Every Culture Has A ….

… has a what!?!?


A rewritten repost for your amusement

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the phrase “Every culture has a story about a flood…” This is very annoying because a) it is not true (I can think of several cultures that do not) and b) it is very Euro-centric, as are most phrases that start with “Every culture has a…”

So, I decided to enter the phrase “Every culture has a” into Google and see how many other stupid ideas I could find.

The list is not very long because this exercise, while interesting in principle, can get a bit old. But here is what I found before I tired of it:

  • Every culture has a folk song about the circle of life…
  • Every culture has a creation story, and every culture has a priesthood to interpret the story for them
  • Every culture has its fried dough
  • Every culture has a system for educating their young
  • Every culture has a version of elves
  • Every culture has a jewel that pops out the berries
  • Every culture has some particular form of puppet theater. Not every culture has a form of acting theater
  • Every culture has a word for experiences and understandings shared by people the world over
  • Every culture has a “cultural unconscious” that drives the behavior of its members.
  • Every culture has some kind of flatbread that is served frequently with all kinds of meals
  • Every culture has a state religion or two
  • Every culture has a distinct and colorful folkloric tradition
  • Every culture has a holiday (or two) to observe
  • Every culture has a creation story jealously guarded by a priesthood
  • Every culture has drugs
  • Every culture has a food that others would find just horrifying
  • Every culture has a chicken dish
  • Every Culture Has a Pancake
  • Every culture has a catty corner
  • Every culture has a legend about a great flood..

Now, I admit that about in about four of these cases, the word “almost” preceded the word “every.” This, however, does not make the statement more likely to be true. For instance, the last one on the list, about the great flood, is from a recent item in Discover suggesting that a comet caused the great flood, claims that “Almost every culture has a legend about a great flood…” Unless “almost” means “A small number of” then the statement is grossly incorrect.

Ah, surely, the world would be such a better place if only it were true that every culture has a pancake….

Comments

  1. #1 Don
    November 13, 2009

    BEER!

  2. #2 Dacks
    November 13, 2009

    Every culture has a jewel that pops out the berries ??

    And, yes, a ubiquitous pancake would truly make a better world, but the best world has every culture making fried dough. I think I need to test this theory personally.

  3. #3 Roadtripper
    November 13, 2009

    Every culture has a martial tradition which requires its males to be proficient with the weapons important to that culture.

    I have no idea if this is true, but I’ve seen a number of examples. How common is this, really?

  4. #4 José
    November 13, 2009

    Every culture has a some group of people it substitutes for the “Polack” joke, although the jokes are identical in every other respect.

  5. #5 mk
    November 13, 2009

    Every culture has babies!

  6. #6 lawguy
    November 13, 2009

    Well skipping over to the basis for all knowledge, Wikipedia and typing in flood myths there do seem to be a lot of them and they are from all around the world.

  7. #7 Bjorn Watland
    November 13, 2009

    That’s it, the International House of Pancakes is a LIE!

  8. #8 jj
    November 13, 2009

    Every culture has language (?)

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    November 13, 2009

    It might be helpful to have a rough number for how many cultures there are, so that a “lot” vs. a “few” can be placed in context.

    There is no such estimate, really, but if there was it woudl be thousands.

  10. #10 HP
    November 13, 2009

    I have a jewel that pops out the berries. Wanna see it?

  11. #11 Emily
    November 13, 2009

    Every culture has a questionable claim about what every culture has.

  12. #12 Alan
    November 13, 2009

    How about constellations

  13. #13 dean
    November 13, 2009

    every culture has a drink whose name sounds like “gin and tonic”

  14. #14 becca
    November 13, 2009

    I started googling, but didn’t get past the suggestion box Every Creature Counts Denver.

    For some reason Every Culture Has a Pancake cracks me up. I imagine it like this “this is *THE* Chinese pancake. There’s only one for the entire 1 billion plus population!”
    I love pancakes. Got a closet full of em at home. Just not bacon ones.

  15. #15 jj
    November 13, 2009

    @#13 Dean,
    Damnit! I wish I would have remembered that one…

  16. #16 noel
    November 13, 2009

    I’ve heard every culture has a creation myth. Which makes me wonder about any exceptions to that rule: “How’d we get here? Who knows? Who cares?”

  17. #17 george.w
    November 13, 2009

    Y’know, living on a large river delta is the sweet life. Fertile ground, wildlife, ample water supply. Occasionally, too much water though.

  18. #18 Nox
    November 13, 2009

    I would imagine that every culture has:

    ways to get food
    ways to prepare/eat food
    ways to deal with waste
    ways to fight (weapons, techniques)
    ways to properly have babies (i.e. get married first)
    ways to pass these ways on to the next generation

    I don’t think I’d care to bet on much else.

