Globalization and Indigenous Culture
[Table of Contents]

The Shine and Shadow of Globalization


I'd like to make some brief comments, first on the topic of "religion," then on "language," and finally on "community."

1. Multimedia and Christianity

First of all, it seems clear that globalization, or the electronic media represented by Internet --- electronic multimedia in particular --- have an intimate relationship to Christianity. As is well known, Marshal McCluhan criticized visually centered culture, culture emphasizing only the eye based on written text. That criticism was simultaneously directed toward Protestantism, which had created a faith based on the written text of the Bible. For that reason, McCluhan favored Catholicism. In fact, I lived in the French town of Reims from two years ago until last year, and the town had a famous cathedral. Whenever I entered that kind of structure, I would be struck with a sense of rapture. The echoing pipe organ, the exquisite stained glass, and during a Christmas mass, there was music like Gregorian chants pouring out, and it really is a sense of splendor. In fact, it is this dimension of the senses or aesthetics that forms that aspect of multimedia most commonly extolled. In short, it is just in those places where the modern has been excluded that this kind of aesthetic experience still survives.

As a result, my first question (and this is something I want to also ask of Professor Voyé) is regarding the relationship between multimedia and the kind of Catholic culture I have just mentioned. While the two might appear at first glance to be completely divorced, it may be that they have a variety of points of contact. I would like to hear the participants' comments on that point.

But even if there is a sense in which Catholicism and multimedia have something in common, it is obviously too simple to merely equate the two. In fact, I believe that multimedia includes numerous dangers. For example, it includes not only the aforementioned aesthetic dimension, but also the dimension of industry or business. On the contrary, within multimedia, one aspect of Protestantism has been lifted out and expressed in an extremely secularized form. That something is the idea that to work and make profit --- to make money based on your own ideas --- is unconditionally good, and that it is good to further that activity of accumulating wealth without limits. In short, the current culture of multimedia contains one aspect of Protestantism which has been propagated in an extremely distorted form.

For this reason, when these two are linked together, people inevitably appear who attempt to control others economically using the channel of aesthetic, sensate experience. The positive aspect of Protestantism was its rationality, so it is troubling when that aspect is rejected in favor of an approach that relies on sensation. One of the characteristics of multimedia technology is that it uses computers not to more closely approach rationality, but to indulge in a world of sensation.

When that occurs, then it becomes possible, to take one very common example, to use that technology to peddle extremely provocative images throughout the global market. And those provocative images include explicit sexuality and violence.

It is this area that I am worried about, and in fact, I recently wrote on the issue in my book Sei naru baacharu riariti ["Sacred virtual reality"] which was published from Iwaname Shoten. There, I talked about what would happen to society when virtual reality comes to take on characteristics of the sacred. In short, not only can capital be used rationally to provide people with the necessities of life, but it here has the potential to appeal to the sensations, in a sense acting like an opiate to enslave people. One is reminded of the events surrounding the new religious group Aum Shinrikyo, but it now becomes possible for a cult religion to exploit sensory images to entice people in cyberspace.

On the other hand, certain solutions or means of opposing such trends are also conceivable. The genuine religions (though I'm not sure whether it's really appropriate to use such an expression), for example, Roman Catholicism or Buddhism --- the major religions with long histories in contrast to the cult religions --- could issue their own clear policies or publicity in cyberspace so as to lead the way in the area of values.

When considered in this way, I think it is possible to situate the concept of the "performance," or role of the Roman Catholic Church as mentioned by Professor Voyé. Only, a problem arises here. As you are all aware, Internet and other electronic media which support the process of globalization link the world instantly, with the result that, for example, one could be watching a Christian worship service, but then switch over immediately to scenes from a Buddhist ceremony or Islamic ritual, and so on. In such cases, the potential may exist for Catholicism to be relativized alongside the other religions. If the major religions become relativized in that way, the danger increases that cult religions might succeed in luring people by presenting extremely graphic, provocative images. I would like to ask for Professor Voyé's comments on this issue as well, namely, how do we respond to that danger?

2. Multilingualism, Regional Languages, and the Concept of an International Standard Language: the Status and "Poverty" of English

Next, I want to comment on Professor Peiffer's presentation regarding the issue of language.

