Meditations: Past and Future Diversity
Past and Future Diversity
When I first came to California from Michigan, over 30 years ago as a 19-year-old leaving home, it felt like a different country, where people spoke the same language. Since then, and especially in the last decade, the world has felt like the same country, but one in which people speak different languages.
Before jet travel became routine, the differences between the states in the United States were significant and sometimes striking. These days we would call those differences 'diversity.' Now you can go from a motel and mall in one state to a motel and mall in another state and see the same people with the same mentality buying the same stuff.
To the extent it still exists, diversity is only to be found in formerly exotic places rapidly being trampled down to uniformity by globalization and tourism. Though there is no way to measure it, I wonder if the degree of diversity between countries is now roughly equivalent to what it was in the States 40 years ago.
All the talk about diversity just serves to highlight how rapidly it is being lost. Discussions of diversity are often synonymous with difference, which lend themselves far too easily to accentuating division. However, underlying true diversity are the principles of intactness, cohesiveness, and comprehensiveness of peoples and cultures. Difference is secondary, and division has nothing to do with it.
Human cultures, whether aggressive or peaceful, came into being of a piece over time. The diversity of cultures developed through a rich and non-compartmentalized interplay between material, religious, social, artistic, and political life. Some degree of geographic or ethnic isolation was involved, allowing a distinct people and culture to emerge. That physical isolation is no longer possible.
Cultural clash and conflict have always been the rule in human society. The massive disruptions and devastations that occurred during the colonial era were not unique, but extensions of what had been happening since well before the first civilizations. In short, while not all peoples and cultures have been rapacious conquerors, that is by far the predominant pattern in human history and pre-history.
Now, a single globalizing culture sweeps everything before it. Though multinational corporations are promoting and benefiting from this process, no one group or sector is behind it.
Globalizing culture is a new phenomenon in human history. It threatens to make everyone the same and turn the earth into a featureless plain unless a new conception of culture takes root.
The human potential is determined by the thickness and richness of the soil, the result of many layers of genetic and cultural influence laid down over thousands of years. That soil has been denuded in the West, and is being rapidly eroded everywhere else in the world. This is the subtext of much of the talk about diversity, concealing the fact that it is dwindling as fast as the rainforests of South America.
Since diverse peoples and cultures developed subconsciously over centuries, and since before the modern age people did not separate religious, artistic, political, and social life into compartments, what remains of human diversity cannot be preserved by hanging onto the remnants of the past. That tendency, carried to the extreme, is the basic drive of fundamentalism, wherever it exists. It not only further corrupts a people and tradition; it accelerates their deterioration and demise.
Then what preserves and encourages diversity? Counter-intuitively, the more a person and people embrace the wholeness of humanity, the more their culture and uniqueness are preserved and enhanced. To be sure, they change, but change is the first law of life. The crucial point is that they change from within, and in accordance with what is right for them as a people and culture, rather than being uprooted and torn asunder either through assimilation or resistance.
Can we seize the new phenomenon of globalizing culture, seeing what is false and rejecting it, while seeing what is true and having faith in it? Whether this approach would be workable with, for example, the Chinese onslaught against Tibetan people and culture, I don't know. But resistance to the globalizing culture is futile.
Human consciousness has reached the limit of the fragmentation it can bear without breaking down entirely. However, people can venerate the past without clinging to it, so that a new kind of culture, neither traditional nor consumeristic, flowers.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: email@example.com. The author welcomes comments.