Sunday, September 19, 2010

Borders and cultural boundaries

Cafe Philo in New York City will meet this week on Thursday, September 23, 2010 with a discussion on the topic of "Could we live well without borders?" This continues my preparation for that discussion with some thoughts on cultural boundaries.

The chief impetus for national political borders is to provide recognition of where the direct political influence of a country ends. That is using the term "political" in the sense of the constituted government of the country as opposed to simply the activities of politicians and political parties.

Meanwhile, the people of a country may or may not constitute to some degree a homogenous culture that is completely harmonious with the government and national borders of the country. A great example is the Kurdish people who are divided between Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. Immigrants and resident workers are other examples of peoples who are not completely in harmony with national borders and whos interests can span borders.

Religion is one aspect of culture that can "join" people across borders, despite national differences.

Interests such as environmental concerns can also bring people together across borders. Greenpeace is an example.

Another great example of trans-border cultural cooperation is Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which which bills itself as "an international medical humanitarian organization working in more than 60 countries to assist people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe."

Entertainment, such as movies and music, is notorious for disrespecting national borders.

Athletics on the other hand seems to strictly respect national borders, whether it be the Olympics, soccer, or rugby. Interest in organized athletics certainly "spans the globe" and athletic events certainly hop borders, but each team has a clearly defined "country."

Even on the political front there is a variety of trans-border cooperation, with bilateral and multi-lateral agreements and treaties.

Scientific cooperation and collaboration can span borders.

In the technology sector we have international collaboration for standards (e.g., ISO or International Organization for Standardization) and open source software projects (e.g., the Apache Software Foundation.) Such efforts thrive and are based on the efforts of businesses, academia, and individuals, and not strictly driven by national governments or national interests.

Still, even with all of this transnational cooperation and collaboration, such efforts pale in comparison to efforts that stay within national borders. Geography is not a fatal impediment, but clearly it is more than just a speed bump.

In short, we see a variety of cultural boundaries, some coincident with or within national boundaries and others than spat borders.

Whether life would be "better" without borders remains quite unclear. On the one hand, borders and national identities can clearly interfere with global interests, but on the other hand national identities can sometimes emphasize and even enhance differences that can make life more interesting (e.g., sports, movies, and music) and provide opportunities that might not exist in a "one size fits all" world.

-- Jack Krupansky

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