Understanding Through Cultures



Since the trauma of his coming to this world, man started his personal construction, that which we commonly call the human civilization. This long journey began with the caveman, was pursued by the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs etc… to finally lead to today’s one. It has been a permanent quest of man’s self by himself. So much pain was necessary to learn how to write the first letter. And it was that first letter that added to other letters, which allowed man to write with great difficulty the word: CIVILIZATION.

Civilization’s goal is to widen man’s field of conscience, and consequently make him become aware of his responsibility towards his alike: the mankind. Its purpose is to create morals for which the reference, the landmark, will be the human being. The place where this intelligence could be built is the university. Since behind any civilization we find the human intelligence, by way of consequence, it is the university that will produce tomorrow’s civilization.

The human intelligence is contagious. In his civilizing act, man spreads his conscience to the universe, thanks to the technological sophistication, which is destroying borders and bringing nations closer. The present world looks for common factors in humanity, and this stretches out towards mankind’s unity. It is creating the universal man. Writers, scientists, artists, languages, are therefore considered a common heritage. They belong to humanity.

The UNO rely on national competencies for the resolution of international issues. Such personalities no longer belong solely to their country of origin. They become extra-national personalities. Lakhdar Ibrahimi, Kofi Annan, Larsons – each transcends his nationality of origin and becomes a transnational phenomenon. The UNO assigns one to solve the Afghan, Lebanese or Iraqi issue; the other the complex problems linked to disarmament and so on. They have become THE UNIVERSAL SOLDIER. On the other hand, we find the universal mercenary – the universal terrorist.

The natural tendency of the world is towards the internationalization of everything, of the problems as well as of the solutions. There will come a day that when asked for his nationality, man will respond: from Earth!

The big illusion for most present world countries is to believe in the notion of territories and hermetic borders. Borders are an invention of man, and the crawling globalization does not care about them. It advances with a giant’s steps, not at all taking into account the risk of cultural shocks.

And here is where the university has to put forward the question that if this globalization is ineluctable, should it be shaped as an imposition? A domination? Or should it follow the other alternative? That of taking the shape of a restructuring of the planet on the basis of each country’s capacities, specificities and virtues in order to make a synthesis out of them? Here each country remains individually responsible to the rest of the world within the limits of its ability. And here comes the importance of the cultural problems in the relations between nations.

History shows us that a new organization or an all new system has its setbacks.  Certainly, globalization is a new system to be instituted. But this unavoidable system, will it be able to avoid dehumanization of people who are the essence of any system? For it is true that to alienate people, is to create in the long term: mutants.

The world of globalization has become a building with tenants, and the tenants crush the weakest among them. And the weakest, is always the stranger, the one who is different, the one who has committed the imprudence of leaving his homeland, the one who is culturally different from the rest. And thus, in this globalizing process, the first victim is the foreign student.

While leaving his country to study abroad, the student, usually coming from a country of the South, experiences his being different in the context of the host society, often a European or an American one. To be a foreigner in these countries, particularly in the present times, is seen with suspicion and disdain, and is often associated with racial hatred and exclusion. The stranger is identified solely by his name’s strange accent that indicates his origin (his strange name is used to isolate him). He feels completely lonesome (and this is often the objective of people who surround him). Moreover, this difference is seen by the others as disruptive and disturbing.

Here the salvation is no longer in the encounter of the other. It is in running away from the other. The first source of violence against someone is one’s inability to understand him, with its corollary that is intolerance. The first violence at the contact of two human beings is this violence, the violence of one culture wanting to impose itself on the other, having lived with a feeling of superiority over other cultures. This inevitably leads to the shock between the two different cultures.

Isn’t it the ignorance of the other born out of mutual misunderstanding, which produces shock of the cultures? The shock of cultures is the desire to impose one culture on another. It is the desire of domination of the other (who is different from us). And this will of domination always meets with resistance. Often the source of conflict between people is cultural differences.

Even an academic course can be understood and experienced differently by two different cultures. It is necessary to know that the techniques of training differ from one culture to another. The way in which an African learns can largely differ from the one a European does.

Every geographical area has its own microclimate, its own vegetation, its own culture, its own ethnic group. The culture is the fruit of a particular ethnic group that has been formed through immemorial times in a particular region. It is a living entity of the human biologic substratum. The first violence against it is to try to deny it. And this is the essence of any enterprise of domination. Against the violence of its negation, this group reacts by the violence of survival.

Every region of the globe has its own particularity. And it is this particularity, this cultural homogeneity that is behind the dialectics: ruler-ruled. It is said that we deserve our rulers. If this is true, then it is not the only force that keeps these rulers in power against the will of their populations. Otherwise how do we explain the fact that even though the colonial powers were stronger than the present rйgimes, they were unable to keep the colonized countries under their control? Why didn’t the Indians accept the British? It was a matter of cultural difference. Why didn’t the Egyptians accept the British? And the Algerians the French? It is a question of culture again. And when a rйgime alienates itself, it blows up. The cultural homogeneity rulers-ruled is the key of the system. The negation of an ethnic particularity amounts to an impoverishment of humanity. The first terrorist act is the negation of the other.

