Speech given at the IV. Baku Humanitarian Forum, November 2014

TRANSCENDING CULTURAL PARADIGMS, ONE PATH TOWARDS HUMANE MULTICULTURALISM.

In the history of humane evolution as well as in neuroscience one can find traits of character, behaviour innate to our specie that transcend cultural paradigms.

The goal of this essay will be to portray how to attempt to get these traits, these neurons common to all humanity to gain more momentum and thus have a positive impact on the paradigm shift that globalisation and technological revolution bring with them. 

To escape the conflict of paradigms, this burden for humanity, we need a mutual shift in all cultural religious and national paradigms worldwide that would whilst enabling awareness and pride in one’s own culture also convey open mindedness and acceptance of all other cultures.  

OR

To escape these burden for humanity:  the conflicts of religious, national , cultural paradigms,  this essay proposes the following

 Transcending cultures, and all evolutionary theorists agree about this, is the pleasure of narration, story telling.

Intrinsic to human nature since the Pleistocene, the world of fiction allowed humanity to survive and evolve, our ability to tell stories and thus to create our history, sharing our experiences, transmitting our knowledge, tales of wisdom.  This ability to project and recall in words differentiate us from the animal kingdom. This art of narration is predated by the innate capacity to pretend play which all children do starting with two years of age.

Fiction stories or pretend play function according to some plot, a certain dynamism of action.  All over the world the basic skeleton of the plots are similar for the emotions they depict: love, fear, envy…gluttony, etc.. are similar.  It is the contextual differences, the embellishments, the “je ne sais quoi” in the stories that provide a sense of identity to the humans, the shared narrative that give a sense of belonging.

 An Identity…what an artist strives for the most is in his work, reflecting on his time with timelessness, to create an IDENTITY.  Yet, the march of our global world, with its politics, its commercial empires, similar experiences and tool of communication threaten like a gigantic iron to flatten off the surface of earth all our respective sense of identity, cultures and history.  

The reaction to this threat is clear…exemplified by the Bretons, the Catalans and others, who, to reclaim their national identity, reinforce conflicting cultural paradigms.

 

Yet…in terms of pluralism and multiculturalism, the United States remain at the vanguard: they are the country which harbours the most immigrant population in the world (statistically, Asians recently passed Hispanics as the largest group of new immigrants to the United States.) 

One can observe this recipient of multiple cultural ethnicities.  They are less entrenched in America, country of adoption, by a sense of national identity then they would be in a more mature country of origin, where similar mnemonics, collective and cultural memory bind the citizens.  Moreover, impregnated with its ideals: “Freedom” and “Dream”, the United States are more dynamic in their adaptation to current political and economical realities.  

Today, one assists in America how -among other factors- the joys and rewards of consumerism, also restrained by the recession, gave emergence to something else: more intellect driven subcultures, coexisting  and respectful of each other.  

The American artist Rip Cronx wrote an essay: “Changing the cultural paradigm” In which he states that

“America is no longer the ‘melting pot’: it no longer assimilates minority groups into the majority culture. Instead of a homogeneous cultural majority imposing Western values on ethnic minorities, we now have heterogeneous cultural pluralism developing through acculturation. Minority groups participate in majority culture without fear of forfeiting their identity as a subculture. Religious groups, ethnic minorities and ideological subcultures coexist and tolerate the customs of other groups. A new dynamic is at work in America today. A democratic, non-hierarchical pluralism empowered by communication technologies”. He concludes:” Pluralism in America is not a source of division. The expression of cultural diversity is tempered by the need for national unity.”

If this social trend in America could be precursory to a global extrapolation, it would mean that the expression of cultural diversity is subdued by our need for a united world.  And our world is threatened, pollution, trans-humanism are not the only culprits.  Professor George Smoot, eminent Nobel Prize winner and distinguished guest of this Forum created the PCCP, Paris Center for Cosmological Physics which runs many projects, among them: teaching the Universe in schools in France, Africa, Korea with the specific aim to impregnate these students , their teachers, with love, curiosity and knowledge of this one, unique cosmos we all share.

At this stage of this…narrative, I introduced as transcending factors  1.the shared love by our species for narration and narration with similar plots because our specie functions with the same triggers: love, hate, greed,   2.the fact that we are citizens of the world and the possibility as exemplified by America  therefore of multiple cultural identities coexisting respectful of each other in regards to preserving Earth.   To these factors transcending our cultural paradigms I add Art.

