The power of diversity

Buntstifte

The bigger the number of individual participants in any system, the smaller the potential common denominator. This, incidentally, is a major reason why global conferences on specific – globally relevant – issues don’t seem to be getting anywhere. We live in a heterogeneous world. Our challenge is to find ways to use the existing creative diversity to humanity’s advantage. The challenge should not be to create a “better than nothing” compromise.

Remember Dunbar’s number?

According to the anthropologist Robin Dunbar, 150 is the maximum size for a “natural” group of people. Smaller groups don’t necessarily need rank, discipline and systems. But larger groups can cooperate successfully by believing in common values. Values create identity, a sense of belonging.

While we are connected in various ways in this globalized world, cultural and mental differences and distances remain. Let’s not aim to destroy this cultural diversity for the sake of efficiency.

Regardless of what we say and do, someone somewhere is always going to disagree. Tolerance is key to ensure that local values have a place in a global world.

“Freedom is the right to tell people
what they don’t want to hear.”
(George Orwell, novelist)

For an engineer, tolerance is the enemy of perfection. For the humanist, quite the opposite.

“We should claim, in the name of tolerance,
the right not to tolerate the intolerant.”
(Karl Popper, philosopher of science and professor)

Evolution is based on diversity, not on equality.

“So many countries, so many customs.”
(Proverb)

Could we develop a shared “conditio humana”, while accepting and welcoming cultural coexistence?

I am very fortunate to have lived in 6 different countries and I have visited many more. In my opinion, it’s not only possible, it’s the only way.

But it will take a lot of trust, respect and time.

For example, like many other people, I grew up with music. What sets me apart from many is that I developed my musical taste in a very international environment. Having lived in 6 different countries with friends and acquaintances from many more – but without algorithms – meant that I was exposed to many different music styles: From Abba to ZZ Top via Al di Meola, Art of Noise, John Lee Hooker, Ludwig van Beethoven, Marvin Gaye, Michel Sardou, Pat Metheny, Richard Wagner, The Prodigy and many more.

Yes, cultural diversity definitely enriches our lives and cross-pollination fuels valuable creativity.

Diversity yes, conversion no.

“Forgive him, for he believes that the customs
of his tribe are the laws of nature.”
(George Bernard Shaw, playwright and co-founder LSE)

“Every man takes the limits of his own field
of vision for the limits of the world.”
(Arthur Schopenhauer, philosopher)

A tax dodger hurts society more than a woman wearing a headscarf. “Yes to the cowboy hat, but no to the headscarf” is not only illogical in a globalized world, it is also discriminatory.

Isn’t “culturalism” racism in disguise?

There are, of course, fundamental differences between cultures potentially causing friction. But friction is energy, meaning that there is a positive and a negative way to use it.

By the way, isn’t “exceptionalism” also quite discriminatory?

Don’t forget that emotions matter a lot, as a matter of fact “how we feel” matters more than “what we know” – for better or for worse. But “how we feel”, i.e. emotions, depends on culture too.

We should therefore look for the common denominator, those virtues required to live well in a pluralistic society, virtues acceptable and applicable across all cultures in a multipolar world.

Global, planetary ethics?

“The first step in the evolution of ethics is a
sense of solidarity with other human beings.”
(Albert Schweitzer, doctor and theologian)

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