THE International Scientific Conference at St Petersburg University of the Humanities and Social Sciences first took place in May, 1993. It was timed to the Day of Slavonic Letters and Culture. It was initiated by academician Dmitry Sergeyevich Likhachov. Since then the conference has been held every year. After academician Likhachov had passed away this academic forum received the status of International Likhachov Scientific Conference from the government (by the Decree of President of the Russian Federation VV Putin ‘On perpetuating the memory of Dmitry Sergeyevich Likhachov’ No. 587, May 23, 2001).
The co-founders of the conference are the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Russian Academy of Education, St Petersburg University of the Humanities and Social Sciences, St Petersburg Intelligentsia Congress (founders: JI Alferov, DA Granin, AS Zapesotsky, K Yu Lavrov, DS Likhachov, AP Petrov, MB Piotrowsky). Since 2007 the conference has enjoyed the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.
Traditionally, the most universal debatable challenges of the present time are put on the agenda of the conference: ‘Education in terms of the new cultural type formation’, ‘Culture and global challenges of the world development’, ‘Humanitarian issues of the contemporary civilization’ etc.
Every year greatest figures of Russian and foreign science, culture and art, public and political leaders take part in the conference.
Every year volumes of reports, participants’ presentations, proceedings of workshop discussions and round tables are published. The copies of the volumes are present in all major libraries of Russia, the CIS countries, scientific and educational centres of many countries in the world. The proceedings of the conference are also available on a special scientific website ‘Likhachov Square’ (at www.lihachev.ru).
“Globalisation” is an attractive word; for it evokes in us a noble sentiment of “one earth” and of humankind as one race born of one common “Mother Earth”. It raises in us a dream of ideal of human unity and universal fraternity. But when we closely examine the current phenomenon of globalisation we find that the globality is the globality of market forces with cut-throat competition, of increasing disparities both among nations and within the nations and of the hegemony of dominant and rich nations. There is no manifestation of global consciousness in which unity and oneness predominate. The widespread terrorism and religious fundamentalism pose serious challenges to the very existence of the cultural diversities. The market forces, instead of harmonising the conflicts, further deepen the schisms and propagate the cult of violence as opposed to the culture of dialogue, reason and thought.
In some of my earlier lectures I have argued that the world cannot be called as truly globalised if it is global in terms of trade and commerce, science and technology while the cultures and civilizations are in a perpetual conflict. For a truly global world trade and commerce, science and technology, cultures and civilizations and environment should remain in harmony. I take this opportunity to reiterate it. If mankind has to survive then the idea that there is an inherent and perpetual clash of civilizations, which is central to the responses of nations and communities in dealing with each other, must be rejected. A world order based on “clash of civilizations” will never allow the resolution of conflicts. For enduring world peace and harmony we need a new paradigm and a new world order based on a free and frank dialogue among civilisations conducive for the making of a global culture.
Globalisation, as we all know, has economic roots and socio-political consequences, but it also affects the culture. While globalisation tends to bind the economies, people and communities generally tend to maintain their distinct cultural identities. Thus there arises a conflict between economic integration and cultural separatism. For creating a global culture we must discuss the interaction between globalisation and culture and its consequences. Also whether or not under the present state and direction of globalisation it is possible to have a global culture in its real sense.
First, about globalisation. In the early 1990s globalisation was greeted by many countries-both developed and developing. It was widely circulated and also expected that globalisation will very soon bring prosperity to all. But by December 1999, a major protest took place in Seattle. This was a surprise and shock to the advocates of free and open markets. Then followed protests in Europe, United States and also in several developing countries. These protesting groups rejected the argument that, ultimately globalisation would make everybody economically better off. Joseph Stiglitz in his seminal work Globalization And Its Discontents has given a detailed account of what globalisation has done to the developing countries. He writes, “Globalization today is not working. It is not working for many of the world’s poor. It is not working for much of the environment. It is not working for the stability of the global economy.”
The World Commission on the Social Dimensions of Globalization (2001) established by International Labour Organization says, “The current process of globalization is generating unbalanced outcomes, both between and among countries. In Africa the percentage of the population living in abject poverty has gone up from 42 percent to 47 percent. Recently the Latin America and Russia have also voiced their disappointment about globalization. Markets were opened but globalization did not deliver especially to the poor.”
James D Wolfensohn, as president of the World Bank Group in his speech to the Board of Governors in September 2003, lamented that the world was out of balance. For this the fundamental forces shaping the world and causing this imbalance must be addressed. Wolfensohn further argued that in this world of six billion people one billion own 80 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) while another billion struggle to survive on less than a dollar a day. This is a world out of balance.
