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Revolution or Renaissance

D. Paul Schafer

Part II - The age of culture

9. Flourishing of a Cultural Age

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Culture is like a tree, a fabulous tree, in which each branch is formed differently from its neighbour, each flower has its own colour and fragrance, each fruit its special sweetness. This wealth and abundance has developed naturally. Each culture and each people bears its individual stamp, but the branches are all shoots of the same trunk and are fed by the same sap. If the branches are cut and detached from the trunk, the flowers wither. We are all members of the great society of mankind; our national cultures are part of the culture of the whole world, which we must continue building up.—Kaj Birket-Smith (1965), p. v

1If a cultural age is to flourish in the future, a new vision will be essential. This vision must be capable of producing a transformation in the world system, the human condition, and the ways in which people interact with each other, as well as with the natural environment and other species.

2The key to realizing this vision lies in a renaissance, not revolution or general evolution. General evolution is not possible because the current economic age is based on foundations that are not compatible with environmental, human and global well-being, or with coming to grips with the world’s most difficult, demanding and debilitating problems. Revolution is not possible because it is too frightening to contemplate, particularly in view of the fact that more and more nations possess biological, chemical and nuclear capabilities that are capable of causing mass destruction. This leaves a renaissance as the only viable alternative. This renaissance should be so bold in design and daring in execution that it makes it possible for people, cities, and countries in every part of the world to look to the future with hope and enthusiasm, rather than pessimism and anxiety.

A Cultural Renaissance

3In thinking about the type of renaissance that is most needed for the future, it is helpful to look back at the past. The cultural renaissance that occurred in Italy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and fanned out to encompass much of the rest of Europe, and other parts of the world, in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries was a renaissance in perception. It changed the way people looked at the world, and therefore how they interpreted the world, acted in the world, and valued things in the world. Viewing the world, not from a two-dimensional and religious perspective, but from a three-dimensional and aesthetic, humanistic perspective, opened the doors to a broader, deeper and more fundamental way of looking at life, society, and the human condition. Something very similar is needed today. Rather than viewing the world from the specialized, partial and partisan perspective of the present economic age, a holistic, comprehensive and egalitarian perspective will be appropriate to a cultural age. It will allow people to focus attention on the whole, on wholes within the whole, and on the need to achieve balanced and equitable relationships between the parts and the whole.

4Eventually everything was affected by the cultural renaissance that began in Italy: economic and social life, religion, the arts, the sciences, the humanities, education, community development, rural affairs, and government (see, for example, Burke 1999). There was a blossoming of creativity in all these and other fields, as well as in the interconnections and interrelationships between them, and this has had profound effects on humanity ever since. Many of the most dynamic and strategic developments took place in cities—Florence, Milan, Venice, Pisa, Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent—a fact that should be borne in mind when considering the cultural renaissance needed for the future.

5The arts played a crucial role too, by lifting people out of the medieval doldrums, establishing loftier goals and ideals, and providing the new ways of seeing required to produce developments in other areas of life, particularly the sciences. According to W. R. Clement (p. 105):

one of the key triggers of the Renaissance was the discovery of perspective, or paintings and drawings representing three static dimensions. By the early seventeenth century the idea of perspective had become the metaphor for that period we call the Renaissance.... [T]he accessibility of perspective to an ever increasing part of the population resulted in an intellectual ferment and commitment to exploration of the physical and natural world never before equalled. This metaphorical value served not only the painters of northern Italy, but it travelled well. The metaphor worked for the German artist Dürer, as well as the English poet Henry Vaughn, and supported accessibility to philosophers like Niccolo Machiavelli, Dante Alighieri, Erasmus, and Bruno. The idea of perspective was driving the age. In 1610 Galileo called his new invention for viewing the heavens a perspicillium. The founder of the academy with which Galileo was affiliated, Prince Cesi, was a more practical Renaissance man—he called it a telescopium (distance viewer).

