Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Monoculture: A cultural outcome of History-Centrism

History-Centrism is a phrase coined by Rajiv Malhotra to describe the thought system associated with religions like Judeo-Christianity. The members subscribe to a belief in a unique, non-reproducible historical prior event and Monotheism is the corresponding theology, i.e.
History-centrism + Divinity ⇒ Monotheism

In this post, we examine the impact of History-Centrism on the dominant contemporary cultural narrative. In this context, a phrase that is becoming popular is monoculture. This term assumes a special significance in the context of agriculture where it describes the planting of a single crop over a large land area. Vandana Shiva argues that such a practice (foisted upon India by the West) has had a devastating impact on Indian agriculture and is non-robust and hence non-sustainable. Just like having a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds affords better protection against market volatility, maintaining biodiversity tends to have a similar positive effect on ecology. In the human world, cultural diversity works much the same way in maximizing the chances of finding alternative working solutions to contemporary world problems.

A good description of monoculture in recent times is given by F. S. Michaels in her recent book "Monoculture: How One Story Is Changing Everything and is neatly summarized here: "The governing pattern a culture obeys is a master story– one narrative in society that takes over the others, shrinking diversity and forming a monoculture. When you’re inside a master story at a particular time in history, you tend to accept its definition of reality. You unconsciously believe and act on certain things, and disbelieve and fail to act on other things. That’s the power of the monoculture; it’s able to direct us without us knowing too much about it.

Note the key-phrases: 'history', 'master story', 'unconscious acceptance of a definition of reality', 'acting on this unconsciously, but disbelieving and not acting on that'. 

We postulate that:
History-centrism + Culture ⇒ Monoculture

What is root cause of monoculture? Where is/was it more prevalent? Where is it not?

Apparently, a culture that is fundamentally rooted in history-centrism is more likely to produce monoculture that issues unwritten and written guidelines on the correct way to dress, how you should be eating your food, how you should raise your kids, ... In short, there is one "best" way of doing things, and if you don't conform, your life can quickly become difficult. The world is split into those who cave in to the master narrative and those who don't. There are no wholly acceptable alternative cultures. This is duality at its best - the same duality that (we argued a few posts ago) is guaranteed by History-Centrism.

So what is the most dominant monoculture (MC) in the world? F. S. Micheals argues that monotheist religion was the dominant MC a long time ago, followed by a MC of science that relegated art and religion, leading to today's MC of economic value. However, the author herself has failed to note that she used 'world' often while implicitly assuming that if a MC holds true for the 'west', then it holds true for the world.

In other words, the truly dominant monoculture in the world is really the Western way of thought and action, of which economic value is just a component. Western Universalism. Today's de-facto global finishing school. Western universalism appears to be what the world (and i mean the world) unconsciously considers to be the standard to live up to in virtually every aspect, without giving his much critical thought. This is precisely one of the themes that Rajiv Malhotra appears to be opposing and presents his counter-arguments in his latest book: "Being Different: An Indian challenge to Western Universalism". Why Indian? India probably had/has the longest continuous cultural diversity on the planet. This is not by accident and is an designed outcome of the pioneering discoveries of Indian Rishis in the world of inner sciences that lead to several co-existing non-dual schools of philosophy (all Dharmic) that has defined Indian thought. Non-duality and monoculture do not go together. Dharmic thought systems look inward and focus on self-realization and has little time to waste on conforming to or prescribing master narratives. Historically, there has always been a healthy and peaceful exchange of ideas and cross-pollination of Indian sub-cultures for a very, very long time. For example, this picture (thanks to @brainpicker) shows the linguistic diversity of India (~1992). The various language labels used are probably West-given and may be inaccurate.

This co-existence based approach of the Dharmic thought system has preserved the authenticity of experience by preventing the sub-cultures from getting digested by a 'superior monoculture' and excreted (which is how history-centric duality works in practice). And it is no accident that Vandana Shiva is from India and is leading the fight against agricultural monoculture.

Is it then any surprise that this western monoculture appropriates and de-contextualizes a Yoga from such a peaceful Dharmic thought system, strips it of its non-dual Sanskrit, turns into a patentable calisthenics-market that spawns patent lawsuits, then proceeds to tie itself up in a pretzel-asana and complains that Yoga is a dangerous practice, and inevitably ends up in a good old dualistic tussle between Yoga and non-Yoga followers, and Yoga-A and Yoga-B followers ....

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