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Cultural Imperialism

A million and one people have written essays on this subject, decrying the evils of cultures around the world dying, languages vanishing into the mists of time as the world becomes increasingly homogenized, culturally and linguistically. They talk about how people should keep their cultures and their languages alive...

And they are all wrong, and horrible hypocrites.

The reality is that these people are as bad as the people who want to destroy cultures and languages, they just don't realize it. The truth of the matter is that cultures are always changing, and it isn't a bad thing. The culture of the United States in the 1950s is dead, as sure as the culture of various tribal folk who subside on subsistence agriculture and fishing. It may take a while for it to completely vanish, but vanish it will... and this isn't a bad thing.

The reality is that it is bad to impose culture on others, in general, but it doesn't matter which culture is being imposed, be it whatever culture you happen to possess or supposedly "their" culture - "their" culture is theirs to choose, not anyone else's, and this is part of the problem. You see, these cultures don't die just because they are inconvenient, but because they are outmoded. The youth reject them and move to the cities to get a chance at a better life and not die at age 50 in some awful village. If that were not the case then they wouldn't be leaving in droves and letting the languages and cultures die. And people from the outside moving in and trying to keep those people in their villages, culture, and language are wrong - these people are rejecting it with good reason, and it is their own choice.

Some languages HAVE survived, like Latin. But many, indeed most languages have not produced what Latin produced; their deaths do little to the world. We can translate the legends, but few cultures have really produced anything all that meaningful to the world in general. Those which have proved foundational, or produced writings, manage to endure, if only in the hands of a few scholars, but a language with no writings, with no great works, will disappear and there is little to mourn.

It is too easy for people to think they are doing others a favor by keeping their language and traditions alive, but in reality those languages and traditions may well be what stands between them and a better life. When we drill a well in an African village to give them fresh water at all times, rather than forcing the women to spend 8 hours a day hauling water while the men work the fields, will irrevocably change their culture as surely as anything else we do. Empowering women to make choices about their reproductive health and place in society will surely change societies as much as anything else we do. And we see these as good things, and anyone who argued that we shouldn't do these things because we would negatively affect their cultures would be seen as a horrible person. So why is preventing these people from communicating with their neighbors, let alone the rest of the world, by keeping them in their language spoken only by a couple hundred people a good thing? Why is keeping them trapped in a culture reliant on agricultural methods which haven't been optimal in millennia, or keeping them as hunter-gatherer societies, a good thing? Are these people wildlife?

I hold that no. I think it is a good thing to allow cultures to change, evolve, and yes, even die. The purpose of language is to communicate, so languages dying is actually a good thing, as the fewer languages there are, the more people we can all communicate with and the more chance there is for the exchange of ideas and the improvement of the culture of all the peoples of the planet.

Anything else is to stand in the way of progress, not just of everyone, but especially of those with cultures and societies which are outmoded. If they want to stay out on their island doing subsistence agriculture, that's fine... but if they don't, then we shouldn't work to keep them there.


Jun. 30th, 2014 02:28 pm (UTC)
There is a trade-off. Individuals would rather join high-functional cultures. But the real problem is, for lack of a better phrase, cultural genetics. I used to experiment with genetic algorithms a lot. TO get them to work, you have to have semi-isolated sub-populations. If you allow free and easy transfer across the whole population, the whole population converges on one solution, and then stops evolving.