It is initially important to clarify my working definitions of the terms traditionalism and traditional societies. In their stead it is as applicable to substitute for traditionalism and traditional society the terms of communal and collectivist. Any of these terms relate to the past being carried forward into the current working paradigm of a given society. I also clarify that I ascribe to the West and East certain attitudes. Thus my references are general in nature even though there may be considerable specificity. While talking about Armenia I will use the term communal or as Raymond Cohen states “high context” society, a style associated with nonverbal and implicit communication, and in contrast he defines another model of society as “low context”, the predominantly verbal and explicit style typical of individualistic societies such as the U.S.
Wherever people live whether it is tropical forests or crowded cities they confront some common problems. They all must eat they all need shelter, they all form families,and raise children. Although these are universal undertakings, the solutions are highly varied. For example, in Armenia the most common type of family is the extended family,for the most part in the United States and Europe – nuclear family forms the basis of society.
Since time immemorial people have devised various methods for adapting to their environments, solving their basic problems and their perceived best way of their life-activities. Over time these methods became patterned and shared within the population. The patterned responses became a way of life, passed from one generation to another as a design for living. Each succeeding generation modified and added to the design, but the basic patterns show remarkable stability. This is something that Armenia’s society faces today. Culture generally contain dominant themes that give a distinct character and direction to the culture. New ideas, values and innovations are usually accepted without a struggle only when they fit into the existing culture patterns. Culture do transform but usually over time and with some conflict occasionally with some violence.
Armenian society today is currently in transition. Its value system is under internal security as the impact of modernization becomes more evident and accelerated. The influence of Westernization has vastly increased since the demise of the USSR. For example, most people wish to study and speak English, T-shirts are the most popular wear among youth, children grow up watching Disney’s cartoons. During the Soviet period people did not have as much opportunity as they have today to follow the processes that originate in the West. After the fall of the “iron curtain” and the advent of a free mass media all the events and processes are available for everyone to view and study in Armenia. Yet the frequency of cross-cultural encounters should not be confused with cultural homogenization at a deeper level. To speak in English is not equivalent to thinking in English, to know the ways of life of the West is not necessarily a wish to emulate them. One of the characteristics of Armenia is its willingness to borrow certain foreign influences while remaining true to its essential beliefs and values. Armenian society today can be described as a traditional society, which in general, means that there are traditions, values, norms that shape the behavior of the people in different spheres of life-activity. There are numerous features in the social structure that are inherited and some scholars consider ancient and sacred. There are many basic patterns.However, changes are obvious due to modernization and the need for the improvement and development of the society in an technologically closer and more compact world.
In Armenia the family remains the center of affective life and the presentation of the values, mores and culture. Even with the onslaught of invaders through centuries by Arabs, Mongols, Turks, Persians and others the family orientation was the key to Armenian’s ethnic survival. Armenians often describe the family as a “fortress” – man (the outer wall) and words off external danger, while woman the “inner wall” – preserves domestic order and harmony. The organic relation of each part in the whole is also expressed in the analogy of a married couple to a body, in which man is head, and woman is the neck. When invoking this comparison, head supposedly makes the decision and controls the body; in fact, women subtly control the head for “as the neck turns, so turns the head”. Both proverbs stress the supportive and subordinate nature of women’s relationship to men. Within the family the authority of the father is unquestioned, and this model of superior-subordinate relations is replicated at all levels of society and politics. Roles are ascribed. Consequently members of communal minded societies accept hierarchy as part of the natural order of things and are strongly status conscious.
Without a respected, well-connected family people feel socially and economically vulnerable. For most Armenians, the family rather than the state dominates as the most reliable form of social insurance. A family’s ability to protect its members however depends in part on the respect in which it is held in the community. This respect is tied up with local nations of family honor, which requires a man to earn enough to support and to maintain family’s position in the community, by public demonstrations of prosperity. Family honor requires that woman behave modestly and play a subordinate role in the family economy.
