Etymology Of Culture: Cultivation To Encapsulation

In a 1771 letter to Robert Skipwith, Thomas Jefferson included a list of books, recommended for a general private library. Amongst them, Cicero’s Tusculan Questions (Tusculanae Disputationes), a series of texts concerning Greek stoicism. Of particular importance to contemporary semantics is Cicero’s use of cultura animi (cultivation of souls), similar to the German bildung (personal growth through philosophic education), as articulated by Wilhelm von Humboldt, which serves as the basis for the contemporary concept of “culture” as concretized in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. What is interesting to note in relation to Cicero’s cultura animi, and contemporary usage of the word “culture,” is the specificity of the former and the all-encompassing broadness of the latter.

For example, contemporary publications speak of data culture, cannabis culture, gang culture, corporate culture and indeed, even crystal (meth) culture, which is to utilize ‘culture’ as a umbrella descriptor for any normative, collective (non-individual) human action and to ignore the (formerly important) aspects of character development (the privileging of cultura animi and bildung) itself. This semantic shift, then, represents a wholesale transition from ‘culture’ as descriptive assessment and proscriptive project, to mere encapsulation (pure description).

Cognizance of this fact raises the pertinent question: Since ‘culture’ is now deployed as a mere placeholder for everything that a group of humans does at any given point in time, regardless of the content of the action(s), what collective behaviors can be rightly described as ‘uncultured?’ Under the contemporary rubric: None. And so, what then is the purpose of using ‘culture’ as opposed to ‘collective action/behavior’ given that they are now used as synonyms?


  1. Adrian Bridgwater. (2019) Tableau Advocates Blueprint For ‘Data Culture’ In Business. Forbes.
  2. Marcus Tullius Cicero. (45 BCE) Tusculanae Disputationes (I-V).
  3. (2002) From Thomas Jefferson to Robert Skipwith, with a List of Books for a Private Library, 3 August 1771, Founders Online, National Archives, accessed September 29, 2019, [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 1, 1760–1776, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950, pp. 76–81.]

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Towards Parallel Institutions

Truly dissident political movements in America have, for some time now, failed and failed horribly. The election of Donald Trump, under the auspices of Steven Bannon, has electrified the nation and brought back the kind of old fashioned nationalist populism that was commonplace during the agrarian reformation. However, the history of American nationalist populism is one of almost complete and utter failure. There are always exceptions, but a exception does not disprove a general rule, it therefore seems likely that the Trumpist populist movement will go the way of the Agrarian Radicalists of old – that is, nowhere. One of the reasons why this seems a likely outcome is the fact that what the modern American populist desires (if they even know what they truly desire, and they oft do not) is not antithetical to the prevailing power-structure but is merely a extension thereof. Like all nationalists worthy of being called as such, the Trumpist populist desires to put “America First”  – a undeniably worthy aim, if only they knew what America happens to be. America, like any other nation, is an idea and like all ideas, it changes overtime and it changes in accordance with the whims of its public. The more the demographics of the country change, the more the conception of what it means to be American. The people ultimately make the laws and the codes, not the other way around and yet America has become so globally expansive, so consumeristically self-absorbed, so capitalistically dogmatic and so confoundingly multicultural, that a clear and present identity of national scale is almost impossible to find. If it cannot be found it must therefore be crafted. By this I do not mean that some kind of inorganic idea-set should be cynically developed and subversively disseminated, no, what I mean is that when one comes to know oneself one’s fellows come to realize how very little they themselves understand their social placing – realizing, in horror, that there is not, nor will ever be, within the system, any place for them, no residency for true communal participation – for such a thing is a construction of the past; they are merely cogs who turn not for any greater purpose than the total sublimation of any and all identities underneath the self-replicating, iron-monolith of capital and politics for its own sake.

Understandably, such individuals, upon becoming cognizant of the horrid reality of their situation desire to extricate themselves from the internet of things. Exit. But they can’t. A father with a wife and kids can not simply pack up and quit his soul-crushing, dead-end job, punching stamps under eye-bleating florescent tubes, no more than a college student can just leave the filthy, condom strew, multi-culty coastal slum without severe repercussions to their prospective “livelihood,” communal circle (if they even have one) and societal standing and, in some cases, their very lives.

An abrupt exit is neither possible nor, typically, truly desirable. Yet something, anything, must clearly be done. Some modicum of action must take place. I thus posit parallel institutionalism. Rather than revolt or subversion one should opt instead for complete and total separation from the prevailing, modernistic machine, from the number crunching and the jittery cataloging of bio-hum suppression. Ideally this would not be a separation of territory but rather a separation of resources. That is to say, one must build towards economies within The Economy. Markets within The Market. A clustered, well structured network of communities which each operate with semi-autonomy, yet cede some portion of their total resources, both financial, physical, mental and otherwise, to the central organizing body or bodies to better bring other prospective cells into the whole body of this grand new organism.

Therefore, if you’re tired of Hollywood propaganda, stop paying for their movies, stop buying their merch. Instead, seek out independent film producers that are devoid of the needling propaganda, who adhere to an ethic of artistic integrity. If you don’t like the plasticine food at your local grocer or the fact that they are shipping jobs overseas or undercutting residential works by utilizing foreign labor, both legal and illegal, then find a small grocer or order from one or start your own or help someone else start their own. This same principal applies to every single sphere of society – if someone is saying something you don’t like, something that you truly cannot abide to listen to, you don’t walk up and punch him in the face, nor do you attempt to de-platform them (least not if you are a civilized individual), you merely walk away and set up a countervailing speech platform elsewhere. So too should those who have no use for, and no prospect of placing within, the current social ordering, set up shop – but not elsewhere – but rather in the beating heart of darkness itself; their congregation growing from dull, dawdling pinpricks of light to soaring spears of solar effervescence that, in goodly time, shall envelope the world entire.

