Oct 12, 2006

The Dogma of Otherness

One of the most intriguing concepts I have run into recently is the 'The Dogma of Otherness' described by David Brin. In the time and place where political correctness and cultural relativism are much more popular than arguments about benefits of the Western culture, Brin ironically and with a tongue-in-cheek manages to show how the very critiques of the Western culture in fact manage to provide compelling arguments about its unique advantages. The logic he employs is very simple - perhaps even right there along the lines 'it's so simple only a genius can see it' :> His argument, in essence, boils down to the simple statement that the (modern) Western culture is the only one which not only allows but encourages critique of itself, thus it invites change (for better), is in the best position to assimilate good parts of other cultures, and (even if it is not 'polite' to say so) is the the most tolerant and positive of them all.

To illustrate his argument, let me quote from his essay:

"Anthropologists tell us that every culture has its core of central, commonly shared assumptions--some call them zeitgeists, others call them dogmas. These are beliefs that each individual in the tribe or community will maintain vigorously, almost like a reflex.

"It's a universal of every society. For instance, in the equatorial regions of the globe there's a dogma that could be called machismo, in which revenge is a paramount virtue that runs deeper even than religion. From Asian family centrism to Russian pessimism, there are worldviews that affect nations' behavior more basically than superficial things like communism, or capitalism, or Islam. It all has to do with the way children are raised.

"We, too, have our zeitgeist. But I am coming to see that contemporary America is very, very strange in one respect. It just may be the first society in which it is a major reflexive dogma that there must be no dogmas!"

"But think, for a moment, how unique this is . . . how unusual this cultural mind-set has to be! Throughout history nearly every human society has worked hard to ingrain its children with the assumption that theirs was the only way to do things. Oh, we still get a lot of that here. It probably comes automatically with flags and nations and all that tribal stuff. But where and when else has the societal dogma also included such a powerful counter-indoctrination to defend otherness?"

"The Dogma of Otherness insists that all voices deserve a hearing, that all points of view have something of value to offer."

Is there really a war of memes? Perhaps. But if there is, the dogma of otherness gets my full support - especially over other memes that Brin describes as its opponents (feudalism, machismo, paranoia, and "the East").

Links of interest:
*begining of 'The Dogma of Otherness' essay (unfortunatly the full text is not online, but you can get it from a library near you or buy online)
*The New Meme - another of Brin's essay's which discusses this issue (this one has full text available)
*Survival of the Fittest Ideas: The New Style of War -- a Struggle Among Memes (excerpt from Brin's speech)

Googling for "The Dogma of Otherness" produces also some other people's comments about this issue, but I think reading original Brin first is a better idea.

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