The Globalized Western Default and African Cultural “Anomalies”.
- May 30, 2023
- Posted by: Valerio Lopes
- Category: Opinion
Picture the world as a vast garden. In this garden western customs and traditions are the most common crops, spreading their roots and taking up space. This spreading is similar to farmers planting seeds, each farmer using their own tools of technology, beliefs, and storytelling to grow food to their own liking. In this garden, Western farming has become the dominant way, despite its unsustainable and destructive nature. And because it yields more crops, people begin to believe it is the only way to farm. Globally, western traditions, customs, and cultural manifestations are deeply rooted in the once diverse soils of everyday life. This is because the Western narrative has become the default narrative. It was spearheaded by colonialism or what I now call cultural occupation. Its tools are Western technological advancements, the prevailing beliefs they imposed upon others, and their moral values disguised in heroic films, books, and other forms of storytelling. Western reality has slowly eroded other realities and gained global acceptance. Somehow, the Western reality is the actual one, the only unshakable reality one should not doubt.
Consequently, western constructs, ideas, and ideologies are perceived not as one of many traditional or culturally-specific constructs but as the quintessential reality. This more or less universally recognized reality is regarded as the only genuine, innate, natural order of things. In other words, the Western paradigm became the normative truth. We do not even dare to call Western ideologies ideologies; they are simply the norm, the core belief. This has contributed to the degradation of the term ideology and the vilification of the act of being ideological. We have reached a point where any contradicting ideology is labeled as wrong. This is one of the defensive mechanisms this oppressive system developed to protect itself. Anybody who dares to defy Western reality is either exotic, ideological or sometimes even considered outright wrong since this reality is unquestionable. But what could possibly go wrong when we refuse to question the Western paradigm and turn a blind eye to diverse perspectives?
Back to the global garden, Western and African cultures are different farmers with different approaches to farming, growing different types of plants, competing for a share of the finite space and sunlight. This competition is similar to how animals struggle for survival in the wild. In this garden, the pervasiveness of Western traditions, customs, and cultural representations has established a globally recognized norm. This widespread acceptance is a result of cultural evolution, where societies adopt and adapt to prevailing practices that are perceived to offer benefits or advantages. Cultural evolution can be seen as analogous to the process of biological evolution. Both phenomena involve competition for survival and dominance among various entities, cultural traditions for one, and living organisms for the other. Western studies and research have shown that entities that successfully adapt to changing circumstances and environments end up occupying prominent positions. Historically, humans have pushed this concept as far as to manipulate the course of evolution to serve their own benefits. In the most extreme cases, we have tried to influence biological evolution through eugenics and genocides and cultural evolution through colonialism and imperialism. Every culture, just like every species, is selfish. Selfishness is a survival mechanism and can lead to short-term cruelty in the interest of long-term dominance.
The understanding of cultural evolution has undoubtedly contributed to the Western paradigm becoming the dominant power, strengthened by its technological, economic, and political prowess. But obviously, the fact that Western culture dominates globally is just a happy accident of cultural evolution, right? It’s not like there was any conscious manipulation of the process to establish a global standard that conveniently benefits the Western world. Or was there? Colonialism, slavery, or any form of imperialism is just about personal enrichment and power, or is their some higher and less visible agenda behind it?
The Western world has successfully interwoven its traditions, customs, and cultural representations with modernity, establishing them as the widely accepted default reality. This has helped the marginalization and suppression of other cultures. African traditions and values have been particularly affected. The interplay between Western dominance and African cultural diversity highlights cultural evolution’s complex and dynamic nature, a battle of ideas conflicting and contrasting in a never-ending war. It demonstrates how societies navigate between adopting global standards and maintaining their distinct cultural identities.
Let’s climb up a tall baobab tree while we still can and take a look at the global garden, African cultures are like unique flowers, pushed to the edges. We see them as unusual, and sometimes people think they don’t belong at all. But this view comes from a history of powerful forces, like colonialism and slavery, that have shaped how people see the world and created a form of cultural amnesia of our own past. Our African cultures have been relegated to the sidelines of global consciousness. They are perceived as deviations from the norm. I often witness how even we ended up treating our cultures as exotic, unreal deviations of lesser value. This is not simply a matter of contrasting cultures but also a result of power imbalances perpetuated by colonialism, slavery, and other historical, political, and economic forces. Colonialism, globalization, and the spread of Western influence have played a significant role in shaping this dynamic. But who wouldn’t want to adopt the glorious Western ways, leaving behind their unique cultural identities? It’s not as if African traditions and values have anything to offer in this ever-changing world, right?
Although the Western garden has grown large and strong, it is not the only way to cultivate the land. African traditions and values are like rare flowers, they offer a different way to grow, one that values indigenous knowledge and a deep connection to nature. This alternative approach can be a beacon of hope now that the Western garden’s growth has become unsustainable. I believe African cultures, customs, and principles are valid and necessary deviations from this established norm. Like exotic flowers in a familiar garden, they might appear as curious exceptions to the widely accepted standard, but their existence represents diversity in choice and agency.
They represent a different path of cultural evolution that emphasizes preserving and celebrating indigenous knowledge, practices, and beliefs. While the Western paradigm has led to environmental degradation, an increase in inequality, and a disconnect from nature, the survival of African values is a path to salvation that should be preserved as a different reality we can return to in case everything else fails.
We seem to be wandering blindly and subduing ourselves while the Western world continues to expand its reach. To me, this is particularly worrisome. In comparison to colonialism, slavery, and other forms of oppression our forebears fought, this threat is invisible, it is sweet and attractive, and it uses our own senses and weaknesses to entice us to give up our diverse African cultures. We keep adding the sweet water of Western cultures into our realities, further diluting our values and agency for what ultimately serves their own benefits.
I challenge you to take a step back and look at the world from above, not as a Westerner, not as an African, but as an objective and impartial observer. We can then better understand the world we live in and foster a more inclusive and equitable interpretation of cultural diversity, transcending the Western default and embracing the multiple expressions of human experience that African cultures have to offer.