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Toward an Inclusive View of Humanity

John Murnane


     Controversial works such as Francis Fukuyama's The End of History, Samuel Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order and Robert Kaplan's The Coming Anarchy have shaped recent debate about world politics. Each has made far-reaching and provocative claims—Fukuyama declared the triumph of the West, Huntington provided a West-against-the rest paradigm and perpetual conflict, while Kaplan predicted chaos in the 21st Century. Others have advanced more optimistic views. The Dalai Lama's recent book Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World's Religions Can Come Together is noteworthy. Here, he answers Huntington directly:

     In the face of the stresses caused by the confrontation with other cultures and ideas, and the rapidity of their effects on one's own world of such global events as the economic downturn, which in part originated elsewhere, it is not surprising that some have spoken of a "clash of civilizations." Personally, I find such talk disturbing and unhelpful, for it serves to accentuate the potential for discord. There is another possibility. The pressure cooker of globalization can move humanity in another direction, to the deeper plane where peoples, cultures, and individuals can connect with their basic, shared human nature. In that place, it is possible for us human beings to recognize the global nature of the problems facing us and our shared responsibility to confront them together, and to affirm the oneness of our human family. If we do not, the very survival of our species is at stake.1

     Throughout the book, the Dalai Lama shifts from the personal to the general—weaving stories about his own life and the development of his tolerant, peaceful worldview together with the history of the world's religions. His primary target? Cultural boundaries. Learning about others and learning to appreciate the essence of the world's religions, he claims, will lessen conflict and foster cooperation. (Incidentally, he finds compassion to be at the core of all of the major belief systems in the world today.) Given the billions of people who value and follow one faith or another, the Dalai Lama's strategy and the dialogue he hopes to create make sense.

     This essay offers a complimentary view: the secular side of the same coin. I propose highlighting a new "construct," a new view of human history, a view that stresses the commonalities across cultural lines in a range of areas—from our DNA to the mathematics we use every day, to our common hopes, dreams and emotions to mankind's common love of musical, artistic and literary expression to the countless other ways that make us similar and bound together. Seeing ourselves in a new light—as having much in common with other human beings—is the first step in heightening international dialogue. The Dalai Lama is right to address cultural boundaries.

     Group identities have been essential for human survival over millennia. As sociologist Joel M. Charon explains, "It seems that ethnocentrism may contribute to social solidarity and social order. It helps bind us, and it creates in us a commitment to society."2 Belief systems, customs and other facets of cultural identity help galvanize a society, giving it the cohesion necessary to function smoothly, to gather and use resources, to organize and defend against outsiders.

     Yet these very habits of mind are jeopardizing human survival in the 21st century—as the Dalai Lama clearly recognizes. Humanity has entered a new phase of history, a time when international cooperation is an imperative. Humanity faces global crises of epic proportions—global warming, dwindling resources, population pressures, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, conflict in nearly every corner of the world, the spread of disease, economic uncertainty, and an enormous gulf between rich and poor. Despite the obvious need, international organizations (such as the U.N.) have never been weaker; the forces of nationalism, separatism, violence and hatred have never been stronger. All of this comes at a time when no one nation can address the challenges that confront and impact all of humanity, problems that affect every region of the globe.

     And while there are many obstacles that hamper international cooperation, an emphasis on cultural differences, ultra-nationalism and the projection of the "other" —the idea that people are very different (ethnically, racially, culturally, ideologically)—are formidable barriers standing in the way. Viewing people as "strange" and through "us vs. them" lenses makes it easier to ignore the plight of millions of human beings in other regions of the world and to oversimplify international problems. It is a message reinforced in the media, by political figures, popular culture, and school curriculum in the United States and elsewhere. In short, the "good vs. evil," "us/them" mindset, and all its variations, is pervasive.

