The concept of other worlds reflects the fact that life can evolve in many ways, not just one destined path. If we think of cultures as a plethora of potentially-given psycho-physical pathways (from our genes to our behavior, the environments we create to our symbolic rituals) of human evolution then cultures represent the ‘Other Self’ to us. Cultures remind us that, given different circumstances, our very identity could have developed entirely differently. Cultural diversity represents both options as well as dead-ends, such as e.g., the caste-system in India. My friend Joachim Peter correctly emphasizes the autobiographical reflection that any culture casts within us once we turn towards it.
Saul A. Kripke differentiated between non-rigid versus rigid designators across worlds. So which are the rigid designators across cultures evoked by the human condition? At the same time we may call into question the premise that a physical description can ever be complete (Kripke, Naming and Necessity, 1980) since materialism exists to a large degree in its potentialis, its evolving diversity of possibilities and probabilities. We could furthermore postulate that there is an ontological vagueness (Humberto Vale) in any definition and observation of material reality simply because no frame of reference can ever be hold in totality.
When we travel we have the choice of either experiencing new pathways through our known cosmos, which is the safe way, or we can try to take over the perspective of the Other Self, which happens necessarily once we live in a new culture permanently and create a hybrid identity for ourselves. Cultures are loaded with tribal self-defense mechanisms, so any such assimilation and osmosis will necessarily be evoking conflicts, internally and externally.
At the end only our performative action, our personal involvement and resulting experiences can accommodate the inner voyage within the outer one. There is a fine line between breakdown and regress and restructuring of identity and progress, simply because progress comes as an empty utopian promise and regress builds on the emotional backbone of the road well-travelled. What is the threshold for openness that we are willing to pay?
Other cultures show our potential. Each culture brings an aspect to life which is potentially present in each of us. This way, the world is my autobiography, it’s me. The good things and the bad things.
What I find at the core so far (after travelling all over Asia for a year) are basic values of life, family, children and how culture is organized to care about this. Like the greek metropole literally is a mother (city), the post-patriarchal era will have to find a new fusion culture which cares about basic values. Chilrden are not competitive in globalized economics, neither in an ancient head hunter society nor an Indian caste system. But each culture reveals a part of our nature, shows how we fail or suceed. All cultures are changing constantly, we take part shaping this process, conciously or unconsciously. We are all like Cambodians, these wonderful, loving and kind people, just recently killing each other in millions – because both is part of our potential.
We can try to connect to the better parts in our heritage and roots, partly supported by our cross-culture experiences.
So far, my own culture repeats an old mistake, like making war in Afghanistan, because our idealism tells us, it’s a way to liberate people there. Idealism can be killing when it lacks understanding of cultural differences. Also, each culture has a contradictory set of cultures in itself, as well as each of us, each individual does (and of course, political parties, too). So go out travelling – to meet yourself.
I like your notion of value-systems. In highly developed nations we find a great variety of values, basically people create their own value-cocktails since the diversity of their society allows for it. In more traditional life-worlds value-systems are more homogenous, such as the emphasis on family and children. Today we live in a global situation where ‘less developed’ rivals ‘developed’ in terms of life’s happiness and growth. Have Western societies overshot their goal? Are they left with their self-celebrated object-fetish, loneliness, incapability to form lasting relationships and feeling of superiority against others?
Yes I think so. its not just shopping malls showing our culture is focused on objects, our pleasant and freaky high culture most of the time is just the same – and I confess, I love it. But still – with all sophistication we can get lost and miss the most important.
Invited in a house of locals in Flores, Indonesia, I entered the living room and there was nothing: no furniture, no assecoires, empty grey walls. Just people sitting on the floor, food plates on the floor. Thats all it needs. Community and family life. All the other stuff is nice, but not essential. Simplicity and minimalism helps sometimes to clear your mind.
Über die Philosphie des Reisens siehe auch meinen Artikel ueber Walter Spies und Adalbert von Chamisso auf meiner Homepage (im zweiten Teil des Essays ueber das balinesische Schattentheater)
Titel: wir Schlemihls der Moderne (im oben genannten Essay)