The Case For Contamination By Appiah
Globalization has been one of the most controversial topics in the contemporary human society. This is especially considering the differing views on the effects that the phenomenon has had on the human society, and especially with regard to the authenticity of cultures of different parts of the globe. Needless to say, a wide range of modifications have been visited upon the varied cultural aspects of countries. Indeed, globalization has enabled languages and customs of different societies to spread to other parts of the globe, thereby allowing for the fusion or merging of the same. In addition, it has allowed for the smooth flow of goods and services thereby giving individuals the capacity to attain goods and services that they previously could not obtain. A case in point is the possibility of finding KFC, Coca-Cola and even mobile phones in almost every part of the world. Of particular note is the fact that globalization has enabled individuals from different parts of the globe to be familiar with cultures from other parts of the world, thereby enhancing their understanding and comprehension of the same (Rothstein 14). Nevertheless, as much as the phenomenon increases the opportunities for individuals in a particular region, it also results in the mixing or blending of cultures, consequently resulting in the deterioration of distinctive cultural variations. In addition, there are other negative aspects of globalization touching on economic equality, deterioration of the nation’s individual sovereignty, as well as other devastating effects on the environment. However, questions have been raised as to the role of religion as far as globalization is concerned.
In the article “The Case for Contamination”, Kwame Anthony Appiah explores the globalization of the world and uses numerous extensive examples to outline the manner in which the globe is becoming contaminated. “Contamination”, in this case, underlines the aspect of having the authentic cultures and way of life passed down by the ancestors damaged and destroyed by the mixture of the numerous innovative or creative traditions and values. In this analysis, Appiah describes the measured transformation or modification of the numerous religions and cultures. However, he is open-minded in his personal opinion and does not seem to carry the influence of religion. As much as the main theme in his analysis if globalization, he inadvertently conveys ideas pertaining to the power of leadership, freedom of choice, as well as the ultimate message pertaining to respect for other religions. It is worth noting, however, that Appiah has been an ardent advocate of cosmopolitanism, which is essentially a global ethics that has the sole aim of establishing shared values and universality as a common denominator or determinant. In the article, Appiah uses descriptive narrative technique to underline the fact that cultural assimilation takes varied forms. In his hometown, Asante in Ghana, Appiah comes across exotic traditional customs that fellow-Ghanaians observe, even as they exhibit signs of contemporary 21st century living such as the use of technological gadgets such as wristwatches and cellphones, and wearing suits. Indeed, as much as the Ghanaians still have their roots in traditions, they have established links with the Western culture as seen in the case of the Ghana president who is not only a catholic but also a graduate from Oxford. He takes particular note of the opinions of cultural purists who advocate for the preservation of the unspoiled traditions and cultural values. This attitude, however, is not in conformity with cosmopolitanism or the ethics of globalization. Appiah opines that the appropriate moral object concern In Cosmopolitanism revolves around the individual rather than entire tribes, nations or peoples. Every person is a citizen of the world. However, the world is further away from cosmopolitanism in instances where homogeneity only underlines artificiality or superficiality in the cultural changes. In his examination of the varied forms of religions, Appiah underlines the fact that religions can be used as tools of oppression of the entire society or parts of it, or even a source of redemption.
First, religion has played the role of an oppressor or used to oppress certain portions of the society. This is especially the case for the treatment that is levied against women in religions such as Islam. It goes without saying that women are not considered to share the same platform with their male counterparts, in which case they are treated in a different way. Indeed, a large number of Islamic countries in the world are yet to allow their women to participate in varied activities such as voting or driving (Beyer and Lori 36). In fact, they have their modes of dressing controlled, not to mention the manner in which they relate with other people especially members of the opposite sex. Their functions, activities and areas of operations are restricted to the domestic world and would not have any freedom to work outside their houses. Of particular note is the severity of punishments that are levied against women when they are perceived as wrong. For instance, Mullahs in Nigeria not only inveigh or advocate against polio vaccination but also sentence adulteresses to death through stoning (Appiah 5). In other countries such as India, the same religion calls for the burning of wives to death in instances where they fail to make dowry payments. However, it is worth noting that this has been undergoing gradual changes especially in the Islamic countries thanks to the effects of globalization (Rothstein 17). There has been increased popularity of women who have stood against oppression in the face of dangers especially in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, often with detrimental effects. This has not only resulted from the increased interactions between the cultures of these people and their more liberated ones in other countries such as the United States (Rothstein 23). Indeed, the entry of the internet and mobile phones has allowed for increased openness and increased interactions, which has opened up space for these women.
