Markings On The Yardstick: Identity And Difference
Under the skin, are we all really the same, or, are we all really very different from each other? Are we both the same and different, all at once? Is that really possible?
These questions are being asked and discussed because we are dealing with these very issues in our work. The answers- if there are conclusive answers- have a direct bearing on how we both perceive and address various issues. Of course, many of those issues are clear cut. Others issues, however, are far more nuanced. Even if we factor in cultural, religious or societal differences and the influences they have, the questions remain. Are we all essentially the same, or are we all different?
Instinctive answers come easily. To the biologist, only certain strands of DNA separate us. To the anthropologists, behavior and culture separate groups. The psychological community, adds to the mix by focusing on the mental and emotional processes that lead to and enable certain behaviours.
We believe that it is less important to know- or understand, even, what makes us human (that is, defined characteristics that define 'humaness'), but rather, it is more important for us to know and understand the relationships we have with each other. How we come to understand our relationships shines the brightest light on what we see in the mirror.
That in fact, is what separates 'modern' man from his predecessors. We see and understand ourselves connected with and part of, history. That is an inter-connected chain, with cause and effect relationships. Earlier man looked skyward and understood his primary relationship was with the cosmos.
It would be easy to say that first an early Christian (somewhat oppressive) and then (a milder) Judeo-Christian ethic, came between European and non Europeans, and that alone distinguishes 'western' thought from 'eastern' thought, but that isn't really true. Both the Chinese and Islam once represented forward and progressive thought, in both philosophical and scientific thought.
We believe that what separated Europeans from others was time. How we used time to define the priorities of our culture and the priorities of our personal relationships. 'Westerners' made the deliberate effort to use in a more progressive way and effective way, integrating the progressive use of time into our lives and our relationships. 'Easterners' chose not to do the same.
As a result, western cultures forged ahead, tying even personal relationships to time. Eastern cultures placed no such premiums on time. For example, birthdays, anniversaries, etc., are really more of a western cultural phenomena, adopted as significant by eastern cultures only recently.
No society, evolved or not, is perfect. Each generation of each society has to face their own challenges. We are not about to discuss the merits of cultures, but rather, if and how that evolutionbenefited society.
Which societies are more evolved is easy to discern.
With each new scientific discovery, western cultures forged ahead at breakneck speed, integrating those discoveries and ideas into daily life- and that too, influenced the nature of how we interact with each other. We came to understand that freedom benefits society more than conflict. We came to understand that societies advance and succeed without tyranny and centralized government. We came to understand we can and do make a difference, if we so choose. We in the west have the extraordinary luxury and gift of the opportunity to make and shape our own destiny.
Eastern cultures were in no rush to 'share' their advances with the population. As a result, it was only a privileged few that benefited from the technological, scientific or philosophical advances. The notion of universal access to progress remains a non starter to this day, in many parts of the world. For much of the world's population, destinies are written before they are even born.
What is remarkable is that these differences in societies and cultures have come to be regarded as cultural diversity or cultural differences, as opposed to cultural evolution. This is a smokescreen- camouflage, really, designed to obscure the reality that relationships in some societies identify those societies as lesser, or failed societies.
The better psychosphere bloggers- Dr Sanity, Shrinkwrapped, Gagdad Bob, Neo-neocon, Assistant Village Idiot and host of others, predicate their opinions and beliefs on how those opinions and beliefs impact relationships. It is less about ideologies than it is about who benefits and who is put at risk. They base their well qualified opinions with an eye to the outcome andrepercussions on society, not just today, but down the road.
For example, non of the aforementioned bloggers resist or reject classic liberalism. The relationships that are a part of classic liberalism, benefited the country in historic and spectacular fashion. Classic liberalism broke barriers, was a foundation of inter religious dialogue and spurred American values all over the globe. The Peace Corps wasn't about celebrating 'cultural diversity'- it was about bringing modern technology to those who were deprived of access. It was about making medicines available to all, not about midnight Wiccan Priestess healing rituals or Shaman remedies. Superstitions were not 'cultural differences- they were superstitions. Ignorance was about lack of access, not 'profound tribal cultures.'
Our society was and remains advanced and we have always wanted to share the riches of our advancement. We respected other cultures and beliefs- to say otherwise is absurd. We learned tolerance of others in our own back yard, the American melting pot. It is only those that fear empowering people with education, freedom and allowing them to have a say in their own destiny, that resent us.
Sadly, very little of that is true of today's left. Helping people is only relevant if there is a political payoff at the end, either here or abroad. Plainly said, if the cost of helping others might result in their empowerment of those formerly disenfranchised or the choice of a free government, the left isn't interested. There are no real relationships- only those based on self interest motivate today's left. They have left Classic Liberalism in a shambles. It is almost extinct.
Even as they left celebrates Hugo Chavez, they do not extend any effort into helping impoverished Venezuelans. They, like the victims in Darfur, are only an impediment to achieving their agenda, a 'people's paradise.' That kind of irony is not lost on any of the psychosphere bloggers.
Tomorrow, we will continue the conversation, looking at some of the Arab and Islamic world and how the struggles to redefine time and relationships are impacting those societies.