Individual perspectives on things are always different from others… So it is not surprising that each person has his own take on what culture is.

By Jesus T. Peralta, PhD

Individual perspectives on things are always different from others. The reason for this is that everything is received from the receiver’s point of view. Like the snowflakes of winter, each individual is unique onto himself. Each is subject to his own orientations and associations. So it is not surprising that each person has his own take on what culture is.

To many, it is the refinements in society—music, painting, sculpture, theater, architecture, cuisine, table setting, the dryness of wine, the beso, even the upturned little finger. The same goes with the way freedom is perceived, and the manner by which culture and freedom inter-relates. To a student of culture, it is more complicated—everything that is learned and transmitted, other than in a genetic manner. Here, “transmission” takes on an essential role. Without it, culture is not culture. Cultural genesis is indeed very complex considering the vast number of agents of change. If we visualize society as a three-dimensional spherical domain with a core, nested layers around it, and periphery, how culture is generated may be understood even in an over-simplified approach. Adjacent societal spheres sometimes touch, even overlap in the peripheries. 

The relationship between freedom and culture can be comprehended in the same manner. Changes take place in areas of instability. The overlapping along the peripheries are ecotonal areas that are unstable and marked by more intense activities as it is with ecotones in nature like the edge of the forest and the grasslands, which are marked by more activities than the forest and the grassland individually. In this unstable area, changes take place in both nature and societies. There are more species of plants and animals that interact in ecotones. Similarly, people of different cultural persuasions are also in such analogous areas, engaging in interchanges with systemic feedbacks and creation of new values.

Persons on the edges of society are individual agents of change who create, invent, and innovate because they are not restricted to normative acts. Because unrestrained, they can break free. This is where the development of culture starts, from these unrestrained individuals who push against the limits like—Rizal, Manansala, the Avellanas, Nick Joaquin, Letty Jimenez Magsanoc, Lisa Macuja, Cecile Licad, or the Yakan Manlilikha ng bayan, uwang Ahadas, or anyone who has not been afraid to challenge the status quo, to innovate. This is also where disruptions take place like the aberrant cases of Marcial Ama of the Sige-Sige gang, Ruben Ecleo, Jr., Asiong Salonga, Leonardo Menecio, and others of notoriety.

The positive aspects of cultural development—when transmitted toward the core of society thru the nested layers and adopted and supported—eventually become part of the norm. There is freedom for the people only within the core areas where the populace is bound by the normative culture. Still, another view would, on the contrary, say there is no freedom since cultural norms restrict them only to the established patterns of behavior.

The less positive aspects do not penetrate deep into the core but penetrating only some of the outer nested layers, because these are usually not adopted as part of the norm. These remain as aberrant cases.

Political freedom has no separate bearing on cultural genesis since it is only a conceptual distinction. Expressed in people power, it is one of the social aberrances in the societal ecotone that do not filter down into the core of society such that it becomes part of the normal social behavior. While freedom is essential to the nurturing and development of culture, it is the freedom of single individuals that break free from the social norms that does this, and not political freedom. Man is free even from the different concepts that he

builds around him like politics, government, institutions. The lack of political freedom may perhaps pressure but not curtail the growth of culture because it develops due to individual persuasions. Where did Abstract Expressionism come from, or Dada, or the melting watches of Dali, or Conceptual Art? The pangalay of Fernando flourished without government. It may die as others did because cultural practices come and go, and the truth that changes, wherever, is inevitable. But man’s creativity is limited only by the infinity of his genius.

Dr. Jesus Peralta is an anthropology graduate of the University of California, Davis. He was Director III of the National Museum and Director of the UNESCO project in safeguarding the Ifugao, Hudhud. He is a consultant of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts; Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee member; and consultant to the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA) Committee. He is in the Hall of Fame of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Award in Literature, and recipient of Life Achievement Awards:“Dangal ng Haraya” from the NCCA for culture: and “Pambansang Alagad  ni Balagtas”from the Union ng Manunulat ng Pilipinas (UMPIL), for writing.