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Heard This Week

A snippet of a conversation with my friend and colleague David Smith, while driving to a meeting in Maryland:

David: We [the US] are the Borg of cultures. We assimilate other cultures into our own and they cease to exist as separate identities. That's why so many Muslims feel they're fighting for their very survival -- because they are. They see what we're doing to the rest of the world and don't want it to happen to them. But it's a lost cause.

Me: I'm not sure how happy I am about the prospect of living in a world of homogenized cultures.

David: It doesn't matter what we think. It doesn't matter whether our Borg culture is a good thing or bad thing. It's inevitable.

Me: See the world now.


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Uh, to which U.S. culture are you referring? I find it difficult to identify a single culture in any given state, yet alone the entire U.S. Although we have instant communication, a common language, the same money, and easy travel, each community in which I've lived in the states (and in Europe ) has had its own distinct (but often similar) mixture of values, tastes, and mores.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that the U.S. values and prosperity are necessarily the same as culture, nor that they are adopted by everyone who benefits from them. Every other open, successful economy attracts its followers, too. It may be both arrogant and myopic to think that everyone else in the world is becoming just like us -- McDonalds, Disney, and Starbucks notwithstanding. You may not be able to get either skim milk or decaf in Starbucks--Paris, just like you can't get the local beer in stateside Mickey D's (but you can in Europe).

Sack cloth and hair shirts may be okay for those who feel the need to apologize for their success, but they are unbecoming.

The majority of "the Muslims" "fighting" the U.S. are doing so for the same reason as any other religious, political, ethnic, or social group who use violence to oppose any other such group -- their immediate personal and/or political advantage and gain. Altruism of any sort hardly enters into it.

I'm sure you and your friend did not intend to single out that specific religious sect -- most of whom are either indifferent or enthusiastic towards the U.S. -- as the only external opposition to U.S. interests. There's plenty of "cultural" conflict from other groups and within the country as well.

As you illustrate in your Starbucks post, U.S. culture is completely derivative -- we're an economically successful "melting pot." When you homogenize something, the whole retains the properties of all the parts. We take a little bit from all the cultures that we touch. At worst, we are a mirror to those others, and they may well resent it. Remember Pogo: "We is met de enemy, an dey is us!"

Sleep (or regenerate) easy, it isn't your fault.

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