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Cultural Roles Museum           imagined by Tim Holmes

To preserve certain quaint artifacts of social construction developed over centuries by diverse cultures around the world.

Human beings evolve slowly in physiological terms, probably over eons rather than millennia.  But in cultural terms we evolve rather quickly.  Just in the past 50 years we have witnessed (and many have given their lives to) amazing leaps forward in terms of social equality.  For the most part the evolution of cultures around the world has been almost entirely a nearly straight line away from slavery and oppression and toward freedom and individual autonomy, despite the common local perception at almost any time that at best progress consists of three steps forward and two back.

Every change in cultural evolution spells both good and bad news.  Though progress toward human dignity is vital and valuable and winding history backwards is never a good idea, it must be acknowledged that progress is always accompanied by regrettable losses.  This is an educational museum dedicated to preserving those losses, not necessarily because they are a “better idea” in total, but because cultural evolution represents a richness similar to the layers of earth that preserve its ancient physical history.  There are veins of  treasure in those layers that should be preserved for  posterity just as with cultural documents, sites, tools or other artifacts.
Just as a biological library preserves seeds of rare plants in anticipation of unrealized benefits that the future may uncover, so cultural roles, developed and refined in some cultures over centuries, only to be replaced by more egalitarian or expedient roles, might be preserved in all their complexities for posterity.

The Roles

Although there are other possibilities the most accessible and easiest material for the layman to understand is in the personal relationships that make up cultural roles. There are many dimensions to a role; economic, political, social and personal. We will start with the personal because anyone can enter these roles in their imagination to get a “feel” of their meanings.

To that end, the museum might be organized so that certain roles are personalized. That means that a role, such as that of a court jester or a Geisha, can be “tried on” by a visitor like one would put on a costume (which is a central part of the whole idea) and explore what qualities of that role we may not have been aware of before.  Only by “walking in another's moccasins” can we really get a sense of what that reality entails. This museum would provide an opportunity to do just that.

There are of course real moral dangers involved in such explorations.  To actually subvert another person's autonomy or manipulate another would of course be a morally unacceptable violation of their dignity.  But such violations are unnecessary, especially with the availability of the advantages of working in a virtual world. And of course just as with visiting crocodiles in the zoo, a few simple precautions could turn a life-threatening encounter into a safe and fascinating learning experience.

For example:

We westerners are troubled and fascinated by Islamic women who seem to spend their lives hidden from the world under the suffocating weight of the veil.  But what is it like to be inside the veil?  The veil forms a community among women who wear them, allowing each one a power unavailable outside of it.  The anonymity of the veil is useful in any number of ways that are not apparent.  Imagine the power of a covered woman being able to speak out in ways that an unveiled woman could not. A veiled woman can mimic another very easily. She could in fact wear whatever makeup or clothes she wished under the veil, or nothing at all!  

What is it like to be inside the veil?  We think we know, but do we?  Can she not react in private if she wishes?  Sing softly, unheard?  Use the veil as an excuse for not being heard, seen, noticed, even present?  Could she not quite disappear in the night?

We might only find other freedoms or awarenesses of the human condition if we were to borrow and "wear" for a moment, odd roles ourselves, such as:
  • Contrary- A Native American role, one who adopted behavior that was deliberately the opposite of other tribal members. 
  • Court jester- who is free to speak openly to a tyrant when all others so doing might lose their heads.
  • Slave- who has no autonomy, but also no responsibility.
  • Reverse warrior- A Native American tradition where an accomplished warrior would carry out the opposite of the instructions given the other warriors.
  • King of Fools- from the tradition in medieval Europe of reversing the social heirarchy.
  • Judge- who by applying wisdom and descrimination alters the lives of their fellows.

Tim Holmes Studio  cc  2012

 Tapestry Spilth, mixed media

Lingua Tactus Nebula
Freedom of Religion,  graphite

Creative Comons  Copyright • 2012• Tim Holmes Studio