6In the early years, seminal contributions to this earlier cultural renaissance were made by painters, sculptors, writers, architects, and composers. Their work in turn spawned a constellation of contributions from later generations of artists who followed in their footsteps. Perhaps artists might make similar contributions to the cultural renaissance that is needed today. It is not coincidental that artists are regarded by some as the antennae of humanity, for they create many of the contexts, styles, and techniques that are needed to make improvements in other areas of life by providing the inspiration and insights to propel people and countries to higher and higher levels of accomplishment. According to Robert Pilon (p. A-24):

The social purpose of every creative work is to move us, to touch us, to teach us, to make us think, laugh and cry; to lead us to expand our horizons, to question established truths; to open our minds, introduce us to new values, teach us new realities; to challenge the established order while helping society find a new consensus. No society has been able to survive and flourish in the past without recognizing the fundamental social role played by artistic creation, and without integrating into and supporting within it the development of culture. This will be ever more true of the future. A society without culture, without creation, without artists, is a society condemned to stagnation, to withdrawal; a society without soul, without dynamism, in a word, without the vitality that is the very essence of life.

7Technology also played a crucial role in the cultural renaissance that began in Italy. Major innovations were needed to communicate the new ideas and methods, above all the invention of printing by Johannes Gutenberg and others in the fifteenth century (or rather, its reinvention, since block printing had been known in East Asia since the third century CE and in Egypt since the seventh century, while movable type had been developed in China more than three hundred years before Gutenberg). The introduction of movable-type printing in Europe made it possible to record, reproduce and diffuse information over long distances in relatively short periods. Printing helped to diffuse the ideas and works of the cultural renaissance from Italy to other parts of the world. A comparable innovation is revolutionizing the ways in which people today record, reproduce, and transmit information and ideas. The internet has the potential to link all members of the human family in ways that were barely even dreamed of in earlier periods. In particular, the internet dramatically reduces the amount of time and resources used in communication, which could have a significant impact on the environment in the long term. While books will always play an important role in communication, because they are durable, transportable, and adaptable to a variety of formats, the internet possesses even greater potential to revolutionize communication, despite the many problems associated with it.

8Further, the internet has the potential to enable people in every part of the world to share information more fully, freely, equitably and broadly. Such sharing is imperative if humanity is to go fruitfully into the future. This hits home with striking clarity when consideration is given to the final reason why the earlier renaissance is relevant to the renaissance needed for the future: the need, in both cases, to unleash creativity in all fields of endeavour, as well as to learn from the past—by, as Marshall McLuhan put it, “looking in the rear-view mirror”—in order to unlock the secrets of the future. This makes it possible for people to see the shortcomings of their own period and their own culture, as well as the achievements and accomplishments of earlier periods of history. By reaching deep into the past, the earlier renaissance exposed a vast constellation of historical achievements in philosophy, mathematics, science, the arts, and social, economic and political affairs that were capable of providing springboards for future action. That is why, in 1855, the French historian Jules Michelet initiated the use of the word “renaissance” to describe what had happened: a rebirth of Greece and Rome, with valuable assistance from Muslims, in the Italy of the fifteenth century.

9It is not necessary to go back to classical antiquity to uncover the insights and ideas that are most pertinent to the world of the future. However, it is necessary to see that a cornucopia of cultural achievements has been created in the past that is capable of providing an effective base for the cultural renaissance required for the future. We are referring, of course, to the cultural heritage of humankind, and the need to share it more liberally, fully, and equitably if a cultural age is to flourish.

The Cultural Heritage of Humankind

10What stands out most clearly when the cultural heritage of humankind is considered in totality is its colossal size and universal character. The world’s museums, art galleries, archives, and libraries, as well as people’s homes, attics, and basements are filled with vivid reminders that there is hardly a country, group of people, community, region or culture, in any part of the world, that has not made a strong, lasting, and valuable contribution to it.

11Take folk music, for example. Every country in the world possesses a vast reservoir of indigenous songs, dances, and musical compositions, commemorating births, deaths, weddings, and other special events, the joys and sorrows of life, and the mystery and vastness of the universe. This fact was brought to light in the early twentieth century when a number of European composers, such as Zoltán Kodály and Bela Bartók in Hungary, or Georges Enesco in Romania, undertook intensive studies of folk music in order to preserve it for posterity and use it in their own compositions. Since that time, interest in the world’s wealth of folk music has grown rapidly, especially after UNESCO made a commitment to systematically collecting, preserving, protecting and recording it through its Collection of Traditional Music of the World. As a result of this initiative and others, it is now possible to listen to folk music from every country in the world. Thanks to the foresight of UNESCO and especially of Alain Daniélou, who initiated the Collection along with the International Music Council, authentic music from every region is being preserved for present and future generations.

