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Can tribes revive culture? Are we going to be ethical?


In the past year, moral philosophy or ethics has been a vital part of the things going on in my life and the questions I am asking or am asked. This seems only merely related to twitter, facebook and all the other (online) things that I consider just as important.

Now, a few minutes ago I started watching this: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/seth_godin_on_the_tribes_we_lead.html. About a minute into the thing, something was said about media and tribes. Being a half-trained media scientist, immediately I thought about Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan wrote about media theory related to tribes about half a centur ago. And now it turns out that he was right. Absolutely right. Argue with me about this. But he was right.

McLuhan wrote that media have been influencing humankind ever since we evolved. According to his theory, there have been three big eras in human media connection:

  • The Oral Tribe Culture.
  • The Gutenberg Galaxy.
  • The Electronic Age.

According to McLuhan, the oral tribe culture ended with the invention of the Gutenberg press. Which means that a German changed media history. Yay.

With Marconi’s invention of a radio transmitter, we entered the Electronic Age. At this moment, we are at the point of the timeline where the graph’s slope grows exponentially – almost at the maximum. At the peak. But not quite yet. What has to happen for us to get there?

The answer is easy. We have to find the purpose. Last Tuesday, I watched the musical Avenue Q on Broadway. My first Broadway experience and I thought it was fabulous. The whole thing is about finding your purpose. And this is what humanity is doing right now. We just got out of college (the Gutenberg Galaxy) and now have to find out what we can do with all the knowledge and skills we have aquired in the past years that is fulfilling to us and the rest of us.

At this point in life it seems, many people find that there is some ethical point to their life. I found it and Princeton (main part in Avenue Q, college graduate, ironic name?) did too. His purpose, he found, is to help others. And this should be the purpose of everyone to an extent, I believe. Because if we help others, we act ethically. And there is a good chance that this will influence us in other ways.

I also read a Time article on Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office today. After I saw his address from Saturday on CNN last night. — Being unemployed makes you informed. — The article and Obama himself talked about change of culture. Which is what Avenue Q talks about as well. Whatever the cultural change in any of today’s public and not-so-public debates talks about, after almost one decade in the 21st century, what underlies the cultural change is ethics. Simple, but fascinating.

I am not claiming to be ethical or moral in any way. I do things that are wrong and I know that. I can tolerate the fact that I do. I don’t judge. Not others, not myself. It would be arrogant to judge myself and not others and it would not be very compassionate to judge others and not myself. So I just don’t judge anyone.

Nonetheless, I try to act ethically and encourage others to do so by living by example.

Back to Marshall McLuhan and ethics. McLuhan described the Electronic Age as an era of the Global Village. He meant that with the interconnections and interdependencies that the electronic era will bring, we will be living in a big village –  a global village. — Just to throw that in here: Would there have been globalization if no one would have coined the term? — In this global village, we live in tribes.

And that is what Seth Godin is talking about. The idea is, however, that we choose the tribe we live in. We are not born into a certain tribe and either have to live in it and abide by the rules it imposes on us or leave the tribe, but we can choose. And we can choose if we want to lead the tribe or if we want to participate, watch or ignore what is going on in it. I cannot count the many membership accounts on websites I have opened in the past ten years (which is more than a thrid of my life), but have not looked at in the past six months.

While Godin is talking about leadership in those tribes and how it happens (yes, leadership happens, anyone ever tried to put a grown-up in front of a group of kids and say “Listen to him, please”?), McLuhan talked about why there are tribes. But both talk about the culture that comes with it. Humanity finding its purpose. Finding out that we need to be ethical to fulfill our purpose. It would be grand to say that ethical behavior is our purpose. And it probably is wrong. Which is why I am not saying it. But I would like to say that ethical ehavior is what is part of our adolescence as a species. Until we grow up.