In addition, religion has severally been used in the propagation of cultural imperialism, where certain cultural aspects are seen as superior to others. This is especially the case for the entry of Christianity in African countries. Of particular note, according to Appiah, is the fact that the entry of Christianity spelled doom for traditional ways of life as the Africans who wished to join the new religion had to abandon their old ways (Appiah 2). As much as the converts had the freedom to think for themselves and could decide what aspects to retain and what could not be retained, or even what they could adopt from the missionaries and what could not be adopted, the missionaries were highly against such retention. This notion was essentially rooted on the belief that everything that did not conform to the teachings espoused by the missionaries was wrong and inferior, and had to be abandoned.
On the same note, religion has been used as justification for wars and intolerance among nations and societies. Indeed, some religions have underlined the fact that any individual that does not subscribe to their teachings is not worth of wrong and not worthy of living. This may be seen, for instance, in the Thirty Years’ War that ravaged Central Europe up to 1648, as well as the Peace of Westphalia, when the Catholic and Protestant princes from Sweden to Austria struggled against each other leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Germans in the battle. There was also the first Bishops’ War in 1639 all the way to the end of the English Civil War in 1651, where the Protestant Armies were fighting against the armies of a Catholic King, resulting in the extermination of about 10% of the population (Appiah 4). This may have emanated from the intolerance that these religions propagate. Appiah notes that the enforcement of a single vision of universal truth would only result in blood bath in the world. In the contemporary world, religious imperialism and intolerance may be seen in the case of Islam, whose calls for jihad are interpreted as an actual warfare met against the United States.
Lastly, Appiah sees religion as playing the role of a cultural artifact that has the capacity to be modified or undergoing change and evoking varied responses from its audience. This underlines the fact that religious cultural change is no different from any other cultural change that results from the increased or enhanced globalization of ideas. Religion plays roles similar to those of other cultural aspects such as customs, dress and language, with different people having different ideas about the changes that it effects. In this regard, he underlines the acceptable nature of religious traditions, while noting that the cultural change process that results in the creation of a single cultural mode would be unacceptable. Homogeneity and artificial cultural diversity may, in essence, be an entrapment that hinders the evolution of human beings to higher natures (Beyer and Lori 56). Diversity, on the other hand, would be more conducive to the nature of man in the achievement of the maturation of his moral, aesthetic and mental potentials, not to mention the attainment of their fair share of happiness in life.
In conclusion, globalization has resulted in the contamination of the uniqueness and authenticity of varied cultural aspects. Indeed, various cultural practices have been blended together resulting in the elimination of certain aspects and the adoption of new ways of life. Religion, in this phenomenon, has been primarily used as a way of oppressing certain portions of the society and even redeeming some. Indeed, some religions have been propagating intolerance of diversity and instead calling for universality. This has resulted to numerous deaths as was the case in the religious wars in the 17th century. On the same note, religion has been a tool for fundamentalism or imperialism especially considering that the entry of varied religions in countries such as Africa spelled doom for some of their practices as they opined that only the practices that were in line with their teachings were acceptable. Lastly, there have been instances where religions have been tools of oppression as is the case in Islamic countries where women are relegated to the unimportant spheres of life.
Appiah, Kwame Anthony. The Case for Contamination. New York Times, 2006, web retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/01/magazine/01cosmopolitan.html?_r=0
Rothstein, Mikael. New Age Religion and Globalization. Aarhus: Aarhus Univ. Press, 2001. Print.
Beyer, Peter, and Lori G. Beaman. Religion, Globalization and Culture. Leiden: Brill, 2007. Print.