12To take another example, there is a rich array of diverse cuisines throughout the world (see Barer-Stein). Food plays an inextricable role in our daily lives, since, obviously, we cannot survive without it, but food is much more than a tool for survival. It is also a source of pleasure, comfort, and security, a symbol of hospitality and social status, and in most cultures it has ritual significance. What we select to eat, how we prepare it and serve it, and even how we eat it are all factors that have been deeply affected by specific cultures. The world’s gastronomic legacy, which is local and regional as well as national and international in character, enriches the lives of billions of people throughout the world, and culinary masters such as Georges-Auguste Escoffier, Julia Childs, Emeril Lagassi or Wolfgang Puck have done much to bring its delights to the attention of the world.

13While these two examples provide only infinitesimal glimpses of the colossal size of the cultural heritage of humankind, they underline its pervasiveness and its value as humankind’s most precious resource. It includes, in addition to many other things, all the world’s finest music, paintings, and literature; all of its most beloved architecture, cities, and historic sites; all the greatest achievements of the civilizations of the past, whether ancient, medieval or modern, and whether in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas or Oceania; all of the worlds most significant advances in, technology, economics, education, social affairs, politics, psychology, and science; and all of its greatest religious and spiritual teachings, its sacred texts, and its most profound philosophical ideas. It is little wonder that Jacob Burckhardt (as quoted by Karl J. Weintraub, pp. 117-18) called this unique resource “the thread in the labyrinth” or “the silent promise” that possesses the potential “to bring an objective interest to everything, to transform the entire past and present world into a spiritual possession.” It is a spiritual possession that more and more people, countries, and cultures throughout the world must become familiar with if they want to find fulfilment and happiness in life.

14However, the cultural heritage of humankind should not be seen as completed, or static: it is constantly growing and developing. Every day it receives countless contributions from every part of the world, and it is continuously being renewed and revitalized as new sources of knowledge are uncovered, and new materials and artefacts are brought to light. This makes it a living heritage, constantly in need of conservation and renewal if it is to serve humankind to best advantage. In recent years, the maintenance of this unique “heritage of hope” has become highly systematic and sophisticated, involving the work of a battery of skilled and talented curators, technicians, conservation specialists, and the like, as well as the efforts of UNESCO and numerous specialized international organizations. They have been instrumental in raising global awareness of the vital importance of the cultural heritage of humankind, and of the need to protect it whenever and wherever it is threatened. They have also saved Pagan, Angkor Wat and Angkor Thorn, Abu Simbel, and many others among the world’s most distinguished historic sites and monuments from destruction.

15There are many reasons why the cultural heritage of humankind needs to be maintained, but also used more fully. In the first place, it is needed to help people, countries, and cultures in every part of the world to confront and come to grips with the transnational problems of modern times. None of these will be solved without the full use and sharing of the universal fund of knowledge, information, and wisdom that humankind has built up over the ages. It will not be possible, for example, for people to come to grips with the spread of greenhouse gases and toxic substances, or with floods, tornadoes, hurricanes or earthquakes, without sharing all that is known, and all that is still being discovered, about geography, geology and meteorology. Organizations in every part of the world will have to pool their resources, knowledge, and expertise to the utmost if they want to help to prevent such problems from spiralling out of control. Similarly, the world has a profuse legacy of medical and pharmaceutical acumen, including healing practices and procedures, methods of disease control and prevention, and effective approaches to health care and personal fitness. All of it needs to be much better known and used by the diverse peoples, countries, and cultures of the world. This is equally true of agricultural, industrial and commercial knowledge and technology, which could be used to much greater advantage than at present, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and the Caribbean. While there are limits to the extent to which technology and expertise can be transferred from one part of the world to another, there is no doubt that there would be much to be gained, not only for these regions, but for the world as a whole.

16The cultural heritage of humankind is a precious gift that past generations have bestowed on present and future generations to assist them in differentiating between right and wrong, good and bad, relevant and irrelevant, timely and timeless. Access to this gift is an inalienable right of every person in the world, and no community, region, country or group of people has a monopoly on it. While people in the more economically developed parts of the world may not be willing to recognize it or admit it, people in the less economically developed countries have a great deal to contribute with respect to what is most valuable and important in life, including how life should be lived and what life is really all about. Many people in small communities and marginalized groups also possess profound insights into relations with the land, spirituality, recreation, education, ecological management, and human fulfilment that have a great deal of relevance at this stage in history.

