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Chaparral 2015-2016: 24.3 Cultural Diversity

Cultural Diversity (December 2015)

Cultural Diversity: "A Common Heritage For Survival of Humanity"

by JC Moore

Department of Sociology & Coordinator of Cultural Diversity


Nowadays, when people talk about diversity, they may get irritated or likely will dismiss it as if it is someone else's issue.  Many conservatives assume that cultural diversity is politics and a conceptual invention for which there is no need to pay attention. But culture is the way a people live, survive, and die. And cultural diversity, in its most basic sense, is the way we all live. Cultural diversity is to the survival of humanity as bio-diversity is to nature.  

Biodiversity refers to the variety of living organisms within a particular environment. It includes the diversity within a species, between species, and of entire ecosystems. An ecosystem is made up of all the living things, large and small, within an environment, as well as the non-living things that enable life to survive in that environment. Things like air and water, of course, but also energy and minerals. Now, the smallest changes in an ecosystem can have dramatic effects. For instance, we all know that corporations dump tons of pollutants and raw sewage into unsuspecting rivers, and that can kill everything in that environment. But even the simple introduction of a new species can have a disastrous impact on an ecosystem. One of our newest problems is that tropical fish fanciers on the East Coast – where lionfish do not belong – have been dumping their pet lionfish into the ocean. This will turn out to be a very real disaster, because the lionfish have been disrupting the native marine species, which then affects the food security and livelihoods of an estimated 100 million people. Humans are learning that instead of managing the individual species that we depend on, we have to manage the ecosystems in which those species that we depend on exist.

Culture is the safety deposit box of human wisdom, as well as our encyclopedia of what is edible, beautiful, comfortable, entertaining, and sublime.

Culture is, in many ways, a very similar concept to an ecosystem. Cultures are also dependent on everything in an environment, because people tend to use all the resources available in their environment. The environment determines the culture, just as it determines the ecosystem. But cultures are a product of humankind. Culture is the blueprint for human survival, informing us to survive collectively through language, values, norms, beliefs, knowledge, as well as products - food, music, painting, architecture, dance, and literature. It can be argued that it is the sustainability of a culture that allows a people to survive, the same way that ecosystems need to be sustainable for life to continue to exist.  

As the world became smaller through colonization and missions, some cultures came to dominate others. The dominated cultures began losing elements of their own cultures, such as the Christian Church burning all evidence of a Mayan written language. In this process, many languages and customary traditions have disappeared. Many indigenous Native American cultures have disappeared entirely.  

There is some confusion that stems from the basic premise about culture and diversity. I would argue that these days, cultural diversity does not merely refer to the coexistence of many cultures in a metropolitan area. It is, more importantly, the existence of diverse cultures all around the globe. In a very basic sense, culture is the "road" to survival that a particular people took. All existing human cultures are stories of human life. Cultures teach humans not only how to survive, but how to live. And how to live in all kinds of environments, from the frozen arctic to rainless deserts to rain forests teeming with life; every culture has important lessons for us. Culture is the safety deposit box of human wisdom, as well as our encyclopedia of what is edible, beautiful, comfortable, entertaining, and sublime. From many cultures, mystics see many faces of God. Culture teaches us how to live. 

We should not see cultural diversity as a threat but as a source of creative human life.  Cultural diversity is money in the Bank of Human Survival.  


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