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Transcending Place and Time in Mirror for Man
In the given passage from Mirror for Man, Clyde Kluckhorn explains the similarities and differences between cultures by first defining the anthropological concept of "culture" and then explaining his definition.
The definition Kluckhorn gives relies heavily on common sense. Culture is:
"the total life way of a people, the social legacy individuals acquire from their group. Or culture can be regarded as that part of the environment that is the creation of human beings."
By giving us this definition, Kluckhorn immediately deletes any chance of mininterpreting the word and concept of culture.
Kluckhorn starts his explanation of this definition by simplifying the concept. He says that a person's acts cannot be explained merely in terms of biology, the life experiences of that person, and/or the immediate situation. Instead "the past experience of other people in the form of culture enters into almost every event". It is not we who determine our culture, but our ancestors who determined for us.
Kluckhorn is saying that who we are -- our culture -- is based on how the people who have the responsibility of raising us were raised by their role models, who were influenced by their role models, and so on.
To illustrate his point, Kluckhorn gives examples of times when the culture someone was raised in plays a major role in determining how the person will react in a given situation -- often how they will react to an aspect of another culture. The examples all showed that one's own culture is where one feels safest. Kluckhorn's illustrations of how people react negatively to other cultures seems to prove the axiom that man's biggest fear is of change.
Despite the almost overwhelming influences of culture, there is still human nature to consider. Basically, all human being are the same. All are similar in biology and in that they must observe the physical laws of nature. Yet the differences between cultures stem from the once original, individual ways of dealing with these problems. Man and his problems are universly the same, but it is his dealing with these problems that is different, and these dealings are determined by the predecessors of each culture. This is the very essence of how Kluckhorn explains the anthropological differences and similarities between cultures.
As for my views, I agree with Professor Kluckhorn wholeheartedly although all of my experience has been in the American culture with various subcultures.
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I recently moved from a large, private high school in an eastern metropolitan area to a small public school in a secluded rural area on the West Coast. Indeed the differences were astounding. Gone were my chances of going to the theatre once or twice a month. Gone was the ability to get on a bus and shop for my every need in a five mile radius. Gone was my selection of first run movies. The latest songs are only attainable by driving an hour to a store or praying that the cable hooked up to your stereo is working.
Despite the radical differences, the kids I go to school with are surprizingly similar. The main concern was still acceptance. Everybody still looked for a good time on the weekends. Teenagers still had to deal with the problems of identity and sexuality. Yet it was the ways in which they dealt with these problems that created the greatest, and often as an outsider trying to join in, the most shocking.
Partying was the main outlet for fun and drinking was not accepted but expected. To deal with the problem of more aesthetic entertainment, teens bought tapes of the favorite groups by the armloads and rented their favorite movies and watched them on the VCR. The problems were the same, but how they dealt with those problems differed. I asked alot of questions and found out my new home had always been like this. Traditions had been passed down and behaviors were expected to fall into the same pattern. This, once again, illustrates Kluckhorn's theory.
As a final note, is it not this universalty that makes good literature good? Can not modern teenagers identify with Romeo and Juliet, Huckleberry Finn, or Odysseus? The similarity of man not only transcends the problem of place, but also that of time.
Discusses Kluckhohn's rhetorical strategies in some detail. Paragraphs one through five show how Kluckhohn defines culture, explains its transmission through "role models," and shows its influence in action. Paragraph six summarizes his ideas about the relative influences of culture and biology. Paragraphs seven through ten then draw on the writer's experience to show how the needs of adolescence and local mores create similarities and differences between the student bodies of two high schools the writer has attended. To introduce this discussion, in paragraph seven the writer notes that Kluckhohn's distinction applies to subcultures as much as cultures; this application of Kluckhohn's idea shows that the writer understands the passage and can apply Kluckhohn's ideas to areas of the writer's own experience that Kluckhohn does not explicitly mention.
As a whole, the essay shows a reasonable understanding of Kluckhohn's ideas and applies those ideas to the author's experience sensibly. Nevertheless, it sometimes reports or exemplifies Kluckhohn's ideas in ways that are not fully satisfactory: in paragraph three, for example, Kluckhohn is not "simplifying" the concept of culture; in paragraph nine, the "surprizingly similar" characteristics of the teenagers in the western high school are not all very convincingly tied to biology rather than to generally-shared American culture. At times, too -- most prominently in the statements about fear of change at the end of paragraph five and about the "universalty" of literature in the final paragraph -- the essay drifts off to obervations not integrated into its central development. In spite of these flaws, however, the essay analyzes and responds to Kluckhohn adequately.
The prose of this essay is serviceable rather than sophisticated. It uses coherence devices competently and at least once consciously patterns sentences to reinforce meaning (see the series of sentences beginning "Gone" in paragraph eight). Though there are occasional instances of awkward phrasing ("deletes any chance," paragraph 2) and syntax ("Man and his problems are universaly the same, but it is his dealing with these problems that is different," paragraph 6), as a whole this essay meets the standard of competence.