Dictionary.Com has the following entries for the word culture:
"Culture [kuhl-cher]/ˈkʌl tʃər/ 1. the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc. 2. That which is excellent in the arts, manners, etc. 3. A particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a certain nation or period: Greek culture.4. Development or improvement of the mind by education or training. 5. The behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.6. Anthropology. The sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another and so on."
This is an omnibus definition; let me boil it down a bit. Culture is a comprehensive term; it encompasses the way a group of human beings (or other animals) did things in the past, do them in the present and want to do them in the future.
Human beings are culture bearing creatures. They find themselves in an environment and want to survive in it. They do things that they believe would enable them to adapt to their environment and over time certain behavior patterns appear the best way they have found to adapt to their particular environment.
Thus, we can define culture as that which a group of people have always done to adapt to their particular environment.
There is nothing particularly sacrosanct about culture; culture is simply a way a people believe that they adapt to their world.
For example, people eat certain animals, fishes, fruits and vegetables found in their world; they prepare them in certain dishes; in eating those food items they survive in their environment.
People seek varieties so they do not prepare food dishes in only one way; they seek variety of ways to prepare their food; variety is the spice of life; doing things the same way is boring; eating food prepared in the same manner is boring and actually uninviting. Thus, over time a group of people develop a food culture.
By the same token, people find themselves in a certain clime and its weather forces them to devise clothes and use them to adapt to the vagaries of their climate. If it is a cold place like Alaska people devise thick clothes to ward off the cold or else they would die off; if it is a tropical place like Africa they may even go naked for clothes appear not necessary for survival in hot weathers (in the summers in the USA folks practically go naked for they see clothes as superfluous).
People build certain types of houses that their environment calls for them to survive in them. People develop means of transportation, such as bicycles, cars, trains, planes, rockets; they develop means of communication such as writing, newspapers, magazines, books, radio, television, Internet and so on.
People are animals with consciousness and, as such, do wonder if there is more to their lives than meets the eyes. In the here and now world, they are born, live and die and like other animals and plants rot and decay back to matter. Is death their end? They do not know for sure and speculate on whether there is life after they die. They posit conjecturers on life after death and what they have to do to attain that life. The sum of their speculations on life after death and what they have to do to attain that hereafter life is called religion and philosophy. Religion and philosophy is crucial part of human culture.
People develop language to communicate with one another and name the things in their environment.
Simply stated, people develop ways to adapt to their environment; the sum total of what people do to adapt to the particular exigencies of their world is their culture. Culture is everything people do to cope with the exigencies of their world.
So far in history, most human cultures are particularistic and not universalistic, that is, is germane to the particular part of the world it is formed and may not apply to other parts of the world (so far, science is probably the only human endeavor that is universalistic in its parameters).
Human beings appear to need culture to survive the challenges posed by their particular environment; we can tentatively say that without culture people would die off.
Because culture is that which enables a group to survive in their world they pass it to their offspring; each generation of human beings is socialized to its people's culture. By the time a child reaches adulthood he has been socialized into a culture and internalized its parameters; if he did not do so and practice what his people believe enable them to survive he probably would die off.
Cultures seem necessary for human survival. However, there are aspects of culture that do not seem necessary for survival but have entertainment value. Sports, music, arts and so on make life interesting and beautiful but are not necessarily what people must do to survive?
Some people find survival without aspects of what we might call entertainment culture not worth it. For example, I find classical music absolutely necessary for my survival; indeed, as I am typing this material Beethoven is playing in the background. I doubt that I would want to live in a world without beautiful music, art and philosophy and the other things that make my living delightful; different cultural artifacts seem necessary for other people's survival.
Human beings are culture forming animals; there is no doubt about that. However, culture is not something to be deified. Culture is that which a group did to enable them survive in the past and do to enable them survive in the present.
What enables people to adapt to their world in the past may or may not enable them to do so in the present and future.
Human beings are locomotive creatures; they do go to other groups and see how they live. They are affected by how other people live.
If you live in India and have learned Indian culture that enabled you to survive in India and you go to live in Britain you would be exposed to how English people survive in their environment. To survive in England you probably have to learn aspects of English culture and combine them with your original Indian culture.
Culture is thus always dynamic; it is not static; culture is always diffusing from one place to another; other cultures influence one's culture; that is the way cultures change.
In our fast changing world, any culture that remains static is probably not going to survive; behavior that was adaptive yesterday may not be so in the fast paced world we now live in.