  19. #19 becca
    November 13, 2009

    Does every culture really have a prohibition on certain types of incest?

  20. #20 Sam N
    November 13, 2009

    Are there any of the mentioned statements that are true (or very close to true). I would be curious for example about every culture having drugs. I know there are a heck of a lot of mind-altering substances out there, and they seem to grow all over the world. Although that statement should be reworded, I don’t know exactly what it means for a culture to have drugs. Something more like people from all cultures have developed or appropriated the use of drugs.

    And it does not seem ridiculous on the face of it to claim that all cultures have something in common. I would suppose, for example, that all cultures have a language.

  21. #21 Adela
    November 13, 2009

    My impression is every grain growing, eating, flour making culture has a fried dough or portable bread product. Though given some of the things Inuit can do with seal meat one wonders what the definition of dough should be.

  22. #22 John McKay
    November 13, 2009

    Becca @ 13
    I think it might be possible to say every culture has a taboo against incest, but it has to qualified by the observation that different cultures have different definitions of what qualifies as incest.

    Lawguy @ 6
    Very few cultures in Sub-Saharan Africa have flood myths.

    The only three “every cultures” I could think of are:
    Every culture as a system of food taboos (bacon or guts or human flesh).
    Every culture as a system of sex taboos (incest).
    Every culture as a system of bodily excretion taboos (poop or menstrual blood).

  23. #23 PaulG
    November 13, 2009

    I thought every culture had a petri dish.

  24. #24 Jared
    November 13, 2009

    every culture doesn’t necessarily have a petri dish, Paul, some cultures are grown in suspension media…

  25. #25 daedalus2u
    November 13, 2009

    I think some cultures didn’t have brother-sister incest taboo (ancient Egypt as I remember reading). Those cultures are not around any more.

  26. #26 Dacks
    November 13, 2009

    Dean, sounds suspiciously like you are channeling Douglas Adams, no?!

  27. #27 Paul
    November 13, 2009

    I think some cultures didn’t have brother-sister incest taboo (ancient Egypt as I remember reading). Those cultures are not around any more.

    I am not a historian, but I’m pretty sure that’s untrue. While it is true that the ruling class did not abide by that rule(as gods don’t breed with mere mortals), IIRC the common folk did have a taboo against brother-sister incest.

  28. #28 Robert
    November 13, 2009

    This is what Google says right now:

    Every Culture Has A …. : Greg Laden’s Blog

  29. #29 Greg Laden
    November 13, 2009

    Becca:Does every culture really have a prohibition on certain types of incest?

    As John suggests [22]: probably if we allow for variation in what “insest” is as well as what “taboo” is

    Regarding flood myths: almost no cultures have flood myths.

  30. #30 Alex
    November 13, 2009

    Just wondering Greg, what the word “culture” means to you? When you use this word, are you referring to things like “Western” culture, and cultures like that; or other cultures, like “Christian” culture; or “Roman Catholic” culture; or “French” culture; or “World of Warcraft gamer” culture; or every single one of these?

    What I’m trying to get at is, what sorts of, and perhaps how many, interactions can the word “culture” be applied to?

    In relation to the flood myths meme, does “French culture” have a flood myth, since it is a majority Christian country, or is it only specifically “Christian culture” (or “Catholic culture”) that has the flood myth, and this can’t be appended to “French culture at all”?

    Sorry for the “rambliness” of this comment.

  31. #31 Azkyroth
    November 13, 2009

    “World of Warcraft gamer” culture

    Or married bachelorhood?

  32. #32 Kapitano
    November 13, 2009

    Are there any cultures (however you define the term) that don’t have music?

    Some religious groups (the Taliban, the puritans) tried to remove all music from the culture they were in, but (a) they failed and (b) there was music already there for them to oppose. So there might be subcultures (religious cults, communes, maybe secret societies) that explicitly forbid music, but they could only do that if there were a concept of music for them to forbid.

    So, are there any cultures that lack a notion of music?

  33. #33 Tom
    November 13, 2009

    i think every culture likes good sex.

    i also believe every culture has many ways to hallucinate. whether that means there a lot of good drugs out there, who knows?

    i also believe every culture has old and young people who rarely understand one another fully, but nevertheless tolerate each other before, during and after they exchange places without ever really knowing why.

    Tom

  34. #34 Jared
    November 14, 2009

    Here’s an almost tautological one..

    Every culture has certain behaviors, rituals, and ideas shared by many of the individuals of that group.

  35. #35 Greg Laden
    November 14, 2009

    Just wondering Greg, what the word “culture” means to you? When you use this word, are you referring to things like “Western” culture, and cultures like that; or other cultures, like “Christian” culture; or “Roman Catholic” culture; or “French” culture; or “World of Warcraft gamer” culture; or every single one of these?