17To this must be added the fact that there is an enormous amount of satisfaction to be derived from the cultural heritage of humankind. Whether they are aware of it or not, every person draws on the cultural heritage of humankind every minute of every day. It is impossible to listen to music, read a book, sit on a sofa, talk on a telephone, use a computer or go to school without having recourse to it.

18Since more is always being added to the cultural heritage of humankind than is being subtracted from it, it is essential to create new methods to prevent the erosion of this munificent legacy in the future, which is why the invention and diffusion of computers, the internet, satellites, and the like has been so valuable and so timely. There are numerous problems to be sorted out in connection with the use, ownership, control, and content of these inventions and devices, but they provide a ray of hope in what would otherwise be a depressing situation. Through their capacity to move information from one part of the world to another in incredibly short periods of time they make it possible—in principle, if not always in practice—for people in every part of the world to profit from the very best that humankind has to offer.

World Culture and World Cultures

19When considering the cultural heritage of humankind, the question naturally arises whether we should be striving to create a single world culture, shared by all citizens and all countries, or many world cultures, each with its own distinctive identity and capacity to function effectively in an increasingly globalized world.

20The arguments in favour of a single world culture are enticing. According to those who advocate it, there has been a relentless trend throughout history towards the creation of larger and larger cultural units, as humankind has moved on from living as nomadic tribes to living, thinking and feeling in terms of settled communities, then cities, countries, continents, and the world as a whole. When this trend is pushed to its logical conclusion, it ends up in the creation of a single world culture shared by all people and all countries. Proponents of such a trend point to the creation of regional trade zones such as the European Union, and the establishment of multinational corporations and international institutions on a scale and in numbers unprecedented in history, as well as to globalization and (though this is more controversial) the establishment of English as a lingua franca, to make their case. Further, many argue that contemporary developments in the mass media, communications, technology, marketing, and international trade make a single world culture inevitable. They point to the popularity of US films, television programmes, and consumer goods, the international diffusion of popular music, advances in satellite communications and technology, the creation of the internet and the appearance of a “global village,” and the concentration of media ownership in fewer and fewer hands to confirm this.

21For some (not all) who argue along these lines, a single world culture is not only inevitable, it is also desirable, since, in their view, it would open up countless opportunities for cooperation, communication, and collaboration. Once differences in religion, culture, politics, and education have ceased to matter so much, or, perhaps, have even disappeared, the world would be a better, safer and more secure place in their view. Their contention is that since every human being shares the same needs, concerns, and aspirations for food, clothing, shelter, identity, and a decent life, it is high time we emphasized our similarities and downplayed our differences.

22Those who oppose a single world culture are quick to counter these arguments. They contend that such a world culture is anything but inevitable, or desirable, and that many factors stand in the way of its ever being realized. Their opposition is based on an equal number of compelling arguments. In the first place, they contend that every movement towards the creation of larger and larger cultural units has spawned, dialectically, reactions towards the creation of smaller and smaller cultural units. In the modern world these reactions are apparent in the reaffirmation of tribes and tribal groups, on the one hand, and, on the other, the creation of all kinds of citizens’ coalitions, local associations, and civil society movements, particularly at local and regional levels, as countervailing forces against trade zones, globalization, and the concentration of power and resources in fewer and fewer hands. Most people still derive their identities, their sense of belonging, from small, “human-sized” cultural units, such as the family, the tribe, the ethnic group to which they belong, the neighbourhood in which they reside, or the town, city or region in which they live, because these are more tangible and less abstract than the international or transnational bodies now being created. Also, the world is already divided into so many separate and distinct cultural units that it is highly unlikely they could all disappear. They are too deeply engrained in the human condition.

23While opponents of a single world culture generally concede that many contemporary developments have universal implications and consequences, they contend that claims about the emergence of a single culture from such a variety of different trends and events are greatly exaggerated and not really consistent with the facts. Individuals and institutions in positions of power and authority often have a vested interest in promoting the belief that a single world culture is rapidly taking shape, because it helps them to sell goods and services, as well as ideologies, and to promote a particular kind of lifestyle. Yet the world situation is actually very different. People all over the world may watch Hollywood films and listen to western popular music, but they still live in very different cultural contexts, and continue to engage in other activities in their own localities which bear little resemblance to a single world culture.