Most extant cultures were formed before the scientific era. We can date the beginning of the scientific era in the West in 1543 when Nicholas Copernicus posited that the earth revolves around the sun and the earth is not the center of the universe, as the Church had taught.
Of course, aspects of science existed everywhere in the pre-coppernicusian world, but organized science as we now know it began in Europe in the sixteenth century of our common era.
We can now say that we live in the age of science (religion had its age but our age is the age of science).
Science is a methodological approach to phenomena; science is the approach to living that accepts only what can be observed, seen with the human senses, verified to be there and if necessary replicated in the laboratory and is shown to be true.
Science is not like religion because religion accepts unproven ideas as true, especially if some credible religious authority said that they are true (religion is based on authority not facts); science accepts ideas as true if all of us following the scientific method can prove them to ourselves that they are true.
For example, we all can prove that water is composed of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen; we can further prove the nature of those atoms: hydrogen is composed of one particle of electron and one participle of proton in its nucleus, except in hydrogen's isotopes where it may have one or two neutrons; oxygen is composed of eight electrons, and eight protons and eight neutrons in its nucleus; protons and neutrons are composed of quarks; we can proceed and show that quarks are composed of photons and that electrons are also composed of photons.
That is to say that we can demonstrate the nature of aquatic phenomenon using the scientific method. We do not need to argue about what is water for we can simply study it, analyze it and understand it and agree as to what it is.
What we do to water we do to most aspect of physical phenomena. At present, there are many things that science has not understood, such as dark matter and dark energy, both constituting 96% of the universe.
Much of the world's extant cultures were formed in prescientific times. Thus, we can say that much of human culture is not scientific.
Since we now know that scientific ideas are more accurate ideas about nature it follows that much of our cultures are not necessarily accurate representations of phenomena.
It follows that one's cultural representations of phenomena is largely unscientific. This is so all over the world.
We can say that Western culture is about 90% unscientific and only about 10% scientific. That is to say that Western culture is largely primitive! The average white American sees the world from the lenses of his religion, which are not scientific, hence he lives unscientific life (I consciously said white America and excluded black Americans, for black Americans are not yet part of American culture and therefore their culture is probably only 2% scientific!).
Empirical observation can demonstrate that African cultures are at least 99% unscientific; that is, African cultures are not based on accurate representation of phenomena.
Since science and its applied form, technology appear the most effective adaptation to the environment, it follows that much of African culture is no longer adaptive to our fast changing human environment. Much of African culture is primitive (if primitive is defined as pre-science).
Therefore, to say that something is based on African culture is not necessarily to say that it is scientific or adaptive to the exigencies of our modern world.
As a person, I am sick and tired of hearing Africans always talking about their culture and taking pride in them, taking pride in non-adaptive and nonscientific ideas!
As I see it, Africans must consciously and deliberately destroy aspects of their cultures that are not scientific and replace them with scientific culture.
Such behavior is not unprecedented. Mao Tse Tung and his communist party tried to do this in China during the 19t60s Cultural Revolution. Apparently, Mao and his leadership group realized that their ancient Confucian culture held them back and prevented them from competing with the West and set about destroying their 4000 years old culture. The result is that today's China is almost at the same level of development as the West; indeed, the Chinese economy is poised to take over as the world's number one economy.
If Africans are to become competitive in the global economy obviously they have to do away with their mostly primitive culture and replace them with modern culture.
Consider Nigeria's clothing culture. Hausas and Yorubas wear agbada (Igbos are increasingly imitating them). Those flowing robes were formed in the Middle East. Nigerians on the Haj to Mecca apparently copied them and now call them their national attire.
The Arabs who formed those grotesque robes no longer wear them in the form that Nigerians currently wear them (middle class Arabs wear suites, as they should).
Nigerians living in the riverine areas came into contact with the Portuguese in the fifteenth century (1470s) and were exposed to the attire of Europeans.
Europeans have moved on in their clothing culture but the Ijaw still call the clothes they borrowed from Europeans five hundred years ago their national dress (they even wear the bawler hats that they saw Vasco Dagama on his way to India in 1494 wear!).
Clearly, agbada is not designed for work in factories and modern offices. Can you imagine a scientist in his laboratory wearing the monstrosity called agbada in his chemistry laboratory? He would be dragging test tubes filled with inflammatory chemicals into Bunsen burners and their fire and setting the lab on fire!
