Why cultural diversity matters | Michael Gavin | TEDxCSU

Why cultural diversity matters | Michael Gavin | TEDxCSU

Thanks it's been an incredible event hasn't it we've got a great theme no better do better I think in a lot of ways this theme is an apt motto for the complex and dynamic world that we live in you know increasingly the problems we're facing are being described as wicked problems do their complexity and how widespread they are but think about the future twenty five years from now I think if we're honest with ourselves we really have no idea what kind of challenges we're going to face and so we really need a diverse set of knowledge to be able to cope with the wicked problems of today and the uncertainty of tomorrow the irony though is that in many ways we already do know better we're just letting so much of that knowledge slip away this is the island of Malta coulomb in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu Vanuatu has the highest levels of cultural diversity per capita of anywhere on the planet for now recently a boat left this Bay it was carrying an old sick man I'll call him David the seas were rough was dark and the health clinic was far up the island and unfortunately the boat had left a little too late and the old man was a little too sick and so a few hours later the sound of the motor could be heard coming back across the bay and soon the crying in the wailing spread across the sand and into the village David had died now those who loved and knew David grieved but of course you didn't know David and 150,000 people died on this planet so why should we mourn the loss of this one man of David well David was one of three remaining speakers of an indigenous language and now the two remaining speakers are also old frail men and when they pass away so two of the language for the children and the grandchildren of these men don't speak this language and what's amazing about this story to me is that it's not unique collectively today humans speak approximately 7,000 languages but in the lifetime of my children who today are 6 and 9 years old as many as half of those languages will disappear just like David's is about to and I think the situation leaves us with three questions that we really need answers to why should we be worried about this loss of cultural diversity why is it happening and what should we do about it before we answer the first of those questions though let's keep in mind that cultural diversity is more than just languages and looking at these languages in detail gives us a little glimpse into that now any of you who speak more than one language already have a feel for this because you know that there are certain concepts certain ideas certain words that are next to impossible to accurately translate from one language to another why is that let's take an example I had the privilege for many years to work and live in El Teatro ah more widely known as New Zealand and the Maori people of out arrow speak today Oh in Entei ray oh there's a word fennel fennel means placenta it's the nourishment we get in the womb it's our virtual lifeblood but this same word fennel also means land now it's next to impossible to do so but I asked you for one moment to imagine that you grew up Maori what would be your relationship to the land would it be different then your relationship is now when we think about this we have to remember this is one concept one word and if we take the totality of all the words the whole language of the whole culture well then we begin to realize that when we're talking about cultural diversity we're talking about thousands of different ways of seeing the world and our place in it and these thousands of worldviews they're the foundation of thousands of unique sets of knowledge so let's get back to our first question why should we be worried about the loss of this cultural diversity well I think first we need to realize that culture involves the rights of people it's the rights of indigenous people to determine the future of their cultures rights that have too often been ignored and undermined but let's be cynical for a moment because far too often the policies of governments around the world have been cynical about the rights of indigenous people and so let's ask a different question what value does this cultural diversity have for the rest of humanity and to do so let's look at a disease that has plagued our species for thousands of years in a certain light it's beautiful but malaria affects 200 million people a year now the first widespread treatment of malaria was quinine quinine was developed from the bark of the cinchona tree by the indigenous people of Peru and then ignoring intellectual property rights the british east india company took quinine and spread it around the world to do so though they had to realize that people didn't really like quinine it was bitter and so they mixed quinine with something sweet and voila the gin and tonic the tonic contains quinine go to the supermarket it still does and the gin well people like drinking that and so quinine saved thousands of lives malaria did not enjoy this party malaria developed resistance and so today the most effective and increasingly widespread treatment for malaria is artemisinin artemisinin comes from a Chinese herbal medicine today it's saving thousands of lives now I ask you for a moment to imagine where we would be without the indigenous people of Peru their world views in quinine or without the Chinese herbalists and their world views and artemisinin imagine if we just had the British we'd have a whole lot of gin and no tonic so if we accept now then we're gonna respect the rights of indigenous people and that there's a value to cultural diversity for all of humanity then our next question is why are we losing this diversity I think here first we need to recognize that culture is not static it's not something we can take and just put in a museum culture belongs to people culture is dynamic and changing the other thing we need to recognize is that contact amongst different cultural groups communication Twitter doesn't automatically lead to the loss of cultural diversity about 15 years ago I was in Peru I was on a tributary of the Amazon River the Sun was setting in front of me there was a soccer field there was a game going on and there's a woman standing next to me she had her pet parrot on her shoulder and across the soccer field and above the tropical forest the moon was rising it's a beautiful scene and the woman turned to me and she asked does the moon shine