Individual Society vs. Communal Society
Individualistic cultures hold freedom, the development of the individual personality, self-expression and personal enterprise, mobility, personal initiative and achievements as supreme values. Individual rights, not duty to one’s family or community is paramount. Affiliation with a group is based on personal choice. Law, not ascription, defines rights and duties. The common thread in individualistic societies is rule of law; conversely it is values or norms in the communal ones. In communal societies custom not contract prescribes the individual’s legal obligations to a given transaction, role of course of action. Similarly, conflict is resolved by group opinion or informal methods of conciliation rather than through the courts. In communal societies, like Armenia, importance is given to family, clan and to strict forms of social organizations. The individual is identified on the basis of group affiliation and individual needs in terms of societal interest. Face, in communal society (one’s standing in the eyes of the group) must be preserved at all costs. Losing face is one of the worst things that can happen in a communal society. Dishonor (the loss of a good name) is a fate worse than death. When someone is insulted or dishonored, especially in front of people it might be catastrophic. The family name is sacrosanct. In the communal society where all transactions are personal and anonymity is not an option no humiliation is easily forgotten. Because the social disruption caused by loss of face is likely to be severe in some of these societies the feud is still a common means to settle old scores. Communally minded persons are vitally concerned about how they will appear to others. There is no more powerful sanction than disapproval. Loss of face (humiliation before the group) is a penalty to be avoided at all costs.
Time and Perspective of Time
Time and perspective of time are part of the distinguishing between high context and low context societies. Time is crucial for individualistic societies, is measured by minutes even seconds. This thinking is alien in communal societies. If it is better to deal with one thing and one person at a time in individualistic society, in the communal – one would rather handle several tasks in parallel. Concerning time perspective, it must be mentioned that west (US and Europe) is oriented on future, while communal-minded societies are mostly oriented on inheritance. This especially refers to Armenia. Many Armenians believe that we are alive today only because of our ancestors’ insistence on preserving the ideas of the Armenian nation, church and the language. But we are too much concentrated on our past. Yes, we were the first nation to admit Christianity as a state religion, we had an empire that touched three sees, it is said also that we were the first ethnos ever known in the world. Always we were we had. It’s wonderful. But today we wish to shift some to the future. One of the scholars distinguishes two types of traditions: traditions that are alive and those that are not forgotten. Alive traditions are the traditions, which seem to be contemporary, which refer to our present. Traditions that are not forgotten are those traditions which are known to us but their existence is questioned – is there need to maintain them. This is one of the dilemmas currently confronting Armenia as it comes to grip with modernization, a global economy. Therefore maintaining our identity and the traditions that contribute to the better development of society and progress, and putting behind in cherished memory traditions that hinder the progress, are the key considerations for Armenia.
Another clear distinction between high context and low-context societies is the process of making contracts. The expectation that agreements are to be kept is the foundation stone of Western type of communication. The contract that has been agreed upon and signed is a hallowed document that is to be honored. For high-context societies, an agreement is a provisional step on a never-ending journey, yet another move in an open-ended relationship. Viewing on agreement as the beginning, not the end of contract it is assumed that if the relationship is healthy the contracting parties will be able to work out future differences. In short, whereas low context people emphasize communication in the terms of firm, fixed contracts high context people place the onus on maintaining the ongoing relationship on the basis of sincerity and goodwill.
Politics and State (institutes)
In a society the norms and values embodied in the roles of one institution will usually be compatible with those in other institutions. For example a society (such as Armenia) that stresses male dominance and rule by seniority in the family will also stress the same norms in it’s economic and political systems. While European nations were forming nation states in 1550 after the battle of Westphalia, Armenia was fighting against different invaders to maintain their identity. The Armenian community organized self-defense communally. All the victorious pages of Armenia’s history are known by the name of the communities. Historically Armenia was a monarchy, communism, and not until in 1991, state as it is Armenia today. Our mentality both political and social is shaped in a way that people tend to look for a leader whether he is nobleman, head of the village community, one that will take care of the common people and defend them from disaster. The idea of individualism, the power of individual, individual rights and consequently the idea of civil society so clearly embedded in the western political and ideological tradition is relatively new to us.
However some researchers show combinations of traditionalism and other national features with the concepts of democratization for achieving a successful civil society.
Armenia is on the road to democracy, there is no turning back. The major problem in Armenia today is how much we keep, that is traditional, and yet progressing to equal rights to everybody.
Raymond Cohen “Negotiating across cultures”
Å. Ùåöêèé “Òðàäèöèîíàëèçì è Óòîïèÿ”