I’m confused and maybe its simply because at a very core level I like to think I’m still a child at heart – but why can people not live peacefully with each other? I realize that the question is very childlike and that the answer is buried in complexities of the billions on billions of individual choices that make up the nature of individual societies. Which raises the question as to whether the problem might not be in the idea of culture and society being very separate and distinct things.
From looking into a number of different tresses on the differences between culture and society it appears as if there is a common thread that both culture and society represent closed systems. Specifically culture is one based on a shared sense of language, beliefs, and traditions whereas societies are more based on geography, political systems, and the codification of perceived shared values. This is obviously a bit of an over simplification but one that may provide some context around the current problems facing the global population today.
Whether you are talking about moderates or extremists, there appears to be a cross over between the idea of culture and that of society where culture is used to reinforce specific demands for socialization or rather that of the concept of a distinct society.
Take the conflict between Quebec and the rest of Canada as an example. No one disputes the idea that Quebec culture is distinct. They would be fools not to acknowledge the simple fact that language, beliefs, and tradition are all unique. However the idea that this uniqueness is tied to geography and political identity is something that stretches the boundaries of distinctiveness too far in my view. To follow that line of logic, every sub-division of social ideology should therefore be given an opportunity to form a distinct entity onto itself.
By the same logic Quebec itself should therefore also be divisible owing to the distinctiveness of the cultures represented by First Nations people in northern Quebec and potentially along the Canada-US border. Taken to an ultimate extreme we could probably take a 4km radius around Eglinton and Bathurst and sub-divide that into a new Jewish homeland or everything south of Spadina and Bloor as an extension of China’s territories for those that know Toronto well.
While in many areas of the world there is now the concept of the separation of Church and state, to a large degree we also need to look at the idea of the separation of culture and state.
Those people that insist that the distinctiveness of a culture can only be preserved under the auspices of a distinct society, with all the political control that such a term implies, are being both short sighted and missing the point. In Canada, we trust that those people we elect to government office will represent all constituents regardless of culture. So if I only speak Italian, I trust that the person I elect has the wherewith all to represent my interests even though they do not speak my language, read my books, or understand my idioms.
This trust relationship we have in Canada is unique in that it is a very fragile trust built upon the idea that culture and society can co-exist and be mutually re-enforcing of each other. Middle Eastern and other societies do not seem to have learned this lesson. Cultural and religious feuds spill over with blood debts being waged over things that happened so far in the past as to be completely irrelevant to what they truly mean for the future. If the atrocity happened so long ago that, without the constant influx of hatred and persecution, the ramifications of those actions have died out on an individual basis over the course of 3-4 generations – Why perpetuate a past that is no longer when it is the future within the new social context that is important?
The challenge may simply be that there is no agreed upon mechanism for the creation or dissolution of societies that does not involve bloodshed and insurrection.
Even the United States which prides itself on being the hallmark of democracy does not allow states to succeed. And yet without some form of dissolution process, the outcome of talk of succession is one of doom, gloom, and potential treason to the state. Unless of course it is happening in someone else’s backyard at which point its perfectly fine. Or is it?
Where does the idea of culture wind up in all of this? Do cultures simply get swallowed up by the predominate culture that controls the social structure or is culture something that also deserves protection within the process of new societies being created or redefined? I would think most people would agree that culture is something that deserves protection even if it is not their own.
In the next few postings I will be going back to this idea of a truly realized democratic nation state and ways and means in which societies may be formed and dissolved without the need for bloodshed, riots, or civil unrest.