First, I am personally very much in favor of the concept of multilingualism. A wide variety of human sensibilities and preferences are hidden in language, so I agree fully that there is a great difficulty in homogenizing them. At the same time, however, I think there is a problem, not just in maintaining respect for individual national languages, but the issue of respecting the variety of regional languages. For example, within France one finds Occitan and Breton and a variety of other languages, and I think there is likely also a movement within France to preserve those regional languages. I would like to ask Professor Peiffer how she views that situation.

I have an anecdote to relate which may be relevant here. I am a member of the immediate post-war baby-boom generation, but among members of my generation, those who came to Tokyo from the countryside seem to inevitably retain their local accents. But when I observe people in their early thirties, or those even younger still, it seems that even those from countryside regions in Japan now retain less of their accents. I think this change must be the result of television's influence. People nowadays hear standard Japanese on television all the way from childhood, so local accents tend to disappear.

One thing I felt while in Europe was the fact that in the south of France, it seemed that the older people trilled their "R" sounds in the Italian way, while most young people seemed to pronounce their "R"s and other accents in the so-called standard French of Paris. Professor Isomura and other specialists on France may disagree with me here, but I couldn't help feeling that the same process of homogenization is underway. Delicate differences in linguistic nuance seem to be steadily disappearing. And further, this is a global phenomenon, a trend which I feel comes about as a result of the spread of the electronic media. So a question here is whether something should be done to stop this trend toward homogenization.

Second, Professor Peiffer is a mathematician, and my next comment is related to that fact, but I wish to say that I agree completely that mathematical language is not a so-called independent, completely formal language, but something that must be linked to the everyday vernacular language of communication. Already, attempts like those of Hilbert to make mathematical proofs by purifying mathematical language into a perfectly formal language have been frustrated, something of which I feel sure Professor Peiffer is aware. At the same time, another issue arises here, namely whether mathematicians and scientists --- and business people, too --- should continue to use local languages when participating in international forums. For example, for the past twenty or thirty years in Japan, English has become the overwhelming language of choice as an international medium for science and technology. To put it the other way around, the ratio of German and French used has become lower and lower. For example, among senior professors who are twenty or thirty years older than I, quite a proportion of the mathematicians and engineers can work in French or German. But when one looks at the somewhat younger generations, hardly any researchers in the physical sciences can speak any foreign language but English. Is this a trend that should be adjusted? This is another question on which I would like to hear Professor Peiffer's opinion.

Perhaps because English is an experiential language, many of its characteristics, like colloquial euphemisms and idiomatic use of articles, represent rather steep learning difficulties for us Japanese. In one sense, I wonder whether it isn't necessary to take the English language as a base, for example, and to create --- through a process of public discussion --- an international standard language with more systematized grammar and vocabulary. a kind of "international standard basic English"? For example, I personally think it might be possible to use an international medium like the Internet to attempt to create that kind of "basic English," but I would like to ask other participants their opinions of this issue.

In that context, I would like to offer a comment regarding Professor Dollfus's comment to the effect that English is "poor for the expression of thought and culture." My personal opinion is that English --- there are many Englishes, but considering the language as including classical British English --- is extremely rich in expressive power. It has an extremely large vocabulary, too, although it may be that Professor Dollfus's comments were directed more to contemporary American colloquial English. At the same time, I think it true that English has a much simpler grammar compared to French or German, with the result that it may be somewhat at a disadvantage for the accurate expression of matters of logic. But I do not think it necessarily true that English is an inferior language as a tool for the expression of things like personal experience and delicate waverings of sensation.

But if so, those characteristics fly in the face of my earlier suggestions regarding how vocabulary and idiomatic expressions might be restricted toward the construction of a basic international English. It is precisely that wealth of vocabulary, or the wealth of idiomatic expression that helps make English the wonderful language that it is. And it is just from that perspective that one has doubts regarding the propriety of discarding the wealth of English expression in order to create a "basic English," namely, an international standard language. I can't help feeling that we need serious debate regarding this subject as well.

