“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind” (Albert Einstein).
Monasteries and monks or nuns do have cultures: the robes and hair styles, the language, the books and media, the discipline about behavior, the vocations, the pasttimes, the food, the decor and furniture, the intellectual and mental rigor, etc.
Some people (like me) wish that lay cultures were more like monastic cultures, and don’t feel very comfortable in any lay culture, but we seem forever doomed to the minority.
Happy uposatha 🙂
Social scientists often celebrate the diversity of cultures and languages in the world, because taken overall/comparatively, this diversity resists the negative aspects of globalization (e.g., corporate conglomeration and monopolization, the colonialistic imposition of wealthier or larger cultures on smaller or poorer ones, etc.) and offers a wide variety of ways of thinking about life.
However, most people are not social scientists; for most people, culture means ignorance. Most people don’t travel very far from home except perhaps for a very brief vacation or pilgrimage, just do a socially acceptable job, marry within their ethnic group and possibly social class, watch their people’s TV and movies, listen to their people’s music, speak their people’s language (thinking in terms of only one worldview, using words other groups can’t understand, etc.), eat their people’s food… and generally ignore or resist other societies and the natural world beyond their people’s territory.
People’s lives are small and brief, languages and cultures are complex and time-consuming to learn (sticking with the one you were raised with is easiest), and culture and language are tied up with people’s senses of self/identity. Culture+language is perhaps humanity’s most basic echo chamber, and most people seem trapped within one or two cultures, unable or unwilling to view their own existence differently.
You don’t really know nationalism until you’ve lived in a foreign country. People back home often don’t accept/trust things you did in the other country, sometimes even things you did at an embassy, and vice versa. Government officials in the home country ask you questions like, “why would you want to live there?”, and require you to help them spy on you and tax you (e.g., tell them what foreign bank accounts you have). People at foreign company and government offices usually ignore your emails. And locals of the other country often treat you suspiciously. People in other countries are usually nice to paying tourists, but not so nice if you try to live there.
Similarly, you don’t really know culturism and racism until you’ve lived in an area where you are in a cultural or ethnic minority. People constantly stare when you walk down the street, and sometimes comment on how (dis)similar you look to them. Taxis and buses don’t stop maybe half the time, and people are physically pushier with foreigners on buses and in crowds. Customer service people in businesses avoid you unless you confront them, and local customers cut in line ahead of you. It’s harder to get a job and to navigate relationships of all kinds. People often don’t want to hear or see things from your culture. People from both cultures sometimes do mocking/poor impressions of the other culture or ethnicity in front of you, and expect you to find it funny. And people are judgmental and rejecting, if you look or speak in any way that they don’t find beautiful/healthy, humble, thankful, and positive.
In such an interconnected world, it’s amazing to me that many people are still so small-minded.
Why don’t more people use religious canonical or liturgical languages in everyday speech (e.g., Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic for Christians; Pali or Sanskrit for Buddhists; etc.), so that they can think in the same terms as the founder(s) of their religion and unite with like-minded people around the world? Besides the tendency for modern societies to be secular, I suspect it is because many people and governments value their nation, ethnic group, or local culture more than their philosophy or religion. Modern languages often have some historical basis in a canonical or liturgical language, but they usually have evolved in the context of a specific nation or group, and have not been synchronized with other local languages.
Here are several infrastructual things that South Asian countries often seem to do better than the US:
- the existence of low-cost or free state-run hospitals, in addition to more expensive private hospitals
- low prices on basic-needs products (staple foods, utilities, etc.), because of controls by the government
- state-run trains that are cheap and go to every major city
- the use of international standards (metric, ISO, international voltages and plugs support, etc.)
- greater variety of products imported from foreign countries
- using the most cost-efficient technology that will do the job by default, not requiring people to pay for luxuries
- not adding large corporate or government bureaucracy, litigation, and surveillance to every little thing
- a preference for traditional cultures that do things in natural, local, eco-friendly ways (e.g., eating fresh food, using biofuels, minimizing electricity use, using natural building materials, planting lots of trees or living in a forest, etc.)
- a preference for smaller, more energy efficient and easy-to-fix vehicles (bikes, scooters, motorcycles, tuk tuks, etc.)
- commonsense safety or sanitation precautions (e.g., having switches on power outlets, not building electrical wires into walls, using natural gas in canisters and stoves that are stored outside, running rain gutters under sidewalks and making sidewalks out of stone or metal panels that can be lifted, etc.)
When I watch documentaries like these, I see beings who have cultures, languages, families, communities with both internal and external social structures and conflicts, technologies/tools, educational techniques, personal desires and attachments, who mourn their losses, and who have substantively the same body configurations as we do. There are a few key things they haven’t developed yet (e.g., preserving knowledge using artifacts, and using cooking to increase their calorie intake (hence brain neuron density) and to give them more free time), but those developments seem quite minor, and probably just a matter of time and opportunity, to me.