The articles I have already written about cultural diversity reflect my personal understanding based on my experience and observation of life in South Africa which is a multicultural society that is slowly losing its traditional cultural diversity. And the loss of traditional cultural diversity is not peculiar to South Africa; it is happening all over the world. This is partly due to the influence of mass media especially television which brings global, mostly American, norms and values right into our homes. And we do not seem to be aware of the social conditioning that happens through a medium such as television. Just as we are not aware that when we enter a supermarket, we are practising democratic values – freedom of movement and freedom of choice.
We also do not seem to be aware of the social conditioning that happens through technology. For instance, we believe that democratic values are spread through revolutionary uprisings such as the revolutionary movement that took place in South Africa under the leadership of the ANC. Revolutions espouse democratic values but the governments that they set up are not democratic; they are seats of administration. And administration is top-down and does not allow for deviations from regulations.
If you have ever had dealings with any government department, you will know that you have to follow procedures exactly or you will not get the service you require. Apply for a driving licence and you will understand. A government enforces its requirements through the police force which is its frontline. When you see protesters marching in the street and police beating and tear-gassing them, you are watching the government at work. Unfortunately, governments have to exert their power in this way; living in a society requires conformity to rules and regulations.
So democratic values cannot be spread through governance. Democracy is spread through technology. If we look at the Arab Uprisings that began in 2011, we see people who were and are demanding democracy. Where did they get their understanding of democracy since they were and are living under authoritarian rule? They not only learned from the new technology – Internet, cell phones, Twitter, Facebook etc. – they also experienced freedom through these media. They were able to communicate widely and organise; they were able to expose the oppression under which they live/d. Technology enabled them to move beyond their confining cultures.
To most people culture means the outward manifestations of religion, custom and tradition. But cultural phenomena such as dress, food, the arts, religious rituals etc. arise out of the way in which people relate to their environment and the way in which they organise themselves in that environment.
In the old days,people lived in small communities, owned a small piece of land that provided them with the basic necessities of life and developed beliefs based on the blessings and the misfortunes that nature provided. Life was lived on a small and intimate scale in tribes and farming communities.
When electricity and machines were invented, that whole way of life changed. Most of us now live in urban conglomerations. Land was taken over by governments and corporations; factories and agricultural estates came into being that could provide more goods faster and cheaper. And people who were farmers before, became workers. So the majority of people became dependent on government and industry for employment. And that was good while it lasted.
Now with the development of electronic technology, things are changing again. We have greater individual freedom because we can communicate with anyone anywhere and our understanding of the world and our existence is growing rapidly. We are outgrowing old ways and discovering new ways of living together. At the same time, technology is making factory-type work less and less relevant. Workers all over the world are being retrenched because industry and government no longer need them. And our education system, which is still producing dependent workers, is no longer relevant.
We have to change the way we think of work and education in order to fit into the new electronic, technological, nuclear age. So we need education for greater diversity. The factory system of education standardised everything but in the modern world, everything is becoming more individualised.
We also have to think of new ways of governing ourselves. Democracy is dependent on national states and we are moving into a global environment which provides greater individual freedom. With industrialisation, we thought bigger was better. Now we have to ask ourselves whether this is still true. Bigger means more control and less individual freedom. But technology is giving us more and more individual freedom.
We are actually moving into greater cultural diversity not based on race, religion and the particular environment in which we live. We are moving into a cultural diversity based on individual talent and the new requirements of a futuristic age.
So when we think of cultural diversity today, we have to think of the diversity that is developing from technological advancement. Old forms of cultural diversity may provide individuality of expression to give our endeavours style and distinction. Though style and distinction may emanate from old traditions that we keep alive for romantic reasons, our endeavours must be based on our new environments and on new understandings of existence.
Because that is what culture reflects; the environment in which you live and your understanding of existence.