The Four Cultures – No Way! Oh go on then…

greeneggMost of the dominant analyses of society allow for a straight choice between one of only two conditions. A clear example is political preference, the dichotomy between ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ or between left and right. But the Four cultures approach explored on this website proposes that there are four, not two basic ways of organising society (but there aren’t any more than that). It claims that when we think in terms of only two ways of organising society,  we are missing out on the other two, and then our understanding as well as our freedom of action suffers for it.

Since this post is being composed on Dr Seuss’s birthday, I’ll use an appropriate example: Green Eggs and Ham.

Sam-I-Am is offering green eggs and ham and he won’t take no for an answer.

The decision to be made is: both-or-neither. Try as he might, Sam-I-Am finds it very hard to find a context where eating both rather than neither would make sense. A house, a box, a car, a train – none of these are the right place to eat green eggs and ham.

He might just have saved himself some effort if he had approached the problem the way any parent of young kids would immediately recognise:

“You don’t want both? That’s OK, just have one.”

In addition to the both-or-neither dimension that Sam-I-Am works on, there is also an unspoken ‘either-or’ dimension.

Here’s a new game, Sam-I-Am:
You have the eggs and I’ll have the ham!

But the book never mentions this possibility and, more seriously, neither does our society.

Two lessons:

  1. If you’re offered a straight choice, take it or leave it, either/or, consider and reconsider your options in the light of the above. If things aren’t working right now, there are probably three (rather than merely one) alternatives.
  2. Even a very arbitrary dichotomy seems to throw up a set of four alternatives that are surprisingly similar to the four cultures of Grid-Group theory.  Is it possible that there’s a more basic structure that throws up the same cultural biases, whether the dimensions we consider are grid and group, or competition versus symmetry of transaction (Thompson 2008) – or indeed green eggs versus ham?
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