Where It Started, Part Two

First, get caught up with Part 1—where I explained how a newbie sociologist and an optical illusion show that Americans are NOT NORMAL!

I asked, “Do we REALLY understand just how different we are?”

Quoting the article, We Are Not The World, once again:

“A MODERN LIBERAL ARTS education gives lots of lip service to the idea of cultural diversity. It’s generally agreed that all of us see the world in culturally-constructed ways, that pluralism is good, and that ethnocentrism is bad. But, beyond that, the ideas get muddy. … To avoid stereotyping, it is rarely stated bluntly just exactly what those culturally derived qualities might be. [If you] challenge liberal arts graduates on their appreciation of cultural diversity, you’ll often find them [stating] that, under the skin, everyone is really alike.”

So, which is it?  Do humans basically value the same things?  Or are we even more complicated and diverse than the most open-minded, multicultural college kid really understands?

And—most importantly to the future of this blog—just how do our Western assumptions affect how we handle the quest for absolute, overarching Truth?

A bit further in the article, the author finally arrives at the researchers’ conclusions. Americans are exceptionally “weird” in just about every category.

“[the sociologists] titled their paper ‘The Weirdest People in the World?’ …It is not just our Western habits and cultural preferences that are different from the rest of the world, it appears. The very way we think about ourselves and others—and even the way we perceive reality—makes us distinct from other humans on the planet, not to mention from the vast majority of our ancestors…”

The author goes on to pose several questions about what all of this means.

“The idea that I can only perceive reality through a distorted cultural lens was unnerving. For me the notion raised all sorts of metaphysical questions: Is my thinking so strange that I have little hope of understanding people from other cultures? Can I mold my own psyche or the psyches of my children to be less WEIRD and more able to think like the rest of the world? If I did, would I be happier?”

These are valid questions, and they certainly gnaw at the mind when we finally get hit with the reality of how our culture has affected our subconscious. (It’s very strange when it actually clicks, as opposed to simply parroting “everybody is different” in some college paper about diversity.)

Heck, even our understanding of diversity (as healthy and desirable) comes from Western assumptions about truth.  If you asked the Machiguenga people what they know about America, do you think they’ll tell you much? I doubt it.

But do you think they’d feel bad about that?

Probably not.  So, why do we feel guilty or embarrassed when we can’t locate Venezuela on a map? Should we march to Peru and explain that those people need to get busy studying American history—to reach out and connect with the rest of the world? Should we tell them that being primarily absorbed with their own farming community is ethnocentric and bad? Or should we start by asking ourselves whether “global awareness” really is the great issue of importance we make it here?

I have more to say in Part Three!


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