    When I say “culture” in “every culture has a…” I am quoting countless people who are using that term in whatever way they mean it, which usually is thoughtlessly. It isn’t like I think the “culture” part of that statement is fine and the “has an origin myth or whatever” is wrong. The whole concept is screwy.

  36. #36 Alex
    November 14, 2009

    Well I understood that, but when you make a statement such as:

    Regarding flood myths: almost no cultures have flood myths.

    you must be using some definition of culture to be able to say that. I’m not disagreeing with you that “almost no cultures have flood myths”, I’m just trying to understand how you’re using the word culture in sentences like that e.g. does it only mean cultures like “Western” culture, or do you include more specific cultures like WoW gamer culture, or what?

  37. #37 Phil
    November 14, 2009

    I too, beg to differ.
    The Puritans and the Taliban both outlawed singing, dancing, plays etc. And some sects of the Muslim faith won’t even allow depictions of the human form.
    Also, I’m not aware of good Inuit chicken recipes.

  38. #38 Greg Laden
    November 14, 2009

    Alex: Good point that the negation does require some kind of definition.

    Here how I can say this with confident. In Australia and sub Saharan Africa there are many many hundreds of groups of people that are reasonably considered different cultures by any definition ever used by anthropologists that actuall acknowledges the existence of “cultures” and “different cultures.” These are distinct in that they have different langauges, internally consistent but externally differentiated kinship systems. etc. etc.

    None of them, to my knowledge, has a flood myth. That might represent a third of the cultures in the world by the usual way of counting (i.e., france is not italy, lese is not banande, hadza is not Maasai, ache is not hiwi, etc. etc.) Of the remaining cultures, I doubt they all have a flood myth.

    In truth, this issue is a rather complex one, and qualifies as a fully fledged “falsehood” (see:

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/falsehoods/

    )

    We have definition of culture, we have the western bias where “cross cultural” is both Japan and Canada being included in a sample of European nations, and so on.

    The “every culture has a flood myth” has probabl been stated for a number of reasons, but often to “prove” the bible/babble model. And it is at the very least a significant over statement and could never have been based on a view of the world that recognizes …. well, that the world is out there to begin with.

  39. #39 Alex
    November 14, 2009

    Ok cool, I sort of see where you’re coming from now. Thanks very much!

  40. #40 Monado, FCD
    November 14, 2009

    Every culture has rituals? Good luck and bad luck? Different ideas of what constitutes good fortune or wealth? Different definitions of family and “related”? Activities done by men that are obviously more important than the activities done by women? Gods, spirits, or ghosts?

  41. #41 Greg Laden
    November 15, 2009

    Activities done by men that are obviously more important than the activities done by women?

    I can name cultures that don’t have that.

  42. #42 Veltyen
    November 15, 2009

    Tiddalik

    Australian Flood myth. Though closer to a seasonal weather legend. So the blanket statement that Au doesn’t have a flood myth is a not-completely-correct statement.

    No equivalent of a Noachim myth, or even a cataclysm and rebirth myth as far as I am aware. But flood? Sure.

  43. #43 Looseleaf
    November 15, 2009

    Lots of missing information here. What counts as a culture? Irish vs. English? Southern US vs. Northeastern US vs. Western US? Azerbiajan vs. Russia? What do you mean “I can think of several that don’t (have a flood myth)”? Such as?

  44. #44 Stephanie Z
    November 15, 2009

    Looseleaf, RTFC.

  45. #45 ABM
    November 15, 2009

    I’m not disagreeing with you that “almost no cultures have flood myths”, I’m just trying to understand how you’re using the word culture in sentences like that e.g. does it only mean cultures like “Western” culture, or do you include more specific cultures like WoW gamer culture, or what?

    You must have not heard of the Great Noob Flood of 2005… All that is decent and good was wiped out, and only a few virtuous survivors were spared to respawn in time for their corpse runs.

  46. #46 Timm!
    November 15, 2009

    There are a handful of things that are considered “cultural universals” that seem to be found in every culture on earth, but in order to make the statement completely true, it has to be greatly abstracted in order apply across the board. I had a cultural anthro prof who referred to them as “empty universals” because commenting on them in this way doesn’t actually tell you anything about a particular culture. Things like “all cultures have music,” “all cultures have body coverings/ornamentation of some kind” and “all cultures have a belief in things/creatures/entities that are beyond the means of modern science to detect.” With that last one you have to be careful to not frame it in terms of natural vs. supernatural because many cultures make no such distinction.

