Global culture Vs local cultures - love or war?
Focus questions for Adelaide Lunchtime
Seminar, 5 January 2018
Venue: · Adelaide
About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the
meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to
offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS
QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can
discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not
intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish.
We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper
for this topic
cuisine, technology & science, problem solving strategies/mindsets),
education, economics, politics
From the topic themes suggested, which one interests you most? Why?
2. WHAT IS THE BEST TECHNIQUE TO OPTIMIZE CULTURAL BLENDING?
Australia is a country of immigration. In the 19th Century its
colonies (as they were then) had mass immigration from Britain.
Since 1947 it has had waves mass immigration from hundreds of
countries, so that the original immigrants are in danger of becoming
a minority as the Aborigines did before them. Of course this creates
social stresses for everyone. Sometimes people say that "Australia
has no culture". But is this really true? Or are we involved in the
enterprise of creating an Australian culture by blending the finest
spices from those hundreds of other cultures?
CULTURE-BOUND SHOULD EDUCATION BE? What is a good balance between
learning local skills & information (often called 'practical'
education), and developing mindsets that are open to lifelong
learning from wherever it may come? When I was in teacher's college
they showed us a film called "Filling Jugs or Lighting Candles?" The
title summed up two ways of looking at education. The first was that
knowledge was a finite thing, passed by teachers from generation to
generation into heads ('jugs') that could only hold so much. The
second idea was that education was about 'learning how to fish'
rather than just 'picking up a basket of fish'. It was about
igniting the wish to find out more, and that learning was infinite.
"Filling jugs" goes very much with a local/national idea of
learning, and still defines most of what still happens in schools.
"Lighting candles" has a much more international flavour to it -
curiosity has no bounds of tribe or country.
4. WHAT IS LOCAL
CULTURAL IDENTITY? SHOULD IT BE PROTECTED? WHERE DO WE DRAW THE
LINE? "Chinoiserie" is a term applied to European copies of Chinese
and East Asian artistic styles, beginning with a diffusion of ideas
which followed trade in the 18th Century
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinoiserie). In some circles it has
been derided as 'cultural appropriation'. We hear the same arguments
about copying Aboriginal artistic styles. Yet if we look at
so-called Western influence on almost every world culture, it is
clear that "cultural appropriation" has been massive in both
directions. (.. Why do police uniforms and surgeon's green smocks
look identical now in every country...?). So cultural diffusion is
universal and has been happening forever.
5. TO WHAT EXTENT
SHOULD RESEARCH, SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE AND TECHNOLOGIES BE PROTECTED
WITHIN NATIONAL OR COMMERCIAL BOUNDARIES (E.G. BY PATENTS)? There's
an idiom that 'great minds think alike' - meaning that someone else
might have already thought of your brilliant idea. It is certainly
true that similar scientific insights and technologies can arise in
unrelated cultures. However history also seems to say that copying
is much easier and more efficient, from horse mounted cavalry to
designing car engines. I've seen a 1964 Toyota Crown engine that was
almost a bolt for bolt copy of a Mercedes engine, yet now Toyota is
ahead of the game.
6. HOW CAN PEOPLE BE PERSUADED TO ACCEPT
ECONOMIC SOLUTIONS WHICH WORK BETTER BUT WHICH MIGHT NOT FIT A
COUNTRY'S IDEOLOGICAL FLAG THEY HAVE BEEN TAUGHT TO MARCH BEHIND?
Economics has an identity and loyalty problem. The foundation of
economics is finding the best way to obtain and distribute scarce
resources. Those scarce resources can take many forms - for example,
investment capital, time, materials, competent human labour ... And
so on. "Best" also has many interpretations. Best for whom? The
owners of capital, or managers, or government administrations, or
politicians, or lobbyists, or workers of various kinds, or
populations as a whole .. ? And so on. Formulas, you could call them
ideologies, claim to mix these ingredients in rather fixed ways:
e.g. Capitalism, Communism, Socialism (mixed state & private
control), and many sects of these, as well as other quite different
minority formulas. People like simple formulas (ideologies) and
countries go to war in their name. People hate complexity, and real
economic solutions are complex.
7. PERSONALLY, WHEN YOU HAVE
TO INTERACT WITH A COMPANY, OR GROUP OF PEOPLE, OR EVEN A CULTURAL
GROUP WHO SEEM TO BE DOING THINGS INCOMPETENTLY, HOW DO YOU COPE? DO
YOU TRY TO CHANGE THEIR WAYS? HOW? Problem solving and approaches to
questioning the status quo are heavily influenced by culture.
