The Function of Culture

Maybe the function of culture is to be disfunctional. Maybe that, simply put, its its best and most valuable contribution, particularly in a millieu that is so deeply invested in order, functionality, streamlining, and operationalization. Maybe culture’s job is to befuddle that, at least a little bit, and to be illogical and nonsensical and troubling and a little bit askew.

This seems particularly important with respect to positivisim. Where else do people entertain and then follow through with ideas that they know will fail? Where else do bad ideas get so much attention or press? Where else are people encouraged to do things poorly, or to invest time and money and energy in futile pursuits? “In the name of art” seems like a kind of cop-out, and reifies what I think might be most valuable about culture in the first place: its place in confounding or at least challenging the idea that everything ought to be contributing somehow to the greater good.

And yes, keener brains will recognize that my statement at the outset suggests that culture’s privileged position here is a kind of contribution, but I’m not making that argument, so give it a little wiggle room. Really, I think I’m arguing here that that is precisely the paradox of culture — that it’s role is to not contribute. You might call that a contribution, but I would call it something else — not quite a contribution, not quite a paradox, not quite something else, but I like it. I like things that fail, that seem futile. And in actualizing or expressing that futility, there seems something valuable in that.

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