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Category Archives: Amartya Sen

Are People CultoBots?

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Amartya Sen in The Uses and Abuses of Multiculturalism asks a crucial question:
“One of the central issues concerns how human beings are seen. Should they be categorized in terms of inherited traditions, particularly the inherited religion, of the community in which they happen to have been born, taking that unchosen identity to have automatic priority over other affiliations involving politics, profession, class, gender, language, literature, social involvements, and many other connections? Or should they be understood as persons with many affiliations and associations, whose relative priorities they must themselves choose (taking the responsibility that comes with reasoned choice)?”
Bikhu Parekh writes that modern institutions are at times a “positive handicap” in dealing with multicultural societies trying to find that fine balance between unity and diversity. But the problem with Parekh’s view is that even when he talks of “conversation” within and between cultures, he fails to show how cultural responses to the same incident can change in different circumstances—because though the people responding belong to the same ‘culture’ but they are changed people or in changing times.
Unfortunately, assumptions of multiculturalism are based on a static view of culture and even worse, the individual practicing the cultures. To answer, Sen’s question, people are not cultobots with automated responses, but temperamental individuals with real and dynamic choices.
And this changes all the parameters of cultural interactions.
And also raises other questions:
Were people cultobots in the past? Were there more comfortable times in the past, when the cultural barometer was more accurate?
How are modern institutions “the positive handicap” that are making people less culturally automated?

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