Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Turbulent Mixing: The Eve of Cultural Destruction

Ten thousand years ago the world held a few tens of millions of H. sapiens and probably some tens of thousands of distinct cultures, speaking languages that were mostly mutually unintelligible. The invention of agriculture, the growth of cities, and the spread of civilizations introduced a powerful and destructive turbulent mixing of cultures into this world. That mixing has been intensifying for the past few centuries to the point that today we can see only scatterd bits of remainent cultures floating like icebergs in a boiling sea.

Globalization of trade and communication is what propels this turbulent mixing. So are we fated to have a single global culture? The question largely ignores the fact that we already do. All over the world the cutural elites are consuming the same goods, living in similar types of buildings, and speaking the same language, English.

Language, of course, is just one element of culture, and the language of the elites is not yet the language of the people. The cultural mixmaster is somewhat idiosyncratic about about what elements of the the ancestral cultures it preserves. Thus, wealthy housewives in Beverly Hills want their children taught elements of a 4000 year old Indian religion, while Indian villagers view Western porn on their smartphones.

Cultures are built to resist destruction. They don't go gladly into that dark night of oblivion. That sometimes violent resistance propels much of the conflict in the world, from the US House of Representatives to the Somali terrorists in the Nairobi mall.

How complete will cultural homogenization become? I don't see it slowing down.