Living cultures change. It is the very process of change that makes them themselves. Their sameness is not merely a matter of their difference from other cultures, but of their differences from themselves over time, just as a person who grows from childhood to adulthood remains the same person only by changing. What too many observers from wealthy societies seem to identify as the essential cultural element of poorer societies is their poverty. I have observed the disappointment of visitors from wealthy cultures when colorful poor people dressed in brilliant clothes stop, pat themselves down, and take out cell phones in response to insistent ringing sounds. It’s not authentic! It ruins the whole trip! Those people are being robbed of their culture! They’re victims of global capitalism! The arrogance of those who want to keep the poor in their native environments, lizards in a terrarium, is startling.
Although seeing a Dalit (“untouchable”) or a Mayan highlander talking on a cell phone may ruin the visit of a wealthy poverty tourist, being able to use telephony to talk to their friends, family members, or business associates is often highly valued by the people who bought the cell phones and should not be seen as a threat to their identity. Globalization is making possible a culture of wealth and freedom for Dalits and Mayans, who can enjoy wealth and freedom without ceasing to be the people they are. Just as culture should not be identified with isolation or stasis, it should not be identified with poverty.
Tom G Palmer, Realizing Freedom, page 371.
The essay from which these paragraphs are taken reminded me of the recent talk that Samizdata commenter Michael Jennings gave at the apartment of Brian Micklethwait. Meanwhile, some time ago I wrote about an excellent book by the economist, Tyler Cowen, who also challenges the clichéd views about globalisation and the presumed “flattening” and homogenising effect it is supposed to have on cultures. In fact, as Cowen and Palmer notes, what globalisation and the spread of things such as IT does is often enable more, not less, diversity in certain respects.
I should add that Palmer’s book is excellent reading, blending a mix of theory (he subjects the likes of John Rawls and GA Cohen to a brutal dissection) and essays on specific issues such as repression in Egypt, the problems in Iraq, and the curious contortions of “left libertarians”. Tom is a great person who travels far and wide in the job of spreading classical liberalism and free market ideas. I don’t know how he handles the jet-lag.