Culture wars. You may or may not have noticed, but there’re a handful of rather influential cultures on this globe that don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye. What’s going to become of it all? What kind of world will our grandchidren live in? How will they think about whatever they have to think about? Will they see the world like we do, or like Asians do, or like Arabs do, or what?
Some political and social scientists, like Francis Fukuyama, actually argue that the West has already won and that eventually the whole world will be capitalist and democratic. Global politics, economics, and values will converge on Western characteristics more than anything else. Richard E. Nisbett characterizes this view in The Geography of Thought:
Everyone is really an American at heart, or if not, it’s only a matter of time until they will be.
I’m assuming that Fukuyama might say it a little different.
Not surprisingly, others, like Samuel Huntington and Nisbett, have issues with that. Huntington says that we’re on (over?) the brink of a “clash of civilizations” that is better attributed to irreconcilable differences of culture, thought process, and perspective, rather than to conflicting economic or political interests. Nisbett quotes Huntington:
In the emerging world of ethnic conflict and civilization clash, Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false, it is immoral, and it is dangerous.
The economic advances of the Far East and the demographic growth of Islam mean that the relative global influence of the West will decline significantly.
Nisbett proposes his own third option:
the world may be in for convergence [Fukuyama] rather than continued divergence [Huntington], but a convergence based not purely on Westernization but also on Easternization and on new cognitive forms based on the blending of social systems and values.
Now, I don’t think he’s just saying that in the future more hockey mom’s will take more yoga classes, Western doctors will prescribe more herbs, Western young people will get more mistranslated Chinese tattoos, and Western kids will buy lots of Hello Kitty (behold the Cult of Cute). Ever notice how certain Western world leaders and certain Islamic world leaders seem to talk past one another? Or that what “they” say makes no sense to us and what we say apparently doesn’t count for squat with them? “New cognitive forms based on the blending of social systems and values” – he’s talking about foundational differences in how people see and how they think about it.
I don’t have a clue which one of these three predictions, if any, will be more accurate. Our grandkids might, though. In the meantime, I think we’ll keep learning Mandarin, but I’m boycotting Hello Kitty.