    An interesting thing about the incest/sex taboo mentioned upthread (this taboo defines groups or categories of people with whom a given person may or may not form sexual relationships with) is that it is not necessarily defined by biology or blood relationship.

  47. #47 clamboy
    November 15, 2009

    Every culture *wishes* it had Stephen Colbert. In your FACE, Ainu people of northern Japan!

  48. #48 Christophe Thill
    November 16, 2009

    #30:
    Why, yes, the French culture has a tale about a global flood. Except that according to it, the world was flooded not with water but with fine red wine. And that the gods didn’t intend it as a punishment.

    (Totally making it up, of course)

    And every culture has a recommended fertilizer dose.

  49. #49 Greg Laden
    November 16, 2009

    Timm: And counterfeit money is not exactly like real money, but without real money it would not have a clue as to what to look like.

    The “empty universal” concept is a good one. Of course, once you contextualize the “empty universal” it re-fills. For instance, from a sociocultural anthro perspective, “music” is an emtpy universal. For a behavioral biologist who uses a comparative method, it is a startling trait unique to humans.

  50. #50 qbsmd
    November 16, 2009

    “Every culture has a holiday (or two) to observe”

    Does anyone know of one that doesn’t? I would expect most cultures to at least have something like a harvest festival.

    “Every culture has a food that others would find just horrifying”

    As long as “others” means at least two, rather than “most others”, I wouldn’t bet against this.

  51. #51 amphiox
    November 16, 2009

    “I would expect most cultures to at least have something like a harvest festival”

    And what would be the hunter-gatherer equivalent?

  52. #52 toto
    November 17, 2009

    I had a cultural anthro prof who referred to them as “empty universals” because commenting on them in this way doesn’t actually tell you anything about a particular culture.

    Why? If every culture has music, it doesn’t mean they have the same music. You can then compare how various cultures make / use music, and see if it tells something deeper about these cultures.

    In this sense, universals are surely extremely useful, in that they are ideal units of comparison between cultures.

    E.g. every culture has “food” (duh!), but people have written books about the distinction between raw, cooked and boiled food, and what it (supposedly) tells us about each culture.

  53. #53 Tim Eisele
    November 17, 2009

    “Regarding flood myths: almost no cultures have flood myths.”

    How does the number of cultures with “flood myths” compare with the number of cultures with “the earth is really on the back of a giant turtle” myths?

  54. #54 wazza
    November 17, 2009

    “I would expect most cultures to at least have something like a harvest festival”

    And what would be the hunter-gatherer equivalent?

    Posted by: amphiox | November 16, 2009 6:43 PM

    Presumably, when the buffalo migrate back into your territory, or similar. Things come into season at a certain time, whether you plant them for that purpose or not, and there comes a time when you have stored enough food to loaf a little, unless you’re in real trouble.

  55. #55 --E
    November 17, 2009

    I’m still trying to figure out what flatbread is served “frequently with all kinds of meals” in American or European culture. I googled the quote, and it does not appear to have come from an article talking about how Westerners are weirdos because they don’t.

  56. #56 Greg Laden
    November 17, 2009

    I assume that “flatbread” includes tortillas, pita, Eucharistic hosts, and soda crackers. I’m not sure if it includes the little oyster crackers you get with chowder.

  57. #58 DAM10N
    November 17, 2009

    I’m not saying Brown and Levi-Strauss nailed every one of these universals, but I doubt those who overconfidently doubt that such cultural universals exist.

  58. #59 Greg Laden
    November 17, 2009

    I have no doubt that there are important “human universals” by the way. The focus of the OP is on stupid stuff people say rather than the serious issue of culture, human universals, how they arise and what it all means.

  59. #60 MPL
    November 17, 2009

    Every culture has a state religion or two

    Clearly, somebody does not understand the concept of “a state religion” very well.

  60. #61 del
    December 10, 2010

    Every Culture has a fleet of General Systems Vehicles.

    But seriously, knowing that only a few cultures have a flood myth makes me much more interested in the Biblical flood myth, not less interested.

  61. #62 Jim
    January 4, 2011

    I would include pizza crust in the “flatbread” category.

  62. #63 Jamie
    January 6, 2011

    Apparently “historians have yet to discover a chastity belt that has not been chewed open.” Naturally, I thought of you: http://thehairpin.com/2011/01/sex-spanx-and-period-surprises/

  63. #64 Greg Laden
    January 6, 2011

    Jamie, thanks for the link, I really needed that information!

    It is a little strange to get two different links with minutes of each other to the same site that I’d never seen before (albeit different posts) from two different people who are not connected directly to each other but who relate to me in very important ways. Unless, of course, you and Ana have been talking. And it is a conspiracy after all.

  64. #65 Edward
    January 16, 2011

    I’ve always wondered about … several of these things.

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