ALS Topic 25 - Global culture Vs local cultures - love or war?

Focus questions for Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, 5 January 2018
Venue: · Adelaide
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Note: 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 understanding.

Themes for this topic

Art, music, cuisine, technology & science, problem solving strategies/mindsets), education, economics, politics


Focus Questions

1. 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?

3. HOW 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 ( 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 things.

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.

10. HOW 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 created.


Comments & Extra Reading

[note: The articles by me below are also available in my repository at  . All of them also include many references to other web sources]

Thor May (2010) "Cultural Operating Systems – Thoughts on Designing Cultures" @

Thor May (1987) "Super-Culture And The Ghost In The Machine". The Passionate Skeptic website @ 

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 @ 

Thor 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 website @ 

Thor 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 @ 

Thor May (2013) "The Contest for Competence". The Passionate Skeptic website @ 

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 @

Thor's own websites:

1. articles at ;

2. legacy site: .


Global culture Vs local cultures - love or war? (c) Thor May 2019 return to Ddiscussion