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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

The Unorthodox Traditionalist: cultivating diversity in the modern world

As most of you probably already know, the world is losing linguistic and cultural diversity at an incredible rate. This is largely because of massive changes in lifestyle in many societies in the world associated with the shift from subsistence farming to market farming, manufacturing and the service sector. It is also however, partially due to mass media and state coercion.

The loss of the smallest languages do not worry me so much—that may be inevitable and in some ways necessary for industrialization. The median language has only 7,500 speakers, which is obviously impractical in the modern world. However, I think languages of five million plus people are sufficiently large to be efficient, since there could still be large cities within the region where it is spoken. For example Swiss German is secure in its existence because of the strong Swiss feelings of identity. It is used in all spheres of life (except in the mass media and in school where standard German is taught) in spite of the fact that it has only around four to five million speakers.

It is the potential loss of these relatively large languages that worry me because it has dire implications for the future of cultural diversity (for which linguistic diversity is a proxy). Swiss German’s neighbor to the north, Low Alemannic has largely been replaced by standard German—largely because of the suppression of it in school plus the lack of Low Alemannic feelings of identity.

These things can be changed, but will ultimately be irrelevant if these languages have to compete with behemoth languages that have more than 100 million speakers due to either recent (in the last 500 years) conquests of huge areas (Mandarin Chinese*, English, Portuguese and Russian) or recent population explosions due to the incredible yields of wet rice production using modern technology (Hindi, Bengali and Japanese). In the absence of mass media and government coercion, the areas of recent conquest would be slowly diversifying culturally. In 1,000 years, Latin diversified into dozens of languages (French, Occitan, Spanish, Venitian, Italian, etc.) As we can see from Japan, populations that experience massive population explosions tend to reverse this trend and shrink after they become highly developed and quality of life (i.e. not living crammed really close together) becomes more important to people.

What am I proposing then? For one, far less restrictive language policies. In the cases of mega languages (which are inherently mutually intelligible within themselves), people should be allowed to write how they talk. On TV and radio they should talk like the people in their region talk rather than effecting an artificial standard. I do not know how much languages would diversify in these conditions because of increased day to day contact with people from other regions in the modern world. At the very least though, we should not try to prevent diversification of languages that already dominate vast areas with drab uniformity.

My second suggestion is more controversial and is one which I am myself not so sure about. That is to split the largest countries in the world into smaller ones and combine the smaller ones into conglomerations (such as Yugoslavia). The idea behind this would be partially to create stronger feelings of separate identity within big countries which could encourage the creation of separate identities and to increase efficiency by reducing bureaucracy and separate sets of laws in the small countries.

Another good reason for splitting up big countries is that if the government of a large country makes a major mistake, it has massive repercussions. 20 million people died under Stalin because there were hundreds of millions of people in the Soviet Union. Although these catastrophes were both created by totalitarian regimes, there is no guarantee that they could not happen in a democracy—a nuclear war could have easily broken out over Cuba, had Kennedy not stayed cool. Also, democratic governments can dissolve into despotic ones, such as with Napoleon and Hitler.

Also, for hundreds of years China was shut off from the rest of the world because of the existence of a giant state. This changed China from the most technologically advanced region of the world to a backwater. Had China instead been divided into smaller countries (as Europe was), there could have been some countries open to outsiders and some not. As the closed Chinese countries had seen the success of the open ones, they might have changed to become open as well. Columbus first lobbied the Portuguese king for funds, then the Doges of Genoa and Venice before reaching success with the King of Spain. Had Europe been under one King and if he had said no, Europeans would have taken centuries longer to stumble upon America.

I suggest then that large countries (such as the U.S.) be broken up by popular vote. In the census, people would be asked to rank adjacent counties in the order of how much a person would want to be in a country with them. A computer could then find the natural breaks and divide the country (such as the U.S.) into chunks between 25 and 50 million people (an arbitrary number, but the mean population of a nation state in the world today is 33 million, so why not?)This process might be repeated every hundred years, since cultural affinities change. Naturally, free trade and travel would still exist between these countries like in the EU, in order to preserve economic efficiency. We could then have English diversify into 10 to 50 different languages and unique cultures in the U.S. over hundreds of years which would make life more interesting and meaningful while still maintaining our material wellbeing.

Interestingly, this is already happening with American dialects, which are differentiating from each other naturally among all but the highest classes, who are highly mobile. My suggestions would however make it happen faster and perhaps to a higher level of diversity than would happen without them.

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