| Culture and Globalization:
Equality of vulnerability and opportunity
In a shrinking planet wired and webbed by the most continuous and interactive
cultural contacts in history, people are constantly having to negotiate
with others having different values, attitudes and behaviour. This means
that the world is one but the many have not yet found their place in it.
Our own nature as human beings makes us forever look at the world from
a specific place, a specific time. The horizon of our eyes had always
been transformed into the boundary of "our world". What happens
when we can see beyond our known physical horizon, to the other side of
the world? What happens when we can see, in live time, people falling
to their death? Or see the houses destroyed when the dust settles down?
On the other side of the world.
Could we not aspire, in this new millennium, to extending that horizon
to a empathy with no boundaries, an imagination with no barriers, a creativity
with no limits? We can aspire to it, certainly, but the more the basic
needs of so many poor people are not met, the more resentment grows, the
more conflicts fall into the fault lines of cultures and will erupt into
As the report, Crossing the Divide1 states, it is
the heightened degree of interdependence in the world that has transformed
any " threat" into a "global threat" that knows no
boundaries. What the recent tragedies in New York and in Afghanistan have
demonstrated is that violence has acquired a new global rank. However,
so has the collective will for peace, development and sustainability as
witnessed by so many thousands of local social or cultural movements which
have this aim in mind. Perhaps never in history has this collective will
against violence been so evident and so global in its manifestations.
This, I believe, is the movement we must act upon through concerted international
programs and actions.
These tragic events of 2001, if anything, demonstrate how important international
cooperation in matters related to culture has become on the world stage.
No longer will it be considered that questions of cultural identities
or religious fundamentalisms are a marginal concern in international geopolitics
or in the defense of democracy.
In Latin America in particular, culture, in all its manifestations -artistic,
festive, social and intellectual- is rapidly becoming one of the most
important areas of interactivity where local demands are represented in
the face of overwhelming global trends. As President Henrique Cardoso
de Oliveira has remarked: "...la revolución necesaria (para
enfrentar los retos de la globalización y la gobernabilidad) -y
que ya marcha en varias partes, fragmentaria, confusamente- es una revolución
cultural". Certainly, the hope fostered by Porto Alegre in opening
new avenues of perception and action in a global world, is one of the
signs that local peoples the world over are demanding a change in the
course of globalization processes.
The first mind-set we must change is the concept of development. Amartya
Sen brings new light into this concept by stating that development is
freedom. It is doing away with the unfreedoms that prevent people from
pursuing that which they have reasons to value.
Negotiating Cultural Pluralism
Freedom in culture goes hand
in hand with respect and appreciation of cultural diversity. As defined
in the Declaration on Cultural Diversity proclaimed at the 2001 Unesco
General Conference, diversity is "
the source of human capability
of developing: we think by associating different images; we identify by
contrasting ways of living; we elect by choosing from an array of options;
we grow by rebuilding our confidence again and again through dialogue".
In this new beginning, to cope with the momentous challenges of sustainability,
governance and convivencia in a global era, we need cooperation on a world
scale putting into play all the creativity that be summoned from all cultures
As explained in the Unesco Second World Culture Report "it is no
longer a matter of globalization allowing cultural diversity to continue
to develop, it is cultural diversity as a condition without which globalization
Diversity must also include all the diverse sectors of societies. Including
gender difference but equality of rights of women and men. Civilizations
have been built by men and women, each with their respective and complementary
contributions. No dialogue among civilizations could take place without
the active and inventive participation of women.
As noted by Ruth Cardoso, a distinguished Brazilian anthropologist, cultural
studies and social movements -of mobilized peoples of African descent,
women and peoples of varied ethnic and social origins contributed greatly
to the political evolution of the end of the 20th century
2 . However, she warns of a new threat, that is, "
construction of identities so strong as to exclude the principle of multiculturalism
and the fight against discrimination, restructuring values and patterns
of behaviour leading to intolerant fundamentalisms" 3
Respect and reciprocity cannot be decided by law or imposed by institutions,
although disrespect and hierarchy can be and often are. Minimizing inequality
in the social primary goods in Rawls´sense --not just rights and
liberties but also powers and opportunities, income and wealth, and the
bases of self-respect-- is not only the most effective instrument in this
regard but can also be institutionalized. Minimizing inequality, not just
absolute poverty, empowers the possibility of equal and effective participation
and, thereby, of convivencia and genuine cultural pluralism.
Such transactions become impossible if a cultural canon is elevated to
the level of a metaphysical condition. Questions of faith, all would agree,
cannot be negotiated. If so, groups defining themselves exclusively on
the basis of religion, at best, can only negotiate coexistence and tolerance,
and at worse, as Mr. Ossama Bin Laden has shown, they will fight to annihilate
the Other or themselves.
Democracy, trade and policy-making, on the other hand, imply negotiated
conciliation, as do civilized international relations. The only way to
achieve this conciliation, as Umberto Eco has forcefully reminded us,
is to consider that "all wars of religion that have bloodied the
world for centuries have been born out of passionate adherence to simplistic
oppositions: We and They, the Good and the Bad, White and Black. If Western
culture has shown itself to be creative
it is because it has striven
to "dissolve" nefarious simplification with the light of critical
spirit and enquiry".
Simplifications of political philosophies do not generally last very long:
freedom of expression and open debate lead to adjustment through constructive
criticism and negotiation between contending parties.
