Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Extinction of Culture

Why does it matter whether different cultures are protected from emerging global forces? Some would say it doesn’t, most anthropologists would argue otherwise. I guess I see both sides.

On the one hand, no humane person pines over the glory days of when we had a culture of slavery in this country. Or, for a more current example, do we really want to preserve our current American culture of excessive consumption and environmental degradation? Just because a culture exists doesn’t mean it should. Further, as Westerners, we shouldn’t deny remote cultures the vast material benefits of our system (if they desire those benefits) for the sake of being able to visit exotic peoples and discuss our neat differences.

From the anthropological perspective, it seems that all cultures ought to be equally valued by outsiders because it’s inappropriate for one group to determine the fate of another based on priorities and principles that are not shared. After all, who is to say that we got it right as Westerners?

Intuitively I believe in preserving distinct cultures because I see the beauty and concert in the thousands of unique expressions of human voice around the world. I would just like to unpack a little further what it is specifically that we ought to value about our culture and others’ to better understand how to think about things like globalization and international development both critically and constructively.

What do you think? How careful should we be about cultural imperialism when thinking about global "progress?"

1 comment:

AC said...

oh dear, trying to unpack the entirety of some poli sci/anthro double major's college education in one blog entry, eh?

i have way too much to say on this topic and brevity is not my strength, so let's just talk about this in some other forum. my own very brief response is that anyone who really legitimately thinks that cultures should remain in some vacuous isolated hole and not mix -- even dominant cultures to less dominant cultures -- has an extremely limited understanding of cultural evolution. even remote tribes in the african bush have evolved over time through interacting with one another -- might not be the typical "West versus Rest" that we're used to in today's discussion, but i assure you that cultural evolution -- even the cultural trumping we may have difficulty reconciling -- is happening, always has happened, and always will, whether some people like it or not.

now that we've accepted its inevitability, let's try to figure out a way to facilitate it peacefully.