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Knowledge and Culture

BY SAKURA YONEYAMA (staff writer)

As a part of the International Baccalaureate program, I am required to take a class called Theory of Knowledge. This class has been popularly dubbed as the most useless class in the world, as there are no grades in this class, merely a simple pass or fail. However, this class is a graduation requirement where we are tasked with the challenge of writing an essay that explores knowledge and its relation to the real world.

One of the given prompts asked about the role of culture in the acquisition, production, and dissemination of knowledge. I was immediately intrigued upon hearing this prescribed prompt, because to me, I didn’t believe in knowledge independent of culture. To me, culture and knowledge were so deeply intertwined that this question almost seemed ridiculous.

As I listened to my classmates argue their cases, however, I came to realize that the relationship between culture and knowledge is extremely complicated.

It can be said that there can be no knowledge separate from culture. All people, especially artists, reap their inspiration from some aspect of culture: a fond childhood memory, a juvenile tradition, or a certain holiday. Literary works rely heavily on culture; the knowledge that each writer attempts to communicate is deeply tinged by the culture of the intended audience. For example, in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, Miller touches on an integral part of American culture—the American Dream. Throughout his play, his knowledge and opinion (which can be thought to be similar, if not the same) concerning the American Dream mold the play into a dark, critical work. Even outside of literature, culture touches every artist’s heart. Artists such as Lana del Rey draw inspiration from heavily patriotic American culture, and she even criticizes Americana. Thus, to me, there was no arts without culture.

However, the previous examples focused distinctly on the creation of art. What about the dissemination of art and knowledge? And I immediately thought back to a concert of the singer Dua Lipa that I had attended in 2018. The concert had been in Japan, where the audience was mostly of that culture and nationality, while the singer on stage was a British singer with Albanian roots. Despite the difference in culture, the audience connected with Dua Lipa. Similarly, what about the songs in parties that somehow everyone knows the lyrics to? At parties with people from all over the world, there is always at least one song that everyone can enjoy. During those three minutes, there is connection beyond culture. For that brief time, we all share one culture.

And in this way, a new question came to my mind. What is culture? What makes one culture so distinct from another? Finally, do we all have one basic culture in common? To me, I’ve come to think being human is a culture in itself. Humanity has distinct ideas and customs, traditions and behaviors, the same way Japanese culture and Russian culture do. Culture isn’t just confined to one country or region. It is something universal that we all share.

Furthermore, I find it extremely intriguing that individuals will never fully realize the extent that one’s culture has shaped their mindset and way of thinking. Culture and customs are such a deeply rooted aspect of our childhood and development that there is no definite way of distinguishing what is genetic and what is not.

Culture is beautiful in the way that a shared identity is so integrated in our lives. Culture is the way I share something so close to my heart with millions of other Japanese people. Culture is a bridge between souls, between enemies and families.

Thus, I left my Theory of Knowledge Class feeling oddly conflicted but also satisfied. Inspecting culture in an academic setting provided me with new perspectives and revelations that challenged my previous beliefs. I hope that in the future, I will be able to further look at cultural dynamics in classes and truly understand the magnitude of identity.

Sharing culturally diverse stories to educate, inspire, and empower others

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