Thursday, February 15, 2007

Creative destruction

I recently read Tyler Cowen’s book on the effect of globalization on world culture. He tries to explain both the good effects and the bad effects. When he deals with the good effects his arguments are well reasoned, his methodology sound and his facts correct. When he deals with the supposed ill effects of globalization on culture however, everything falls apart, it seems that he will include any story if it counts against globalization.

I'm being silly of course, though I was quite shocked by his trashing of Silence of the Lambs.

The book's balance probably prevents it from reaching a wider audience. I wish lecturers in humanities departments would read it; I wonder how they would respond to a book broadly praising the effects of globalization on culture written by someone so passionate about the culture that globalization is supposed to be destroying.

Here are some of the points I can now remember (I should have written them down at the time):

  • Most of the cultural products that we now worry about only exist because of the integration of different cultures.
  • Homogenizing effects usually occur along with increasing diversity. The best places to find obscure books or musical recordings are often in Virgin Megastores or Waterstones outlets. As a language dies out other languages often adopt some of its features and become larger and richer.
  • Cultural diversity between different areas diminishes but diversity within cultures increases, so individuals have larger choices to satisfy their particular tastes.
  • As a cultural form dies out, ways of thinking caused by that culture die with them destroying particular types of creativity. Cross-cultural contact could reduce global diversity. Cowen suggests that it might be best for Americans if some cultures remain untouched by modernity so long as they can enjoy their cultural products, though he doesn’t think this is best for the people living in those cultures.

I imagine that a lot of people have this last point in mind when criticizing globalization. It almost seems like he’s giving into the critics but right at the end of the book he says:

Cosmopolitanism must resort to a value judgment to overcome the force of this critique. I will define this value judgment as the view that poorer societies should not be required to serve as diversity slaves [emphasis in original]
This is what I’ve thought when people complain that traveling to different places is not as interesting as it once may have been. This is true and may be regrettable, but entertaining rich tourists isn't a good reason to stop globalization.

1 comment:

Mieke said...

This isn't really a comment at all but the only way I could think of contacting you: my email is Would be good to see you properly and not when I'm in a rush! Mieke