in your land whoa yes I said that the moon does shine in the United States and then she didn't pause she immediately turned and said do you know Monica Lewinsky now what's amazing about this story I think is that that woman spoke in indigenous language she used indigenous science to manage her natural resources by so many different measures her culture wasn't necessarily threatened even though she knew about Miss Lewinsky so if it's not contact between cultures that is driving the loss of cultural diversity well then what is here I think we need to recognize that increasingly fewer and fewer cultural groups a small number of cultural groups is determining the shape and fabric of society these groups are determining the systems of law of education of economies of natural resource management and it is this imbalance of power that exists within society that is driving the loss of cultural diversity I ask you things back to David back on mala koola not right before he died when he's raising his children he's got a decision to make and ultimately the future of culture is about decisions about choice and he looks out at the systems around him and he he looks at the schools where he's gonna send his kids he looks at the markets where his family's gonna find the goods that they desire at the laws of the land and he sees that all of these systems are shaped by other cultural groups speaking other languages and now David's gonna base this decision on one main thing the thing that all parents base their decisions on he wants to ensure that his children have the best chance to survive and thrive and so for this decision David really doesn't have a freedom of choice when it comes to his culture so what does he do he leaves the culture behind it leaves the language behind he sends his kids off into the society that's dominated by this other culture and it's in this way and it's in balance of power and the systems of our society that we lose cultural diversity so our last question what do we do about it I think first and foremost we need to realize how unlevel the playing field actually is how imbalanced the power actually is in society to do so let's look at one system within society let's look at this school let's look at the schools where David was gonna send his children school there is taught in English the textbooks the examples in those textbooks are from some far-off land where David's children have never been and in all likelihood never will go this same in balance and power in balance and culture exists in our own schools I'm lucky and then I get to volunteer in my kids school not that long ago I was in a kindergarten class what you realize when you're in a kindergarten class is how amazing kindergarten teachers are you know they're incredibly creative super dedicated and these have to be some of the most patient human beings on the planet and importantly we don't pay them nearly enough money the other thing you realize is that the systems constrain these kindergarten teachers even the very materials that they're provided so I was sitting around a table and there was a kid from Vietnam and two kids from Libya and a whole bunch of kids from Colorado and we're learning about prepositions you might remember these words on under-over prepositions okay now they're in kindergarten so they have two pictures and they have to match the preposition to this pair of pictures so there's a table and there's a cat the cat is under the table and we go learning our prepositions and we get to this pair and the girl from Colorado she jumps up over the cow jumps over the moon she's excited she's got it right and those two kids from Libya over here with huge eyes what right I mean imagine they go home that night right and they're around the dinner table they're saying your mom and dad we thought it was a little weird the people strapped the board's on their feet and they go swooshing down the snowy slopes but that's nothing here in the United States cows jump over the moon because they were learning more than prepositions weren't they the lesson was embedded in culture and that in and of itself is a good thing the challenge we face is that the lessons in our schools here and all around the world are increasingly embedded in one culture everywhere cows are jumping over the moon an English nursery rhyme so what are we gonna do we can't be naive we can't assume that we're gonna evenly spread power and control the systems of society equally across 7,000 different cultural groups it's not going to happen but we can take small steps we can begin to level the playing field an inspiration comes from where we started back on mala koola in Vanuatu the communities on this island decided to begin to level that playing field and they let's take an example the schools they talked to the heads of the schools and they said look we're going to give you four days a week but we're taking one day back and they use indigenous architecture and they built a building and one day a week the kids go to that building and they learn from the elders of that community in their indigenous language about the skills they need to live in that community and just as importantly they learn to be proud of who they are to be proud of their culture to be proud of their language and these communities argue and I wholeheartedly agree that those kids are going to be better prepared because now they're able to draw from the worldview and the knowledge base that has been developed across generations in that place and they're also able to draw from the worldview and the knowledge systems that come down from the conventional school system and so those kids become better prepared to deal with the wicked problems of today and the uncertainty of tomorrow so I think we have answers to our three key questions we absolutely need to be worried about the loss of cultural diversity we need to respect and uphold the rights of indigenous people we need to recognize the value that cultural diversity has for all of humanity but to face this challenge we must also realize how unevenly power is spread across our societies and we must take these examples from Vanuatu and elsewhere and we must begin to create systems which celebrate cultural diversity which explore our differences and which embrace multiple ways of thinking and if we can do that we'll be better prepared for tomorrow but if we don't do that now if we don't do that and our grandchildren are going to grow up in a world that is far less diverse and they won't even know it no better do better thank you you


