Thursday, February 19, 2004

Global villages and global conflict

Marshall McLuhan "global village" has not happened as he envisaged. Where's the homogenization of cultures and values that was supposed to happen with the globalization of knowledge?

This has not happened, nor will it, partly because knowledge in itself is impotent without context, and geographical/cultural contexts are enormously diverse. Global knowledge is interpreted in a local context, and its meaning changes accordingly. So cultures become enriched and further evolve down their path, rather than mutating to mimic the source of the knowledge. (This is one of the challenges of e-learning -- while many vendors like to chant the trite cliché that content is king, without an acknowledgement of context the learning will often be ineffective, or at least may achieve results that diverge from those intended).

What is also happening, though, is that the globalization of knowledge (despite attempts to manipulate mass media) is causing individuals, groups, and movements to be smarter and more aware of their context in relation to the rest of the world. This not only reinforces a sense of unique identity, it brings about an (often subconscious) evaluation of their satisfaction with the status quo. You can't covet your neighbor's cow if you don't know he has a cow, if you don't know what a cow is, or if you don't know who your neighbor is. You can't think of yourself as materially better off than or morally superior to a foreigner if you have no idea what that foreigner's circumstances are. You can't comprehend the extent of your oppression or freedom, wealth or poverty, unless you are aware of alternatives to your condition. So, far from bringing about global harmony and homogenization, global knowledge can bring about increasing tensions within and between different cultures.

Anti-American protesters often wear US-iconed clothing, and feel no contradiction. We see the irony because from our perspective foreigners should not be allowed to reject an American policy without rejecting all other things American. In our simplistic view of the outside world, anyone who embraces one aspect of our culture while rejecting another cannot be taken seriously. The demonstrator sees no irony because in his context there is none. Lots of kid's who demonstrate against "America" are more sophisticated than we give them credit for -- or at least they are able to differentiate between the issues that they protest and the things that they like or respect. If kids in America protested something that the US administration was doing, would they have more credibility if they boycotted American goods and services too? I think not.

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