Culture is not Nature

Durer Death and the Rider

The astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle (1915 – 2001) shocked his colleagues in the 1960s and 70s by refusing to endorse the then-prevailing negentropic view of the cosmos according to which the fate of everything was to come to a halt in the patternless state of heat-death. Hoyle advocated a “steady-state” cosmos in which matter was being constantly renewed and the state of heat-death thus indefinitely postponed. Today the negentropic cosmos has been replaced by the singularity cosmos, which commences in the proverbial Big Bang, expands to a limit, contracts back into a singularity, and then blows itself up again in a new Big Bang – endlessly. Of course, within the cycle of any singularity entropy is still the rule.

Entropy is a rule for the modern liberal mind, too, which, idolizing but badly understanding physics, thinks of everything in purely physical, or natural, terms, including culture. This transfer of terms from one area of discourse to another, from nature to culture, represents a grave error whose effects on culture have been gross and deleterious.

Culture is so much not nature that it might be called counternature. The most important way in which culture differs from nature (supposing for the sake of argument that nature is as modern liberal people suppose it to be) is that culture is consciously negentropic. Culture deliberately pitches itself against the natural tendency of everything to find the lowest possible level and the least possible degree of internal differentiation. Culture, by contrast, makes differences.  In doing so, culture breasts the stream of natural undifferentiation.

Culture is active, collective memory. In language, for example, which is possibly the primordial cultural institution, to which all others are related, the meanings of words are fixed. Only in their fixity can words cross the threshold from one generation to the next in such a way that the discoveries of one generation can become the heritage of the next; and only in this way can a tradition consolidate itself that makes it possible for new generations not to have to begin again at some degree zero of social development. The ideas of preservation, conservation, and curation are implicit in the idea of culture, which maintains itself, through the active cooperation of its successive beneficiaries, by resisting change.

The will to resist change is therefore essential to any healthy culture; and by the corollary, all culturally healthy people will suspicious of change and reluctant to accept it. This is not to say that a culture never changes. Cultures do change. Some of them die off. There is no Phrygian or Rhaetian culture today. Those cultures died off centuries ago, leaving only a few traces which belong to the vernacular of no living culture. Only specialist-researchers know anything about them. Cultures may change in other, less drastic ways; they may adjust themselves or accept external influence or discard usages that no longer seem relevant. It remains the case, however, that every concession brings the culture closer to an unavoidable point of unfamiliarity, for which the real name is death.

The modern liberal mentality despises permanency and believes that change is so desirable that efforts must be undertaken to change everything in the inherited order as swiftly as possible– and then, presumably, to change everything once again, ad infinitum. Liberals call this program of perpetual alteration progress or revolution, but its real name, once again, is death, which is why sane people oppose it. The modern liberal hatred of difference, for example, is formally indistinguishable from the modern liberal worship of entropy or – to give it its real name – death.

There is a sweet liberal rhetoric which argues the the justification of change is to make culture less artificial and more natural.  The appeal is truer than it can know.

In taking a stand against the conformism of the flow, Traditionalists also take a stand against change and against death. Culture is the human project for overcoming death. Liberalism is the Alzheimer’s Syndrome of culture, which, ending in the obliteration of memory, ends also in the killing-off of the life that those memories carried..

12 thoughts on “Culture is not Nature

  1. Pingback: Culture is not Nature | Reaction Times

  2. Liberals only want to kill off certain cultural details. For example, it is in my opinion more likely that America could be healed of many racial grievances if there was a national ban on teaching people about slavery and segregation. Think of it as a kind of reverse holocaust denial policy. If nobody knew about America’s racial history we’d possibly have less domestic racial strife than we do now. It’s at least a worthy social experiment that would provide “progress” toward a new tomorrow- something a liberal should be willing to buy in to.

    But that cultural detail is central to American liberalism. It is one of their most important cultural narratives. It must live on forever.

    • If everyone knew about the universal history of slavery, the brief North American chapter of slavery would fit in a context. There is no need to cover any truth. The truth, as a mountebank once said, shall set us free.

