Cultures in Conflict

Genetic science holds that modern man is the end result of a single happy moment during the march of evolution when the ancestral mom and dad (Homo Erectus?) became responsible for a lot of school fees.

How many thousands of generations back this event took place is open to debate; working on an average of 50 generations per millennium for say half a million years, that’s 25,000 great grannies.

Discoveries during the very recent past have complicated the issue; apparently about 20 percent of the Neanderthal genome survives in modern humans of non-African ancestry; Neanderthals had bigger brains then modern man, some had red hair and blue eyes, and they behaved pretty much like their cousins, so-called modern man, i.e. badly.

Recently, DNA taken from a little finger bone found in a cave in Siberia identified a new type of early human; these Denisovans were different to Neanderthals, and people in Papua New Guinea carry some of their genes.

Not to mention the hobbit-like race of humans who survived until about 12,000 years ago in Indonesia. In fact, related specimens might still survive deep in the jungle according to local myths.

Whatever happened from a biological viewpoint pales into insignificance compared to the differences in culture which arose over such a vast spread of time.

It is very difficult to recreate the mindset of people who lived even half a century ago. Hey, that’s me!

I write this while looking at a lovely view of the Hauraki Gulf upon which the first world city of Auckland lies.

I can check my e-mail, bank balances, newsfeeds and social media. I am just about as connected to my day-to-day world back in South Africa as if I was physically there – you actually have to make a decision not to stay in touch if you really want a complete break.

In 1964, radio broadcasts spread the news but information from SA was probably sparse; type-written letters arrived after a three week ocean voyage on a diesel powered mail ship.  In 1914, it took a while longer as ships were slower, coal-fired steamers. In 1864, the post travelled on lovely clippers which raced across the Southern Ocean with acres of canvas set. In 1814 Auckland didn’t exist.

We have a totally connected globe – the technology is brilliant – and it gets better all the time, exponentially.

I can speak to my family in four different countries in both hemispheres simultaneously – and as we come from the same family, and therefore share the same culture, it is as if we were all in the same room.

But – we can physically be in the presence of people from different cultures, and immediately we bump into barriers.

The Maori in New Zealand arrived in New Zealand about 1280 AD; once they had wiped out the indigenous wildlife they discovered that life was hard without free food; their society evolved into  groups of extended families (whanau) living in villages for mutual protection; these villages eventually formed part of a clan (hapu) of inter-related families, which in turn belonged to a tribal group (iwi); after the mayhem which ensued upon the arrival of large numbers of British emigrants, all parties settled down more or less amicably and they all swear allegiance to New Zealand as a country.

In South Africa the situation is much more complicated.

We identify with our families, then our close friends, and at the next level up with our official race group (as recorded by the democratic government of South Africa, proud owner of the world’s most advanced constitution, specifically designed for a non-racial nation).

But we can also be defined by the rugby franchise we support (in the case of at least two of the official language groups) or a soccer franchise (for the rest of the tribes); loyalty to the country generally only surfaces when national sports teams are playing, although in the case of rugby, large sections of one particular race group shout for the opposition due to the enormous chips they carry on their shoulders.

Then we have the economic divide, which can be broadly defined as the super rich, the middle class, and the vast masses of unemployed and unemployable living in the townships and rural areas.

The super rich have the means to skip the country when the latter finally rise in revolt a la France in 1789.

The middle class wishes it had.

And Ju Ju– the latest in a long line of African rabble rousers – waits in the wings to lead the revolution which will take the evolution of South African society to a new low point.

So why is it that when people of different cultures are drawn together, there are some fundamental differences that – language barrier apart – are very difficult to detect, understand and assimilate?

Different cultures appear have some basic differences in their value systems.

For example, how did the concept of land ownership develop in Europe and Asia but was absent in many indigenous societies?

The answer must surely partly relate to population density; if you have a whole continent to roam about in, e.g. a few thousand Aboriginals in the vast outback of Australia, the concept of personal ownership would be meaningless; whereas in the crowded slums of Europe and the countless paddy fields of China, the little patch of land that was all you had to sustain you and your family, would be most jealously guarded.

Fast forward to the 21st century – the 7 billion strong population of the world is many times more than the Earth in its natural state can support.

But so far, modern technology has kept up the supply of food at affordable rates, except that from 2002 food prices began to rise in real terms.

The real problem we face today is the provision of sufficient food and water to an ever increasing global population – which of the different world cultures is best equipped to handle this impending crisis?

The answer must surely be, the culture with the best work ethic.

There are lots of cultures with healthy work ethics; across Europe, Australasia, the Americas; some are stronger and more organised than others; but in general, when faced with a major threat, these cultures will react by taking steps to counteract the danger; they may lose casualties in the battle, but they will give it their best shot.

Then you have Africa; and offshoots like Haiti.

The following observations will, of course, be branded racist; if that is your immediate reaction, try to see through the veil of political correctness, and prove them wrong.

African culture does have a work ethic; individual Africans have demonstrated brilliance in many fields; but these commendable efforts seem to be the result of individual initiative, perhaps backed by close family support, and exposure to Western education and culture.

African workers – when left alone by the parasitic unions to which too many belong – work well when led well; but in most cases, the leaders are non-African.

A good example is the current Ebola pandemic; doctors and soldiers from the Western world are flown in to counteract the threat; what would the death toll be if the crisis had been left to Africa?

The vast majority of Africa’s people appear to remain immersed in an age old culture of “subsistence existence”, to coin a phrase.

Working hard and working smart is not seen as a viable route to riches; the rule seems to be, “if you can’t take, break it”; thus corruption hangs like a pall over the continent; a fine example is surely South Africa, which is headed inexorably down the same road as Zimbabwe.

How is it possible that this country, armed with the world’s finest constitution, ends up after twenty years of “independence”, with a President who gets away with stealing the equivalent of the United Kingdom’s annual aid to SA to fund his homestead, and an education system ranked 133 out of 142 by the World Economic Forum?

SA’s future is being plotted by politicians without vision beyond their personal bank balances; when the crisis comes, will they have a plan to provide food and water to the helpless millions in the townships? Judging by the recent water “outage” in Gauteng, I seriously doubt it.

So enjoy a beer while you can!

Categories: Close to Home

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