Continents of the Mind
Cultural exchange and conflict
Cultures are substantial at the centre and vague round the edges. They are made of shared ideas, perceptions, beliefs, arts and styles, languages, conventions, judgements, mores and history. This is humanity's software. Culture and race, ethnicity, language and nationality are involved, but this is multi-faceted, and few people sit in a clearly-defined cultural box.
Subcultures exist within cultures, cultures cross boundaries, and cultures and subcultures coexist within countries or even on one street. Our character is affected by our originating culture, yet foreign, exotic and mixed influences are important, particularly amongst the young, and have been so for centuries. Cultural attributes shift surreptitiously, and cross-fertilisation over the millennia has been intricate and enormous.
Cultural change percolates mostly through cosmopolitan groupings: city populations, travellers, traders, sailors, conquerors and migrants. Cultural shifts often arise amongst younger generations. Mixed marriages are important cultural interfaces.
Xenophobes tend to forget that all cultures and ethnic groups are mongrel, dependent on taking in new blood and interacting with foreigners to generate dynamism. Cultural identity changes, but it is never weakened if it is vibrant.
Cultural voids can be traumatic. Many cultures have been undermined or wiped out by Western imperialism, yet a void is also a birthplace for a new cultural spark. Cultural regeneration is one of the strong points of the 21st Century. Intercultural friction is a sign of fermentation – as long as we don't take things too far.
In the human aspect of the globalisation process, we are embracing other cultures' ideas and ways, yet there is an equal and opposite accentuation of cultural uniqueness too. When a culture is alive, creative and confident, openness and protection don't conflict.
Cultural immune systems
Ideas and perspectives are like viruses with a life of their own. They seek ever new host populations – or they die.
Through carriers they transplant, mutate and propagate. If a host body doesn't tolerate or successfully resist a virus, it gets a fever.
Immunity to infection is strengthened in a healthy 'body social' if that society enjoys life. Antibiotic cultural preservation measures work short-term, treating symptoms only. Longterm they disincentivise cultural experimentation and expression.
The best probiotics are meaning-in-life, creativity, innovation, celebration and encouragement.
A healthy, florescent culture has little to fear from new influences. They mirror a culture back to itself, revealing facets no one noticed before. A healthy culture takes the best and forgets the rest – it is too busy creating.
Every culture has characteristics which, when mirrored by other cultures, reveal a need for reform and change. Some characteristics show up to be sound and good. This mirroring is one of the big processes of the 21st Century.
Damage has been wrought for 300 years by Western cultural imposition. Here we stand, and the balance is now shifting. Some cultures are reviving and finding new expression – others aren't.
It is incumbent on previous subject and client cultures to regenerate, and on Global North to get out of the way and assist only when invited. Its capability, clarity and ideas are valuable, but the West's right to define trade, culture, morals and geopolitics is now under review.
A monocultural world is inherently sterile and unsound. Cultural diversity strengthens human survival capacity. Reduction of diversity provokes a mass response which re-creates diversity anew – especially in today's big cities and amongst the young. Culture is increasingly a matter of identification, not of birth.
Each culture is challenged to cross gulfs and find points of creative contact. Longterm, cultural imposition is shifting toward to intercultural exchange and collaboration. By necessity. This shift is both exciting and it can hurt.