I found myself this afternoon considering the pitfalls of cultural conflict – not very systematically, and I find myself desiring a greater understanding of history. (Not that I regret not taking any specific history class in college – the only one I took was an honors course that mixed history and art history and was a fascinating study of culture-in-context. If only all history was presented in such a way!) But the generic Law of Cultural Interactions is this: Diversity = Conflict. Either people agree to live and let live, and voluntarily segregate themselves – or they fight until one group gains supremacy.
Consider the one particular place where “diversity” has become a divine power to be worshiped – higher education. Those institutions might be superficially racially diverse – but they are culturally monolithic. And any time ideological diversity surfaces, it erupts into conflict between cultural groups.
This got me thinking that maybe the Prime Directive – from Star Trek – is maybe not the crackpot idea I used to think it was. I can’t think of any case of a technologically superior culture interacting with a technologically inferior culture that didn’t end badly for the lower-tech culture in the short and medium-term. (After several thousand years, the wild barbarians of Europe and Great Britain, after being subjugated by the Roman Empire, actually did become civilized themselves, which is a positive – but that took a LOOOOONG time.) Such a law is useless in the real world, because we’re all stuck on one planet with each other, but the vastness of space is quite enough to make voluntary segregation work pretty well. But given that isolation is not an option for all but the most isolated of jungle tribes – what’s second-best?
Well, I guess that depends on your views, doesn’t it? If one culture believes that the other people are benighted barbarians living in squalor, it doesn’t take an empire with exploitation on the mind to engage in cultural imperialism; Good People with Good Intentions are just as likely to engage in it.
For an interesting perspective on a modern-day example of such, try this Insty link on genital modification – it will challenge you to think carefully about this emotionally-charged subject. And it makes me think that a certain blogger who is rabidly opposed to certain ethnic practices is rather hypocritical in her claim to libertarianism, since she calls for government intervention to ban the practices on the grounds of her own cultural libertarian values. (Yes, WTF. But true.)
Even for those whose most fundamental political value is HANDS OFF, it looks like segregation is the only way to avoid cultural imperialism; either those with differing values need to be a separate nation over which the do-gooders have no authority, or they will be subjugated by the do-gooders from the other culture. There is no live and let live if two mutually exclusive cultures must coexist under the same laws; only conflict.