3. The Diversity of Globalization, Global Regional Differences, and the Future of the Virtual Community

Third, we have the problem of the community. First, one of the most important points to consider is the comment made I believe by Professor Dollfus to the effect that globalization will produce more, not less diversity and differentiation. Then Professor Robertson remarked regarding this that he thought uniformity and difference actually possess a kind of compound effect. What I want to particularly take note of here is the question of whether the differentiation or diversity --- the inequalities --- produced in the process of globalization, will be the same in Europe as those produced in Asia (including Japan), Africa, and other non-Western areas. I believe that differentiations within Europe are extremely important, but as a hypothesis, I might say, it remains true that those distinctions have arisen from the common base of modern or classic Western civilization. On the other hand, when globalization occurs within Japan and the rest of Asia, or within the countries of Africa, I feel that there must be some part of the traditions of those areas that must be crushed as globalization is accepted. Namely, whether one calls it differentiation or diversity, I wonder whether the level isn't different --- whether the level of so-called differentiation in Europe isn't quite a bit different from the level of differentiation in Japan and the rest of Asia. If so, then I think it becomes important to consider how we will handle that issue.

One other thing, with respect to the issue of community, I was particularly gratified to find some very concrete comments expressed in Professor Dollfus' paper, namely those about the family, military, and schools. In general, I think the gist of his comments was the fact that all these institutions are currently being shaken. In other words, as globalization proceeds, the conventional community is shaken or crumbles. One point here is the question of whether, then, a virtual community cannot appear to take the place of the earlier community. In fact, it appears possible that just such a kind of virtual community will indeed arise through the use of computer communications. For example, even though airline pilots live in scattered geographical areas, personal computers are being used with various networks to allow pilots to exchange information on a global basis. That would seem to be one kind of virtual community.

But that kind of positive aspect is accompanied as well by a negative worry. Namely, in that kind of virtual world separated from so-called physicality, for example, it would be possible for me to play a role in the society of cyberspace by pretending to be a very young woman. What does that portend? This suggests a variety of worries, including the potential for a kind of splitting of personality, or increased criminal behavior. Namely, in contrast to the real community, in the virtual community, the limitations placed on us by physicality are extremely weakened, with the result that the advent of the virtual community may not necessarily be welcomed as a good thing, or as a substitute for conventional communities.

But all this talk is not without its bright spots. That brings us to the issue of the family --- which I think is a crucial point when speaking about the issue of globalization. Professor Dollfus also made reference to the family in his paper, but the concern that the family is steadily becoming fragmented seems to be shared by just about everyone. And certainly, there is that aspect to deal with; the proportion of single people will increase. Or single-parent families --- the number of children being raised by one parent who is divorced --- are increasing tremendously, and that is undoubtedly one trend.

But at the same time, we should also consider another trend. Namely, the trend toward working at home in home offices. Of course, if we were to suggest that people begin working in home offices right away in the Tokyo area, it would prove an impossible situation. As Professor Isomura suggested earlier, the picture of everyone trying to use computers within the confines of their cramped Tokyo homes is unbearably dismal. On the contrary, working in a home office does have an advantage, namely, that one doesn't have to live in Tokyo. One doesn't have to live in the great metropolises of Tokyo and Osaka anymore, but can live far away from the cities. Since people can now perform their work through the medium of electronic communication links, there's no reason for having to live in the city --- they can live out in the countryside. If they do that, they can have a large house, and therein lies the possibility that the home will once more become theworkplace.

An example might be a family in which the parents start a small company, then the children become employees when they turn twenty, thus building a kind of company using computer software, and making it possible to take in a variety of work there. And they might have work for other relatives --- uncles or cousins --- too. In short, one cannot rule out the possibility that this could lead to a rebirth of the premodern institution of the extended family. The disintegration of the nuclear family does not necessarily mean the fragmentation of all family relationships. That aspect is present, too, but not that alone. On the contrary, one must recognize the potential for the birth of new family relationships as well. And in turn, that may lead to the realization of what might be called the ideal of the "pastoral city," namely a lifestyle allowing more people to live in rural areas without the excessive concentration of population in the Tokyo area. Of the various kinds of new community possible, I think this represents one of the more optimistic outlooks. But I'm sure that others have their own opinions about this, and some may think mine is an overly sanguine projection. At any rate, I would like to hear more debate regarding the points I have mentioned here.

(Translated by Norman Havens)

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$Date: 2001/05/15 05:58:52 $