People often ask me regarding drug use in other countries (e.g., Iraq), “Is there something about the culture that makes people use drugs?”. I typically answer something like “No, drug taking is a behavior found in almost every society, cultural variables only shape how often it happens, in what way, and how people feel about it”. Indeed, it’s a fun anthropological challenge to come up with a behavior that can truly be called a cultural one.
My favorite example is listening to the Shipping Forecast. Only culture could explain why, for example, a person born in Wolverhampton, who lives his or her life in Wolverhampton and who will die in Wolverhampton — all without ever even seeing the ocean — will faithfully listen each evening to an account of storms in the Dogger and gales in Trafalgar. Given the lack of practical utility of the information for many listeners, it might as well be read as “ish ka bibble bibble bubble”: Soothing, strangely reassuring nonsense syllables just before bedtime. To quote Sean Street’s perfect description, it’s “cold poetry of information”.