Beyond the cultural monad

the written vernaculars have always locked men up within their own cultural monad…(Culture Without Literacy, 1953)1

One of McLuhan’s ever-repeated points was that the modern world has relentlessly and irreversibly exposed every particular culture (here called “vernaculars”) to other cultures in both space and time. The most important effect of this exposure (the message of this transformation of medium) has been to force reconsideration of everything that had previously been accepted only because it was not known to be potentially variable.

There is a close parallel, or parallels, between this social process and the process of individual education. Both require a sometimes difficult reconfiguration as they are exposed to new information. Digestion must be achieved that may or may not be successful. Indeed, complete success in digestion is doubtless not possible, or even conceivable, for entities which are irretrievably finite in multiple ways — unless ‘complete success’ is seen to implicate, somehow, a lack of completion.2

The great perennial relevance of this parallel lies in the fact that the social digestion required for peace and even survival must doubtless first be achieved in the simpler individual form. 

In fact, this process has already long been brought along by individuals like Plato or Confucius in ways we can hardly hope to emulate.

It would seem that we have two tasks. First, to retrieve what Plato and others have achieved by attempting to digest their digestion. Hard enough! But then, second, to work at what Plato and his great fellow thinkers have not been able to achieve, namely, the ignition of a successful social digestion incorporating that individual digestion.


  1. Explorations 1, 1953.
  2. This is exactly ‘the main question‘.