Cultural Mining

Cultural Mining

Cultural mining describes the process by which the most valuable parts of culture by which we understand the arts, humanities and philosophy are recovered and made useful for our own times. In cultural mining the pratical sides of culture are carefully extracted, cleaned, blasted and remolded and then used to manufacture the mental tools that we need to navigate contemporary life. It’s been a historic problem that hugely valuable cultural insights have often been lodged within highly unappealing material far below ground. It’s been dark and cramped in the corridors of culture and hardly anyone other than certain accredited experts have been tempted to visit. The material has been like metal: in all, entirely impractical in its raw state. For culture to be useful to us it needs to go through a process of refinement: you have to separate cultural insight from a lot of surronding material. Like in gold mining, only a very small portion of what had originally been dug out will ever be usable to make the finished precious item that our society needs: good ideas. it’s around this process of refinement that the big difference between the school of life and standard universities becomes apparent. We’re very grateful to these universities for digging the mine shards and keeping open the tunnels, but we have a different project. We’re interested in the extraction and utilisation of the material on the surface rather than its preservation and interpretation below ground. The idea of cultural mining is new and still feels a little weird, but it has a critical role to play in our world, because at present lots of people don’t, sadly, believe that culture has anything much to offer them. This isn’t heir fault of course: when you look at the raw material form in which culture is generally laid out before us no wonder most people don’t bother, but that’s a huge pity. We’ve started doing the mining deep in the cultural ground to help us meet the multiple confusions and anxieties of our own times.

100 thoughts on “Cultural Mining

  1. isn't all of modern education a result of handpicking different ideas and philosophy(cultural mining) for a specific purpose a to convey a very specific curricular message and agenda

  2. what is this channel's opinion on the common social justice argument against cultural mining of other culture by labelling it as "cultural appropriation"

  3. I am sure we all remember the TV show Kung Fu starring David
    Carradine. It showed a half-Chinese guy (Carradine had his eyebrows
    fixed to look a bit Chinese) travelling through the Old West showing up
    the uncivilized Americans with his Kung Fu fighting methods.
    Ah, the ancient, Wise, mysterious Orient!

    Well, it turns out that Kung Fu was brought to China by an Indian about which there was a legend:
    His blue eyes radiated a light that burned through a wall.
    When we think of Buddhism, we think of Chinese and Japanese statues
    of Buddha. Actually, Buddha is described as having eyes as blue as the
    lotus. He was an Indian aristocrat back when they were white.
    The same is true of what we call Arabic numerals. They are from white India.
    Guess where the aquatic rice that makes up the Chinese paddy fields came from?

     You guessed it.

    Acupuncture was something that was absolutely attributed to Ancient Chinese Medicine.
    Then they found the Ice Man, a man who froze to death about 3300 BC
    and was kept in a state of preservation in the Alps. He had tattoos on
    his body showing the acupuncture locations. It was an old Indo-European
    art before China began.

    The Indo-Euopeans went out in all directions and their mummies have
    recently been found in China, blond and tall. They were wearing a type
    of weaving that historians had said was invented in the Middle East two
    thousand years after they died.

    I have never seen any history of the inventions and ideas we credit
    to the Chinese and the Middle East that came from white India and from
    other ancient Indo-Europeans.
    I seriously doubt I ever will.

  4. “Culture is not your friend. Culture is for other peoples’ convenience and the convenience of various institutions, churches, companies, tax collection schemes, what have you. It is not your friend. It insults you. It disempowers you. It uses and abuses you. None of us are well-treated by culture.”


    But the culture is a perversion. It fetishizes objects. It creates consumer mania. It preaches endless forms of false happiness, endless forms of false understanding in the form of squirrelly religions and silly cults. It invites people to diminish themselves and dehumanize themselves by behaving like machines.”

    “We have to create culture, don’t watch TV, don’t read magazines, don’t even listen to NPR. Create your own roadshow. The nexus of space and time where you are now is the most immediate sector of your universe, and if you’re worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, then you are disempowered, you’re giving it all away to icons, icons which are maintained by an electronic media so that you want to dress like X or have lips like Y. This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking. That is all cultural diversion, and what is real is you and your friends and your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, your fears. And we are told ‘no’, we’re unimportant, we’re peripheral. ‘Get a degree, get a job, get a this, get a that.’ And then you’re a player, you don’t want to even play in that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world.”
    ― Terence McKenna

  5. And you are doing an amazing work! We need a TSOL in every corner, all over the world, in as many languages as possible. We need to bring the humanities into the society, to reconnect with art, music, books, novels, philosophy and live by them, no only study them. We need to be in ouch with human values, now more than ever since WWII.

  6. Chomsky! School of Life, I like you very much, but are you going to take over pointing out the ways our culture glorifies the immoral things the powerful do when Chomsky dies? Because I've been worried about this for a while now. Who will take over for him that anyone will pay attention to?