The understanding of the other leads to tolerance. Tolerance leads to coexistence, and coexistence recognizes the difference in the other. Differences are one of humankind’s wealth. Being different doesn’t necessarily imply being better. It simply means that one finds his inner psychic balance in this difference.

Neurosis is eminently cultural.

Is the climax of well-being that drives Marilyn Monroe to suicide, better than the nudity and the simplicity of the Tibetan monk who complains of nothing and is happy?

If the junction of two primary colors gives their complementary one, then the populations living on the borders of two neighboring countries are a beautiful synthesis of these two countries taken separately. The great nations are those that succeed in making a good synthesis of the human particularities of their population. The shock of cultures appears when we establish a judgment value to convince ourselves that we are the best.

The concept "best" is always relative. One is better in relation to something. It amounts to saying that in order to be better, we tend to depreciate the others. At the civilizations’ scale, there is no better civilization. There is only hegemonic civilization. At the human scale, the concept “best” can only have a moral meaning, otherwise it becomes racism.

When we want to valorize the human act, we have recourse to the morals, not to anything else, because only moral values are universal. Beyond the appearance of various peoples, there is the essence of the human species.

Peace is self-respect. Self-respect goes through the respect of the other. Wars of liberation were nothing for colonized people than battles to regain their cultural identity. In fact, what makes the unity of a human group is its cultural unity, what we call its identity.

People can only coexist in the recognition of the specificity of the other. The understanding and the recognition of the specificity of the other become tolerance. It is this tolerance that enriches humanity.

Universities should consider that a hegemonic globalization is against the concept of identity. Any cultural imperialism is characterized by the annihilation of other cultures. Hence the shock of cultures and the violent reaction for survival of these cultures.

Violence, when it is for survival, is always blind. It is terrorism! We proclaim ourselves different even in our way to die. Our culture determines our way of seeing the world and our way of defending this way of seeing the world. Culture is subjective. It makes us stubborn: we think we are always right! The other is wrong.

In some types of Western societies, there is a social behavior which isolates, humiliates, traumatizes, and depreciates the minorities living on their territory. This behavior becomes a shaping process of these humans that later makes monsters out of them that rebel against this same society.  Unwillingly, these countries manufacture human bombs that explode on their faces.

Social behavior is a responsible behavior and a producer of human reaction. Thus, it is up to us to choose the type of reaction that we want to have in five, six, or ten years.

We marvel in front of a computer but ignore the process that led to its production. In the same way, the human reaction is a provoked product. Like Frankenstein, the different forms of racial exclusion and iniquities are a human product, a product of the society. And this is the dynamics underlying cultural or ethnic minorities’ children’s development. They are often rejected and humiliated by their host-society. Nevertheless they survive. But what if time gives them the opportunity for revenge? They will not care about the pretext. If they are smart enough, they will invent it. At this moment, the society will have a genuine product, an object of its own creation that will put to hard test its intelligence and its quietude.

Man never considers his acts to their true value. And this is the way he learns, by the reaction of the universe to his acts. Everything reacts to man’s actions. An action calls for a reaction. A given behavior induces a given reaction (the consequence of the act)- an act towards humans fathers an equivalent human reaction. The hatred in us kills the other, but understanding the other kills the hatred that dwells within us. Understand to tolerate and finally to love. ‘Tolerate’ is the key word!

Culture is what we sow as feelings, ideas, emotions and hopes, in the collective unconscious of the human group in which we live. It is in culture that we express ourselves socially, as different spiritual and intellectual activities.

The world of objects is a system of information or signals that form the brain’s daily diet. It all depends on the way in which the brain uses or treats this bundle of information, how it controls it or towards what finality it directs the energized equivalent of these objects or their pictures. All this is a question of culture.

The brain treats the received information as the digestive system treats food to transform it into vital energy. The brain can be allergic to some objects (or symbols) just as the body can be allergic to some food. The brain rejects this information, and as with food, it is the body that expresses itself by malfunctioning. And this mental process is eminently cultural.

The view of the human being is selective. He sees in the reality only what he wants to see, tries to see or has been educated to see. He discards in facto (in other words doesn’t see at all) what disturbs him, makes him anxious, or any other resurgent traumatic and intolerable memory. Individuals are just different perceptions of the same reality, which thus become multiple and contradictory. The significance of the human action is contained in the intention that comes with it, and this is why human actions are ambiguous and the source of incomprehension. This intention is a cultural product.

Man is defined by the context of the moment. The actual place he occupies in his environment defines what he is. And in the presence of any conflict, civility is only mastering in oneself the barbaric instincts of our ancestors.

The events of life reveal the true character of people. The individual’s behavior is the function of his degree of conscience of this permanent bundle of information that is the reality surrounding him. In the face of any given event, every individual’s reaction reflects the exact understanding he has of this event at the time he lives it.

Therefore the university should stress on that point: culture counts for a lot in our perception of things. The problems of all universities are commonly the problems of their teachers. The problems of the teachers are commonly the problems of the society they live in. The problems of any society are the problems of its women.

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