Them’s fightin’ words… for our grandkids

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.

5 thoughts on “Them’s fightin’ words… for our grandkids”

  1. great post joel. it is extrememly interesting to wonder what shape the world will take in years to come – especially in a global city like b-ham. this city is rapidly growing in diversity and more and more cultures are finding representation here. some of our most interesting conversations have been with some second and third generation transplants to england. nisbet proves true in regard to their view – definitely, “New cognitive forms based on the blending of social systems and values.”

  2. Yeah – it changes one’s perspective a bit to get out of West Texas, eh? I mean, one thing Nisbett talks about is that in the near future there will be a significant global population of people who suffer what a lot of MK’s or third-culture kids do… they don’t have one definite home or one cultural identity. Vancouver is like how you described B-ham. At the same time we’re reading stuff on globalization and it’s like, whoa.

    There’s more Nisbett stuff coming, on identity, object/context, and some other stuff. I have to hold parts of his book lightly because I don’t have much perspective from which to evaluate his claims, and he makes a lot of sweeping claims that are outside his domain of speciality. Still though, fascinating stuff for us. Our on-site supervisor is reading it, too. Can’t wait to hear his take.

  3. speaking of TCK’s, check out Tessa’s blog – she just started blogging about her experience as a TCK. Some really interesting stuff, plus, it’s Tessa!

  4. We’re reading this stuff in our research practicum, but we also have an anthropology class, too. Nisbett doesn’t give any details about what the convergence might look like, other than saying that it’s not going to be primarily Western. I think he’s imagining more of a synthesis, rather than a one culture over another kind of thing. But that’s not a huge part of the book, just sort of his closing two chapters where he talks about implications for politics and stuff, which to me seem like he he just threw them on there to give his book more popular appeal.

    re: the Global Village – I’m actually reading some anthropologists who poopoo on that whole idea. They say it’s superficial and that just because different people live close geographically (like, in the same urban centre) doesn’t mean that they actually share the same “world.” A post is in the pipe on all that, too.

    FoxNews? If you want a Middle Eastern perspective, click this. I don’t know of anything else in English.

  5. Joel,
    Did the author say what the convergence model might look like? Seems like something I might buy into more in the global village we live in, where the awareness of differing cultural values is more available. I mean just look at us talking to each other from across the world, I never would have dreamed this possible 8 years ago when I lived in Ecuador. Plus Fox news helps in all this, by constantly trying to belittle mid-eastern cultures, they actually inform the western world more and more of their cultural values, and while being informed, we learn to move into a position of greater respect, and possible dialogue/tolerance and whatnot. Know what I’m saying. What class r u reading all this stuff in?

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