24Most importantly, opponents of a single world culture contend that it would be much more of a curse than a blessing if it ever did come into being. They point to the dangers of imposing uniformity through centralization and homogenization, as well as of control of the world system by powerful elites and countries, colossal corporations and governments, and a small coterie of wealthy individuals. Not only could creativity and diversity be stamped out, but lethargy, apathy, and alienation would become the established pattern. Some opponents even contend that “cultures of resistance” are needed to fight the standardizing, centralizing and homogenizing developments taking place in the world, especially where countries or cultures are in danger of losing their identity, values or ways of life. Denis Goulet, for instance, has written (in Masini 1994, p. 30):

All cultures and cultural values are assaulted by powerful forces of standardization. These forces homogenize, dilute and relegate diverse cultures to purely ornamental, vestigial or marginal positions in society. The first standardizing force is technology, especially media technology. Television, film, radio, electronic musical devices, computers, and telephones operate, together and cumulatively, as potent vectors of such values as individualism, hedonistic self-gratification, consumerism, and shallow thinking. The second standardizing force is the modern state, a political institution which is bureaucratic, centralizing, legalistic, and inclined to assert control over ideas, resources, and the “rules of the game” in all spheres of human activity. The third standardizing force is the spread of managerial organization as the best way of making decisions and coordinating actions in all institutions... The result of these standardizing influences is massive cultural destruction, dilution, and assimilation. The very pervasiveness of these damaging forces, however, gives rise to growing manifestations of cultural affirmation and resistance.

25There is a great deal of validity to these arguments. Already the standardizing, homogenizing and centralizing effects of contemporary developments have permeated the world to the point where they threaten local, regional and national cultures, established cultural identities, and marginalized cultures. This is a disturbing development in view of the fact that they also, arguably, threaten originality, creativity, and diversity, the very things that are imperative for environmental sustainability, human progress, and global survival and wellbeing.

26The obvious question, then, is whether there is a way out of the dilemma: Is it possible to have the benefits that might accrue from a single world culture while simultaneously making it possible for people, cultures, and countries to preserve their differences? While it is comparatively easy to visualize what the world would look like and how it would function if a single world culture were to become a reality, it is far more difficult to visualize such a complex balance of world cultures. Yet, clearly, all cultures are becoming “world cultures,” in the sense that they are becoming parts of the “global village,” and participating in the revolution that is going on in communications technology and international affairs. They are less and less able to tune out developments taking place in other parts of the world, or to insulate themselves from these developments, regardless of how small, remote or insignificant they might be.

27The crucial point here is that world cultures have never existed before in human history. Even cultures that have played extremely powerful roles in the world, from ancient China or Rome to Britain, have been national cultures, albeit with powerful international overtones and consequences, rather than world cultures. There were significant parts of the world that were not known to them and were untouched by their influence, and many developments occurring in the world had no effect on them. What is emerging throughout the world today, however, are the first real signs of world cultures in the truly global sense. When they have become fully developed these cultures will be substantially different from local, regional or national cultures. Not only will they be integrated into the world system, they will also be dependent on it, and affected by global developments. The culture of the United States is rapidly becoming the first real world culture in this sense, but a number of other cultures appear to be moving in the same direction, particularly in western Europe and East Asia. Even smaller, less powerful and more remote cultures, in Africa, Asia and Latin America, are steadily moving in this direction. The world knows a great deal more about them than ever before, they know a great deal more about the world as well, and they are being fundamentally and inescapably influenced by developments taking place in other parts of the world.

28If all the various cultures of the world will be compelled to function more like world cultures, they will have to develop their global capabilities to the utmost, while simultaneously maintaining their distinctiveness. This is looming larger and larger as one of the greatest challenges facing every culture in the world, as well as the world as a whole, and it has momentous implications. It is a challenge not unlike the challenge confronting local, regional and national cultures in earlier times, although it is infinitely more complex and difficult to manage. People in every part of the world will have to exercise a great deal of control over the public and private decision-making processes affecting their lives, and cope with an array of international developments on a daily basis, if they want their cultures to function effectively as world cultures. In order to do this, five things will have to be done and done well.

29First, strong connections will have to be maintained with the past. Not only does every culture in the world possess a rich legacy of historical accomplishments and artefacts, which must be protected from the ravages of time and the incursions of other cultures, but the maintenance of traditions is of crucial importance in developing cultures that are capable of retaining their identity and independence while functioning effectively in the world. Many measures are needed here. One is learning about the historical development of their culture, particularly in the educational system. Another is expanding awareness of traditions in the mass media. Still another is cultural tourism, which has the potential to damage or even destroy traditions, but does provide a way of expanding awareness of their value.

