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2008 03 06
Culture & Multiculture 14: Why talk about Culture?

Despite every denial, Antarctica melts ever faster in the south. Greenland and the arctic melt ever faster in the north. Devastation of genetic diversity and natural habitat accelerates past every point of not returning. Biotoxic mercurial and other poisons contaminate lakes, rivers, streams and oceans to the molecular bone. And while some fish species “can continue to be enjoyed by consumers as part of an occasional meal” -- for how much longer? How much longer before there are no more species left to consume? Before oceans not just rise but boil off all trace of living? When we finally tip the Earth over the irrevocable edge to becoming like either Mars of Venus. Lifeless.

Rays of hope are dimming fast. While we keep believing ourselves entitled to slashing and burning every single food chain we’ve so unnaturally lurched to the top of since hefting that damn club of Moon-Watcher’s. While we keep acting like the Earth and its creatures were god-given us for indiscriminate consumption. To play with like every living thing was meant to be our food. As if the Earth was meant to be crushed beneath our feet and we were meant as lords of anything but false creation stories.

Rays of hope are dimming fast. Better get them while supplies last. For how much longer can we shop before we drop?

International emission targeting accords like from Kyoto or Bali might scratch some veneer off our unnatural habits and habitating. But not so as to brighten much hoping. Not even if the far greater part of greenhouse gassing -- just for instance -- were emitted by large scale economic activity. Rather than by the hordes of us personally. For even if the greatest part of greenhouse gassing were subject to carbon taxing, emerging economies must have every opportunity to emerge precisely as the G7 or 8 or 20 did. Despite how much worse each and all things ecological now are. Regardless how much better we now know. Like, what doom thus emerging entails. Totally regardless. Leading economies have had every fair chance to despoil the Earth. Emerging economies must get their chance as well. Fair is only fair.

And. Even were none of it so. Our hopes for the future -- for any future -- would still keep dimming. Dimming inexorably. Because we can’t even look to the future. We can’t pay attention to how we destroy everything natural. We are far too utterly distracted fighting amongst and against ourselves.

Neither our shared responsibility since 10,000 years B.C. -- ever since we got serious about extincting other species -- nor any collective future doom can mean anything while we so universally keep fighting amongst and against ourselves.

Do the leading edges and cracks of doom not approach precipitous enough? Then why, accelerating to collective doom, do we continue escalating fighting amongst and against ourselves?

Hard question. The roots of human conflict, we insist, lie in material causes. Whether in social, academic or diplomatic circles -- we insist on material root causes. But that’s just nonsense. Causes are rarely material at the roots of human clashing. However constrained by physical causes, human choice and action gets determined and entailed by reasons. Human clashing is rooted in reasons. Entirely cultural reasons.

Cultural consequences, whether clashing or working together, are found in all our ways as people. Yet culture can not in itself originate from material causes -- such as similarities or differences in ethnicity, gender, class, caste, costuming, technology or what recipes we cook. Culture can only originate in our most basic and fundamentally shared principles. Since only cultural accords defined by sharing fundamental values and principles enable societies working together despite every material divergence in our prior experience. And only cultural discords defined by fundamentally conflicting principles compel human populations to clash despite every kind of experience shared in common.

And that’s the whole point. We must begin understanding the cultural reasons for conflict -- not just keep rooting after causes. Rooting as if human actions were physically and causally determined like rocks bouncing and billiard balls rolling downhills. What hoping remains for the future of all things great, small and naturally evolved, hinges specifically upon unprecedented conflict resolution possibilities arising between clashing cultures. On learning to span the categorical gaps and contradictions between cultures by narrative instead of force.

The question can no longer be whether cultures clash. We must start asking if and how, for the first historical time ever, human cultures might cease clashing. Because the issue has gone too far past mutually assured destruction. There are no options remaining but to stand together -- united against the great unravelling of nature we have loosed in every land, in the oceans and in the air.

Hence this “Culture and Multiculture” series. Dedicated to the meanings and consequences of cultural diversity (not only) in the world’s most multicultural city. Since, both culturally and ecologically -- if we can’t make it here then we can’t make it anywhere.

[Battle cat image by giddygoose and used via Creative Commons license.]

[Peter Fruchter teaches in the Division of Humanities at York University.]

[email this story] Posted by Peter Fruchter on 03/06 at 01:01 PM

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