An argument can be made that Nigerians unproductivity is largely due to their clothing culture; clearly, to be as productive as the West Nigerians must do what the Chinese did: discard their traditional attire and wear Western work clothes, suits etc.
Spurious African nationalists will probably see what is advocated here as a product of self-hatred and hatred of African culture. No, this is not self-hatred or hatred of African culture, whatever that is.
What exactly is African culture? Is wearing discarded Portuguese and Arab clothes African culture? Is eating germs infested food African food culture?
Is African culture hacking back to what folks think were what Egyptians did? It does not take too much reasoning to realize that ancient Egyptians lived in the Mediterranean climate of North Africa and must therefore have looked like other persons who lived around them, brown in color; they probably looked like today's Arabs.
And even if Egyptians were black in color what has their culture got to do with us today? They lived 5000 years ago when the idea of science had not entered human consciousness (we can see what the Greeks, especially Plato, Aristotle and Democritus did as the progenitor of science but not real science).
I read some confused African Americans trying to return to what they call Egyptian religion, what they call Kermit religion.
Is religion not a prescientific approach to phenomena? Mr. Molefe Asante and his fellow Afrocentrists are mere narcissists whose pride were pricked by the ascendency of Europe and they want to take refuge in what seem to them superior ancient African culture. Feeling ones vanity attacked and reacting with anger to assuage that vanity is not the same thing as being realistic.
We now must accept the world of science and give up the nonsense of Egyptian culture, whatever that is. I am not persuaded by Chiak Anta Diop and Chancellor Williams saying that ancient Egypt was African; frankly, I do not care; I care only about how to make contemporary Africa modernized, not about its so-called past chimerical glory.
So, ancient Africans built the pyramids, eh? Big deal; what concerns me is that today Africans in South Sudan are walking around butt naked! Clothe them and send them to school and teach them the physical sciences and forget about their ancestors building castles in the sky.
Listen, rational culture must match what is going on in the physical sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, geology and astrophysics); if what you do is not congruent with science it is anti-science; what is anti-science is primitive; calling it your culture is mere delusion that will kill you.
As a matter of fact, unless Africans change and join the modern world and stop harping on their primitive cultures they will die off; harping on primitive practices that do not conduce to competing with other people in the modern global economy would make Africans like dinosaurs or the dodo bird that did not adapt to changed environments and died off.
In case some Africans feel somehow diminished by accepting science, feeling their pride hurt, feeling like they are imitating the West let it be stated that science does not belong to any human group; science is a human thing, so, one should not be ashamed of embracing scientific frame of reference.
Africans can only survive in the modern world if they destroyed their traditional cultures instead of being proud of them; they must embrace the scientific culture, a culture based on science not past unscientific traditions and religions.
*For ten years I participated at Nigerian and African Internet forums; I joined other Nigerians and Africans in expressing my opinions on all kinds of subjects. I was aware that my opinions were not particularly paid attention to by Africans, certainly not by those in a position to put them to use. Nigeria has not progressed one bit since I began proffering opinions on how to solve its myriad problems; indeed, if anything it has degenerated. Nigeria has actually retrogressed. Nigerians just elected Mr. Mohammandu Buhari as their president and he seems totally out to lunch and has no clue what to do about the problems of the country; all he does is tell us what he will do in the future, not what he is doing in the present. He tells us that he will fight corruption but he is not now doing it; he says that he will develop the country but he is not doing it. The man is simply a deadwood. Nigerians and Africans appear lacking in leadership skills and seen unable to govern themselves. Many folks (see Donald Trump's recent assessment of African leaders as lazy, unintelligent and corrupt, fuckers) are actually contemplating having Europeans recolonize Africa and see if that would help govern Africa well. I do not know about that. What I do know is that I am done expressing idle opinions on how to fix Nigeria's problems. I now refocus my attention to doing other things and leave Nigerians to their eternal inability to do simple things right; I leave them to steal to their hearts' content, and not produce any thing that the rest of the world demands (except oil that nature, not them put in their soil). I hope that the above essay helps Nigerians and Africans to pay realistic attention to the shibboleth of culture; they currently employ the idea of culture and need to take pride in it in deluding themselves; they use culture to avoid doing what they have to do in the present to be like the rest of the world; Asians discarded their ancient cultures and have almost caught up with Europeans and Nigerians are still living in the pre-industrial, pre-scientific world; these people are pathetic and one should no longer waste ones time on them. I bow out. I have had enough of being a part of the Nigerian noise making crowd.
Ozodi Osuji, PhD
University of Alaska
October 31, 2015