In a forceful statement, the European Union has declared that "the
right to difference and to identity is inseparable from that of the equal
dignity of cultures. It is within this perspective that the European Union
conceives the dialogue among civilizations. This must be carried out without
taboos. We have the right to ask questions to a civilization other than
our own and to pose questions to others".
To see how things are
In discussing development,
we must go further and question the language itself that we are using
because it conditions the way that we "see" others. Arturo Escobar,
Encountering Development: the Making and Unmaking of the Third World has
emphasized that "
Rather than being eliminated by development,
many "traditional cultures" survive through their transformative
engagement with modernity. It becomes more appropriate to speak of popular
culture as a present-oriented process of invention through complex hybridizations
that cut across class, ethnic and national boundaries...If we continue
to speak of tradition and modernity it is because we continually fall
into the trap of not saying anything new because the language does not
permit it." 4
Rather than talking of how things should be, many Third World scholars
are looking at how things are. Trinh T. Minh-ha speaks about the "transcultural
between-world reality" that requires traveling simultaneously backward
--into cultural heritage, oneself, one´s social group-- and forward,
cutting across social boundaries into progressive elements of other cultural
Equality of vulnerability
Scientists meeting at the
World Science Organization Open Conference on the Challenges of a Changing
Earth, in July 2001 in Amsterdam confirmed that global warming will have
decisive and diverse impacts on the life of every inhabitant of the planet.
Environmental global change thus creates an equality of vulnerability
which, in turn, also deepens through increased interdependence in one
single world economic system.
In the report Crossing the Divide we put forth that equality in vulnerability
heightens the need for a broader, more political dialogue among cultures.
Thus, it stimulates dialogue. Because the real answer to equality in vulnerability,
leading to equality of opportunity, is the adherence to accepted forms
of common behaviour by more and more actors on the international scene.
This requires, as stated in the Report, "
an act of decision
by each individual member of the international community, no matter how
"Perhaps what we are really talking about, the Report goes on to
say, is no longer individual enemies for individual countries but a multifaceted
enemy for all. The spreading of contagious disease, weapons of mass destruction,
unrestricted dissemination of small weapons, poverty, all represent different
faces of an "enemy" for the entire human race
If the enemy
is common, it follows that fighting against it requires unanimity".
A higher order of civilization
As political philosophies
are downplayed by the neoliberal perspective of the waning state, cultural
conflicts and ethnic cleansing wars are proliferating. The prophecy of
the "Clash of Civilizations" proposed by Samuel Huntington has
turned, as several authors have noted, into the "Crash of Civilizations".
Cultural conflicts will be endless in a world where ethnic ideologies
are substituting political ideologies as instruments in conflicts of power.
To prevent greater proliferation of such conflicts, a new global framework
is needed that will take time to build from the myriad initiatives of
different peoples in today´s world. A first step, it seems, is the
need to recognize a higher order of civilization, one in scale with the
effects that globalization is bringing to the world . A higher order of
civilization created and nurtured by the combination of many, many cultural
strands of philosophical and theological thinking throughout human history.
As eloquently expressed by Mr. Abldelaziz Belkhadem, Foreign Minister
of Algeria "
No one can doubt that we are witnessing the more
and more extensive formation of a civilization of the universal which
is the result and the fruit of the endowments and contributions of different
human civilizations since the night of time". This world civilization
must be based on the Kantian principle that every individual must treat
others as he or she desires to be treated, that is with respect, dignity,
empathy and tolerance.
It must be built through the "global ethics" proposed by the
United Nations World Commission on Culture and Development in Our Creative
Diversity, based on human rights, democracy, gender equity and sustainability.
A new collective will
We are witnessing the conscious
building of a new constellation of political will around the world. It
is coming from local communities, from reconstructed cultural communities,
from those conscious of the need to build a global civil society and from
political constituencies that consider development, democracy and sustainability
Altogether, a different concept of the role of the United Nations is needed.
As proposed in Crossing the Divide: "To those who say that the United
Nations is nothing more than the sum of its members, we beg to differ.
Within the framework of the United Nations, we would like to submit that
an international social contract is being consummated
.For the need
for such a contract will become more and more self-evident, as power alone
will not deliver peace any longer".
Local cultural actions I believe will give the substance that will be
linked through interactivity into a global cultural web. It is this global
cultural web that will give meaning and purpose to our continuing human
prevalence on this Earth.
1. The General Assembly of
the United Nations declared the year 2000 as the Year of the Dialogue
among Civilizations with Unesco having responsibility for organizing its
activities. A "Group of Eminent Persons for the Dialogue among Civilizations"
-among them Kamal Aboulmagd, Lourdes Arizpe, Ruth Cardoso, Jacques Delors,
Hans Kung, Nadime Gordimer, and Javad Sharif- were asked to write a report,
Crossing the Divide: the Dialogue of Civilizations, presented to the General
Assembly of the U.N. on November 8, 2001.
2.Cardoso, Ruth. 2001. Speech
at the United Nations Assembly. November 8, 2001:
4. Escobar, Arturo. 1995. Encountering
Development:the making and unmaking of the Third World. New Jersey: Princeton
5.Trinh T. Minh-ha. 1991. When
the Moon Waxes Red. New York:Routledge, cited in Escobar,op.cit.:220.