Published:  12:37 AM, 26 May 2018 Last Update: 12:43 AM, 26 May 2018

The myth of 'cultural aggression'

The seven cultural hearths: Mesopotamia, Mesoamerica, West Africa, the Nile River valley, the Ganges River valley, the Indus River valley, and the Wei-Huang valley have engendered all the cultures in the world. The cultures and cultural practices have emerged in these geographic areas separately and distinctively in different historic periods. In course of time, they were dispersed all over the world.

The pace of cultural change has varied in different timelines due to: (a) the availability, participants, and medium of communication; (b) the politics of culture; (c) the conflicts between new and old in society; (d) demographic factors, etc.

The term 'cultural aggression' is a neologism invented by Bangladesh populists perhaps to legalize their desire in order to sustain their authority, hierarchy and 'traditionalism'. Thus, they deny embracing the new. Aggression can be defined as an act of inflicting damage without any provocation, or apply force intended to dominate.

When the word 'culture' is added with 'aggression', it denotes an alien culture that is forcefully attributed upon a community, injected into a culture to make change and thereafter dominate the community.

This notion came into play in Bangladesh 'public discourse' not entirely from nationalistic sense, rather also for a post-colonial apprehension, as well as xenophobia that drive a group of people to think in a way that the foreigners, especially political and cultural rivals as well as challengers (e.g. India) are the invaders and intruders; alien cultures (e.g. Western culture) are vulgar and vile; and those culture-holders are 'uncivilized' more or less.

The historic legacy of deprivation and oppression conducted by colonizers often force them to be conservative and rigid against foreigners and foreign practices (the term 'foreign' is used here to chiefly denote the India and West).

It is thought that the 'indecent', 'vulgar' non-native culture often can be so forceful to invade the native culture. The idea of 'cultural transformation' is seemingly a taboo here which holds a negative connotation among publics. Average Bangladeshi people comment on overseas communities and culture as 'uncivilized' and 'obnoxious' even without having any firsthand experience.

How one can do blind-generalization and nourish a (mis)conception on something without being attached to? Misinformation plays a pivotal role here that is circulated intentionally and unintentionally by various communication media, such as television, newspaper, fiction, discourse, etc.

The cultural misinterpretation in Bangladesh stands on several grounds: (a) people are often frightened of alien culture (i.e. Western culture) that have potential to occupy the previous, easier, traditional and known practices; (b) some people are inherently against the change and feel offensive to any kind of social transformation, Everett M. Rogers designated them as 'laggards', and uphold them as the key player to obstruct development; and (c) new idea, belief and practice are threatening to the existing power structure and power holders of a particular society, so the people who possess power in an existing framework would counter the change.

How distant culture can be so 'aggressive' upon the native culture that causes cultural transformation, more precisely the 'decline of culture', according to popular nationalistic doctrine?

The proponents used to promulgate that the age of colonization has ended but a fresh act of 'colonizing the mind' has begun largely with external culture and cultural elements, both material and non-material, by injecting them into the vein of 'thousands of years' traditional' culture and cultural practices of Bangladesh.

To some extent, it is true that for the inhabitants of a community, their cultural identity is unavoidable and dominant one to represent them. But in most of the cases nowadays, problematizing the cultural transformation and circulating illogical fear of cultural genocide is aimed to impede social advancement.

The concept of 'cultural aggression' underestimates and demeans human capability to resist the external communication effects. During the third decade of the previous century, few experts in USA invented a utopian concept through 'experiment' that demonstrates people are radically vulnerable to media, and easily be jeopardized while receiving information; in fact, people have almost no resistance to escape from media-injected 'medicine'. Cultural aggression demonstrates the similar method of occupying human mind: 'alien culture is extremely rude and irresistible; besides, native people and culture is unfenced and so weak in defending so.

That is why the cultural aggression is happening, and it is endangering ourselves.' Such notion is a pure myth. To miscalculate the potential of an individual as a content receiver is a sheer failure. In fact, no nation-state in this world may ever achieve to preserve its own culture as an 'intact' one.

Cultural aggression repudiates individual culture and sub-culture and considers culture in a broader sense. Personal interest can vary from individual to individual, and in a growing individualistic society like Bangladesh, every person has the rights to preserve his/her own culture and style. So, it is better to think the cultural change is not an imposed one but spontaneous. It is true that everyone wants to dominate over others. But in this respect, 'cultural aggression' depict our culture as weak and external one as strong regarding impact.

The way Bangladesh culture is transforming can be termed as 'cultural adaptation'. Individuals and societies have instinct to overcome changes by modifications of their own cultures while it is essential. Despite all of these interrelated phenomena, people in Bangladesh, more precisely populists and traditionalists, love to think cultural change as an imposed act by the 'perpetrators', but not as unforced one.

Thus, a veiled cultural fundamentalism is evolving in Bangladesh cultural arena, which is nothing but 'ethnocentrism': the idea of 'my own culture is the best one in this world'. It is sooth to say that almost every cultural community on earth is ethnocentric to a certain extent. In the meantime, Edward W. Said's 'Orientalism' is transforming, perhaps, into 'Occidentalism' in Bangladesh well enough.

The writer, a digital sociologist, is Executive Editor, Advanced Services for the People's Economy, Culture and Technology (ASPECT) Trust. [email protected]

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