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September 8 2014 19:00 | Rode Kruis Opvangcentrum


Raj Kumar Srivastava

Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, India

Embedded in the idea of culture of living together is both a desirable goal and a commitment to a world of mutual and reciprocal understanding across human groupings. However, given the diversity of human lifeways and corresponding loyalties channeled along various kinds of frontiers, this goal has not been realized in the past. Meanwhile a new world and a new image has rushed into our view. It is the metaphor of a ‘global village’--the dominant imagery of our times--to characterize the contemporary world. 

The metaphor of global village mainly reflects advancements in communications and the consequent awareness of the need to live together in ‘one world’; "a world-embracing commerce and world-embracing market", to use Marx's words, with its attendant linkages between 'metropoles' and the 'peripheries'; and various other kind of flows (including cosmopolitan life styles). What is broadly understood by living together is the fact that whole range of economic, social and cultural flows of trans-community nature, supported by national and international apparatuses, markets and organizations, by choice or by compulsion, has broadened the areas of trans-community identity, empathy and varying degrees of consciousness of global diversities.

The current model of living together, as exemplified by hype of globalization, offers little convergences. Everyone is asked to wait in a temporal waiting room in anticipation of the happy day when everything will come together. This focus on the future ignores the living experience of people, here and now. If we are to move from nowness—where most people are obliged to live and have their being—to more harmonious relationships, the present has to be made more livable.

Ironically, the need to live together and emerging integrative relationships have not led to erosion of parochial loyalties to communities one belongs to; instead, growing recognition of distinctiveness of local communities have strengthened and expanded sub-group identities, cleavages and assertiveness. Regionalism, ethnic and racial violence and nationalism in Europe and Africa, religious fundamentalism in the Middle East and Africa, and rise of identity politics in much of Asia and Americas exacerbate flash points across the globe.

The increasing suspicion of homogenizing nature of trans-community interdependencies and the fear of getting swamped in it, have undoubtedly encouraged primordial self-consciousness of local, sub-national and national communities, for only these communities meet the individuals' need of identity and self assurance vis-à-vis alien influences. Moreover, communities which resist the penetration of central authority of their own country cannot be expected to welcome even benign intervention of external influences that are beyond their ken and experience. It is another matter that such forces, both benign and hostile to their interests, do impinge on them in this shrunken world.

But must this historically given shrunkenness of the world serve as the basis of reaching new levels of integration, unmindful of native traditions and ambient cultures at local levels? Such macro to micro processes weaken the communities that are integral to what human beings are. Individuals do not exist apart from or independently of communities they grow or live in. Quickening the pace of integration on the basis of certain universalizing ‘ethic’, alien to community’s deepest archetypes, cannot facilitate an enduring culture of living together.

Culture of living together has to be nurtured in local communities. There are formidable difficulties in its realization. The local communities, in which the entire enterprise is embedded are, by and large, characterized by endogenous orientations and insularity that resist homogenizing tendencies at macro level. Already the general thrust of homogenizing developments has endangered the universe of many local communities. With the loss of community autonomy and erosion of traditional allegiance foci, these communities tend to fragment and are unwilling to compromise with the homogenizing ‘system’. Such ‘deviant’ values perhaps shared by most partial communities, particularly of the Third World, run contrary to the values behind the current ideas of interdependence. 

Thus, various attempts of integration have floundered, given the endogenous orientation and realities of grinding poverty that characterize most Third World communities. These communities neither have the inclination to adopt, nor the means to pursue, nor the consciousness that encourages  the culture of living together based on principles of equity and organic linkages between communities. As of now they see these attempts as some kind of dialectics leading to their encapsulation that pose a threat to their autonomy or what remains of it.

So far we have described contextually derived scenarios of global interdependence, the directions they have taken and the resistance they have faced. But is there no hope for such a culture of living together to evolve?  I am an optimist because I believe that as far as the core values of humanity are concerned, goodness and right ethics are not the monopoly of any civilization and/or of any faith tradition. All faith traditions share some basic values such as the idea of ‘love thy neighbour’. Discourses on living in peace with the ‘other’, emanating from different cultural and faith traditions, are derived from man’s biological self and social experience. In a sense, the world was never culturally isolated; there were always interactions and diffusion of ideas, habits and artifacts. The bondedness did not rule out the coexistence of diversities. Indeed, native traditions with their distinctive spiritual legacies still have the strength to ensure cultural autonomy and undertake pan-human responsibilities.

Indeed, various faith traditions recognize the primacy of self development and seeking meaning of life in everyday world. These faith-based worldviews hold that human beings share commonality with other human beings, although the manifestation of this commonality is distinct in each individual case. It implies acceptance of the many-sidedness of reality and to refrain from imposing one’s understanding of truth and reality on others.

Perhaps all faith traditions focus on liberation of self not through conquest but through harmonizing oneself with an ever-enlarging network of relationships, requiring transcendence of self-centeredness.  Harmonization becomes in this perspective not only a personal aspiration, but also a societal goal and cosmic ideal. Society is no longer an all-consuming totality of a fictional abstraction, rather it becomes a network of extended selves. The primacy of the individual is recognized but his existence is considered to be an impossibility without being an integral part of the community.

Indeed, even though we are living in several incommensurable worlds, it is possible to translate, rather, transcend the incommensurability. After a fashion, we have learnt to establish a continuity with other human beings, communities, and aggregates, though imperfectly. What is that something by which we can overcome this imperfection. For me the clue lies in the conversation between cultures and faith traditions.

The idea of living together is not opposed to the idea of living separately. The idea of living together is the idea of living in conversation between cultures and developing mutuality between different constructions of the world. Such a milieu will lead to demystification of each other. The idea of bondedness and distinctiveness does not rule out strengthening the culture of coexistence of diverse identities.

This perspective of living together builds on the relatedness of human beings. This relatedness is based on empathy and compassion that is core of our spiritual legacies. To get acquainted with each others strangeness, we have to realize that concepts like liberty, freedom and rights have intrinsic relevance cross culturally, though not exactly in the way the West would like to believe. It emphasizes the necessity of universalizing basic value commitments though they must be manifested in location where the person is placed. In this perspective morality and sociality constitute an integral component of self-development and provide the basis for entering into a harmonious relationship with the outer world, among persons, society and nature. If such a culture of living together is to sustain and forge ahead, it calls for the variability and vitality of local communities, while simultaneously having a high degree of self-reliance and self-determination. In other words, what is needed is the legitimacy of culture of living together that is rooted in the morality of local communities spread across the world. It requires, as Fouad Ajami has observed in the context of global culture and Islam, a tight rope walk, avoiding both the “pit of cultural hegemony” and “undiluted cultural relativism.”




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