In different places and countries, many people always have traditions, norms or value systems they always live by. These patterns of life are in most cases passed on from generation to generation.
Different groups have unique culture which some other groups at times find hard to comprehend. This is also witnessed in institutions of learning where different schools and colleges have customs or occurrences that are always characterized as culture.
For example the issue of strikes and violence in some schools is a known culture and when a strike happens in one school and not in the other it is never shocking. Yet if such a thing happened in the other school or college it would be very shocking.
At the same time this also goes for some countries. There are countries which as a result of historical circumstances are known to be prone to violence as a means of changing leadership.
Yet others are known to be peaceful and it is always a given that they will always change from one government to another without a hitch.
Kenya is such a place where it had come to be accepted that peace was a given. When it erupted in flames late last year many people were genuinely shocked and dumbfounded.
Hence the frenzy with which many world notables rushed to Nairobi to try and save the country that had hitherto come to be known as an oasis of stability in a desert of insecurity.
This was and is all because of norms and customs that evolve over time and come to be known as culture. But what makes people base their decisions on to things that in most cases seem illogical to outsiders?
So when a few days ago the junior senator from Illinois and US presidential hopeful Barrack Obama, said that small town folk in the United States cling to such things as guns and religion because of disillusionment over their economic circumstances, he couldn’t have been further from the truth, even though he has since modified his utterances.
Plainly speaking, many people who have lost hope of improving their status or who can no longer hope for an upward social mobility will have to look for some thing to cling on to. In most cases they will cling to what they have.
These are their traditions, bizarre customs which are laden with mysticism that will in most cases be difficult for outsiders to understand.
Obama being an urbane and sophisticated person from Harvard and Columbia Universities was talking about people who haven’t walked the same path as he has.
In normal circumstances, one would expect people in the United States to base their electoral choices on things like health care plans, education or economic policies of candidates.
But from what Obama said, many middle and low income class people who one would think would want their kids to follow in the footsteps of those who have moved upwards on the economic and social ladder, instead base their choices on things that cannot ensure or guarantee such an eventuality.
These include things like owning a gun or caring about which religion a candidate or their spouse belongs to. Or what a priest in such and such a candidate’s church says or does not say.
This is all culture, passed on from generation to generation. Indeed many cultures are so rich and worth celebrating. But plainly speaking some cultures are retrogressive and old fashioned.
Under such circumstances, progress is only realized when people are willing to modify some cultures for the better or better still allow some old fashioned ways of life to die.
However, it is worth noting that probably most people cling on to old fashioned cultures because of lack of better alternatives. Their own circumstances cannot allow them to think of better ways of life for themselves.
And normally they look up to people who are entrusted with public office to give them better alternatives. And as Obama said, their hopes are always dashed by the elites who they look up to as solvers of their problems.
The people they hoped to solve their economic problems cannot, or they have other issues to deal with. Then that is the source of the apathy in the developed world that leads them to vote basing on such issues as sexuality, race, religion, and guns among others.
In the less developed world it manifests in form of tribal affiliations and loyalties. At the end of the day these actions based on such mundane issues do not translate into direct benefit for the lowly when one who sees issues with similar lenses or one of their own gets to the top.
It’s again the elites that benefit. But the poor people feel content when the small things they value are seen to be respected.