      My great-great grandmother, a self-described woman of color (femme de couleur), born in Cap Francais (then in Saint-Domingue and now, under the name Cap Haitien, in Haiti) owned two human chattels, according to her last will and testament, dated New Orleans 1832, the holograph of which I own.

      The Roman Empire was a slave-society. Under the Christian emperors, slavery was abolished. In what state does the K-through-12 curriculum teach that?

  3. Good stuff, but I think it should be emphasized that culture is in a way ‘natural’ simply because of what constitutes a human. Culture for us is as natural as the web is for the spider, but we are differentiated from such lowly beasts because of our gifts of psychic and metaphysical reality. It is these which allow us to transcend a merely material nature of tooth and claw. Culture should not be seen merely as an act of will, a Hobbesian conception, that we begrudgingly foil our own inclinations to secure our property. Instead, when man exists outside of civilization it is because something has gone terribly wrong. Left to his own devices, man must create culture, he must create civilization, for in his Fallen state, it is the only way he can mirror that which he has fallen from, the divine grandeur of the celestial hierarchy.

    Towards this beauty in the distance, man is like a weary traveler returning home. His home was never the jungle, it was always the kingdom.

    • Indeed, Mark. You will notice that I made a parenthetical qualification of my usage of the word nature in the little disquisition: “Supposing for the sake of argument that nature is as modern liberal people suppose it to be.” Of course, I assume nature to be quite other than as modern liberal people suppose it to be; the modern liberal mentality sees only dead shapes sliding down the slope of entropy, whereas I see a vital, teleologically ordered cosmos.

  4. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2016/03/06) - Social Matter

  5. Well said, Tom. I agree that the meanings of words must be fixed for language to survive. But language is also negentropic in its capacity for rapid hybridization. By their nature, languages spontaneously recombine elements to create new utterances. In this respect, languages are promiscuous bonders, like the element at the basis of life, carbon (and isn’t it interesting that contemporary liberals have turned carbon into their arch-villain?).

  6. Language is entropic when the people who use it grow careless how they use it and simply let things happen to usage. On the other hand, preservation of the language is necessarily an intentional, and therefore a negentropic, activity; but coining metaphorical meanings is also intentional and negentropic, as long as the new connotation is not preserved at the expense of the older connotations, which are retained. Have I followed you accurately?

    Here are a couple of relevant paragraphs from an essay of mine on Owen Barfield:

    I said to my students, “Let me make a demonstration to illustrate Barfield’s thesis in History in English Words.” I set out two tracks measured by dollar bills at regular intervals from the back of the room to the front of the room. “Let the back of the room be the year 10,000 BC,” I say, “the moment when the original Proto-Indo-European speakers began to leave their homeland for parts far away. Let the first dollar bill in each track represent a word that I coin, out of necessity, on coming to a new territory, and encountering a new phenomenon. I pick up the first dollar bill and I now have that new word and its meaning, including the aspect of the world that it names. The centuries pass. The next dollar bill represents the first coinage used in a new context by a great-grandchild, perhaps. Notice that I now have two bills rather than one; and stage by stage I have three, four five – and finally ten bills, each representing a nuance of the word in an expanded horizon of its meanings. I also have that many more aspects of the world, which the variants name.

    “Now,” I continue, “I shall leave that word-hoard on the table, in 2016, as it were. I return to the back of the room – to 10,000 BC – to repeat my curriculum. I pick up the first bill, but when I pick up the second, I discard the first, and so on until I reach the front of the room, whereupon I deposit a single bill beside the stack of ten bills on the table. And that bill stands for only the latest meaning of the word.” I turn to the students. “In respect of language,” I ask, “which would you rather have – or which strikes you as the most richly applicable and useful – the stack of ten bills or the single bill?” The students answer, immediately and unanimously: “The single bill.”

  7. Yes, language has the potential to become increasingly differentiated (that is negentropic), as your thought-experiment demonstrates. But why do the students prefer the single bill?

    • Their adamant and unanimous argument is that having all those meanings would be confusing so that it’s better to have just one, the most recent one.


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