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Ethnocentrism: A cause of war? Ethnocentrism: A cause of war?
by Joseph Gatt
2007-11-09 10:25:03
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It is natural that people believe that the way they think and act, or their culture is the most appropriate. Some people reject other cultures. Others reject other point of views within their own culture, and see any evasion from the common norm as betrayal.

Thinking that one’s culture is the best way of seeing things can lead to a clash when two different cultures meet. Of course, usually dialogue is not imposed. People from different cultures only clash when one believes in the superiority of his point of view.

Minor and major conflicts can arise from cultural differences. Though scholars like Samuel Huntington and his team try to prove that some cultures are superior to others, Claude Levi-Strauss’s point of view may seem wiser, when he claims that even primitive cultures have a history, which is denied from modern cultures’ point of view.

One common feature in ethnocentric societies is paranoia. It is believed that people from other cultures won’t admit that their point of view is the best, though they know it is, they just won’t admit it. Ethnocentric cultures and paranoia can develop into delusional disorder, since they believe that other cultures are trying to take away what they have, persecuting them and trying to convert them to their own culture, if not, isolate them.

That can lead to the demonstration of violence, whether major or minor, by ethnic groups. Some will organize themselves to defend each other; others will get organized to attack. Of course those are usually minorities within that culture who believe they act in the name of the majority. Most people, including those from their ethnic group, disapprove of their actions.

The best remedy against ethnocentrism is intercultural marriage. Though disapproved within some ethnic groups (I once heard someone say that interethnic marriage is worse than marrying your own sister), it is still the best way to eliminate interethnic conflict in the long run, and can provide conditions where people will think of themselves as human beings first, living in a global village.

Holloway claims that “The same symbolism that enhances sentimental bonds between kinsmen, and symbolically defined groups outside of biological relationships (clan, tribe, state, nation, ideology), bring in their wake its antithesis: extra-group aggressional tendencies”. Ethnocentrism is therefore a cause of war, as it can have been observed during World War II or in ethnic wars that ravage parts of Africa and elsewhere.

Though miscegenation only takes place in a limited number of countries, increased inflows of immigration around the world should end that trend. In South Korea, 13% of marriages are interethnic when in the past very few marriages were of that sort. Mixing cultures can only be a way to promote peace between different groups, as all people would then consider one truth, which is that there is in fact in the end, there is only one human race.

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Emanuel Paparella2007-11-09 11:47:15
To answer the editorial question on the cover: yes and no. Yes, as this piece rightly argues, interethnic marriages, by deemphasizing mere racial characteristics, reinforce the idea of a universal humanity, that is to say, that ultimately we are all human beings with a common human nature. Etymologically, the scriptural name Adam means first man and Eve first woman and anthropologists tell us that the first humans proceeded out of Africa to populate the earth. Willy nilly we are one race even on a racial level, despite what a delusional Klux Klox Clan may peddle. No, if the marriage does not lead to values that transcend, without erasing, one’s ethnic culture. In America that goes by the name “melting pot, a bad metaphor if ever there was one, because it suggest exactly that. A better metaphor is that of the symphony: everybody plays a different instrument; we all make beautiful music together. Personally, I happen to be married to an Irish-American but we made no pre-nuptial deal to raise our children exclusively as Irish-American or Italian-American. If anything the deal is to raise them appreciating the best in both ethnic cultures and rejecting the worst. Not an easy thing to do, to harmonize two or three cultures, but not impossible exactly because of our common humanity. Being American was never meant to be an Anglo-Saxon, white, Ptotestant or WASP, not even from the very beginning of the US when the English population was less than 50%. It means faithfulness to certain ideals regarding inalienable human rights as spelled out in the Constitution. Those ideals and rights are inalienable, not given, not to be taken away from the State, exactly because we all share a common human nature.

Jack2007-11-11 05:05:49
Great observation. Societies fear those they know little of and fear is usually motivation to hazardous actions to those who are the unknown.

I believe one the greatest, underestimated value of education is that the more education a person has, the fewer prejudices they carry. Understanding other cultures and their particular values leads to more understanding and thus, it is hoped, a common thread that we are all of the same family, resulting in a more peaceful world. Thanks!

Hank W.2007-11-12 17:46:24
Heck yes, so can I come to your house and marry your sister?

joy2010-09-10 01:17:07
Is it true that modern Americans are never ethnocentric?

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