Uniformity and Variation in Human Development

We can see in our modern world the impact of dominant cultural ideas and the technological capacity of spreading and inculcating those ideas,   One can travel to almost any corner of the globe and find certain culture-ways active and imposing themselves on the people.  The power of the internet, television and radio are bringing ideas to people who formerly were living separately with little contact or interaction occurring.  The images developed by mass media, film entertainment, and the pressure to succeed in an economic world organized around certain types of competitive actions help reproduce similar results, even in widely diverse populations.  The rise of English as a more or less universal language of interchange has also worked to help this process take place.  The result of all of these things is a growing trend toward uniformity.  Even when people consciously try to maintain their cultural background and integrity, we can see that their children, when exposed to the ideas and values promulgated by mass media, oftentimes choose to adopt those new ways.  As long as there are a wide diversity of cultures and languages, however, it is unlikely that total uniformity will be achieved.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The uniformity of mankind is not an impossible eventuality, even though impracticable in the present circumstances and in certain directions hardly conceivable except in a far distant future.  For certainly there is or has been an immense drive towards uniformity of life habits, uniformity of knowledge, uniformity political, social, economic, educational, and all this, if followed out to its final conclusion, will lead naturally to a uniformity of culture.  If that were realized, the one barrier left against a dead level of complete  uniformity would be the difference of language; for language creates and determines thought even while it is created and determined by it, and so long as there is difference of language there will always be a certain amount of free variation of thought, of knowledge and of culture.  But it is easily conceivable that the general uniformity of culture and intimate association of life will give irresistible force to the need already felt of a universal language, and a universal language once created or adopted may end by killing out the regional languages as Latin killed out the languages of Gaul, Spain and Italy or as English has killed our Cornish, Gaelic, Erse and has been encroaching on the Welsh tongue.”

There are counter-movements to support the uniqueness of individual life-ways and cultures, of course, and it is possible that this will act as a sufficient counter-balance to prevent the triumph of uniformity.  “If this tendency triumphs, the unification of the race will have so to organize itself as to respect the free culture, thought, life of its constituent units.  But there is also the third possibility of a dominant uniformity which will allow or even encourage such minor variations as do not threaten the foundations of its rule.  And here again the variations may be within their limits vital, forceful, to a certain extent particularist though not separatist, or they may be quite minor in tones and shades, yet sufficient to form a starting-point for the dissolution of uniformity into a new cycle of various progress.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 16, The Problem of Uniformity and Liberty, pp. 142-143