Back in 2002, Wade Davis gave these comments in an interview where the question was asked, “why does diversity matter, if nature and society are changing all the time anyway”?
Just as there is a biological web of life, there is also a cultural and spiritual web of life—what we at the National Geographic have taken to calling the “ethnosphere.” It’s really the sum total of all the thoughts, beliefs, myths, and institutions brought into being by the human imagination. It is humanity’s greatest legacy, embodying everything we have produced as a curious and amazingly adaptive species. The ethnosphere is as vital to our collective well-being as the biosphere. And just as the biosphere is being eroded, so is the ethnosphere—if anything, at a far greater rate.
If the opposite of erosion is preservation, then nationalists might argue that by protecting nation states we are keeping diversity alive. If each nation is distinctly unique from one another and defends those values, religions, thoughts, ideas and culture, then the world will be better off, with each distinct society being preserved from the next. But who decides what is fair within each of those borders?
The one thing I know for sure is that the world is in constant flux. I have learned more about history in these months of travel than I ever imagined when we first set out. There is no way to understand a culture without digging into the history. What is abundantly clear from the lessons of the past, time and time again is that one vision for a nation is not possible or necessarily good.
When one person, or a small group gets to decide unilaterally, what is good for the entire populous, you can be sure that these few are making society in a way that benefits them the most. It seems to be human nature, when absolute power exists.
Just as we need biodiversity in order for agriculture to thrive, we must have diversity across the world in our cultures. This need not exist in a vacuum or within certain borders alone. It is the very cross pollination, the drifting on the wind where the newest, latest and greatest ideas come from. Who should be given the power to control our movements and prevent us from living and working together in this collaborative way?
I have the freedom, as a Canadian to go to most places in the world. In some instances, far more paperwork is required than others, but for the most part, my government has made agreements which let me roam this planet, pretty much at will. However, there are many citizens who don’t even have the political freedom, let alone the means to explore. There are even borders being erected in the fabric of the internet to try to keep certain types of information out. In effect, we are in a time of heightened nationalism.
Unfortunately, nationalism taken to a radical state is ‘an extreme form of patriotism marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries’. I don’t believe that is what most of us would knowingly sign up for.
Diversity or multiplicity is trying to take us in the opposite direction, as Elif Shafak so eloquently explains in her 2017 TED talk, ‘The Revolutionary Power of Diverse Thought’.
I think East and West, we are losing multiplicity, both within our societies and within ourselves. And coming from Turkey, I do know that the loss of diversity is a major, major loss. Today, my motherland became the world’s biggest jailer for journalists, surpassing even China’s sad record. And I also believe that what happened over there in Turkey can happen anywhere. It can even happen here. So just like solid countries was an illusion, singular identities are also an illusion, because we all have a multiplicity of voices inside. The Iranian, the Persian poet, Hafiz, used to say, “You carry in your soul every ingredient necessary to turn your existence into joy. All you have to do is to mix those ingredients.”
These are provocative topics, which bring us to the brink of our comfort levels. I know there are many dinner tables where emotions run high as the debates rage on. But at the heart of it all, we need to step into that vulnerable, human spot and take the perspective of the other side. In that space, we will find the empathy and the creative solutions we seek. Only then.
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