Sunday, December 18, 2011

The World it is a Changing

It is obvious that globalization continues to progress together with radical changes in the technological infrastructure of all societies. In prehistory, when a tiny world population was supporting itself in hunting-gathering societies, cultural change may have occurred slowly if at all. Today, cultural change is occurring very rapidly.

It seems obvious that change can be positive or it can be negative. Indeed, some aspects of cultural change can be positive while others at the same time can be negative. We can see changes in health related behavior leading to better health, and changes in work leading to more comfortable lives, while other changes lead to more and more destructive wars.

It seems self evident that good neighbors would seek to promote positive cultural changes that would help their neighbors, and that they would seek to discourage cultural changes that would hurt their neighbors and/or threaten themselves.

Of course, there are a couple of big issues:
  • Cultures are complex, and changing one aspect of a culture may have many difficult to predict cultural repercussions. Thus it isn't always clear what cultural changes will result in overall patterns of change that will be on the whole more positive than negative.
  • It seems that many aspects of culture (e.g. music, dance, foods) are much loved by the people within the culture and unlikely to have much positive nor negative impact on the wellbeing of people other than their enjoyment of "cultural life".
  • Some means of promoting cultural change seem popular and unproductive. I think for example of invading a foreign country to promote democratic institutions in the country.
I rather like the UNESCO approach, seeking to promote a culture of peace, seeking to strengthen educational, scientific, cultural and communications institutions, while emphasizing the preservation of world cultural heritage. Doing this in a multinational organization often offers benefits to the United States over seeking to do so through bilateral relations and programs. UNESCO does have a program in the Management of Social Transitions, bringing social science expertise to these questions. I only wish it was stronger. And I worry that the U.S. decision to withhold contributions from UNESCO will weaken the Organization, and be contrary to the long term interests of the United States.

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