     This is where World Historians come in. We know that the us/them outlook is likely to endure. However, this does not mean that an alternate view should not be attempted. "Cultural diffusion," after all is what historian William H. McNeill calls the "drive-wheel of history." He, and many world historians, see the process of borrowing across cultures as the most important development of the last 5, 000 years—leading to everything from the spread of agriculture and the development of science and mathematics to the spread of trade networks and religions and belief systems. We need to celebrate this process; we need to highlight it in a dramatic fashion, arguing the case for a common humanity. As fascinating as the Big History movement may be or the depth of many textbooks, they miss the mark. They don't usually frame their subject matter around the pressing concerns of the present. I think all of us in the World History movement of the past few decades feel that we have something to contribute to society today, that we have certain ways of thinking and certain insights that are valuable; but I think we get caught in the weeds, so to speak. As we try to tell the story of World History to our students, something gets lost. I think the reasons behind such study need to be clarified for a general audience. Habits of mind, such as those stressed in the College Boards AP World History program, make sense. The ability to see connections and the big picture, think critically, and organize a challenging array of data are important skills in the 21st Century. But isn't there a more pressing set of reasons—along the lines of the Dalai Lama's book above? Shouldn't we clearly and overtly relate the study of humanity to the concerns of our time? And wouldn't this approach resonate with most students (and the general public), rather than the typical "why do we need to know this" response that the traditional approach to History often elicits?

     What would an inclusive view of humanity look like? Perhaps more important, how could a compelling, yet accessible, case be made? Why not take every-day aspects of life—such as our biological and physiological make up, the languages we speak, the music we listen to, our myths and stories, and the math and science that shapes the world we live in—and show how they are similar across cultures or how they have developed through a process of borrowing? Clearly, stereotypes, misconceptions and misinformation would have to be blasted away in the process (if we could get nothing else done in a year-long World History course than this, it would be worth it).3 To emphasize our common biological or genetic make-up, for example, would require grappling with widely held believes concerning racial and ethnic differences. To speak of similar aspects of human language would run up against the obvious differences a speaker of English would encounter trying to learn Chinese or any other "tonal" language (English being phonetic). Clearly, there are differences, one religion to another. And Bon Jovi doesn't sound like Andrea Bocelli. A pan-flute does not sound like an electric guitar. Math and science developed differently in different regions of the world throughout much of human history. The Mayans devised a counting system that was able to represent very large numbers by using only 3 symbols: a dot, a bar, and a symbol for zero. These symbols do not resemble the Hindu-Arabic numerals that are used around the world today. None of this should be ignored. However, the emphasis on similarities, aspects of a common humanity, would be helpful today. As historian T.H. Von Laue recommended, we must "select from the historical data what is needed for living more effectively in the present." This approach is especially prudent where the stakes are so high.

     I will attempt to sketch this line of reasoning in two areas: in terms of our genetic and biological make up, and the universal appeal of music. Like many in the World History movement, I was trained in American History. I don't have the expertise to do more than sketch and can only do so in a few areas in order to make the point. I am also a musician and play several instruments (that dual life, I hope, has provided me with a unique perspective). So, I do not claim to be making breakthroughs in the world of genetics or musicology. What I hope is to highlight the relevance of other disciplines and specialties to the study of World History and as part of a present-minded approach to limiting the scope of the field (at least as it relates to teaching students about World History). I think we need to address present-day problems, as Von Laue insisted in the last decade of his life. We need to move toward an inclusive view of humanity. This will help solve the scope and sequence problems so often the topic of debate in World History circles—and then some.

Common Wiring

     All humans share 99.9% of the same genetic wiring. In other words, our genetic "blue print," the sequence of molecules known as bases A, C, T, and G, follow nearly the identical sequence and display most of the same characteristics in every human being on the planet—regardless of race or ethnic groupings. In his 2004 Hitchcock Lecture at the University of California Berkeley, Harvard evolutionary geneticist Richard Lewontin explained how the concept of race is not supported by biological data. In fact there is more genetic variation within so called ethnic and racial groups than when comparing people from what are usually seen as distinct groups—i.e. Asian vs. European, Native American vs. African, etc. James Watson (of Watson and Crick fame, the discovers of the double-helix) agrees:

