In our “Land of Six Peoples”, we should appreciate the following UNESCO statement on cultural diversity. “Human beings have forever invented and exchanged cultural elements; hence cultural diversity has ever been a part of human experience. Such exchanges come in the wake of historical contacts with other local or regional groups, bringing some of them closer or causing conflicts of domination between them. Thus, the world does not consist of a mosaic of cultures but of a constantly-changing river of cultures, with its different currents forever mingling.
All human beings share the capacity to create cultures, which means they have a common creative potential. This is not to say that they all have or will have the same culture, and this is so for the very reason that they are creative. The huge growth of new communication technologies over the past two decades has brought many parts of the world into close communication and may well fulfil the promise of a ‘global village’. Many people feel that this will lead to forced cultural homogenisation. However, no limits can be placed on people’s creativity and capacity to alter their ways of being. Therefore, we can expect a continuing vitality of human cultural diversity. Fears of cultural uniformity are groundless because it is impossible to stem the flow of a river.
The persistence and renewal of diversity present new challenges in the contemporary international context, however. At the same time that globalisation is creating new opportunities for cultural exchange, new forms of intolerance and aggression are appearing. Xenophobia and racism, ethnic wars, prejudice, stigmas and segregation and discrimination based mainly on ethnicity and gender are generating violence and suffering almost everywhere.
All these phenomena amount to a refusal to recognise others as full human beings entitled to the same rights as one’s self. Those responsible use ‘difference’ as an excuse for intolerance, hatred, and the annihilation of others. Many also use ‘difference’ as an excuse for violent political struggles without realising that a barrier that protects from the outside may well imprison from the inside.
The faster pace and huge volume of global inter-action have prompted a greater awareness of cultural diversity. While it has given wider scope to the expression of such diversity, it has also permitted the representation of differences such as hierarchy, domination, and conflict. In fact, one could look at the human trajectory as the history of different answers to the same questions. How do people behave towards those of a different community? How should they behave?
People, however, do not all have an equal capacity (or freedom) to choose. Inequality of access to resources, political power, information, and the media strongly condition that capacity. These differences apply not just to individuals but also to groups. The representation of cultural differences as hierarchical conflict rather than as creative diversity reflects this inequality. This is at the base of what we understand to be cultural injustice.
Often, cultural injustice is blurred beneath definitions of diversity that turn norms into essentialist, never-changing values outside history and fixed by racial or even genetic characteristics. In fact, cultural diversity results from the inherent capacity of human beings to build creatively on the cultural legacies transmitted to them, thereby adding diversity to their ways of life. This continuous flow of variations can be halted only if invention, imitation, or innovation are totally forbidden, as has happened in some world cultures. But then the human spirit, which is one of boundless creativity, has been killed.
Diversity usually clusters around a cultural core for geographical, historical or other reasons, so that a cultural boundary is deliberately marked that separates one cultural group from another. Now that cultural groups are repositioning themselves within this three-dimensional map, many people would like to know how such cultural diversity originated and what its dynamic is in our contemporary world.