To Visual and Plastic Art, sometimes verging on conceptualism (and even though they are now a tool of marketing for international corporations and as such great communicator are still to subjective for them to transcend cultures.

Human nature at rest, relaxing is most appreciative of … the Seventh Art

 

In it, I see a way towards reaching human multiculturalism.

 

Operating on the premise that “Cinema is arguably the 20th century's most influential art form and that movies have the power to create a shared narrative experience and to shape memories and worldviews. “ Beeban Kidron, film maker, created, in the UK, the FILM CLUB an organization that runs weekly film screenings in schools followed by discussions. The outcome in all terms was incommensurably more transformative than they had anticipated.  I quote Ms. Kidron “raiding the annals of 100 years of film, to build a narrative that would deliver meaning to the fragmented and restless world of the young ….What became extraordinary was how the experience of critical and curious questioning translated into life.  The films provided communality and communication across all manner of divide. What we could not have foreseen was the measurable improvements in behaviour, confidence and academic achievement. “ 

 

So why , why these unforeseeable improvements in all terms as well as open-mindedness towards all cultures.

Neuroscience has I think the answer:

Professor Rizzolati in Parma was first to identify these mirror neurons, neurons which have been further called the empathy neurons or even “Gandhi” neurons by Professor Ramachandran as they fire, they act in us just by seeing an action happening to someone else, to the point that if my arm was anaesthetized, sensory neurons removed, and I watch you being touch on your arm I will have the feeling that I am being touched, my consciousness connect with yours.

This links vision and empathy.

 

The seventh Art can be the tool by which mirror neurons, these feelings and understanding for others can penetrate, swim their ways through different cultural paradigms.  Brain plasticity can do the rest.  Film Schools and Clubs worldwide would be a step towards achieving this pluralistic cultural paradigm.

We could do more than just reaching school children, we need to reach the rest of 3.5 billion people under 30, 90%  living in Africa and the Middle East.  In some parts of the world, we have at every street corners cameras filming us, we should project films too.   Technology today allows it, for example they have screens projecting news in all petrol stations in the most remote roads in Turkey.  Let these screens show us and share glimpse of humanity. Make a movie of Yasmina Reza short stories about “how we all think we’re so different – when we’re painfully similar".  Make a movie of “The Uncomplete Manuscript” of Professor Kamal Abullayev , its hero ,Dada Gorgud, in whom I can see a brother in spirit of Ulysse and whose existence I had never even imagined.

We must share these collective narratives which are in the words of Ms. Kiidron” an essential component of our cultural identity” and grasps within all of them this quintessence of humanness which unites us all through time and lands on this unique planet of ours. OR Have a greater scope in our perception of ourselves and our belonging in something bigger than our countries, but in our belonging in this unique planet of ours. Ultimately, a pluralistic paradigm would entail for all of us to be me more open in our perception of others: for secular people not to question whether the abaya is worn as a cultural traditional statement or whether it expresses a religious devotion, but to accept it and for religious zealots to accept freedom of expression.  

I shall conclude by a Unesco census in regards to the most viewed movie worldwide in 2010: Avatar, a film which hero’s skin colour is blue.  I leave it to you ladies and gentlemen to interpret this. 

RESSOURCES:

List of countries by immigrant population, based on the United Nations report Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2013 Revision

Country

Number of immigrants

Percentage of total number of immigrants in the world

 United States

45,785,090

19.8

 

CENSUS of Unesco 2012

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/06/19/the-rise-of-asian-americans/

Source: The World’s Youngest Populations, Euromonitor International, 2012, UNESCO

At the beginning of 2012, the world population surpassed 7 billion with people under the age of 30 accounting for more than half of this number (50.5%). According to the survey, 89.7% of people under 30 lived in emerging and developing economies, particularly in the Middle East and Africa.

http://www.ted.com/talks/vs_ramachandran_the_neurons_that_shaped_civilization/

https://www.ted.com/talks/beeban_kidron_the_shared_wonder_of_film/

http://www.culturewars.org.uk/index.php/site/article/changing_cultural_paradigm/"

http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/yasmina-reza/happy-are-the-happy- A funny, caustic book about how we all think we’re so different – when we’re painfully similar" - Viv Groskop, Red.