However the relevant 'culture' might refer to the culture of a
company, or a like-minded group of people (e.g. members of a
religion or ideology), or the historical culture of a whole ethnic
group. Some of these groups might be highly hierarchical or
authoritarian, others might approach issues in a more egalitarian
way. Some might go for revolution-or-nothing, some might believe in
an evolutionary or partial approach (e.g. Agile methods in
business). Expatriates and immigrants often encounter a wall of
hostile resistance when they try to introduce other ways of doing
8. IF ENGLISH AT THIS MOMENT IN HISTORY IS 'THE WORLD
LANGUAGE', SHOULD THERE BE A CONTINUING ATTEMPT TO STANDARDIZE IT?
(.. the speech, or only the writing?). How useful is the presence of
a global 'world language'? What price should a country pay to have
one national language? Note that most countries have many or
sometimes hundreds of languages, though this decreases with
education and pervasive media. In India, competing languages create
strong political divisions. Media and government often portray China
as having one language, yet China has over 1500 'dialects', many of
which are mutually unintelligible (and hence different languages).
Only a minority actually speak putuonghua, the official standard,
natively, though a majority understand it.
9. WHAT IS YOUR
SOLUTION TO PERSUADING THE FIGHTING ELEPHANTS CALLED 'COUNTRIES' TO
GET ALONG WITHOUT TRAMPLING THE REST OF US? Politics is supposed to
be the art of the possible. Because they officially have to please
everyone (at least in a democracy), in practice politicians often
please nobody. It is difficult for a politician not to become
cynical, or even corrupt. When it comes to the global scale of
geopolitics, only a tiny minority of people in any local culture
know or care what the global issues are. This remains true even
though such global issues can literally destroy whole populations.
What is a politician to do when faced with deadly geopolitical
consequences, but local ignorance? There is another idiom that "all
politics is local". To survive in international affairs, the local
politician will (must) wave a magic looking, but powerless formula
of words (an ideology), which his home audience think they
understand. This empty magic will rarely solve real geopolitical
problems. Too often violence is the outcome.
SUCCESSFUL CAN THE UNITED NATIONS EVER BE AT HEADING OFF WORLD WAR
III (AND PROBABLY OUR END AS A SPECIES)? CAN YOU THINK OF A BETTER
SOLUTION? After the carnage of World War I, a body for international
coordination and cooperation was created. It was called The League
of Nations. In practice all politics remained local, the deadly
virus of nationalism ran rampant again, me-first selfish economics
generated The Great Depression, and the world headed into World War
II. After the carnage of World War II, the United Nations was
Comments & Extra Reading
[note: The articles by me below are
also available in my academia.edu repository at
https://independent.academia.edu/ThorMay . All of them
also include many references to other web sources]
(2010) "Cultural Operating Systems – Thoughts on Designing Cultures"
Thor May (1987)
"Super-Culture And The Ghost In The Machine". The Passionate Skeptic
Thor May (2015) "Probing the limits of tolerance? - Can we
reconcile “live and let live” with “drawing a line in the sand”?"
The Passionate Skeptic website @
May (2015) "So You Love Humanity But Can’t Stand People? - Humanity,
when assembled as a state, also finds it hard to tolerate the
individual. When should collective interests (e.g. those of a state)
override the interests of individuals?" The Passionate Skeptic
May (2014) "Multicultures – communities of familiar strangers - When
a stranger asks “what do you do”, as he fishes for the right
stereotype to pin on my chest as a mark of admiration or secret
contempt, I am at a loss to answer. That is, I am a man of my age, a
chameleon creature accustomed to slipping amongst a kaleidoscope of
roles". The Passionate Skeptic website @
Thor May (2014) "How Can We Treat Refugees Humanely? – An Australian
Perspective" The Passionate Skeptic website @
Thor May (2001) "When Is It Rude To Be Rude? - Politeness Across
Cultures and Subcultures" The Passionate Skeptic website @
May (2013) "The Contest for Competence". The Passionate Skeptic
Lily Kuo (25 Dec 2018) "China cracks down on Christmas celebrations
- Citizens told to focus on promoting traditional Chinese culture
amid broader clampdown on churches" The Guardian @
[ Thor: as usual, media headlines distort reality. China is 98x
larger than the whole Australian population. The mayors in a handful
of Chinese towns have over-zealously aped an official preference for
'Chinese culture' by trying to ban the 'foreign influence' of
Christmas. Meanwhile Beijing and most Chinese cities are awash with
Christmas decorations which, as in Australia, have nothing to do
with religion for most people. This kind of popular diffusion of
global culture with pockets of local resistance happens everywhere].
Victoria Kim (December 23 2018) "More naughty than nice: In
South Korea, motels, condoms and the pill are in hot demand for
Christmas". Los Angeles Times @
1. articles at
legacy site: http://thormay.net