30While most countries are becoming adept at cultural tourism, no country in the world is better at it than France. Not only is France divided into a number of distinctive regions, each with its own unique character, but also it is possible to acquire an enormous amount of information on every one of these regions. French planners and administrators are so adept at preserving and promoting their historical traditions that they have developed detailed atlases and dossiers that provide information on the location, condition, and characteristics of virtually every landmark of any significance. Much of the credit for this must go to the French government, which has funded cultural tourism, and culture generally, at a much higher level per capita than any other country in the world. It has also gone much further in developing cultural policies, plans and programmes. It is clear that other governments will have to spend a great deal more on cultural tourism if they too want to maintain connections with their peoples’ traditions while simultaneously developing world cultures. It is amazing what can be accomplished through cultural tourism that cannot be accomplished in other ways. Not only does cultural tourism prompt people to get out and explore their own cultural roots and traditions, it also provides a great boost for local, regional and national economies.

31Second, control and ownership of strategic industries will have to be in domestic rather than foreign hands. Every country in the world today, with the possible exception of the United States, is experiencing considerable difficulty exercising control and ownership over such strategic industries as the arts, education, the mass media, and communications. This is because of the growing concentration of ownership of these industries in fewer, often foreign hands, as well as the popularity of US films, television programmes, tapes, videos, CDs, and books. Clearly, countries will have to exercise a great deal more control and ownership of these industries if they want to maintain their identity and their autonomy. Despite the protection afforded by linguistic differences, many cultures, especially those in the “developing world,” are extremely vulnerable to external influences because they lack strategic industries and infrastructure of their own. This makes building up domestic capacities in the arts, education, media, communications, and technology a categorical imperative for the future. This will require a great deal of action on the part of governments, even in economically developed countries such as Canada, Belgium or Austria, which are located close to major powers or superpowers and have to deal with this problem too, because of the economies of large-scale production, contemporary developments in the mass media and international trade, and the popularity of products emanating from neighbouring countries (respectively, in the examples given, the United States, France, and Germany).

32Third, domestic cultural content will have to be increased quite considerably. This is much more than a problem of creating “cultural hardware.” It is equally a problem of creating “cultural software.” Since artists, scientists, scholars, arts organizations, educational institutions, scientific associations, and the like create much of the content that is required to broaden and deepen understanding of cultures as organic wholes and total ways of life, these individuals and institutions have pivotal roles to play in the creation of domestic cultural content, and therefore in the development of world cultures. What the world needs is cultural content that speaks persuasively to people about the substance and character of their own cultures, and not just the cultures of others. Cultural content that imitates the content of the dominant cultures of the world may be helpful in strengthening the pressures towards a single world culture, but it is not helpful in creating many diverse world cultures, each with its own distinctive identity and capacity to function effectively in a globalized world.

33Fourth, indigenous rather than imposed or imported development will have to be pursued. As the world takes on more and more of the characteristics of a “global village,” two options present themselves to the large majority of countries and cultures. The first is to imitate the development patterns of other countries and cultures. The resulting “imposed” or “imported” pattern of development usually involves acquiescing to the worldviews and values of other countries or cultures, particularly those that believe they have achieved “development” and are anxious to share it or impose it on others. The second option involves undertaking development that arises organically from a culture’s or country’s own traditions, while taking care to incorporate relevant developments taking place in other parts of the world. Indigenous development, in this sense, ensures that only those developments and changes that are consistent with a culture’s own traditions, circumstances, and needs are adopted. India provides an excellent example of indigenous development in this sense, and has done so ever since Gandhi emphasized the importance of traditional activities, most famously by making and wearing “homespun” clothing. Also, during the sixty years since it achieved independence, India has developed a powerful film industry of its own that rivals Hollywood, addressing themes and ideas that are relevant to the people of India.