  1. Billions of dollars…and the education gap STILl the largest between asians and blacks. BW aha ha ahah.

  2. First 3 minutes in and no logical reasoning for “why cultural diversity matters” to me, an American. Too many illegals here that don’t care about our culture and values. Most get free paths to free college and advantages that others aren’t entitled too. What a sad state the country is in. Fortunately liberal multiculturalism is dying!

  3. Associate Professor of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources. This shouldn't even be a job. Thousands of world views and this PNG can't realize why there's so much confusion.

  4. "Diversity" is the institutional response to their own weakness.. these men CAN'T fight, so what else are they to do to find mates?…. VIDEO GAMES, OF COURSE! The relentless current push for more and more "diversity" (cultural eradication through general, state sponsored confusion) is simply a way to make girlish individuals like this one feel… well… empowered…. By literally OUTLAWING Natural behaviors, universal to the several species, it makes it MORE likely that her weakness won't be discovered or challenged … In short, the only way for "girls" like him to compete, is by codifying his false narrative. And who's right there to help him do it? Big Tech … India, China… the human filth from the third world. Of COURSE all entertainment is now stuffed with various drooling Africans, Indians, Hispanics… How else are their Masters in Silicon Valley to secure more and more and more of their noisome relatives and greedy business associates into western societies?… That's right, the first job is to teach you it's in YOUR best interests, when, in fact, it's nothing of the sort…. Send em home…. in boxes if need be… "Diversity" is Death… Look around .

  5. It's true .. Man is stoopid.. not THIS man, who, apparently, is a woman and, therefore, a basket case of emotional angst and perennial regret/fear/anxiety, and the unpleasant tendency to view herself as a "fixer"….. going to.. CHANGE THE WORLD…. you know, 'fix' us… except … her fundamental premise is BIZARRELY corrupt … One doesn't 'fix' your (extraordinarily distant) neighbor's canoe or lawnmower…. and neither is this task assigned to a woman like him… It's not hers to 'fix'

    Species compete for resources. Varieties WITHIN species compete for the opportunity to breed… It's the way natural selection works … has ALWAYS worked .. and will continue to work long after our puny asses have blown ourselves away. DENYING this SOLE Natural purpose makes a man, ANY man…. into a big girl

    Like this guy .. How much you wanna bet his pillow is stuffed with lavender seeds and money from the other girls?

  6. Diversity is the lie to open up functional nations borders to the third worlders AND jews naturally end up orchestrating things. Because who better to perfect the endless guilt and shame then those who perfected the NEVER FORGET racket.

  7. Any business that promotes diversity in their advertising is getting boycotted. I’m not kidding

  8. Diversity is part of the way you distract and confuse the dominate culture so that Minorities–Jews, blacks, Illegals–can then actively gain MORE rights than the majority. And then the majority has enough

  9. Diversity matters to those who want to take from others. Japan and Norway and Switzerland DONT NEED it to be the healthy wealthy and wisest. Seems that its THIRD worlders who want to FORCE whites to hand over what their parents earned…and it wont happen. Civil war will happen if they try to impose it.

  10. Diversity of itself is not necessarily strength, in fact it can be a detriment. Certain cultures will prey criminally on other cultures because they are different. diversity is not strength, unity is strength. Now, if you merge diverse ideas in unity, yes, that is strength. But If you have Sharia law in one community conflicting with constitutional law in another, criminal street gangs attacking other races, dozens of cultures all demanding special treatment, then that is division, it is not strength, it weakens the society and makes it vulnerable. Unity is strength, not diversity.

  11. Sounds a lot like HItler's view on preserving cultures. Segregation preserves, multiculturalism erases.

  12. Dr. Gavin’s talk lacks focus and cohesive flow, and also suffers from a lack of clarity. He asserts that the playing field is not level and an imbalance of power is eroding cultural diversity. But to counter this overwhelming cultural force in the example he provides, a teacher simply spends one day per week teaching in a local language of Vanuatu. He asks “What are we going to do?” Begin leveling the playing field, since he apparently believes that both little and the large cultures are of equal value. He says power is unevenly spread, so we must create systems which celebrate cultural diversity and explore our differences–in order to be better prepared for tomorrow.

    Much that is created by humans and human societies is worthy of study and preservation. If the people of Vanuatu are willing to allow their cultural achievements and language to fade away, then it is a good thing if they make an effort to preserve what they can for themselves, and for future scholars and historians. And anyone interested can help with that effort. Gavin is not merely advocating preservation of historical cultures, however. He obviously wants to somehow revive the fading cultural achievements of our time and keep them alive–on an equal footing with the dominant world cultures. And I suspect he feels that we all have an obligation to participate in the revival and empowerment of these diverse, disadvantaged cultures.

    In the episode of Babylon 5 “Believers” written by David Gerrold, Ambassador Kosh has a compelling line. “”The avalanche has already started; it is too late for the pebbles to vote.” History shows that even a dominant culture can collapse and find itself broken, diminished, and in some aspects, simmering in malevolence and despair. The social evolution of our planet is the irresistible avalanche, and we are all caught up in it. We can try to save something of the pebbles, but they are not likely to last for very long.

  13. I love cultural diversity but my US constitution supersedes your Sharia Law. Remember that you have your rights until you violate mine or someone else’s right.

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