The Hope of a Common Culture

hopeThe natural inclination for humans to view life pessimistically from their narrow subjective perspective has distorted the truth about war and violence. Many think the world now is every bit as violent as it was in the past, if not more so. However, a quick examination of history conclusively shows that the world is not more violent now than in the past, and there is reason to believe that this trend will continue. I’d like to discuss the causes behind this trend, and make some projections.

The rich soil providing foundation and nutrients to this trend consists of the dynamics among economics, technology and longevity and free time. Longer lifespans mean more productivity and less subsistence work which has, in turn, resulted in higher educations and more scientific experimentation. Scientific knowledge has produced incredible technologies that have also added to productivity and stronger economics. These then loop back into greater longevity and leisure.

Upon this foundation grows an increasing global identity now accessible to nearly every human on the face of the Earth. This common identity is a function of commonality in several areas.

  • Travel
    It is increasingly difficult to find an adult in a developed country who has not traveled abroad. This physical interaction with other cultures has provided an invaluable empathy for others outside our own immediate tribe.
  • Education
    The successes of both hard and soft sciences have now made them global projects, with anyone committed to the rigor of scientific inquiry eligible for participation regardless of geographical location. This provides a commitment to a tribe-neutral goal that distracts from tendencies of isolationism and tribal identity.
  • Communication
    The world is now discussing, bantering and chatting at an unprecedented volume. Not all of this is rational discussion, but it all distracts from physical confrontation, and inevitably leads to a greater understanding of opposing perspectives.

In addition to or as a result of these areas of commonality, there have been several cognitive changes that are quite removed from the mindset of humans of a few hundred years ago.

  • The Possibility of Change
    In nearly every aspect of life there has been an upward elbow in the trajectory of convenience, comfort and choice that is acutely experienced within a single lifetime. This prevents us from adopting a fatalism that would have us looking pessimistically into the past. This upsurge in areas such as living conditions, medicinal options, migration options, individual political power and career options has us now cautiously optimistic about being powerful agents in the trajectory of our individual lives, and has made us more confident in uncovering peaceful solutions to tribal tensions.
  • Critical & Scientific Thinking
    The salient successes of science and rational thought in recent years to improve the human condition have reduced the anachronistic appeal to what once were considered to be noble emotions. These include a blind loyalty to a state/king/god, and the related concept of the noble warrior. Also diminished are the justification of revenge and the notion of divinely granted ethnic entitlements such as land rights.
  • Global Identity
    No longer are certain races so devalued as a result of a divine curse or other arbitrary rationale. The concept of humanness is becoming evermore the primary source of identity rather than ethnicity, race or tribe. Migration has assisted in this cognitive change with most regions ethnically mixed far more than what was seen even mere decades ago.
  • Humanization of Enemies
    Enemies are no longer looked upon as animals or savages. Tension is now largely considered to be a product of misunderstanding or, at the very least, rational egoism rather than some innate ignoble characteristic in the opponent. This leaves room for reconciliation and peace.
  • Individualism
    There is now the realization that dependence upon the governance of a state/king/god has seldom led to peace. In an increasing number of countries, it is no longer wrong to make personal desires and opinions known within a substrate of discourse, and to look for a consensus than can then be implemented. We are much less willing to have someone else the primary agent in our personal lives. At the same time there is more of an acknowledgment that it is an altruistic egoism that best accomplishes our goals. This altruistic egoism is becoming more and more a global proposition.
  • Lessons Learned
    It is becoming evermore difficult to be unaware of history. Formal education as well as free educational media continuously remind of of where we’ve been, as well as were we are. We know with more certainty what is at stake, and the more recent lessons of global cooperation are powerful motivators.
  • Less Spiritual Drama
    While some remind us that the world will end soon (2012 by Mayan estimations, and “any day now” by centuries-old evangelical estimations), most minds around the world are clearly moving away from the teleological affirmations of the logically disinclined. This is also a product of examining history to assess which world views have had predictive power, and which have not.

On top of these fundamental changes in the current human psyche has emerged a global culture. We now share much in the way of music, food, fashion, media, humor, and general lifestyles. Those once thought sub-human or monsters we now not only work with, but also forge enduring relationships, appreciating the varied tints of ethnicity. In this, ethnicity has been relegated to a lesser facet of identity, and humanness has emerged as the demarcation for mutual empathy.

Will this trend to a common culture continue? Some tribes, unappreciative of this world view of 360 degrees, are already battling for the preservation of their traditions that honor exclusion and tribalism. However, it appears that we are already well beyond escape velocity. Some may assimilate while kicking and screaming, and inflicting a few injuries along the way, but they will assimilate.