  7. Could you give an example of an 'unrefined' cultural idea and a 'refined' one? I don't really understand this concept.

  8. Wonderful work! Please, could you help me find a bit more about the topic? Is there any website that brings the subject further?
    As I understand it the thing we think is art shapes (or should shape) our modern society and culture and yet we are faced with such a huge wave against contemporary art nowadays and see a lot of people turning to previous art movements just for the sake of admiring the visual or acoustic goodliness. In my opinion it is the modern art that carries the thought that matters the most for us – it is great to admire artists of the past but their art solves entirely different problems and our own problems are not usually reflected in their art in any way. Does that mean that modern society refuses to "mine" "the ore of modern society" and instead turns back to the ore of the past? 🙂
    I apologize for my clunky English, It is not my mother tongue.

  9. the cultural refining is mainly the process of perception it means that the way we look at things at our time this is where a philosopher comes in he interprets the situation and gives a philosophical answer based on the knowledge of our past i think that by making so many universities we have so many mines but very few people willing to go in the mine and bring the riches to the people

  10. So 'culture' is solely "the arts, humanities and philosophy" – to the exclusion of the sciences and social sciences? SoL explainers are generally very good: I've never heard such a howler. Particularly odd given how extensively many of them reference the latter.

  11. That was very dense for a 3 min video! Thank you for taking time from your day to articulate so many difficult thoughts.

  12. Dear school of life,

    How does one deal with parents and infuriating younger siblings (Or you know, family in general) at the cusp of adulthood?

    Signed, an exasperated member of a large extended family.

  13. I have a question for the writer of these scripts. Do you agree that the only things that are worthwhile in life are things that are useful? Imagine you had short term memory loss and no experiences would be remembered ever again. Is art and music and nature walks now not worth doing, because the possibility of therapeutic value is almost zero? Third question, if your philosophy seems so focused on pragmatism, what is its end goal? I myself will be pragmatic only because it affords me the possibility to be frivolous and carefree in the future. Where is your sense of individuality? Do you understand the meaning of the word "transcendental", or is that not a useful word?

    If your philosophy was an economic structure it would be capitalism. If your worldview was a book it would be Atlas Shrugged. I can't imagine I will ever disagree with anything as much as I do with these videos

  14. Will SOL do an animation on bullying and intimidation? I think it would be very apt for a lot of people..Not just youngsters either.

  15. Could it be that you are only just introducing a new Redundant Concept to further clutter our English culture and language, by wankifying what we already commonly understand as comprehending, interpreting, distillating, and communicating our accumulated human knowledge?….In other words, what we already call Education?…Could it be that the hot air that you produce in this vid is actually just another dangerous gas building up in the Tunnels Of Our Culture?…Yours Sincerely, The Canary.

  16. Couldn't you also say that cultural mining leads to superstitions like "feng shui" and Chinese fake medicine, racial appropriations such as with yoga, and Steven Seagal?

  17. This stroke me as much as a modernist concept which brazilian Oswald de Andrade coined: antropophagy, or cultural cannibalism.

  18. This is so true, and I've always known this, but I've never heard it explained so eloquently. I think everyone should be able to learn what's on the surface as well.

  19. Not only the academic environment is quite discouraging but the laboral future for those whose studies were humanities or social studies. At least it is like thar in my country, a philosopher, an artist, a historian they can just be teachers… they do not have any other options to make a living on, if they are lucky enough or have enough aqcuintances maybe they can find a job on a column in a journal… nothing more.

  20. can someone remember me the author/video where he talks about how press affects people, I can't quite remember but is something like the concept of dumb people thinking they know about a subject just by what they read on the newspaper

  21. Whoever is reading this tonight, stop reading and go out to look at the moon! We have super moon tonight, so it is shinning the biggest and brightest since 1948! We may not be around next time! And here is a little list for when you come back:
    1. There is an excellent article by Alain de Botton, the founder of this channel, called
    " Education is what makes us fully human". There he says:
    "The purpose of all education is to spare people time and error."
    So that's the whole point of the cultural mining too! He also says:

    "Here educationalists often say that wisdom is not something that one person can ever teach another. But it is: there is more than enough information about overcoming folly, greed, lust, envy, pride, sentimentality or snobbishness in the canon of culture. You can find answers in philosophy, literature, history, art and film. But the problem is that this treasury is not sufficiently well filleted and skilfully dissected to get the good material out in time."

    We are so lucky to receive " the good material out in time" every second day here!

    2. Another gold mine is Maria Popova's incredible website " Brain Pickings". I swear, all the wisdom in the world is on that place! You must subscribe to her Sunday newsletters. She is a unique person in this world. An incredibly smart and wise woman.That's why she values Alain's work a lot too.

