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contact and conflict
xenophobia, will we survive this round?
by sigbjørn lund olsen

The void

Humans fear the dark. We fear it because it is something our senses are unable to penetrate - something we are unable to interpret. We fear the unknown. This fear is present instinctively in all humans, and it is also taught to us while we are growing up. It is a tool of self-preservation.

I would define that the inherent fear of the unknown is a tool of self-preservation. However, I cannot say that this is an absolute definition. I must also admit that as a tool of self-preservation, there are limits to how useful it is. Just as panic can as easily help a person in a dire situation, it can kill. Just as being fearful of the unknown can have its uses, at its most extreme, it can be most problematic. If we were extremely fearful of everything unknown, we'd spend our entire life in constant, numbing fear.

Also, and not to be mistaken for a disclaimer, different people have different opinions about xenophobia. To draw a parallel, we fear opinions that we do not understand.

The world

Humans have, throughout history, spread themselves all over the world. We have traveled to different continents and different climates, where we have developed societies with vastly different cultures.

What happens when technology progresses to the point that geographically imposed barriers of communication are nullified?

"The global village" is a term that we hear more often every year. Technological breakthroughs like the telegraph, the telephone, the television and more recently the Internet, have made every part of the world accessible to every other part.

Yet when we take into account the phenomenon of human xenophobia and the fact that across the world there are thousands of different cultures, it is easy to see the conflict these advancements in technology are capable of sparking.

The history

Humans are not new to the problems caused by interaction with what we define as the unknown. Our history is dominated by tales of conflict and war, of oppression and bloodshed. In a way, the history of humanity has been cyclical.

A general pattern has developed, defined by a period of globalization which is often followed by a period of heightened conflict and isolation. For example, from imperialism to the World Wars and the Great Depression. From the Roman Empire to its fall and the Dark Ages.

Why does this happen? Well, when the trend is towards globalization (i.e. the opening of communications between cultures) human xenophobia comes into the picture again. When we feel that another culture threatens ours, we become overprotective of our own.

Globalization promotes nationalism. This we can see not only from the situation today, but also from the situation at the start of the 20th century. While the take-overs by the fascist/nazi movements can only be defined as somewhat dubious, it is undeniable that there was democratic support for the right wing.

Thus, the cycle moves from globalization to isolationism. The transitions are volatile.

The now

The country I come from, Norway, is in the international press these days. Not just because we've been recently elected into the UN Security Council, but also because of the current political situation here. Recently, the far-right wing Progress Party has become the largest in Norway.

Nationalistic right wing party popularity has grown drastically these last twenty years, all over the world, in almost the same fashion as it did approximately eighty years ago.

The fact, now as then, that the most educated people in every culture mostly do not support such nationalistic movements proves that the instinctive fear for the unknown can be overridden by education.

So before implying that were all doomed to World War III, I would like to point out that the average education has improved manifold since the early 20th century. Also, another vital difference now as compared to then is the movement toward monoculture.

The Romans realized something very important when they started building their empire. They realized that if the peoples of the empire had nothing in common, they would never be able to keep the empire unified. So the Romans influenced its provinces cultures by introducing its own culture and language, Latin.

To have a dominant culture is not something new, but the impact that the dominant western culture has on the world today is much stronger than the impact the Romans could bring upon the myriad local culturals if its provinces. And this is mostly due to advancements in technology. Mass media enables us to communicate simultaneously with millions of people.

English has become the common language of today, and because of its enormous propagation, and the transformation of the western culture (influenced constantly by minor cultures as they dwindle) into a global one, I conclude that the future should not necessarily to be feared.

Even though it is unknown.


Sigbjørn still maintains that he is going to be somebody ... carefully neglecting the fact that all the ninety-year olds still singing into their combs in front of their mirrors, they too knew that they were going to be somebody. It is slowly dawning on him that his shot at being a star kid actor may very well have passed, so as a backup plan, he's currently attending university in Trondheim, Norway, studying film.

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roberto stooks
4.22.01 @ 8:13a


This is really good Article but don't forget this kind of thing was happening the East also.(over 50% of the wORLDS population.) We don't get much news about Norway. But sounds like all the country's begin-ing a period of Nationalism,Isolationism,Conservatizm and on and on. Sounds like THEY have had enough wars, crap, cold war and super powers and all their other DELUSIONS.,

Countries are trying to preserve whatever sanity and gifts their anscestors valued.

after all; our CHILDrens futURe. rds

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