On Cultural Inertia

By Jaylin Paschal

Inertia is described by physicists as a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force.” Usually described to us in laymen’s terms — “An object in motion will stay in motion, until a force is applied to that object.” To simplify even further, inertia is “a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged.”

It is a principle that, while is of course applicable to everything in the physical world, can also be applied to the sociocultural realm. As most things can.

In social pyschology, Cultural Inertia entails a resistance to change, or human nature’s reluctancy to accept or adopt elements outside of their norm(s).

I don’t see it so much as a resistance to change (although that does play a substantial role), but rather I view it as an enthusiasm for consistency. Not a fear of difference but a love of similarity. A deep appreciation for comfort, customs and routine. Cultural Inertia is, in my mind, “the culture’s” tendency to remain the same until a force strong enough to reshape it comes along. These forces — designers, influencers, artists, tastemakers, etc. — must have enough societal pull to create trends than eventually help define “the culture.” And furthermore convince us what is worth the change; what is better than what we have now. “The culture” may be stubborn, but it is malleable. 

Without forces pushing “the culture” forward, who would we be (or still be) as a people?

Who knows what American music would sound like without Hip Hop? Or how southern rap (or rap at all) would sound without Outkast? Think of what Christian Dior would’ve looked like without Raf Simons? Or what sneakers would cost without Tinker Hatfield — and on the same note, how we’d play basketball without Michael Jordan? Or what we’d do at all without Twitter?

When these forces come, they must be frictional and gravitational, just like in the world of physics. Pushing us forward, pulling us around, keeping us grounded or propelling us outward. Otherwise, we’ll keep on moving uniformly, in a straight line, forever and ever.

Jaylin PaschalComment