    3. Open Culture is also an amazing website. There you can find access to all sorts of articles, E-Books, movies, free online lessons from great universities about anything you want, language courses etc. Just subscribe:-)

    4. There is an excellent podcast called " On Being with Krista Tippett". Every single episode of it offers you valuable ideas to live by.

     5. Malcolm Gladwell said this once on an interview:

    "I give people insight into things that they don't have an opportunity to discover on their own. Most people have important jobs that keep them in the office, where they spend most of their time. I have the chance to get around, explore the world and bring things back for everybody else.I am like the dog who goes and fetches."

    Indeed, if we have a bit of free time, this is something we all can do for ourselves and for each other: To explore the world in our own way to find where the helpful, beautiful and consoling ideas are, and then share them with everyone.
    Thank you for the wonderful lesson. The animation was amazing too!

  22. This channel has helped me a incredible amount ever since I first found you some time ago, and even now you present your work in a beautiful and seemingly effortless way.

  23. Cultural mining. Isn't this really just a self-conscious characterisation of what culture does (or is) ? Culture develops through the progressive sedimentation of ideas, entities, genres. These themselves are really just reflections of this perennially self-referencing incomplete logical system of culture, a system in which the conceptual vocabulary grows through recombination, reconcatenation, novelty and innovative juxtaposition. A problem of cultural mining as a valid endeavour is: who decides what cultural phenomena or entities are more deserving of investigation, celebration and preservation ? If cultural mining is focussed on the surface (in contrast to the deeper strata explored by academia) then what or who is to distinguish or differentiate value or genuine merit in the surface layer entities and concepts ?

  24. It seems to me that cultural mining, like cultural mediation, is based on the transmission of knowledge. Is the difference that cultural mining is specifically designed to navigate the human experience? I am a bit confused on the difference between these two notions.

  25. had a problem with the unrefined way my high school and junior school presented several subjects. a wall of dates to memorize from a dry book and no interaction atrophied my interest in history to the point that anything before i was born still appears to me as one great big period of 'the past'.
    outube podcasts- like crash course and extra history- have made it easier to digest, interesting and relevant to me, so in the last year i've learned more than i did in all my years schooling of subjects like geography, sciences, chemistry and amazingly history.
    thank you school of life for articulating the concept in this video, i didnt have the words for the difference this type of series makes.

  26. + The school of Life …portrays themselves as visible saints, exemplars of ideal piety in a sea of persistent savagery. However, they’re in reality ideological shock troops for colonial invasion whose zealotry blinded them from their acts as colonialism's agent, scribe and moral alibi. ~Edward Andrews

  27. I don't think that the only reason for the rejection of culture (as the video defines it) is its difficulty or pedantry, there is also the very important fact that besides providing solutions to our problems, culture gives an individual more problems to think about, it can challenge ones ideas in a way that it feels very displeasant or even unbearable. Chamfort is a thinker that explored the duality of the role of 'thinking': It can give us consolotaion but it also source of many of our sorrows (see aphorism 29 of his Maximes).

  28. Dear School of Life

    To be honest I find the balance between the music and the speaking voice not as good as it could be. Maybe it is because my mother tongue isn't english, or because I'm a composer and therefore all my attention is drawn to the music. But I think the music could be a bit softer. Do others have this idea as well? I could be wrong and it could be totally a personal thing.

    BUT I have to say, although this comes a bit as a 'desert' after a really bad meal… I really love the video's, I watch them during dinner a couple of times a week. And they have improved my life enormously! I'm very grateful!

  29. Yay self promotion ? seems like our gurus making the videos are humans like us? I was deeply worried about that lack of emotions in the commentary. At least now we know we are not being advised by some enlightened robots?

  30. Too many miners are regurgitators, if I read one more journal spouting Walter Benjamin, Heidegger, Foucault, Barthes, or the Frankfurt theorists I'm going to burn a library!

  31. That was an argument against cultural relativism, Alain de Button is now a cultural objectivist. Implications are big.

  32. Luv the grafix! I guess you had to post an answer to all the reactionary comments over the function of universities video…
    Like Merederai, I would also like to see some of the prep behind the curtain.

  33. I thought this video would be about "cultural appropriation" which is such a big topic these days. When I was a kid growing up in deepest darkest Manhattan, I was told that we stand on the shoulders of the greats. Nevertheless it is unclear whether a famous folk singer using South African or Peruvian musicians is exploiting or celebrating… Hm.

  34. this is interesting. basically, you're attempting to take the good parts of many cultures to create an idea for a perfect but yet nonperfect super culture?

  35. One should be wary of associated risks like 'dumbing down' or homogenisation when going down this path, especially in the trite world of social media. A lot of the good stuff is found deep within those weighty tomes and the obscure is oft more interesting than the 'shiny' stuff.

  36. What a video! I think everybody should see this video, it hit home in a very subtle way but really strong&necessary point nontheless!

  37. Sorry but could you please put into info some further reading suggestions to get more involved with the term and the ideas in general.

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