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No clash of civilisations

Feb 10,2016 - Last updated at Feb 10,2016

The history of civilisation shows to what extent, ever since Homo sapiens appeared in Africa, approximately 150,000-200,000 years ago, this exceptional being has been intrinsically universalistic: namely, one who is willing to set aside personal or familial interests in favour of cooperation and unity in order to ensure the cohesion and development of communities at large.

Early humans, presumably due to climate change, split into two main groups when they were still in Africa. One went south, the other northeast; they lived in isolation for a very long period, only to be reunited once again before the migration out of Africa, which took place more or less 60,000 years ago.

Indeed, all non-African modern humans are descendants of a small group that left East Africa by crossing the Red Sea, travelled east following the coastline up to South Asia and reached Australia about 45,000 years ago.

Then, these bold pioneers went north and west, and populated the entire world, including the Americas.

Thus, objectively, there should not be barriers among humans, whatever their race or cultural background, because they all share the same genetic make-up, and their behaviour and languages proved to have the same structural basis.

The fact of the matter, as said earlier, is that humans are universalistic by nature.

For French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, whose work has stood the test of time, incest prohibition is intended to promote exchange and mixing among different populations.

His argument is that incest taboo is meant to encourage exogamy, which allows unrelated lineages, clans or tribes, to establish relationships through marriage and becomes, in his perspective, an exchange mechanism among social groups on a large scale.

Through exogamy, humans achieve both reciprocity and exchange, and consequently cooperation and solidarity, that is, transition from nature to culture.

It means that humans are inherently social animals, whose survival depends on their ability to conceive and manage systems of cooperation and solidarity.

What would be the world without exchange and cooperation?

There are many examples of exchanges between regions very far apart, proving that humans value the general interest of the species more than their own.

The oath of Hippocrates, taken by physicians all over the world, might have been definitely lost had it not been translated into Arabic in the “House of Wisdom” of Baghdad, a centre for research, education and translation that between the 9th and 13th centuries translated Greek texts that were being destroyed in Alexandria, Greece and Rome.

We are all living on common ground, sharing the benefits of what human ingenuity has been able to accomplish through the ages.

Horses were domesticated in Ukraine, but were quickly adopted by other peoples as a means of transportation and agricultural production.

Tomatoes, corn and potatoes were domesticated in Latin America, but became inescapable staples of today’s world cuisine.

The Chinese domesticated poultry and the soybean, which are now mass produced all over the world.

During the Arab rule in the Iberian Peninsula, the city of Toledo became a centre of learning, frequently visited by European intellectuals eager to plunge into the classical works of ancient philosophers and scientists, which had been translated into Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age, and those of renowned Arab authors like Avicenna (the Arab Leonardo) Averroes, Abubacer and Ibn Khaldun, whose “Muqaddimah” was considered by British historian Arnold Toynbee as “the greatest work of its kind that has ever been created by any mind in any time or place”.

All these uncontroversial facts mean that we should be honouring our common ancestor, instead of emphasising artificial differences and cleavages that drive us apart.

History teaches us that civilisations are not clashing; rather, societies are interconnected, and the only way to confront the current global challenges is through a more cohesive union among all humans.

There is room for optimism. In spite of all appearances, the world is now more peaceful than ever before, and the young generation is far less racist and more environmentally aware than their parents.

One of the most potent unifying factors in the modern world has been the universalisation of capitalism, which began at the onset of the 19th century.

As Marx correctly noticed, capitalism was based on entrepreneurial capacity, the incentive being the profit-making process that occurs as the product is sold for a higher amount than the investment initially made in terms of production and distribution.

This system, progressive as it was, compared to feudalism or autocratic despotism characteristic of the pre-industrial societies, is now on the brink of collapse.

According to French economist Thomas Piketty “wealth inequality is reaching levels not seen since before World War I and could become unsustainable”.

At the same time, entire ecosystems have been depleted and global warming can unleash an irreversible process threatening the viability of life on earth.

We, the optimists, think that these problems will be overcome thanks to the universalistic vocation of mankind.


The writer is the ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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