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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Essay: Nationalism, cultural assimilation, and pluralistic globalization — or The Ultimate Imperialism

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Nationalism, cultural assimilation, and pluralistic globalization — or The Ultimate Imperialism

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

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Chum For Thought:
Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters

Nationalism, cultural assimilation, and pluralistic globalization — or The Ultimate Imperialism


In the past, as one nation conquered another, assimilation policies affected public welfare. Where deliberate steps were taken to introduce mainstream society and outside cultures to each other, the conqueror benefited from increased diversity and reduced rebellion.

The Ottoman Janissary system seems similar to the Assyrian practice of assimilating and dispersing conquered peoples. For instance, the Israelite Daniel and his companions were taken into the court of the Assyrian king for education and eventual responsibility in governing his empire.

The millet system’s tolerance for other religions was practical, as people are most likely to fight for the religious practices that are ingrained in their world views. Who would you more likely want to displease; your God or some remote king-at-this-time?

Taking the best and brightest children for government service assured that
they did not become troublemakers in loosely-controlled areas. This recruited excellent men for government service and brought in diverse points of view so that important ideas were not overlooked. It flattered the families that provided their sons, and tied those families and communities to the imperial government.

Nationalism is still inescapable, even in our advancing, diversity-embracing world-connected cultures. Different groups identify themselves by geography, religion, language, and political history. It takes time for individuals and cultures to expand their concept of “us.” As survival issues recede and people and cultures mature, “we” transforms from me, to my family, my community, my tribe, my religious brotherhood, my nation, to finally, our world.

Pluralistic societies can only survive by tolerantly embracing diversity while breaking-up the power and proximity of entrenched clusters of strongly separatist groups; dissolving and weakening them from their core and periphery. The long-term success of modern pluralistic societies will depend on the careful balance of a benevolent meritocracy exerting centralized control while allowing as much decentralized self-determination as will forestall outright rebellion.

Not every group is ready to embrace pluralism in their society. The most conservative will actively resist contamination of their politics, language, or (especially) religion. To the degree that they raise a threat, other societies must defend themselves while maintaining a benevolent interest in the individual well-being of less-privileged peoples. The ultimate goal is power without oppression.

While modern pluralistic societies may need to conduct brief suppressive wars, they cannot allow themselves the luxury of expansion by superior arms and conquest. They must perfect themselves so that the benefits of their system becomes so self-evident that the more-developed members of other systems work to emulate success.

The imposed janissary-type system of conquering and colonizing powers of the past should now be reinterpreted as a non-threatening open invitation to: “Share our knowledge, share our peace, share our good will.”