Is this trend to a common culture wholly beneficial? I tend to believe that a few pang of nostalgia will be experienced as notions such as the warrior spirit and providential hegemony fade. Some anthropologists are also lamenting the loss of languages and regional cultures. However, the rewards of inclusivity will more than compensate for any loss. And we are not forfeiting originality. We are only abandoning a tribal aggression that has stained history red.

I am not certain where this global culture will take us, or whether we will survive very far into the future. But a commitment to cooperation is a critical step in preparing ourselves for inevitable resource tensions and ideological spats. And if you will permit me to lean a bit on my somewhat irrational optimism and squint into the future, I believe I see more sunshine than clouds.


7 thoughts on “The Hope of a Common Culture

  1. Mike Antonelli says:

    According to Wikpedia: the word “culture” is most commonly used in three basic senses:

    excellence of taste in the fine arts and humanities, also known as high culture
    an integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning
    the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group.

    Based on my travels , I seriously doubt there is a global culture. The way of doing things is quite different no matter where I go. Of course there are commonalities: people’s desire to live free, enjoy a quality of life, raise and enjoy their families and be free of tyranny and oppression.

    This third component of the definition is the one that seems very different regionby region, country by country to me :

    the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group.

    Even inside Japan, the language , practivces & attitudes seem different to me in Kansai than in Tokyo.( as an example )

    But after that layer, everything seems different: langugae, art , food, behavior, way of conducting business and on and on .

    • Hey Mike. Thanks for commenting.

      Perhaps a good indicator of a global culture is what the world can coherently discuss across geographical and political borders. Michael Jackson’s death was an event nearly everywhere around the world. American politics is a huge topic of discussion in Europe and Japan. Items such as iPhones, Big Macs, Levi Jeans, Ikea sofas, BMWs, manga, sushi, and tacos all reveal the extent of global culture. Common activities such as baseball, St. Patrick Day parades, Valentine’s Day events, and even “rock/paper/scissors” are indicative of an increasing mutual identity. What would an average Indian and an average Kiwi have talked about a thousand years ago? Now they’re both chatting in English, playing rugby, drinking Coronas, and listening to Maria Carey.

      And I failed to mention the positioning of English as a Global language, something that will have enormous implications for this move to a more global culture.

  2. McDaddyo says:

    There is a semantic issue here in that culture at least partly describes what is unique about a distinct group. Japanese culture, for example, isn’t unique because it embraces Michael Jackson, mah jong, Andean music and symphony, but in the way it does so.

    Not a really important distinction, I think, but one perhaps worth making. Maybe a better word is trends. Pop trends are globalizing, but they interact with established cultures and may even alter them, but does that actually constitute a global culture?

    • Understood. Christmas is an American culture, yet each household celebrates it differently. Japanese now also celebrate Christmas in their unique way.

      My point is that, due to increasing points of commonality such as Christmas music and the stories of Santa and The Nightmare Before Christmas, we are are converging on a common identity that is gradually making us less pugnacious.

  3. McDaddyo says:

    True. And as you also suggest, that’s no small achievement for just three or four generations.
    It’s also interesting how Japanese culture absorbs global trends. Every pop trend circles the earth before at last arriving in Japan, where it is gloriously, reverently mummified.
    Ok, that’s a bit flip, but you probably know what I mean. Japanese are somewhat mysteriously able to both absorb a trend and repel it at the same time. They can be ruthless in the search for authenticity and just as determined to stay “Japanese” in all ways.
    So the music and clothes and even mannerisms of gangsta rap go mainstream among Japanese youth, while the thug life itself remains far offshore. Though maybe that’s a special case. I recall that the first online dictionary of “ghetto” slang, i.e. rap lexicon, was created and maintained by a pale teenager in Romania.
    But Japan is a world leader as well in terms of symphony orchestras per capita. And ballet, even and, certainly, Western contemporary and modern visual arts — at least on the consuming side.
    Perhaps it is that Japanese are the world’s most refined and assiduous consumers, who also have wealth. And for them, culture, be it pop or classical, is a consumer good.
    Ok, now I’m rambling…but thanks for spurring thought…

  4. Jonathan says:

    Bravo. I hope you are right.

    I am to be convinced… My experience in Israel demonstrates it is possible to have travel, education, communication, critical and scientific thinking – and yet, and yet…. STILL dehumanize your “enemy”. Indeed perhaps people do so BECAUSE global culture in some way represents a threat to so many people’s sense of self. I understand them – the world is confusing and complex and psychologically uncomfortable. Many find it not just uncomfortable but unbearable – that’s where all sorts of comfortable nationalisms and religiious fanaticisms come in….

    • Yes, you have an interesting perspective having lived in Israel. From what I’ve heard, the extremists are becoming more marginalized there, is that correct?
      Nationalism and religion do seem to be the 2 things that prevent understanding and acceptance. I sense that the voices you hear from these corners are just louder, not more in numbers.

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