Cultural Identity and World Unity

The history and development of civilization can be seen as a process of moving to ever larger more complex levels of culture and unity.  In the earliest stages of civilization, humans, like certain animals, probably operated largely on an individual basis and only developed cooperation when the need arose. The advancement of civilization is the story of larger groups of peoples coming together for a common purpose. Groups of families came together to form clans, clans united to make tribes, tribes evolved into city-states, and city-states have been replaced by the more modern nation-state.

Each higher level of unity resulted in specializations and scales of economies that created further developments in society. These same benefits can be seen in the international and transnational corporations that exist today.  So pervasive has this development of increasing and wider levels of loyalty, unity, and integration, that it has become a hallmark of socioeconomic and political progress.

Why then are the ethnic and racial divisions that characterized the earlier stages of civilization again being found in the more advanced societies of today?  In the past when people became part of larger or more dominate group or culture, they were expected to abide by and adopt its values. Today we see an increased tendency of various groups to exert their own individualized cultures and value systems.

There is some longing throughout the world where these changes are happening for the so called “good old days” when people submitted to the dominate cultural modes. Some people fear this new and threatening diversity that demands to be heard and appreciated.  These diverse groups are tired of being culturally and economically disadvantaged and oppressed, by the mainstream populations, and excluded from participation in the power structures of that society while those in power are pining for the days when everyone acknowledged the superiority of the dominate culture, however imperfect it may have been.

No region of the earth has been spared this resurgence of cultural identity. Examples of movements for recognition of individual cultural rights exist in every continent and in most countries.  All these movements represent struggles for cultural acceptance. Most nations have diverse populations and are now having to face the problems of reconciling the differences between the cultural groups within their nation-states. Other groups separated by political boundaries are seeking to develop tribal or ethnic identity. The daily news is filled with the horrors of these struggles.

How do we explain all these movements for separate identities in an age that is supposedly moving toward world unity?  We see all around us the apparent breakdown, even within nations, of unity among peoples.  It appears that these movements are but death pangs of the old order and birth pangs of the immersing new world order.  These different ethnic groups are demanding justice and equal rights within their societies and are bringing to the forefront the need to deal with varying cultural and value systems.

Our current world view should be informed by our historical development.  For example, loyalty to the family, to the clan, to the tribe, to the city-state and nation, and finally to the world-state are just widening circles of loyalty and identity. The clan is an extension of the family and the tribe is an extension of the clan. Each higher level of unity is but an extension of the other.  Such extensions do not preclude loyalty to lower levels or identity with those levels.

We are all related one to another. We can fulfill our obligations to our family, country and to humanity and still be loyal to each level of unity. We must if we are to survive in this new world order.

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About rodclarken

Dr. Rodney H Clarken is professor emeritus, School of Education, Northern Michigan University.
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