Friday,23 March, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1374, (21 December 2017 - 3 January 2018)
Friday,23 March, 2018
Issue 1374, (21 December 2017 - 3 January 2018)

Ahram Weekly

The global crisis of culture

The global crisis of culture has been continuing in 2017, bringing with it further dangers for humanity as a whole, writes Walid M Abdelnasser

This last year of 2017 was another in which we have been witnessing a crisis of culture on an unprecedented and global scale. With each passing year the crisis deepens and becomes more complicated and more difficult to handle, let alone contain, overcome, or reverse. This crisis of culture has many manifestations that we perceive around us in our daily lives on a regular basis. There are multifaceted dangers of this crisis.

First, a number of world leaders, policy-makers or other figures influencing public opinion in different parts of the world do not see the ongoing crisis of culture as a crisis, or, if they do, they do not understand its serious nature and therefore do not attach to it the priority it deserves. This in itself constitutes a cause for concern, as it means that leading figures in the world are not in a position to take action, or even think about, ways and means to deal with this crisis or deal with it through the implementation of well-thought-out plans. 

Such figures give greater priority to economic, social or political issues at the expense of that deserved by cultural questions for several reasons. One reason could be that they perceive the cultural question as being less urgent, or sometimes even as secondary or marginal, when compared to the economic, social or political domains. Another reason could be that they fail to see that if the crisis of culture could come to an end, even if gradually, or if it were to diminish in magnitude, scope or depth, this would necessarily yield positive results for the handling of crises in other areas of life. 

Second, this crisis of culture is not confined to the definition of culture in its most traditional or classical sense, meaning literature, critical thinking and writing, cinema, theatre, the fine arts, traditional cultural expressions (such as folklore), as well as other forms of intellectual, artistic and cultural creativity and expression. In fact, the implications of the crisis go well beyond the limits of culture in the classical or traditional sense and touch upon virtually all aspects of life today without any real or substantial exceptions. 

Many observers can readily see how this crisis of culture is manifested in current affairs, economics and business, and social dynamics, as well as in various forms of human interaction, again all at an unprecedented level due to the rate of globalisation we are now living through and the information and communications revolution. This leads to the fact that the manifestations of the current and ongoing crisis of culture cover all categories and types of human beings, both young and old, male and female, and whatever their socio-economic, educational, geographical or occupational backgrounds may be.

Third, this generalised crisis of culture is dangerous and is bringing genuine and serious risks to humanity as a whole. It is linked to both the horizontal and the vertical spread of extremism in its different forms all over the world. Its impacts can be clearly seen in different types of human society, whether rich or poor, urban or rural, in the north or the south, and whatever the cultural, ethnic, national, linguistic, or tribal background. This extremism is also not confined to what we read or see in the media, whether traditional or new, but also exists beneath the surface in patterns of attitudes or behaviour in the daily lives of human societies.

These patterns have resulted from, and also further promoted and given rise to, higher levels of mutual misperception and negative stereotyping among people in general, as well as between citizens and others living in the same society, whether the latter are legal or illegal migrants or simply people coming to a country from elsewhere in the world with a view to studying or working or otherwise staying for relatively limited periods of time.

Fourth, the current crisis of culture is organically linked in a mutually reinforcing and interlocking relationship to the spread of violence that the world has seen over recent years and that has multiplied in 2017. Violence is a phenomenon that knows no borders, and it is not linked to a particular belief, or ethnicity, or nationality, as some people used to claim or tried to create the conviction of in the past (some are still trying to do so today). 

There is no need to reiterate the dangers for culture associated with certain well-known forms of violence, including terrorism, drug-trafficking and human-trafficking, as well as inter-state or intra-state conflicts. However, in addition to the violence covered by the media, there have also been other cases of violence that have not enjoyed the same degree of media coverage or attention from public opinion. This has been true in the societies or communities in which they have occurred as well as at the global level, so much so that in some cases they have even gone unnoticed. 

This multiplication of acts of violence is not necessarily linked to beliefs or ideologies or politics, but in reality, according to a number of different international studies undertaken in 2017 and preceding years, it continues to take place, and even to escalate, particularly inside the family. Violence has also become all too common among residents of the same neighbourhood or of the same street. It frequently occurs among people belonging to the same country, religion, sect, or ethnic and tribal group. In fact, in several cases it seems that there have been more frequent episodes of violence, with even greater human and material losses, among people belonging to the same group than among those belonging to different or competing religions, cultures, intellectual paradigms or ethnic, tribal or national groups.

Fifth, the present crisis of culture has shown once again in 2017 that it is something that cuts across the borders of countries, continents and societies and that virtually no human community is immune to it or its ramifications. While it is true that in different parts of the world there are still people, both individually and collectively, who continue to try to swim against the tide of a culture in crisis, it is equally true that these same people are facing enormous, and occasionally increasing, difficulties and challenges from the opposite direction. 

There is no doubt that the manifestations of this crisis of culture can differ from one society or culture to another, which is only to be expected in the light of the historical path and the surrounding social settings of each. In some cases, these manifestations, including those which took place in 2017, have proved to be more passive, reactive or silent in type, while in others they have been more proactive, disruptive or aggressive. The nature, scope and types of confrontations on the battlefield of culture also vary from one country to the next. 

However, there are common features, even if the origins, details and battlefields differ from one country, region or cultural zone to another, including the struggle for a culture of tolerance, diversity and pluralism on the basis of justice, equality and pluralism versus the proponents of a culture characterised by hatred, incitement and aggressiveness on the basis of superiority, denial of the other, absolutism and claims to monopolise truth.

The hope that the world in 2018 will be a better one on the cultural front should not be confined to wishful thinking. Instead, it should be accompanied by untiring and concerted efforts by all parties that have an interest or a stake in reversing the above-mentioned trends and the dangers that they carry. Only then can an alternative to the present crisis of culture be found as a potential and possible reality, even if it is one that is only realisable in the long run.

The writer is a commentator.

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