An international conference on Inter-Cultural Philosophy was held recently in Costa Rica. It drew philosophers from around the world, including China. I don’t know how the conference went, but the philosophical premises behind inter-national and inter-cultural constructions have become invalid and non-viable to my mind.
The prefix ‘inter’ means between. Therefore the basic supposition of any word that begins with ‘inter’ is of the primacy and equality of separate things, whether nation-states or cultures. In fact, the prefix ‘inter’ is meant to imply a bridge between two or more divided categories.
This isn’t an abstract philosophical point. The organizer of the conference, Gerardo Mora, emphatically stated: “Globalization is destroying particular cultures.” The underlying aim of intercultural philosophy, he said, is to “protect particular cultures in the world.”
That’s a noble goal, but I think it’s fair to ask, is the intercultural philosophical approach contributing to the erosion of cultures?
The title of the conference: “Living together: Problems and possibilities in today’s world. An intercultural approximation,” managed to be both evocative and arcane. It begins with an inviting potential; but the added clause–“an intercultural approximation”—seems superfluous and unclear.
Inter-Cultural Philosophy is defined as “the endeavor to give expression to the many voices of philosophy in their respective cultural contexts.” As such, it raises an even more fundamental question: Is philosophy dependent on cultural context? Indeed, is it philosophy at all when cultural contexts are given primacy?
The root meaning of philosophy is the love of truth. To place philosophy within cultural contexts is to maintain that truth (with a small ‘t’) is relative, when it isn’t.
That doesn’t mean truth is absolute, since absolutism is merely the flip side of the worn-out coin of the Western realm. It simply means that insight arises from, and therefore speaks to a dimension beyond particular cultures, irrespective of language, tradition, or background.
If philosophy is solely, or even primarily a product of the cultures that give rise to it, then all claims of universality are false and futile. In that case, purported insights into the human condition, not to mention our ever-elusive and supposedly immutable ‘human nature,’ are illusory and worthless. Clearly, that isn’t the case, as great literature, art, music, and philosophy from all lands attest.
Certainly we’re largely the products of our cultures and times, but they don’t determine us. So-called mystical experiencing is essentially the same across cultures and ages. And one of the main tasks of philosophy in my view is to demystify ‘mystical experience.’
When words, images, memories, associations, and knowledge cease operating, even for a few moments in the fully alert human brain, one is beyond culture and time.
In other words, a deeply quiet mind is clear of the context and content of culture. Far from being a terrifying experience, as most people imagine it, there is unbounded peace and joy in such a state of being, which is available to all human beings.
Philosophy, or at least the most important aspect of it as I see it, involves rationally exploring higher states of being; giving clear and testable (individually, not scientifically) explanations of ‘mystical experiencing;’ and communicating insights in such a way that others can replicate (without repeating or following) experiencing the nameless in their own cultural and personal contexts. That’s what will keep particular cultures alive and relevant in the age of globalization.
Why don’t we live that way now? Humans are herd animals; human beings inwardly stand alone. Very few people see the utter necessity of standing alone, but freedom has no real meaning if we don’t, thereby liberating ourselves from the shackles of culture and conditioning.
Going beyond our particular cultures, one’s mind is genuinely creative, and contributes to the creation of a new kind of culture.
Particular cultures, based on tradition, are things of the human past. Paradoxically, they can be preserved and retain meaning only to the degree that free individuals infuse them with insights into the whole of humanity.
Trying to preserve cultures in their particularity (one of the aims of intercultural philosophy) only increases their fragmentation and erosion. That guarantees the attrition of indigenous and traditional cultures to the forces of globalization, with the loss of their richness and meanings for present and future peoples in the global civilization.
What are the sources of a new global culture, and what would it look like? It wouldn’t know the birth, buildup, decay, and death of all previous, particular cultures, because it would be dying and being reborn in awakened individuals in every generation.
Wholeness has no accretion. Therefore in the culture of ever-renewing human beings, computers will contain the cumulative growth of knowledge, to which anyone will have access at any time. The beliefs, traditions, rituals, and mores of the particular cultures, the rich soil of man’s past, will be sources of insight, and will live on to the degree that people have ongoing insight into them.
Human beings have the capacity to completely redefine the meaning of culture. Indeed, it is imperative that we now do so, or we will become cyborgs and slaves of the machines we are making.
Life is and living can be like the stream flowing down from the mountains, continually renewing itself.