It’s like someone put our culture in a centrifuge. Things now move away from one another at speed. The Vegas "player," the Meth crisis task force administrator, the person in LA who casts actors for films and television, the Atlanta housewife equestrian, the museum administrator in the Miami Latin community, the Dallas 14 year old who spends most of her time playing Dragon Age, the electrical engineer who works for Ford, these people live a long way a way from one another, culturally speaking. They are not just out of shouting distance. They work from different assumptions. They inhabit different world views.
Which is not to say they do not need one another. These days serendipity is our special friend. Because while the problem these people face may be diverse, the solutions share certain structural properties. And even if this is not true, the truth of one domain makes a dandy and illuminating metaphor for another. If these parties could talk to one another, they would be immediately or indirectly valuable to one another.
But of course they don’t talk to one another. They do not have the translation table necessary for even a simple conversation. So even simple conversations can be too laborious to establish the momentum conversations must achieve to sustain themselves. If we don’t get airborne in quite short order, we just stop talking.
Plus of course distance makes for its own kind of difficulty. Some years ago I was sitting in a Kansas hotel bar chatting somewhat awkwardly with a senior African American male. He was nursing a drink while his wife met with other women in the ballroom next door. (They were talking about how to raise African American kids in the prosperous suburbs of the middle and upper middle class.) It took the husband and me some time to establish a link. It took still more time to find a topic. It then took a while to talk about the topic. (This proved to be the why the women were meeting next door.) There was a lot of "not saying" and "not asking" which required a lot of guessing on my part. To be honest, I’m still not exactly sure about some of what I "learned."
What we need are mediators. No, not that kind of mediator. Not the kind who comes in and helps everyone "get to yes." I mean a more literal kind of mediator. We are not talking about shared interest or conciliation. We’re talking about shared understanding. This is the mediator who brings the casting agent and the electrical engineer together and helps them achieve mutual comprehension.
Think of yourself as a Rosetta Stone, a translation table capable of turning one language into another. This would make a great exercise. Choose two people and "translate" them. It would make a good thesis. Specify all the things in a detailed, thoughtful way that one party needs to know about the other. Come to that, it would make a fantastic book. In any case, it’s a wonderful contribution to culture, to the culture of culture.
Photo: Fernand Braudel (1902 – 1985), the French geographer, who was very good at translation. See the Wikipedia entry here.
McCracken, Grant. 2011. Making Culture, Provoking Culture. This Blog Sits At The Intersection of Economics and Anthropology. January 13. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2011. Making Culture, Categorizing Culture. This Blog Sits At the Intersection of Economics and Anthropology. January 10. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2011. Making Culture, Mapping Culture. This Blog Sits At The Intersection of Economics and Anthropology. January 7. here.