety of habitats and situations for which our biology has not had time to adapt.  In comparison to biological evolution, which is usually very slow and largely undirected, our cultural evolution can happen very quickly and can spread very quickly.

Because culture (which for the moment we’ll look at as innovation we evolve to overcome what biology cannot) can evolve so quickly and spread across populations so quickly, we increasingly have a world in which the classic western academic notion of singular monolithic cultural identities is fading.  Increasingly we have individuals whose individual cultural fabric is composed of threads from many sources.  Humans adopt and adapt beliefs, outlooks, values, and practices from all of their experiences, and as globalization (read: integration) proceeds, more and more people are adopting those cultural ‘innovations’ that they feel will help them succeed ( in the broadest sense) in life.  Increasingly, people have multiple identities and complex, beautiful individual cultural fabrics, a uniquely tailored weave of innovations that allow them to move through the varied spaces of 21st century life and adapt to the expanding range of challenges confronting them on local, regional, and global levels.

Culture is innovation, it is an adaptation that allows us to overcome the limits of biology and to adapt to the world when it would otherwise take our biological evolution far too long to respond.  Classic monolithic culture and singular identities can be taken for granted when life and society presents us with a relatively stable and unchanging environment.  But in a world of interaction, exchange, and constant challenge, our strength will come from having both a diversity of cultures to draw upon as well as a much more nuanced view of individual culture and identity.

Think about tomorrow.

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Filed under: Culture, Human Nature, Identity

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