Ruth Benedict was a wonderful Anthropologist and was profoundly influential on how we view cultural patterns. A term that she uses to explain the components of them are “configurations” which is a very digestible term seeing how our smartphones all have settings that are configurations as well. And similarly to how our phones operate with the configurations and algorithms in the background so does Benedict show culture has a tendency to do as well.
Humans are obsessed with patterns, we see them in realms of mathematics with the Fibonacci sequence, we see them in spirituality with sacred geometry, we see patterns in art, music, literature, and plays because that is how the human mind absorbs and expresses certain meanings, emotions and thoughts. There is something soothing about patterns, something perfect and unlike anything else. In this same sense, the way that humans interact and communicate with the world around them is in line with their configurations.
I know from personal experience in my own life that I see these configurations occur, I always nicknamed it the ‘chameleon’ whenever presented with a situation similar to one I have dealt with I will slip into a pre-set mindset and tackle the situation head-on. I am sure that many other people feel the same way, even if they don’t recognize that they do it right away the subconscious will set up people in the mindset that last benefited them in the situation they are currently dealing with. This type of understanding how people operate with pattern and form is a great way to also do a study on things like PTSD or other similar ailments that spawn after a specific traumatic or impactful event has changed the ‘configuration’ for certain situations.
One question that I had going into writing this blog post was about how Benedict perceived the flow of pattern, and its primary influences. In her writing and from what I can gather from Anthropological Theory, there is a certain understanding that “culture takes on the character of the member’s personality structure”. This in a way is the equivalence of the people influencing the pattern and the pattern influencing the people. So to ask this kind of question is to also equate it to the saying, which came first the chicken or the egg?
Dionysus and Apollo are two Greek gods, Dionysus the god of fertility and wine; and Apollo the god of poetry, the sun, and prophecy. The way that the ancient Greek’s celebrated each deity was vastly different. For Dionysus, there were rather festive and very wild displays of human indulgence. Apollo, however, was celebrations were orderly and more about self-control and thought. There are now houses of thought that were coined “Apollonian” and “Dionysian” by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzche, a person who Benedict gained some inspiration from while writing her book. The idea that there is a sort of unconscious selection that a culture will go through that exemplifies particular characteristics and configurations and ignore others is one of the primary meaning of “Patterns of Culture”. Benedict also goes into different ways that the choices and trends that are exemplified by the cultures are exactly what helps to weave that cultural configuration. Through this mode of explanation, I came to the conclusion that people are inherently the same but that they differ in expression of the same basic traits and patterns. Which, in its basic understanding is something that I wish more people would realize around the world.
Benedict, Ruth. Pattern of Culture. Mentor Book, 1948.
Moberg, Mark. Engaging Anthropological Theory a Social and Political History. Taylor & Francis, 2017.