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Quidquid Latine Dictum Sit, Altum Sonatur

Hopefully this will be the last entry I title with a Latin phrase for a while. I'm not a pompous git, really!

In the face of an afternoon that I should have spent writing, or cleaning, or trying to corral the herd of cats that is my D&D group, I instead got tempted into reading The Nine Nations of North America by Washington Post columnist Joel Garreau, a book about the surprising cultural diversity of North America, and the state-crossing lines that it tends to split around.

It is either a classic in its field or should be, which is why I'm amused and surrpised at having come upon it entirely by accident, while reading some forum discussion about Stephen Harper's latest political stupidity. But I digress, and, really, rumor_esq has said all that really needs to be said on that particular incident.

The book itself offers a welcome look at the unique features and challenges facing each region of our sprawling continent, and does so while reading more like a travelogue than a treatise. Though I make no pretense to having a mainstream sense of humour, several passages had me laughing out loud, perhaps simply because of the wry tone in which I imagined Garreau penning lines such as this one from the chapter on Quebec "Even the federalists among French Canadians, such as Claude Ryan and Pierre Trudeau himself, strongly assert themselves as Quebec nationalists, nonetheless. No, I don't completely understand, either." Furthermore, it does so in such a way as to remain relevant and even prophetic, twenty-five years after its publication. The chapters on 'MexAmerica" and "The Islands", are particularly resonant in this age of the reborn illegal immigration panic.

The concept of the modern, Lovecraft-esque North American monoculture stretching out its tentacles to strangle the life out of the rest of the world, is remarkably firmly entrenched in the discourse of young college liberals like myself - I say it's remarkable because a demographic that prides itself so much on its rationality really shouldn't blindly accept something so patently absurd. North America doesn't even have a monoculture, how can it export one to the rest of the world? What it has and does export is the fusion of nine or ten or more cultures, descended from three or four founding groups, and simultaneously forged by endless variations in conditions and circumstances. North America exports influence, which its recipients take into their own cultural soup and modify to their own purposes, like Bollywood cinema to give one example. Furthermore, the flow of cultural influence goes both ways - we just need to look around at the growing multiculturalism of our own cities, and the influence of, again for example, traditionally Hispanic or African-American elements on our modern popular culture.

I do think that globalisation, accompanied by a similarly "unified" global culture and perhaps even a functional world government, is a more or less inevitable outcome. But I also think that there is far less to fear from that outcome than might be assumed. There will still be room for individuality, still be room for regional variation. The cultural idiosyncrasies we celebrate in today's world should not and will not disappear simply because some elements become more universal, and I think we will all be surprised by which elements of the aggregate global culture become ubiquitous. Furthermore, a little more homogeneity for humanity is, in my view, a good thing. As celarus and I discussed last week, tribalism is seemingly hardwired into the human brain, but if we can learn to consider a larger portion of humanity as "us", as opposed to "them", there's a slightly lower chance of us somehow scouring this planet of intelligent life before we manage to find our way to the stars.

-D.

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