We live in an era of convergence but also of transition. It’s a delicate time when, more than at any time in history, the past is still available to us. We can reach out into the past, visiting the cave paintings and monuments of earlier civilizations, reading their literature, appreciating and understanding their different ways of thinking. This is partly because in our present reality we are still exposed to a variety of cultures and languages. Our world is enriched by diversity. We should be thankful to immigrants and refugees, who bring with them different ways and customs. They break down our assumptions about our own sometimes overly homogeneous or hegemonic cultures. At no time in our history have we been more capable of absorbing influences from past and present world cultures.
But there is no guarantee that this will be true in the coming years. We have already witnessed how wars and intolerance can wipe out the monuments of the past, from Syria to Afghanistan, i.e. the cradle countries of our current civilization. And even without ISIS and the Taliban, there are the effects of earthquakes, as in Bam, or air pollution, as in Delhi, and of course climate change everywhere, causing floods and fires, all of which take a toll on the preservation of the past. At the same time, languages grow extinct, from France to the Amazon rain forest, cultures are swept aside: it’s an age of mass cultural genocide.
As our culture grows more homogeneous we will begin to lose our ability to understand and appreciate the past. We will not understand the ways in which past civilizations could be based on different concepts than our own. Already we are seeing in western countries that the majority of people have a limited capacity to understand theistic cultures, and this is partly the reason for the rebellion of many citizens of those countries against the arrogant, cynical materialism and atheism of modern societies.
Two things are currently urgent. One is to preserve, to the degree that is possible, the diversity of civilizations still extant. We need to spend less time attempting to educate people of cultures different from our own, and more time trying to preserve these cultures. We’ve spent the last couple of hundred years ensuring that the people living in the tropics from the Amazon to Africa and India and further east, dress and behave modestly, in conformity with the norms of northern peoples. We have unified and homogenized the languages of the western countries in favour of standardized versions, and insisted that immigrant school children will adapt to the societies in which they have come to live. Once we have wiped out diversity it will be difficult to restore it.
The other thing we need to do is to take advantage of our still existent diversity in order to understand past civilizations and cultures, before we lose this ability. For example, we still have shamanic and animistic people in the world, and we know that their beliefs in some ways reflect those of paleolithic cultures. We know that the natives peoples of the Amazon or of New Guinea have an intimate understanding of their environment that we can only envy. They have a knowledge of the uses of every plant and substance and have developed the ability to survive in adverse conditions.
Humanity has not completed its evolution yet. We are not necessarily at the end of this process. But whether we evolve into multidimensional beings capable of creative, spiritual and holistic thinking, or cardboard automatons living in totalitarian societies where every breath of divergent thinking is suppressed, depends a lot on our present time.