34Finally, people will have to learn to function effectively in the world on a sustained and systematic basis. In the past, many cultures developed while ignoring changes taking place in other parts of the world. Often this resulted in their becoming so caught up in their own internal affairs that they became self-absorbed and chauvinistic, believing that their culture was superior to others. This was especially true in the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, but it is still a problem today. In many parts of the world military, religious and political leaders remain anxious to keep their citizens cut off from the outside world because they want to retain undue control over them. In a world characterized by world cultures this would not happen. All cultures would be compelled to deal with global developments and international affairs on a continuous and ever-expanding basis. Moreover, they would be forced to adopt many practices and ideas from the outside, though not at the expense of their own development, or their own domestic and international interests. The focus would always be on building up a culture’s or a country’s domestic and international capabilities, as well as incorporating ideas and practices that are pertinent. Indigenous development means striking a judicious balance between the internal and the external requirements of development.

35While transfers of ideas, technologies, and lifestyles are bound to play a much more powerful role in the future than they have in the past, they are not without their problems. While cultures and countries may seem similar when viewed from afar, they are usually diverse and different when viewed up close. It is not simply a case of taking business and commercial practices, educational endeavours, political procedures or technological activities from one culture, transferring them to another and expecting that they will fit. The field of development is strewn with examples where enormous sums of money have been spent on transfer projects that did not fit well or at all. A great deal more attention needs to be paid to the cultural context in which such transfers take place. This in turn will form part of the process through which all cultures in the world develop their domestic and international capabilities to the utmost. It will not be possible for any culture to become a world culture without substantial improvements in its technological, social, commercial, scientific, economic, political, artistic, educational, and marketing capacities. Functioning in the world on a daily and full-time basis will mean interacting with other cultures and countries on the basis of true equality and continuous communication.

36We can now return to the question of whether humankind should be striving to create a single world culture or many world cultures. Can these two ideas be reconciled? Surely they can, and the reconciliation lies in creating a global federation of world cultures. This would make it possible to reap the benefits of a single world culture while simultaneously preserving the diversity, identity, creativity, and equality of many world cultures.

A Global Federation of World Cultures

37The belief that all people, countries, and cultures must follow the same path of development has already caused a great deal of stress, anxiety, resentment, and hostility, in response to the conviction that consumerism, commercialism, capitalism, democracy, secularism, economic growth, materialism, and the market are necessary for all. A global federation of world cultures would stand in direct contrast to this conviction, as it would be based on the view that there are many different paths to development, and therefore many different ways of addressing and satisfying people’s and countries’ needs. Some may well share the priorities of the economic development model, and welcome consumerism, commercialism, and the rest. Others may prefer to emphasize conservation, socialism, spiritualism or environmentalism. It depends on how people and countries decide to address their own specific requirements and order the component parts of their cultures.

38In a global federation of world cultures, such notions as “development,” “progress,” and “the world system” would take on different meanings than they possess today. Development and progress would mean feeling comfortable with the specific directions that people, countries, and cultures follow, rather than acquiescing to the worldviews, values or beliefs of others. The world system would be one that made it possible for many different ways of life to flourish throughout the world, each with its own distinct identity, values, and legitimacy. In this type of world, people, countries, and cultures would exercise the freedom, flexibility, independence, and equality they need to pursue their own particular paths to development, while at the same time participating in the common work of humankind, and engaging in international causes and concerns.

39In one form or another, these causes and concerns all relate to making improvements in the quality of life and the human condition. This would not be possible without a vigorous campaign to address people’s needs, especially their elementary needs, in a systematic and sustained manner. Nor would it be possible without making fundamental changes in attitudes to the natural environment, and alleviating the enormous pressure being exerted on resources. Gao Xian, senior editor of the Social Sciences Academic Press in China and former Secretary-General of the Chinese Centre for Third World Studies, recognized the quintessential importance of these changes when he wrote (in the two articles cited in the Bibliography) about the “macrocultural approach to development,” “the sustainability of sustainable development,” and the crucial importance of understanding the complex connections between human beings and nature, human beings in nature, ethical values and the laws of nature, and the intimate connection between human beings and other species. Without such an understanding, there is bound to be more violence, terrorism, conflict, and confrontation in the world as natural resources are used up, and more environmental damage and degeneration take place.

