Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Diversity and Conformity

Written by johnleemk on 1:53:18 pm Jul 26, 2007.
Categories: ,

One thing I often find surprising is the assertion that combining two elements into one constitutes an unjust and arbitrary imposition of conformity over diversity.

There is a disappointing tendency in many quarters to assume that if before we had two, and now we have one, we are worser off for it. This is an assumption that only holds up if one of the two was eliminated by destroying it, or assimilating it as an indistinguishable part of the other.

But, as Abraham Lincoln is supposed to have pithily noted, do we not destroy our enemies when we make them our friends? Put less confusingly, if the reason we have one instead of two is because we have taken the best components of both and melded them into one, then are we not in a better place than we were before?

Let's take a less abstract approach to this and talk in concrete terms. If we have two parents of completely different genetic information (but of course of the same species), do we consider their species worser off when they have children who carry the genetic traits of both parents?

Of course not — as anyone who has a basic understanding of genes and heredity can tell you, the species is better off for such diversity, despite the apparent uniformity.

Strangely enough, there are those who argue that in order to best preserve humanity, ethnic groups must be kept genetically separate, because if we interbreed, we will lose different races, and we will all become the same — nothing more than a race of human beings.

We can all see through the obvious falsehood of this argument. Yet, when we extend this argument to culture, suddenly it becomes intellectually acceptable for many people!

There are those who argue that when different cultures interact, as they have inevitably done throughout the ages, the result will be one culture assimilating all others.

Thanks to the modern phenomenon of globalisation, we now have the pejorative term of McDonaldisation applied to this supposed tragedy. But the reality is, McDonaldisation is not assimilation.

Just as when humans sexually interact, the result is a creature with an entirely new set of genes, when two cultures interact, the result is a culture with an entirely new set of traits.

Of course, there is always a dominant culture, and there might be a reasonable fear that McDonaldisation will result in Western culture being the dominant one. The reproduction analogy can only be taken so far — in sexual reproduction you don't have multiple parents.

However, the more you look at the world, the less likely it seems that Western/Nordic/Anglo-Saxon culture will dominate. The most popular forms of music in the world today are rap and R&B — both not really Western — and rock, a genre which has been influenced by so many things, it's impossible to pin down as a purely Western thing.

If you look at food, surveys indicate that chicken tikka masala is overtaking, or might have already overtaken, fish and chips as the most popular food in Britain. Language? Hinglish is rapidly becoming the norm in both Britain and India, and some mixture of Spanish and English is likely to come out of the United States as well.

There is cause for gentle pessimism about cultural globalisation. But if you think about it, it's not a strong cause for worry — what we have is a strong cause to cautiously celebrate what may be the dawn of a human race and a human culture.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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