Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Clash of the Butts

So I finished reading that 'Clash of Civilizations' paper by Samuel Huntington and much of what he said was true. It's true that there are fundamental cultural differences among human beings, for example, and its true that these often prevent peaceful, productive interactions, and at worst even cause destructive conflict.

This point was well made (better made) in Benjamin Barber's 'Jihad v. McWorld'. That book also dealt with the westernization of the rest of the world and the paradoxes in the 'clash' that Huntington refers to.

The big truth that Huntington seems to deny is that if enough money is on the line, God will do business with Vishnu (no matter how big their cultural differences), so weak-kneed human beings will surely do the same, and in fact, they do. Although the trading blocks of 1993 were established largely along the lines of like-culture, China is one of the West's key trading partners in today's world economy, and both ideology and culture have taken backseats to profit.

But so what?

The only MAJOR problem I have with Huntington's paper is, well, the conclusion. As I said, much of what he said is true (and perhaps even obvious). But in the conclusion, titled 'Implications for the West', he argues that because cultures are doomed to clash, the 'West' better damn well stop dismantling its super-weapons because all the other major cultures are catching up in terms of their military power. So, that's the part where the Washington hawks' beady little eyes light up. Fuck that.

How about this for a conclusion: we have at our disposal two roads to peace: 1. coexist and happily ignore people who aren't like us (except those who immigrate to where we live) or 2. learn to get along despite our differences.

Huntington might call that neive, but it's worked before. Again, I point to China. We really don't like the way their government works and we certainly don't trust them, but now they have the Olympics. We don't have to trust their government, or anyone else's, but 1.4 billion people can't be all bad can they? We're learning to get along with them.

Stockpiling nukes has never caused us anything but trouble. These 'other cultures' of the world would be smarter to drop their weapons (programs), as would 'the west'. But since their trying to catch up, let's make it a little easier for them, by cutting back on what we have. Then maybe we can all work together, toward 0 weapons.

Crazy, I know.

This method of making essentialized comparisons of cultures was not founded by Huntington. I often see value comparisons made between nations and/or cultures. "See how Buddhist Burma is superior to America in its value of consumption as a means to labour, rather than consumption as an end." [EF Schumacher, 'Small is Beautiful' 1975] "See how Japanese pornography is more disturbing than its American counterpart; ergo, Japanese culture is fucked up." [my friend Conor in conversation at 'The Only' in East Toronto, after about 2-3 pints]

While these comparisons offer some insights into how cultural values can influence the impract of that culture on its own society and other countries, these value comparisons are ultimately futile because it is impossible to say with any accurate certainty that one culture is better off, that the people of 1970s Burma were better off than 1970s Americans, or that modern day Americans are better off than modern day Japanese.

I find a more useful comparison is that between the values common to human beings living in civilizations, and those common to humans not living in civilizations, because here I find it easier to conclude that those of us living within civilizations have it worse.

When I make such comparisons though, I am often accused of essentializing, or worse, romanticizing. Meanwhile, those making blanket judgements of "the West" or "Islam" are lauded as insightful and progressive.

There, it's 3 days to christmas 2004 and I just finished reviewing a paper written in 1993. No wonder no one reads this thing except my girlfriend! Happy Holidays.

The Bopper

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Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Latest Truth:

Talib Kweli is a genius.

I'm thinking from now on I should buy only hiphop albums. Except maybe I'll also pick up the 25th anniversary re-release of 'The Wall' because that's an insane album and Roger Waters is also a genius.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan: Lanois asked me what I'd been listening to lately and I told him Ice T, and he seemed surprised, but he shouldn't have been because Ice T, NWA, Public Enemy, there was no bullshit with those guys. They were doing music that was truly innovative. We were making an antiquated record. I didn't want to tell Lanois that, but it was true.

I don't think Dylan's antiquated, nor is Woodie Guthrie or Pete Seeger. But most of the innovation going on in music right now seems to be happening in hiphop.

Peace out,

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