40Collective action in addressing these issues would go a long way towards making it possible to attend to other worthwhile international causes and concerns. Especially important in this regard, as we have already seen, would be closing the gap between rich and poor, reducing poverty, homelessness, hunger, and unemployment, terminating human rights abuses and achieving gender equality, and creating a more compassionate, caring and humane world. Yet even these measures would not necessarily ensure a safer world. For this more forceful action will be required, including strengthening international organizations, particularly to ensure that the United Nations becomes the most important political institution in the world, with the power to put the interests of the world as a whole ahead of the interests of particular countries; strengthening international legal systems, to the point where the rule of law applies to all citizens, institutions, and countries regardless of location, influence, wealth or power; and winning the battle against violence and terrorism.

41People in different parts of the world will go on choosing to live their lives differently, and holding different opinions with respect to how life is to be lived and the human condition is to be improved, not only for themselves and their families, but also for future generations, people in other parts of the world, and the world as a whole. However, in a global federation of world cultures, they would also be increasingly anxious to participate in international and intercultural communications and activities, in the best interests of all people, countries, and cultures. This would provide a common bond capable of uniting all members of the human family. The Indian poet and thinker Rabindranath Tagore had something like this in mind when he wrote (as quoted by Braisted 1944, p. 5): “We must prepare the field for the cooperation of all the cultures of the world where all will give and take from others. This is the keynote of the coming age.”

42It is the potential to give and take from each other that makes the creation of a global federation of world cultures so essential. All people, countries, and cultures have something precious to contribute to such a federation, as well as something valuable to receive in return.

43In order to create a truly effective global federation of world cultures, it will be necessary to fashion many more opportunities for collaboration among the diverse people, countries, and cultures of the world. Artists would collaborate much more actively with scientists, for example, and people in business, politics, and government would work hand in hand with people in religious and spiritual institutions. It is through this process that it would be possible to create “unity in diversity,” which is, without doubt, what the world needs most in the twenty-first century. There can be no unity without sharing certain similarities, since unity is achieved by recognizing the common connections that bind people, countries, and cultures together. Likewise, there can be no diversity without respecting fundamental differences, for too much sameness kills the creative spark that makes people, countries, and cultures unique. Thus, unity in diversity, like identity, is achieved and maintained by walking the fine line between similarities and differences.

44This is what would make the creation of a global federation of world cultures an exciting and compelling prospect. It would make it possible to create many world cultures, each with its own distinctive identity and ability to function effectively in a global world, while simultaneously creating countless connections between diverse peoples, countries, and cultures. This would provide a clear alternative to the relentless march along a uniform path of development towards a single world culture where everybody thinks the same, and sees the world, values things, and acts in the same way. That is what is in store for humanity if it allows the value systems of a few people, countries or institutions to be imposed everywhere. This need not happen. With the development of a global federation of world cultures, people, countries and institutions in every part of the world would retain dignity, value and legitimacy in their own right, while simultaneously participating in the quest to make the world a better place. It was this type of world that Denis Goulet had in mind when he wrote (in Masini 1994, pp. 30-31):

In an optimistic scenario, humanity advances in global solidarity, and practices ecological and economic concentration as a responsible steward of the cosmos. Numerous vital and authentic cultures flourish, each proud of its identity while actively rejoicing in differences exhibited by other cultures. Human beings everywhere nurture the conscious possession of several partial and overlapping identities, while relativizing each of these identities in recognition of their primary allegiance to the human species.

45In such a dynamic and diverse world, ideas, artefacts, and resources would flow much more freely than they do today because people, countries, and cultures would no longer feel threatened by cultural differences. There would be many more opportunities to learn about values and ways of life that are different from ones own and yet provide valuable insights into the human condition. Possibilities for expanding human consciousness and extending human horizons would be greatly enhanced, because there would be many more opportunities for intellectual stimulation, scientific discovery, artistic expression, mutual understanding, cultural enrichment, and personal and collective fulfilment. Many new organizations would be brought into existence in order to advance the interests of people and countries in every part of the world by broadening and deepening understanding of the ways in which culture can improve the human condition and the quality of life of all people and countries.

46All these opportunities, and many others, would be made possible through a renaissance in global development and human affairs that would call forth creative capabilities in the arts, the sciences, education, space exploration, the environment, politics, economics, education, technology, spirituality, and social affairs. This is why a renaissance is so badly needed in the world. It would transform the human condition and the world system in peaceful rather than violent ways, largely by transporting humanity out of an age preoccupied with materialism and the market, and into an age preoccupied with human welfare and environmental well-being. Without such a renaissance it is difficult to see how the quality of life and the state of the environment will be improved throughout the world.

© Les Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa | University of Ottawa Press, 2008

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