It’s impossible to say how many cultures there are on Earth. Lines of division blur, the sheer number of people groups make accuracy impossible and the dynamic nature of societies presents a moving target. What can be said, however, is that distinct social systems are disappearing as trends in globalization indicate shifts toward homogenization.
Which is progress, right? A simpler world is easier to handle. It’s especially helpful if cultures have much to offer—political and religious freedom, career opportunities for economic security, civil infrastructure to protect the safety and rights of humans, so on and so forth. These are conceptions often thought to be inherent in Western societies.
The prolific and enigmatic 20th century environmentalist, David Brower, compressed four and a half billion years of Earth’s history and that of its inhabitants into Genesis’ six-day creation. When that time frame is considered, it isn’t until 4:00 p.m. on the last day that dinosaurs walk the Earth. By 9:00 p.m., these dinosaurs are extinct. At 11:57 p.m., humans appear on the scene. Jesus is born forty-five seconds later. The Industrial Revolution occurs 1/40th of a second before midnight. Since this moment of innovation, more resources have been extracted and consumed than by the rest of the people who’ve ever lived combined.
Brower states, “There are people who think what we’ve been doing for the last fraction of a second can continue indefinitely. They are considered reasonable people, but they are stark raving mad!”
Humans have existed for an awful long time, yet it wasn’t until recently they began to alter the planet and its ecological balances as significantly and seriously as they do now. It’s no coincidence that 95 percent of the areas identified by the World Wildlife Fund Global 200 as harboring exceptional biodiversity are home to indigenous peoples. This isn’t to paint pre-industrial societies as utopian. Survival entails struggle, and bouts of starvation and disease aren’t to be considered lightly. Today, we think we have answers for these. We think we have answers for everything. We’ve essentially circumvented natural selection. But despite—or perhaps due to—this feat, creation groans.
Lack of clean water, food, medicine and decent sanitation threaten many today. This is well understood. The solution cannot, however, be to bring all into the same conditions that we as Westerners live in today. This “flourishing” is literally impossible, as it would require four Earths to support the world’s population living as Americans, as according to the Global Footprint Network. Developing technology is often brought up as an answer, but gambling on things that do not, and may not exist, may not be the wisest or most responsible choice,especially as it is in our collective power now to make changes with positive repercussions among humanity and creation.
We must lower our conception of ourselves to the point where we can consider that necessary changes, developments and the shaping of lives very well might ask the transformation of ourselves as much as it does others. How do we use technology responsibly? How do we love, interact with and learn from those who live differently than us? And, most importantly, and possibly all encompassing, how do we humble ourselves before God, and find ourselves back in the correct order of creation? We have been given much. We are responsible for much. And for the many cultures, perspectives and ideologies, we are thankful. We have a lot to learn.