The Four Cultures of Star Wars

Star Wars - Original ScriptAs I write this on the train home, my neighbour  is watching Star Wars: A New Hope on his portable DVD player. The bleeps and moans of R2D2 and Chewbacca come through clearly on his earphones. Thirty two years after its release, the movie and its myth-making are evidently still going strong. But what is it that gives this particular story its staying power?

I think it works partly because it recognises the existence of the Four Cultures and the endless conflicts and settlements between them.

Here’s how it works:

Continue reading

The Four Cultures of Marketing Ethics

smoking-santaMarketing, whether of a product or an idea, can be overt or it can be covert.

In the former everyone can see what’s happening and can willingly consent to it. The latter, though  can become out and out manipulation. Mostly, there’s a big grey area in between. Continue reading

The Four Cultures of Science Fiction

As a genre, sci-fi is par excellence concerned with culture. What would it be like to visit an alien world? How would its inhabitants operate, and how would they differ from us?

In a way it’s a kind of theoretical anthropology. Think of Ursula Le Guin’s inquiry into a culture of hermaphrodites in The Left Hand of Darkness, or of Iain M. Banks’s series of novels in which he explores the political permutations of a culture that has abolished scarcity – a culture provocatively named ‘the Culture’. Continue reading

The Dam Bursts

credit: mandj98Imagine a village nestled in a valley below a large dam.

One morning the villagers look up from their houses to see very clearly that the dam has suddenly burst and a huge quantity of flood water is incontrovertibly rushing down the valley towards the defenceless settlement.

It has all happened so fast there is no way of stopping it. And no-one is doubting the reality of the predicament: the village is about to be entirely consumed by the raging flood.

So far, so certain. The facts are there to be seen by all. So, given this, why doesn’t everyone do the same thing? Surely the best course of action is obvious.

The theory of Four Cultures suggests that even when the facts are clearly known, there are four main ways people interpret their environment. Continue reading

The Dark Side of Cultural Theory

Nick Naylor: Right there, looking into Joey’s eyes, it all came back in a rush. Why I do what I do. Defending the defenseless, protecting the disenfranchised corporations that have been abandoned by their very own consumers: the logger, the sweatshop foreman, the oil driller, the land mine developer, the baby seal poacher…
Polly Bailey: Baby seal poacher?
Bobby Jay Bliss:
Even *I* think that’s kind of cruel.

Thank You For Smoking (2005)

Grid-group cultural theory proposes that there’s a constant and endless argument going on about ‘the facts of the matter’. We look at the evidence that suits our cultural biases – moreover we create the evidence to fit our take on the world. Continue reading

Energy Efficiency: Running to stand still?

Pickering Traction Engine Rally, P. StevensonIs energy efficiency a key factor in reducing greenhouse emissions?

Matthew Taylor of the RSA thinks home energy efficiency should take priority, and Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute is also very keen on large scale efficiency gains.

The Jevons Paradox is the idea formulated in 1865 that making coal-burning more efficient will lead inexorably to the burning of yet more coal. Newcomen’s steam engine dramatically increased the use of coal in England and William Jevons’ (1835-1882) book The Coal Question noted this. but Jevons  also saw that James Watt’s more efficient version was what made coal-burning really take off, truly inaugurating the ‘age of steam’. He wrote: Continue reading