Science is Culture

Are Humans Homogenizing the World?

From The Atlantic‘s Niraj Chokshi: “Seed magazine explores the idea that humans are eradicating cultural, language and species differences. Rates of species extinction have grown by as much as 10,000 because of us and half of the world’s languages are expected to vanish by the end of the century. A worthwhile read.”

Even before we’ve been able to take stock of the enormous diversity that today exists – from undescribed microbes to undocumented tongues – this epidemic carries away an entire human language every two weeks, destroys a domesticated food-crop variety every six hours, and kills off an entire species every few minutes. The fallout isn’t merely an assault to our aesthetic or even ethical values: As cultures and languages vanish, along with them go vast and ancient storehouses of accumulated knowledge. And as species disappear, along with them go not just valuable genetic resources, but critical links in complex ecological webs.

Here’s the article by Seed’s Maywa Montenegro and author/blogger Terry Glavin.

UPDATE: The New York Times picked this article as their Idea of the Day for July 14.

Today’s idea: Is the loss of language and culture connected to the extinction of plant and animal species in a globalized “epidemic of sameness”? Welcome to the “science of resilience” — an interdisciplinary study of the value of diversity in complex systems.

Comments

  1. #1 megan
    July 14, 2010

    Um, DUH. That’s what the term HUMAN NATURE means!!! Regular Nature is so old news and has been.

  2. #2 Stephenson Billings
    July 14, 2010

    “In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.” Micah 4:1

  3. #3 Glendon Mellow
    July 14, 2010

    I’ll have to read the article, but my knee-jerk response is to wonder if they are taking into account the new cultures and sub-cultures being created all the time by the modern world.

    Computer programmers arguably have a different dialect than a post-post-modern sculptor. Perhaps in the future, “tribal” allegiences will be less about geography and ethnicities and more about discovering a peer group/career tribe, kind of like in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and Diamond Age novels.

  4. #4 DuWayne
    July 14, 2010

    I have far more concerns about species extinction, than I do about language extinction.

    That is not to say that I would love to see cultures disappear, it is just that I don’t think it is reasonable to expect certain cultures to continue. For example, the Ju/’hoansi of the Northern Kalahari are unlikely to exist as a hunter gather culture in forty or fifty years. In and of itself, that is rather unfortunate – except that after court battles to ensure their right to exist and live as hunter gatherers, the young people really want to take advantage of educational opportunities and the chance to live in a modernized culture.

    Ironically, part of the influence that has moved many of these young people, has been that of anthropologists who are there in part to help record and preserve their culture.

    The same thing is happening all over the world and it is hard for me to consider that an entirely bad thing. I am all for people having choices about how they want to live their lives and if that means abandoning disappearing means of subsistence and possibly their languages, that too should be their choice. At the same time, I think that the progenitors of globalization driving these trends have a responsibility to help ensure that all is not lost – that there is at least a record of peoples and languages being lost.

    I also think that we have a responsibility to work harder at preserving the biodiversity of our planet. Not so much because of some altruistic defense of wildlife for the sake of wildlife, but rather because I would like to preserve the ecosystems in which humans evolved. I mean it ultimately doesn’t matter, except to us, if we wipe out 99.9% of all life on earth. It isn’t like this hasn’t happened before. And in some billions of years from now, it is likely the planet itself will be destroyed by our sun.

    I would just like to help provide future generations of humans with a fighting chance for survival. Assuming we don’t destroy ourselves otherwise, in which case it’s all moot.

  5. #5 golden eagle
    July 14, 2010

    Eradicating culture?

    Well that would be a neat trick. I just have to read that article. Since culture is a human science as apposed to a natural science it would seem to reflect the state of natural science as well as the historical experiences of the humaistic tradition. I can’t imagine what a pure science would would look like. I wonder if Chokshi ever read Hans Gadamer.