Fractal America, Kodokushi-6771, Prt.1

One of the most fundamental characteristics of the embedded American consciousness, is its rugged individualism, that is, the sovereign and heroic impulse to carve ones own path, to strike out on one’s own into the unknown darkness to there light a fire. Such is to be expected from a nation of wilderness conquering colonists, but sovereign individuality is, as many have rightly noted, a double edged blade which has contributed in no small part (though not in totality) to the scourge of societal atomization that now lies like a dunning pall over the star spangled banner. For most who speak of societal and political atomization, it is a apriori truth evidenced by lived experience, argued via anecdotal accounts of the particular social fabric (or lack thereof) of one’s known area. There are a lot of problems with these personal and locale-specific deductions; first and foremost, the alienated make-up of a particular town or city or even state does not necessarily hold true for any other states or towns within the (considerably expansive terrain) of the United States of America (though the title’s accuracy of late seems somewhat misplaced).

Anecdotes are useful, indeed, indispensable, but anecdotes alone lack scale and thus here it is extremely useful to turn to a more wide scale methodology – the opinion poll. One opinion, one tale or anecdote alone, even if from a trusted source, is unlikely to turn widespread popular opinion but if one sees that widespread popular opinion itself has turned against their conceptions then such conceptions begin readily falling to pieces. Societal atomization is, like most widespread social conundrums, largely, objectively traceable as is evidenced by the continuous results of the annual Harris Poll which finds that political alienation amongst Americans, nationwide, is at an all time high. The survey showed that US adults from the ages of 18 and up believe thus:

  • 82% of Americans do not believe that the people running the country care about them.
  • 78% of Americans believe that the wealth/class gap is growing and that this is bad.
  • 70% of Americans think that the majority of people in power are taking advantage of the poor/lower-class.
  • 68% of Americans believe that their voice doesn’t matter, politically speaking.
  • 40% of Americans feel as if they are “left out” of the major goings-on around them.
  • When broken up by political party, Republicans feel the most alienated, with Independents second-most alienated and Democrats, third. Individuals who obtained a college degree ranked less isolated than those with only high-school or college education, but no degrees (likely resulting from the increased social avenues afforded by good degrees).

When taken in tandem with the studies of the highly lauded and prize winning economists, Angus Deaton and Anne Case – whose worked showed the staggering amount of ever-rising American suicide, which they tied largely to both economic, social and political alienation – the collective data paints a profoundly grim picture of contemporary American life. A picture of disheveled living spaces polluted with the toxins of fast food and click-bait circle-jerking scream-sheets heralding unimaginable horrors, bottom of the barrel alcohol and mindless Hollywood entertainment surreptitiously pushing innumerable agendas which or orbitally drank in and processed without cognizance. A picture of the young moving out of the house to never speak to their parents again, or staying there and still not much talking. A picture of midlife crisis of gang violence and increasing political fragmentation along tribal lines. A picture of increasingly disenfranchised individuals, both young and old; the old, longing for a golden age that they envision incorrectly as the merry, halcyon days of their youth, whilst the young, looking for a tribe and a cause, are ceaselessly bombarded with the notion that the only cause is the eradication of cause and destruction of tribe and the ceaseless tremelling down of all variation. It is a picture of fear and trembling and, most pointedly, despair.

From the pre-abstract statement of Deaton and Case’s study:

Midlife increases in suicides and drug poisonings have been previously noted. However, that these upward trends were persistent and large enough to drive up all-cause midlife mortality has, to our knowledge, been overlooked. If the white mortality rate for ages 45−54 had held at their 1998 value, 96,000 deaths would have been avoided from 1999–2013, 7,000 in 2013 alone. If it had continued to decline at its previous (1979‒1998) rate, half a million deaths would have been avoided in the period 1999‒2013, comparable to lives lost in the US AIDS epidemic through mid-2015. Concurrent declines in self-reported health, mental health, and ability to work, increased reports of pain, and deteriorating measures of liver function all point to increasing midlife distress.

These are, of course, but paltry samples of the total academic corpus concerning this dire and fascinating question, but they show, quite convincingly, how well and reliably these questions’s roots can be traced objectively. Of course, discerning and convincing the American populace of this is but half the battle, the other half, the reformation of a healthy and unified social modality which does not lend itself to ever-increasing rates of suicide, depression and destruction of local customs and history and the bonds formed therefrom, is significantly harder. But there is one profoundly important first step: parallel institutions and a parallel culture(s). For it was, in large part, the institutions of political power (and thus the social groups who put them there), the NGOs and “our” government that are to blame for the current crisis and thus the idea of remaining complacent at their perpetuation is tantamount to insanity. No. They are rotten and when a plant is rotten to the core there is nothing to do but tear it up by the roots!

But parallel cultures and institutions require, axiomatically a very rare commodity – the parallel individual. The et ferro.


Harris Poll: Americans’ Sense of Alienation Remains at Record High

Rising Morbidity & Morality in Midlife Among White, non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st Century.

Nautilus: Alienation Is Killing Americans and Japanese