Writings

Preservation & Boundaries

Chatted with a friend today about ‘helping’ kids in a village. It began casually, about how it will be nice to help a kid in rural China, or perhaps bring a kid over to the city for a week. But then suddenly it dawned on my friend, who is a local Chinese, that it might also be harming the kid to do so. Is it good to show them something they might never have? Or even if that wasn’t true, was it good to inject them with ideas beyond their world, to change their behaviour and desires? This goes back to a discussion I had with myself a long time ago, not unlike the ┬ácolonial Europeans who came to ’save’ the ’savages’ in Asia or Africa.

Our conversation then led to what it really means to ‘help’ these kids, and what it really means to ‘modernize’ someone, or a village. I brought up the thought that when you ‘modernize’ something, at the same time, you are also destroying existing culture, and this is how a lot of tribal culture is being made non-existent. My friend tried to rationalize this aspect by saying perhaps as beautiful as certain cultures are, it is inevitable that they do not survive if they cannot keep up with the times, or not tolerate cultures from the outside world. He started thinking if there is a point in preserving cultures that aren’t strong enough to survive the outside world. I mentioned that, well, we have zoos, which preserve and protect animals that may very well be extinct in our world today. I’m not sure if there is a point, as, the longer you keep them in the zoo, the longer they won’t survive outside in the ‘real’ world. But then i also mentioned that museums are also like cultural zoos in which they preserve culture that has otherwise been overwhelmed by globalization, and he quite liked the idea.

All this brought me to the thought of how the industrial revolution and technology has changed the world so much today to endanger cultures everywhere in the world. How are cultures endangered? When boundaries are erased and cultures exposed to each other, it brings them into a conflict and threatens their existence. A simple example of an influx of immigrants to a certain country makes the locals feel threatened very easily, overwhelmed by the foreign language and culture. In the old world, we had all sorts of boundaries: political, social, geographical, technological, linguistic, etc. But in the new world, everything is getting homogenized, and everything brought closer to each other, everything more accessible. At initial thought, that sounds great and all, unifying the whole world into one species. But then if you go deeper into it, you are essentially smearing all the colours on the palette to create grey. Without boundaries, many things will not survive. Deers could survive because they could hide or live in areas that were perhaps inaccessible to lions. But if the only boundary that kept them alive was taken away, they’d be extinct immediately. Being intolerable to the outside world doesn’t signify that a culture or a species shouldn’t exist, contrary to what my friend thought. It’s really the changing world that is erasing these boundaries that used to protect different species and cultures. Or should I say, enable different cultures to propagate and grow. If we didn’t have physical boundaries, we wouldn’t have so many different types of flowers in so many different colours. Flowers that aren’t strong enough to compete with other flowers don’t warrant their extinction. Unless we really want just one big bowl of cultural soup in a single flavour, we should really start thinking about what boundaries we are destroying everyday and what new boundaries are being created. These boundaries will break or make the future.

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