(If you know all the arguments about why biodiversity is awesome, or think you do, go ahead and skip down to Cultural Diversity)
This is an ecology blog! Or at least that’s what the title claims. So, we’re going to talk a little bit about biodiversity. We all know that over the course of life on this planet, there have been many mass extinctions and life rebounded each time. Not only that, life rebounded more quickly. The universe didn’t change its hostile, no, indifferent stance towards us. It is life itself that grew stronger.
After a catastrophe, there will always be at least a few species that miraculously thrive in the new environment, turning a greater tragedy into personal gain. You know, like those assholes who short-sell stock during recessions (a shady practice that only became legal again last year) or Apu in the Simpsons Movie (“please, please, can’t you all just be happy for me?”)
With more diversity of species, more such species will exist. Biodiversity protects biodiversity. Biodiversity means possibilities, and this vast pool of possibilities gave birth to our own species! So, we should respect this vast pool and realize it holds even more potential than we could even imagine. Maybe a rogue earthling bacterium transported by an asteroid is already colonizing another planet right now, slowly fermenting a possible sequel to man.
Too spiritual for you? Too ecocentric? Okay, let’s look at a more pragmatic argument that is just as strong to make sure you’re on the same page as me (even though this doesn’t pertain directly to this post’s point). Let’s start with medicine/biotechnology.
The human body is a vast, complex thing. We understand it more and more all the time, yet some things still allude us. We would like to believe we could build a human body from scratch and therefore reengineer it to fix any problem. The fact is, we still are to biology what a teenage hacker is to code. He knows not how to write a working program, but he can splice code with mixed success and even edit code. One time, he fixed a bug in a perl script, but doesn’t remember how he did it. So we are with our own bodies. We could not, for example, engineer regenerating tissue from scratch, but seeing that sharks have this ability, we just might be able to copy what we see. In fact, many technologies are copied directly from nature.
I just mentioned sharks, right? Here’s one good example of this. A few years back, noting that shark skin seems engineered to repel parasites of all sorts, the guy who discovered this looked at the molecular structure of the skin and made synthetic shark skin to use on navy ships. I just about guarantee that we would not have created such unless we discovered it.
I’ll end the pragmatic side of this argument by pointing out that our species (just like any other) relies heavily on a healthy ecosystem of ecological services, like filtering pollutants and recycling waste. Biodiversity decreases disruption in ecosystems from external factors. For example, if an area becomes warmer due to shifting currents or whatever, trees won’t disappear from the forest but instead a different tree will dominate. The soil will remain fertile, the area will remain not too hot, etc.
Even if you don’t buy all my arguments above, as long as you believe that biodiversity, i.e., the diversity of life, is good for life as a whole, we are good to go… (you needn’t accept that life as a whole is inherently valuable to accept that humanity as a whole is!)
Now, you can basically replace “biodiversity” with “cultural diversity” and “life as a whole” with “humanity” above and you will still be making good sense. There are a variety of ways any cultural dimension can be, and the society or culture in question still function well and the people be happy. Given biological constants, there are amazing variations in thought patterns, taboos, norms, folkways, etc. Most cultures have their own strong points and weak points with regard to human happiness. So what could the advantage of diversity be? Many!!
We can see from histories of ideas that certain kinds of ideas came from certain kinds of cultures. If we had all the same people, but all thinking more similarly, then some ideas are less likely to have arisen or will have much more slowly, since different cultures are focused on different things. Zen Buddhist techniques of teaching intuition will some day revolutionize the West (computer science is just the start), while human rights are enjoyed in nations such as Japan where it is unlikely for such concepts to have arisen (since these peoples don’t buy into erroneous notions of the self we enjoy in the West, such as that of free will). The wonderful thing about ideas is they can be shared! So, when we talk about diversity, the best biological analog is to that of bacteria, where genes can jump from one species to another in a way that it doesn’t with more complex life forms. So, diversity of cultures means a vast marketplace of ideas with which to better society.
We also must be honest with ourselves and recognize that all cultures have advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes, a culture has a fatal flaw in it (and it may even be our culture that has such a flaw in it) that may lead to its own destruction, need for a painful transition or otherwise to great unhappiness for its people. If a culture copies itself, rudely edging out others like cancerous cells, then it may spread said flaw, causing vast unnecessary happiness. Whoever you are, please don’t delude yourself into thinking your culture must be better in every way. After all, you have an intimate knowledge of your own culture and at best a thorough knowledge of others (“at best” meaning if you’ve spent 30+ years in another country).
So, we must preserve cultures’ ability to copy good from other cultures if necessary and also to preserve (and even create!) diversity. This means that cultural imperialism or cultural genocide are no-nos.
The one negative of diversity that cannot be overcome is that no two peoples will always have the same understanding of a situation or even of what reality is. This is why the idea of getting two people to agree fixing a war doesn’t work (miraculous failure of Israeli-Palestinian dialogs demonstrate this, though there may be other ways to end the struggle without both sides agreeing…). Of course, attempts to fix this problem have caused just as many violent clashes as the problem itself. Meaning, even if we really tried to kill cultural diversity, we couldn’t destroy it completely. Look at the religious conflicts through the history of Europe that created no consensus (paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson). So, it’s better to let this thing flourish and be healthy and enjoy its fruits while being mindful of its thorns.
Against Missionaries, be their religion Christianity or Capitalism (or Communism)
Now, I mentioned yesterday my opposition to missionaries. Heh, no secret. I think in an early blog post, I jokingly suggested retaliation by cannibalism to such an offense. Absolute belief that your own culture is correct while others are sadly mistaken is not only bigoted, it’s highly illogical. As proselytizing reduces cultural diversity, I’m of course opposed to it. If everyone were religiously similar, their cultures would be since religion and culture are inseparable. To think otherwise is to not understand how very different modes of thinking can be. It’s important also to be humble and recognize that you may be wrong. Your own culture might be preparing to disappear up its own asshole.
So, you clever people might say to me, “well, you aren’t a Christian, so of course you are going to be against Christian missionaries!” Well, I am at least 90% certain that even if I were a Christian, I’d still be against Christian missionaries. How do I know? Because of my opposition to the violent proselytism on the part of a cult I do belong to – “freedom and democracy”. You see, our nation believes that attacking countries that don’t have basically our political system and installing said will result in world prosperity. It worked for Japan right? Well, ever since adding democracy, freedoms have decreased in Iraq, with the installation of Sharia law. When we hung Saddam, “the international community” (which means all the powerful nations) thought “justice” while Iraqis thought “revenge”. Even if it is beneficial for these people to “become free” (based on our culture’s limited definition), the fact is we failed to help them achieve that goal and we must respect their culture’s right to evolve on their own, at their own pace towards their own valid version of a happy society.