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Hawai’i’s Shared Futures By Vision Foresight Strategy

Culture and the Futures of Hawai’i

Aloha kakahiaka, everyone.  I hope everyone had a great weekend; we certainly did!  Today we’re catching up on updating some tactical plans for a client and then we’ll be working on more original writing and presentations, namely the nonprofit futures project and working further on a Summit presentation.

Over the weekend we helped a client facilitate a session they had discussing culture, tourism, and ideas and issues related to marketing (with some emphasis on the visitor industry).  Coming away from the event, it got us thinking more about the broader issues surrounding ‘culture’ and different possible futures for Hawai’i.

Culture is a very interesting, and I think, challenging concept, particularly the way it is used in most conversations.  It is a contested and often ambiguous idea, and yet people often refer to ‘culture’ as an object, like the great black monolith in the classic movie “2001,” something that we are given and something that we point to as if it were a concrete, tangible thing.  It is also often referred to as a sacred, inviolate object, much like the monolith.

The problem is that the things that we are trying to reference with the term ‘culture’ are much more fluid than that.  From the also-ambiguous term ‘worldview’ to beliefs to practices to values, culture is always changing; and it’s supposed to.  Human life today is the result of a great co-evolution: that between biology and culture, each affecting the other.  Humans are the result of a long biological history on this planet.  That biological evolution has in essence primed us for a hunter-gather lifestyle, a mode of living which represents 99% of human history.  It is only in the last 1% of our shared history that we come into both agrarian and industrial lifestyles, where cities were born 5000 years ago, and where the cell phone emerges as a tool of communication.

In this context, the ‘culture’ that we all think of when we employ the term and the ‘cutlures’ that we normally revere, are what humans have been evolving in just the last few thousand years in order to innovate beyond our biology and adapt to a variety of habitats and situations for which our biology has not had time to adapt.  In comparison to biological evolution, which is usually very slow and largely undirected, our cultural evolution can happen very quickly and can spread very quickly.

Because culture (which for the moment we’ll look at as innovation we evolve to overcome what biology cannot) can evolve so quickly and spread across populations so quickly, we increasingly have a world in which the classic western academic notion of singular monolithic cultural identities is fading.  Increasingly we have individuals whose individual cultural fabric is composed of threads from many sources.  Humans adopt and adapt beliefs, outlooks, values, and practices from all of their experiences, and as globalization (read: integration) proceeds, more and more people are adopting those cultural ‘innovations’ that they feel will help them succeed ( in the broadest sense) in life.  Increasingly, people have multiple identities and complex, beautiful individual cultural fabrics, a uniquely tailored weave of innovations that allow them to move through the varied spaces of 21st century life and adapt to the expanding range of challenges confronting them on local, regional, and global levels.

Culture is innovation, it is an adaptation that allows us to overcome the limits of biology and to adapt to the world when it would otherwise take our biological evolution far too long to respond.  Classic monolithic culture and singular identities can be taken for granted when life and society presents us with a relatively stable and unchanging environment.  But in a world of interaction, exchange, and constant challenge, our strength will come from having both a diversity of cultures to draw upon as well as a much more nuanced view of individual culture and identity.

Think about tomorrow.

Filed under: Culture, Human Nature, Identity

Learning Languages and Social Networks

Scan:
Live Mocha, a new site still in testing phase, is designed to help individuals learn new languages online. The browser-based service (meaning you don’t need any downloads or additional tools) draws upon the characteristics of social networks to connect learners with native speakers online. Thus, in addition to the more traditional self-learning tools also available on the site, the service provides the access to a global network of individuals looking to share knowledge and learn from each other.

Thoughts: One of the sadder examples of America’s less-than-ambitious or innovative approach to general education is the traditional lack of emphasis on developing a multilingual citizenry. Aside from the obvious benefits of being able to communicate with people from other countries, learning languages opens up windows onto other worldviews and cultures, and typically improves the learner’s understanding of their own first language. As globalization proceeds apace, more experiments like Live Mocha should be encouraged to increase the connections among people and across identities. This would have the effect of opening up more relationships and hopefully less intractable conflict.

Related:

Filed under: Education, Identity

Identity, Culture, and Ethnocentrism

Scan:
A recent New Scientist article looked at the issue of ethnic prejudice and explored the thoughts and work of a variety researchers. The article explored a variety of opinions that there is some inherent psychology or evolutionary factor that has produced the human predilection for ‘grouping’ each other. Some of the thought, though, pointed out that such tendencies would seem to be a very crude adaptive tool. The article seems to conclude that humans may have inherent grouping biases from a very young age which are not simply the effect of socialization, but also that humans can be quickly made to empathize with those ‘outside the group’ and see them as individuals and real ‘persons.’

Related:

  • Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny. A recent book by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, it explores the issue of singular vs. multiple identities and how the push for singular identity obscures paths to collectively beneficial futures.
  • Human Natures: Genes, Cultures, and the Human Prospect. A book Paul R. Ehrlich that explores the research and conclusions in evolution and biology to see the interdependence of biological and cultural evolution and the multiple ‘natures’ of homo sapiens.
  • The Responsibility to Protect: a recently articulated principle advocated for global relations.

Filed under: Identity, Security

Hawai’i: the Reboot

2 days. 200 innovators. A new future for Hawai'i.


The Hawai'i Futures Summit 2009 October 16 and 17, 2009


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