It’s not a small world after all: Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer on the enduring human differences:

Of course, the gulfs and divisions that remain aren’t entirely a terrible thing. When people say the world is growing homogeneous, losing its savour and individuality, I wonder if they’ve been to Yemen or Ethiopia recently. If someone tells you that we’re all blending into a Disneyland whole, singing “It’s a small, small world,” take them across town to where Haitians and Somalis are struggling to get by. Covering six Olympic Games in 14 years reminded me that the family of man is about as united and harmonious as many another family, even when on its best behaviour.

In Isfahan, Iran, not long ago I found the stores filled with pirated copies of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, and last year in North Korea I saw a local crane forward to ask two visiting workers from Apple how Tim Cook’s management style differed from that of his celebrated predecessor. In the mausoleum where Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il lie, embalmed, we saw the sleek MacBook that the latter was said to have been using when he was reportedly felled by a heart attack on a train (our two Appleites confirmed that this was the perfect model to have in 2011, when he died). It’s wonderful that we can share more and more, and enjoy the tastes of foreign cultures in our hometowns and online.

But pity the politician who assumes that will really bring him any closer to Beijing or Tehran. The only way we’ll survive the global neighbourhood is by assuming we know nothing and recalling that a “Yes” in Tokyo – or Mexico City – conveys what we would mean by a “No.” I love the way that we can experience Jamaica, Pakistan, Haiti, Vietnam in our classrooms and cities; I shudder at the notion that to see them is to think we understand them or can easily be one with them.

Some people worry that soon all of us will be speaking English; my deeper fear is that, even if we are, we’ll still be largely incomprehensible to one another.

It’s not a small world after all – The Globe and Mail.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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