Cultures and Countries Are Things of the Past

Published: Sun 22 Oct 2006 02:01 PM
Meditations - From Martin LeFevre in California Cultures and Countries Are Things of the Past
Perhaps the core question with respect to globalization has to do with identity. If this issue can be adequately addressed, then many, if not most of the crises confronting people everywhere (especially in impoverished and conflict-ridden countries) can begin to be ameliorated.
The international community (a misnomer if there ever was one) continues to try to jam the square pegs of transnational dilemmas into the round holes of nation-state mentalities and structures. Fragmentation can only worsen, and crises increase and intensify, as long as the basic premises of the status quo remain inviolate.
It isn’t just a matter of the end of the international order (and its stillborn descendant, the multilateral order). The human crisis is complete—it is a crisis of consciousness itself.
In political terms, humans have had a tribal mentality for tens of thousands of years. Nationalism is a sophisticated version of tribalism. ‘My country’ as an American, Iranian, Chinese, etc. is still the first psychological and political premise for the vast majority of people.
Even so, why are parochialism, sectarianism, and nationalism growing evils? Partly it is because the response of governments and international institutions to the multi-faceted human crisis in the global society is falling so far short of sufficiency. People see no alternative but to cling to a tribal mentality.
When a New York Yankee pitcher plowed his plane into a high-rise apartment building along the Hudson River last week, there was a massive military reaction in the United States. A frightening number of fighters were sent into action over major American cities, because, as the military commander of the system said, “we have a sacred responsibility to defend our homeland.”
Nation-states matter less and less. We live in time of stateless terrorism, yet there are few places where the atavistic patterns of tribalism are not being repeated. The European Union is one notable exception perhaps, though people there, as everywhere, feel disconnected from their governments and the EU process.
On the other hand, people all over the world are looking for a way ahead flowing from the common interests of humanity. Progressives are failing to tap into this hunger, taking the premise of national sovereignty as a given, and a necessity, while fearing anything that might lead to a ‘monolithic’ global polity. To many on the Left, all forms of globalization must be implacably opposed.
But even though corporate-state globalization is, to use the cliché, the ‘hegemonic paradigm,’ there are other facets to globalization. Another aspect allows people and ideas to flow not just across borders, but regardless of borders. The first kind of globalization demands a new dimension in world politics, while the second kind permits it.
It may be a question only a philosopher would ask, but what is identity? And is it possible to hang onto it?
The irony is that by hanging onto identities and traditions, one accelerates their erosion. Conflict and confusion increase in people, and all kinds of counter-reactions and neuroses result.
Take the Disneyland of Dubai, which has been having it both ways to this point by segregating Western businesspeople and tourists from the locals, who are trying to retain their traditional ways. (The Emirates have 1.2 million residents, but only 250,000 are citizens). “People see us as these creatures walking in their midst,” said one citizen, “aliens wearing all black or all white, which they think means we are closing ourselves off.”
The first thing therefore is to meet, within oneself, the psychological tendencies toward division, fear, and resignation. The de facto global society is first an expression of what we are as individuals, not the result of cultures, governments, politics, and policies. Trying to retain or change things at these levels, without radically changing oneself, only exacerbates psychological and cultural divides.
The ideal of ‘unity in diversity’ is an impossibility. Diversity grows out of unity, not the other way around.
Our place in the world first flows out of our relationship to humankind as a whole, not from the cultures and nations we’ve been born into. We can and must emotionally perceive ourselves first as human beings, rather than members of particular, partial groups. Doing so will open a new dimension in world politics.
- 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: The author welcomes comments.

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