Blog #5: The Intercultural Paradox

The us-them dynamic is a microcosm of a larger issue of the human condition, and can often be blown out of proportion on societal scales. It is this very same us-them dynamic that causes people to dehumanize each other, and this can lead to greater issues such as prejudice, racism, or even genocide. On a lighter note, however, this us-them phenomenon is evident in every day life, and even common conversations. For example, this can be seen in conversations about sports teams, where there is very much an us versus them mentality, and both sides are generally stereotyped. Whether it’s calling the other fans too rowdy or a sports team too dirty in their play, the mentality is evident. The mere fact that we have restaurants dedicated to the cultures of other people displays the us-them dynamic by categorizing cultures. For example, my group took several pictures of intercultural dining options in both Arlington and Groningen. The thought process can be this; if our food is this different, then our cultures must just as different, and the people even more so. Oh, you speak a different language? You must be completely different from me.

Often, when people explore other cultures, they can fall into the us-them mentality, forgetting that, above all, we are all humans with the same needs, wants, and thoughts. People don’t often take the time or energy to even consider the person next to them and how they are constantly thinking, feeling, doing, just like we are, and this reflects in our cultures.

The us-them phenomenon is especially potent for our section of Groningen, Folkingestraat, because it used to be a Jewish ghetto. I don’t have to retell the horrors of WW2 to communicate the complete dehumanization of an entire ethnicity of people across Europe during the time. Folkingestraat used to be mostly Jewish; but after the war and the horrible genocide that accompanied it, there was almost nothing left of the Jewish community. I got to go more in depth on this when I wrote the description for one of our pictures of Folkingestraat, which was of the synagogue there.

In an interesting section of her article, van Asperen proposes this concept of Communicative Moral Universalism, which is an alternative for a global approach not only to global policy making, but approaching other cultures as a whole and inspiring them to world together. She proposes an almost idealistic conglomeration of individual perspectives, freedoms, interactions, equalities, and identities.  To put her concept into layman’s terms: society should be both accepting and tolerant of other cultures, but also recognize the dependence on one another and function together as a cohesive group of diverse opinions. The concept feels like it should be common sense, yet it is difficult to articulate and isn’t really seen in practice much at all on a larger scale. Yet, on smaller scales, such as classrooms like the Global Village, society works towards this idealistic form of coexistence. At the base of Communicative Moral Universalism is respect. The ability to understand one another while acknowledging that people are both very similar and very different is a task that seems simple, but, unfortunately, has become complex due to years upon years of conditioning, partially thanks to the human condition and survival methods, to judge each other almost to the point of dehumanization. The Global Village is a safe environment that fosters not only international education but collaboration as well, and I think that’s vann Asperen’s ultimate goal with their idea of Communicative Moral Universalism.

2 Comments on “Blog #5: The Intercultural Paradox

  1. You make a very insightful observation when you note: “The ability to understand one another while acknowledging that people are both very similar and very different is a task that seems simple, but, unfortunately, has become complex due to years upon years of conditioning, partially thanks to the human condition and survival methods, to judge each other almost to the point of dehumanization.” Are we doomed by this or can you see a way around it?

    • With complete honesty, I have been struggling to see hope on this front in modern times. My ever-fading optimistic side, however, can see around this issue. Education and exposure can go miles in the way of prejudices. I also think that simply the advancement of time (by way of generation changes) can, with the right guidance, usher in a more tolerant and accepting era. This process will most definitely take lots of time, and even more effort from people trying to push this change, but I don’t think that we are doomed just yet. This process could also be accelerated if older generations were to step down more and allow the younger generations take on leadership roles, such as positions in government, and those older generations act as more of a guiding force than a governing one.

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