Clash of Cultures

At the beginning of human history there was one human culture. People were just like animals. Goldfish as a species don’t categorize themselves into different groups of goldfish. You never see goldfish grouping up in opposite ends of a fish tank. They are all usually pretty well distributed throughout the shared living space. But due to our advanced human society we categorize ourselves. We break off and categorize ourselves into groups which don’t always get along with each other.

Traditionally the categorization of a human being is based on things like nationality, religion, genetics, etc. And this categorization is what we use to physically divide ourselves into separate countries. The French people live in France, the Chinese in China. Not only is the place you are from a determining factor in what category of human you are, but also a physical location with which your culture is identified. There are Chinese people living in the US who have never been to China. Some might say they aren’t Chinese, they just have Chinese ancestry, but that’s neither here nor there. The main point is that human beings are categorized based on these sorts of things. And it is this categorization, and not some other categorization, that is tied to the geographic distribution of peoples.

When a particular group, culture, nation has a country they are usually very happy. They are often proud and protective of their physical country. They enjoy having a physical place to live with like minded individuals. It is always nice to live in a place with a group of people who are all like yourself. Sometimes when a country contains two different cultures or nations you get civil war, like in Africa. Sometimes you get even zanier situations when countries and cultures do not match, like Israel. But the basis for human conflict throughout history has been conflict between cultures associated with countries.

But what do you get in the US and much of the western world? I mean, not a few hundred years ago you could at least put different cultures within the US into different states. And you still can to a certain extent, look at Texas, Michigan, California or any other state with a stereotype. But due to the relative lack of segregation based on religion, race, gender, etc. what has happened is very strange. There are people who have a culture that is not defined in the old way. For example, my culture is geek. Of course, I’m a white Jew from the Northeast US with Eastern European ancestry. If this was 100, or maybe even 50 years ago that would define who I am as a person. Today it still means something, but no nearly as much. In fact I can say that its meaning is almost insignificant. My culture, my ideas, my interests, everything about me is geek.

You can see this phenomena in other areas too. Hip-hop, artsy-fartsy, goth, and even hick cultures are all independent of religion, nationality, genetics, and all the others. What does this mean for the world? It means that countries which were originally lines drawn between different cultures of people lose their meaning. 100 years from now Ireland wont be the place the Irish live. It will be an island with a mix of hip-hop, geek, goth, jock, etc. culture. And what happens when cultures get mixed up inside the same country? No good.

You can already see the problem within the US. In the US the American culture (which I define as pop, corporate and consumerist culture) is losing ground. There are geeks everywhere revolting. There are pissed off hip-hoppers who think the man is keeping them down. There are goths angsting about how shitty their lives are. These upset nations are no different than the oppressed peoples in places like Sudan. They are cultures living within the borders of a country which is defined by a culture different from their own. And it is no mystery as to what the results of such situations can be.

History is not just about cultures clashing, growing, moving and disappearing. History is about new cultures that come into being to eliminate the old. That is what is happening today, and that is going to be the major factor in determining the history of the next few centuries. I expect to see things like new countries named Geekland or Techsylvania. I expect to see things similar to what Stephenson envisioned in “Diamond Age” and “Snow Crash” with phyles and franchises. The criteria for determining the culture/category of a human being are changing. And the current system of the world has showed no sign of adapting to the future. It will be very interesting to see what happens when countries who previously found themselves with one large majority culture are slowly split into a larger number of smaller cultures which each have larger total representations around the world. All I can say is that I hope I don’t live to see the war between Flanderstown and Nerdtopia.

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