much interested” in Indian philosophy. “And,” Mead concludes, “this may bewithin the girl's own household.”Given that “our civilisation is woven of so many diverse strands,” it is no wonderthat Westerners tend to view culture as a mosaic of extras that we add on to life.We can go anywhere, especially in this “flattened” world, and collect anything: art,ideas, customs, costumes—culture. Often in the West, we think in terms of “cultural experiences,” as if it were somehow possible to have a non-culturalexperience. “We don’t think of ourselves as a culture in the West,” anthropologistWade Davis told
in an interview. “We think that we somehowexist outside of time and culture. We’re the real world moving inexorably forward:Get with it or lose the train. When the truth is, we’re the anomaly.”There’s a wonderful picture of Mead in traditional Samoan dress, standing betweentwo young Samoan women. They all have headbands; they all have beadednecklaces; they all have smiles. But the two Samoan women will go on to live thesame “life arc” as their mothers’ and as their mothers’ mothers and on and on, back for countless generations. Mead, on the other hand, was the classic Western seekerof novelty. Raised in a culture of choices, the 23-year-old Mead was inspired tocompare and contrast still more cultures and more choices in the hopes of improving the lives of adolescents in the West. She carried with her, always andeverywhere, an unquestioned belief in progress—personal progress, societalprogress, the progress of human kind.
Giving up adding on
“Expect nothing.” That was what the Zen master told Peter Matthiessen asMatthiessen was preparing to leave for Nepal on an adventure and “spiritualquest.” In his classic book,
The Snow Leopard
, Matthiessen is, if nothing else,