What are the implications of this imbalance? There may be growth but a very large number of people are denied any benefit of growth. They may be worse off. Trickle-down economics, which promises that with growth benefits will percolate down, has been shown to be wrong. According to the World Commission on the Social Dimensions of Globalization fifty-nine per cent of the world’s people were living in countries with growing inequality. Even in most of the developed countries the rich were getting richer while the poor were often not even holding their own.
The one billion richest of the world’s population live in several countries, some of them live in the developing world as well. This one billion shares similar attitudes, visions and life values. In a sense, globalisation tends to produce two cultures, one of the ‘haves’ and the other of the ‘have-nots’. The impact of globalisation on culture gives rise to several other issues. Some of them are as under:
Increasing poverty of billions of people denies them the opportunities for making any meaningful contribution to the march of civilization and cultural advancement.
Globalisation has serious political consequences. Market forces are inimical to democracy. The huge expenses required for funding the elections, the rising influence of criminal economy, the compromise by political leaders with corruption are all indications of market dominating the democratic process. This will ultimately lead to the establishment of market dictatorship. As Jacques Attali has discussed a lumpen market without any institutional deterrent will replace democracy.
Economic system pressed upon the developing countries in the process of globalisation has in many cases resulted in grave injuries to their economy and even culture. It, in many cases, has largely been responsible for the Americanisation of their culture, economy, life values and other socio-political institutions. Globalisation thus threatens the cultural pluralism and tends to impose value systems purely determined by market forces.
Globalisation leads to migration and in many cases has resulted in producing cultural faultlines between host country and the migrants.
Now about culture. What is culture? Culture can be defined as the total pattern of behaviour of a society reflected in speech, action, value system, practices, and the way it defines its relationship among its members, environment and other societies. Culture and the world view of a society are deeply interrelated and constantly interact. In defining the world view religion and philosophy play a prominent role. And civilization ordinarily means the state of civic society, how it is organised, governed, educated and how it infuses knowledge in all aspects of life. It is an evolved state of society engaged in continuous improvement of the quality of human life. It is culture which provides the value system to the society and thus shapes the intersocietal relationships. Culture and religion thus play a major role in shaping the human behaviour and progress of a society.
Culture is a dynamic entity. It evolves and continuously interacts with all aspects of life. Culture has been and is even now used to maintain cohesion and ensure an orderly march of civilization to seek even higher goals. Goals material, intellectual and spiritual. But sadly enough, history is replete with incidents where politicians, religious leaders and intellectuals on various occasions have used culture and religion to justify barbarism and warfare. Cultural conflicts sometimes erupt into prolonged wars. There are many examples where ethnic animosities along with religious differences have created warlike situations. In such cases democracy and development both receive serious setbacks. Cultures evolve and their impact on contemporary societies play an important role in shaping their politics and economy. For example, Islamic culture explains why democracy could not take root in several Islamic countries while in India democratic politics has been enshrined in its Constitution and is working successfully.
There is yet another category of conflicts in which culture indirectly plays a defining role. The Cold War was itself a conflict, though not purely cultural, but had cultural overtones.
It was portrayed as a conflict between the “communist culture” and the “capitalist culture”. Over the ages mankind has witnessed examples where the so-called “superior cultures” have tried to eliminate what they considered as “inferior cultures”.
It was argued by many scholars that the post-Cold War era would witness a new techno-economic world order where major conflicts whether political, cultural or ideological will be eliminated in the international political arena. It was also argued that in a unipolar world the competing powers would be transformed into cooperative partners. Sadly, it did not happen. The growing international trade and communication did not resolve the conflicts and tensions rather heightened them. Globalisation unwittingly, though, has generated the tyranny of terrorism.
While discussing the role of several countries to cultural globalisation K Syamalamma and P Krishnamohan Reddy in World Affairs, Winter 2009, www.worldaffairsjournal.com argue that central to many sociological interpretations of globalisation is the notion of culture. It means that globalisation means the development of something like a “global culture”. In its earlier shape globalisation was the result of the colonisation of the large parts of the world by Western powers. The expansion of colonialism brought about the economic and technological unification of large parts of the globe. This was the beginning of establishing of a global society mostly influenced by the European ideas. The cultural impact was felt in the change of lifestyles, language, mannerisms, use of various domestic appliances and technologies. However, this change was slow and was confined to a small section of the population. But now, with a rapidly advancing communication and information technologies, the fast-growing commercial and social intercourse brings a much faster change in various aspects of social and cultural lives of a much large number of the people. Some of the sociologists perceive that in the process a “global consciousness” is emerging. This does not mean a uniform centralised and homogeneous culture worldwide which in any case is not sustainable. A global consciousness should lead to a situation where different societies share their cultural experiences, enrich each other and may serve as a cultural mosaic, and become a symbol of ‘unity in diversity’. K Syamalamma and P Krishnamohan Reddy (ibid) further argue: “Cultural globalisation should be seen as the continual development of multiple modernities on a global scale. Transculturalisation should develop so that different cultures can be true to their own indigenous strengths and not be swept into a similar pattern of only one type of transformation.”
