Thursday, June 30, 2011

Globalization and Diversity

It’s no secret that globalization is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing for many areas from an economic perspective, both “First World” ones and up-and-coming powerhouse nations. On one hand, the collapse of Communism as a credible ideology and protectionism as a credible way to create home-grown prosperity opened up vast swaths of the globe to opportunities that simply did not exist even a quarter of a century ago (aside from the odd North Korea and similar such isolated nations). As if to drive this point home on cue, the rise of the Internet pretty much coincided with the breakdown of government-imposed controls of all sorts - including (perhaps especially) communications barriers, both regulatory and structural ones. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear that one event came about to support the other (but I do know the practically simutaneous collapse of governmental barriers and the rise of the technology making The Internet as we know it possible was just a fortuitous accident of history).

Regardless of its causes, the Internet and the collapse of the barriers brought us all closer together. Who on here has not chatted, posted, or twittered with someone from a foreign nation?! In this sense, globalization and the Internet brings us (sort of) face to face with new perspectives and attitudes that shape the very ways we think - for good or ill. Truly this is the next step in creating a global culture that allows the common person to interact with people in other cultures while reducing the risk of unfortunate cultural communications breakdowns (at least in theory).

On the other hand, globalization also comes at the inevitable expense of losing at least some number of truths forever. Rarely is it due to any deliberate cultural extermination policy on the parts of governments, nor is it due to any cultural discrimination. It’s simply due to the fact that the predominant culture inevitably dominates the most paid-attention to media and Internet sources. The reason for this is simple mathematics. Whichever groups are largest are most likely to have their views expressed through the most watched, listened-to, or read communications channels.

The fact is that many cultures have different ideas, values, attitudes and general perspectives that may seem alien to the mainstream, but nevertheless they stand the test of time. Also, minority and indigenous cultures remind us that there are different ways of being human. This means that assumptions, actions, and attitudes that may be simple “human nature” or “common sense” to the majority may not necessarily be such if we take a closer look. These cultures are thus invaluable human resources, particularly as sources for new ideas (or even rediscovering old ones long forgotten by mainstream society - whether national or global). These ideas could very well prove to be humanity's salvation if we are convinced the minority belief about a matter is correct after all.

For example, languages themselves shape the way the brain thinks. The Finnish language, for example, uses a strikingly different grammar system from most other European languages. Therefore, when forming a thought, the Finnish mind automatically focuses on certain words, stressing certain words in a sentence, and so forth. Also, like all other languages, they invent short words and phrases that have no real easy equivalent in English. One example from German is Schadenfreude, the paradoxical joy of seeing pain come upon certain people, usually enemies. English has no such phrase that I know of. Still, in English itself there exists two common everyday words that sharply distinguish between two very roughly similar but still sharply different notions: “sky” and “heaven”. Spanish, French, and German do not have such simple phrases that I'm aware of. Of course it’s easy to overstate the case for how grammar and syntax shape our though process, but it does seem to be the case in subtle but no less significant ways.

From this vantage point, it’s easy to see the importance of preserving cultural diversity, specifically where it concerns advances in sciences, business fields, and the arts. The more differences that exist among people, the more people are forced to be flexible in their thinking, which is a fertile ground for creative thinking. Therefore, diversity, properly nourished and supported, can be a long-run economic advantage to a globalized world. Beyond the cultural and economic benefits, it helps us to see that many ideas and attitudes we hold are as more the product of our culture than of our genes. This is truly a nonrenewable resource – for once a culture dies, it and its ideas and assumptions are gone forever.

So while it’s true that a globalized culture can help reduce conflict and misunderstandings, the potential peace and understanding might well be obtained at the expense of truth. Therefore, for our own global society as well as our own souls, you might want to seek out people from different cultures and wiggle your way into a long conversation about their culture’s worldview. Both you and the world will be richly rewarded for doing so. Do it before the mass-global societal memes overpower its voice through the weight of sheer mass. Before it’s too late!


Srikant said...

Yes, this concern for "local" cultures is present: as someone who listens to and learns South Indian (Carnatic) classical music, I have come across people worrying about other musical forms corrupting it with globalization.

Flirabat, I must say that local cultures carry over from one generation to the next through indoctrination at a young age. This is what I intuitively feel.

When this is the means by which we encourage ideas to spread, we essentially connect genes and memes, and are essentially siding with evolution and natalism.

I do feel Carnatic music should be kept "pure", though. :) But again, I doubt if people produce children just so they can listen to their favourite kind of music. I wouldn't.

Karl said...

Interesting piece, Filrabat. I wonder, though, if the main danger of Globalisation hasn't already occurred: namely that everyone in the world now wants to live like people in "the west" and gradually all people in the planet are being pushed into the same mindless consumer mould. Some, of course, think this is a wonderful thing: if everyone's distracted by their i-pad then they're less likely to kill others over fundamental religious and cultural differences. Others believe that the inevitable drain on natural resources will bring on environmental catastrophe and resource wars. Time will tell the sorry tale...

Bazompora said...

I think we could and should reconsider the vehicles of culture as fundament of culture itself: we can't morally support procreation and indoctrintation, but we can still return to the pure memetic transmission of "conversion". What convinced me of the feasability of this is the way how Japanese cultural elements are 'flowing backwards', into the world views of the Western youth, through the Western memetic contamination channels prodded into Japan - Nippon arigato. In this manner, one could create and spread new cultures with new ways of thinking aswell: an antinatalist cultural cluster, for example, based on intellectual and moral integrity, the preserveation and redistribution of alternate-cultural notions, and spreading through conversion only.
Then again, I am a dreamer.