what matters most then is that, from day one, we are shaped by the culture around us. not only does it equips us with a conspicuous first or last name, a mother tongue and a preferential way of grooming and dressing ourselves, it also cocoons us in a web of traditional practices and belief systems that soon define who we are, what we think, and how we see the world. sometimes nationality is the most potent force acting upon us, sometimes it is ethnicity or religion. insofar as such culture is necessarily sectarian, it immediately positions us in relation to groups that hold different views. “we” are now opposed to “them”. cultural or real wars follow.
at times, in some countries, in some circumstances—through the chance meeting of an exceptional individual for instance—one can shift allegiance and embrace an option more to our liking. on the whole though, the culture within which we are born strictly demarcates our options. do you dare convert to christianity if you are born a moslem? is someone foolish enough to assert his gayness in iran? in sum the dominant culture forces most people to spend their entire life in a way beholden to local traditions. this kind of culture enslaves us.
a subsection of this culture, the chatter of everyday life (the latest in politics, business, entertainment, sports, etc.) is prompted by newspapers, television, and the rest of the social media. these platforms provide topics of discussion when we get together. certain subject matters last quite some time, most flare up then disappear quickly. these conversations are not necessarily worthless but the orthodoxy of the thinking generally associated with them sooner or later shackles us.
in contrast literature and the arts are thoroughly international and trans-historical. they provide vistas beyond the here and now. although they too can be impacted by fads and customs, they are our only means of escape from the local ideology. through them we are able to discover different ways of living and thinking. in a flash, the world opens up and choices arise. this particular culture liberates us.