Why do we have to preserve our culture

Cultural education

Eva Leipprand

Since 2008 Eva Leipprand has been on the board of the Greens city council group in Augsburg and also on the board of the Kulturpolitische Gesellschaft, on the board of the Bavarian Association of Cities and Towns, in the Association of German Writers (Advisory Board for the Bavarian State Association) and spokeswoman for the Federal Working Group on Culture Alliance 90 / The Greens.

We actually all know that we have a problem, we read about it in the newspaper every day. And we do something too, we often ride bicycles and buy energy-saving lamps. The climate is changing relentlessly, but somehow we can't think of anything else than what we've always done ... Eva Leipprand writes about the gap between knowledge and action, the necessary change in thought patterns, the limits of progress and growth and the good life - and what all of this has to do with cultural education.

Performance by the clown Antoschka at the didactic dialogue "The future is now!" Cultural and political education for sustainable development in November 2011, Berlin. (& copy Laure Gilquin / bpb)

Let me start by telling you a story.
It is about Easter Island - located in the middle of the Pacific, a paradise overgrown with huge palm trees. The first people, Polynesians, arrived on the island around AD 900. They lived without worries, built seaworthy canoes, planted fields, ate birds and fish, were fertile and multiplied. They developed a thriving culture, a theocracy with clear rules for the community. They cut huge stone sculptures out of the rocks and set them up as a symbol of the importance of their chiefs, and since there were different clans, a competition arose for the largest figures, which were transported and erected with the help of a lot of palm wood. - 800 years later, the first Europeans set foot on the island, Captain Cook with his ship. They encountered a terrifying scene. There was not a single tree left and only a few inhabitants left in a miserable condition. And rats. Plus countless gigantic sculptures, some still upright, others fallen over and broken.

Jared Diamond tells this story in his book "Collapse"; In it he describes cultures that came under pressure and perished due to various factors, in particular self-inflicted environmental damage.

Here must first the term "culture" :: "Culture" is mostly used in two different meanings - in the broader sense as the overall complex that contains religion, science, art, morality, laws, habits and customs, that which man learns as part of a society and also at passes on to the next generations. The culture determines the way in which the human perceives the seemingly chaotic world and organizes it for himself. How he makes himself at home in the world.

Culture in the narrower sense (the arts) provides the images, stories, music, also design and architecture, by means of which the cultural codes can be created, preserved or changed. That is the language a society uses to reflect on itself. This is where the symbols and value systems, the norms that determine and hold our society together, arise and disappear.

Cultural Codings

Diamond is about culture in a broader sense. In his book he also describes how some cultures manage to adapt to a changed situation and thus survive (e.g. Japan with its reforestation program in the 16th century; Holland as polderland; the Inuit as hunters and fishermen under extreme conditions ).

Let's look at our own society.

We're fine, we've grown rapidly over the past two hundred years, we've created a thriving culture. With our ingenuity, we are constantly optimizing our living conditions. We believe in growth, we produce more and more cars, more T-shirts, more iPhones, we buy a new, even larger flat screen TV to keep up with our neighbors or possibly even outperform them, and in the process we use up our resources and bring them Glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising, and it is quite conceivable that if aliens were to find their way onto this planet in two hundred years, they would have to be as surprised as Captain Cook did on Easter Island. How could they be so stupid?

We have to assume, however, that the men who felled the trees on Easter Island were by no means stupid until there was no one left, but rather stuck in their culture; that they acted with the certainty that they were doing the right thing. In any case, they couldn't think of anything else. And that's exactly how it is today. We all know somehow that we have a problem, a pretty big one, and we read about it in the newspaper every day. And we do something too, we often ride bicycles and buy energy-saving lamps. But the climate is changing relentlessly, and soon the Northwest Passage is completely free of ice. We have just received new, depressing figures: CO2 emissions are rising sharply again worldwide, and all previous efforts seem to have come to nothing. And we know the consequences. But somehow we don't want to think of anything else than what we've always done, that was always good and has brought us far.

The gap between knowledge and action

There is a gap between knowledge and action, and that gap is also, and essentially, a cultural one. We do not perceive our surroundings and our own actions objectively, but through the lens of our cultural ideas. We developed these ideas in order to be able to survive better. They were a competitive advantage in evolution. You have made our species tremendously successful, with 7 billion we rule the world. But it is precisely because of this success that the situation has fundamentally changed. And now it is these ideas that make us blind; they prevent us from seeing what we need to do now to secure our future. No matter how much numerical material the natural scientists can accumulate for us, we have not yet been able to react adequately. That is why I have refrained from frightening you here today with diagrams on climate change and the waste of resources. We prefer to talk about the cultural challenge we are facing.

Harald Welzer, social psychologist, describes in his fascinating essay "Mental infrastructures. How growth came into the world and into souls", the human brain as a "biocultural organ", "whose developmental conditions are not only biological but also always cultural. " It doesn't just depend on our genes, but also on what we think. "Living environments are not only determined by material and institutional infrastructures, but also by mental ones". Welzer explains that the idea of ​​perpetual growth could only arise with industrialization, with the constantly increasing use of fossil energies. As a result, man began to understand himself as a being who has to keep growing, who is not enough for himself, but has to put himself under pressure to make something of himself. This idea would have been alien to medieval man. Today nothing is ever finished, the work never stops. We can all see this in ourselves. That is the mentality of the homo oeconomicus. In the post-war period in particular, growth became the decisive paradigm - not only in the economy, but also for the state in order to be able to satisfy the growing needs of its citizens. Steady growth was - and still is - a prerequisite for social justice and peace. Consumption is increasingly becoming a creation of meaning, an expansion of the self, the commodity acquires symbolic value. And in doing so, humans consume the earth's resources, first where they live, then through ever wider geographical reach, and now that the finiteness of the world has become visible, they consume the future, the chances of future generations.

If we want to stop this process or at least slow it down - and this is essential - we have to deal with the mental structures of the homo oeconomicus. We need a cultural change. It is important to see that the mental structures of homo oeconomicus are not God-given. That they only emerged in this blatant form in the last two hundred years and are not, as is often said, innate.