Many people associate democracy, pluralism and tolerance with so-called Western cultures. But just two and one-half centuries ago democratic ideas pertained to only a small group of philosophers and had no influence on real state policy in feudal and monarchical Europe. The well-known political scientist and economist Amartya Sen, in his article ‘Democracy as a Universal Value’ (February 1999), has described the laws of Indian Emperor Ashoka written in the third century BC. Those laws depict the Emperor as the supporter of tolerance, pluralism and protection of minority rights. This is one of the hallmarks of the Indic civilization and culture.
Transculturalisation can only take shape through the partnership of civilizations and dialogue among cultures. But this can only happen when we recognise culture as the very foundation of civilisations and also accept that the global cultural diversity as a prerequisite for establishing a dialogue among cultures. We have also to understand that the cultural diversity which we observe today has been the result of the interaction between different civilisations brought about by the migrations taking place over the millennia. As Alphonso Lingis from Pennsylvania state University has argued: “Mohen-jo-daro, Memphis and Thebes, Mahabalipuram, Angkor, Djenne Djeno in the Sahel, Teotihuacan, Cuzco-all the centres of great cultures had been cosmopolitan cities, with markets full of foreign merchants, but also with whole quarters of settled foreigners. What we have come to know as distinctive and dominant civilizations-Egyptian, Persian, Chinese, Roman and Mongolian- were the result of drawing toward themselves resources, artifacts, inventions and concepts from the most diverse ethnic areas and culture. Anyone visiting Angkor Wat is struck to see altars on which Hindu deities dance around altars with seated Buddhas; friezes depicting everyday life so obviously carved by sculptors who had come from or gone to Borobudur.” It may be further recognised that the Brahminic priests and court rituals were imported into the court at Sukhothai and especially Ayutthaya in fifteenth century Siam, without bringing in the caste system to that Buddhist kingdom. Hindu priests and court ritual were imported into Bali in the fourteenth century, without bringing in reincarnation across species. This was always through a dialogue of cultures and not through war. The Indic civilization thus serves as an example where the cooperative partnership of civilizations resulted in assimilating and evolving a cultural pattern shared and experienced by different civilizations spread over a vast land mass.
Indian experience of peaceful co-existence of different religions over the millennia is rooted in the basic concept that diversity is inherent in the scheme of creation. It may be recognised that in modern physics according to a theorem propounded by JS Bell, the universe is a stupendous hologram where each part is interconnected with the rest of the universe in and intimate an immediate way. A hologram is one where whole of a picture is reflected in each part of the picture. Arguing further David Bohm, one of the most profound philosophical minds involved in the interpretation of scientific theories, says that separate parts of the universe are not separate parts, the parts are to be seen in immediate connection in which their dynamical relationship depends upon the whole system. Thus one is led to new notion of unbroken wholeness. This world view gives rise to the new notion of the wholeness of not only the human society but also of humankind and nature, environment and the cosmos. In this view fragmentation of cities, religions, nations, political systems, conflicts, violence, wars, fratricide etc. are not the reality. They are the results of a fragmentary approach and are the creations of a mind not rooted in wholeness. In other words, life and its problems cannot be understood and solved in parts, one has to take them and find solutions in totality.
The ancient Indian wisdom has contemplated that diversity is the manifestation of the same cosmic entity in different forms. The Hindu view of life seeks unity in diversity and believes in an inclusive approach. This can be one of the starting points of the dialogue among cultures.
Globalisation today emphasises on “world as one market” but this concept is divisive, exclusivist, fragmentary and has not solved any of the conflicts, rather heightened them. The better alternative, as envisaged by the ancient Indian sages, would be “world as a family”. This is inclusive, holistic and tends to reduce the conflicts. This view may be another point on which the dialogue can be founded.
Another feature of the Indic civilizational values has been to recognise that “Truth or reality is one but the wise men describe it in different ways”. This is central for any dialogue aimed at resolving the conflicts. Such a view means that one should listen to the other point of view and try to understand the merit behind it. This is a democratic and secular approach arising out of the holistic world view.
In my view, if the dialogue is based on these three basic tenets of holistic thinking, then it can lead towards establishing a peaceful, non-violent and non-exploitative world order, harmonising the best traditions of national cultures, assimilating the experiences of different civilizations, preserving the environment and above all assuring a system where the dignity of the individual is respected.