     A . . . counterintuitive finding about human variation, what little there may be, is that it does not correlate, for the most part, with race. Most of our scant variation is actually spread rather uniformly across populations: one is as likely to find a particular genetic variant in an African population as in a European one. One is left to surmise that much of the genetic variation in our species arose in Africa before the out-of Africa event, and so was already present in the groups that went forth to colonize the rest of the world. 4

     Watson anticipates the next point—our common African ancestry. Through the use of DNA research, scientists have been able to confirm the Out of Africa theory that anthropologists and paleontologists have been debating for decades, that there is one human "family," so to speak, a family that started in Africa. Rebecca Cann, Mark Stoneking, and Allan C. Wilson stunned the world using genetics to add to the debate over the origins of humanity. Their discovery headlined as "The Search for Adam and Eve" on the cover of Newsweek in January of 1988. Their original scientific article, called "Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution," appeared in the January 1, 1987 issue of Nature. Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mothers to their offspring. Mutations in mitochondrial DNA can be detected and then placed on a rough timeline. With samples representing people from every region in the world, Cann et al. sketched an ancestral "tree" for all of humanity, a tree that begins in Africa.

     Other geneticists have replicated these finding by tracing changes in Y-chromosomes involving hundreds of thousands of samples. Y-chromosomes are passed from father to son—intact from generation to generation (each bears the markings of thousands of years of genetic mutations, that like mitochondrial DNA, can be traced back, tree-like, to Africa). Spencer Wells and the Genometeric project is the most well know in this effort. His film The Journey of Man has appeared on Public Television and National Geographic. He has become the public spokesman for work he began as a graduate student at Stanford University. Wells studied with Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, whose work gathering blood samples from people in every corner of the world, made such studies possible. Cavalli-Sforza and his team confirmed Cann's, Stoneking's, and Wilson's findings.

     Genetic research has increasingly reinforced and lent credibility to one of the two schools of thought that paleontologist and anthropologist have been debating for decades—the Out of Africa theory versus the "multiregional evolution hypothesis." As Donald Johanson—the discoverer of "Lucy," the most famous archeological find of the last 50 years, has explained, "the multiregional evolution hypothesis posits that modern humans emerged from archaic populations across the Old World." However, many recent discoveries have found further evidence placing the oldest humanoid species in Africa—evidence of a clear evolution culminating in home sapiens before our species migrated out of Africa. To quote Johanson:

     We modern humans are about as cosmopolitan a species as there is. We've established a presence on every continent of Earth, plumbed the ocean depths, and even ventured into space. We are, in fact, consummate explorers. But in stark contrast to us . . . early humans were homebodies. For most of the roughly 7 million years over which hominids have been evolving, they appear to have lived exclusively on the continent of their birthplace, Africa.5

     Despite controversy over exactly when humans migrated out of Africa—or whether there were several migrations—one thing is reasonably clear: we are all Africans; all humans today can be traced back to Africa and African ancestors. Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard paleontologist and essayist, saw the larger implications of the new DNA research and the confirmation of the "Out of Africa" theory: "It makes us realize that all human beings, despite differences in external appearance, are really members of a single entity that's had a very recent origin in one place. There is a kind of biological brotherhood that's much more profound than we ever realized." 6

     Nevertheless, misconceptions and stereotypes about race and ethnicity endure. The 2008 U.S. Presidential Election saw shocking examples of racist thinking in the United States, indicating that Gould's idea of a "brotherhood" of man is far from universally accepted. One campaign button read: "if Obama is President . . . will we still call it the White House?" At the "Values Voters Summit" two attendees were found selling boxes of "Obama Waffles" to the likes of Lou Dobbs of Fox News. Obama is depicted as Aunt Jemima. The back and sides of the box featured Obama in an Arab headdress and a Mexican sombrero. A local California GOP women's organization's newsletter claimed that if Obama was elected, his face would appear on food stamps, rather than dollar bills like other presidents. The group then included a picture of "Obama Bucks" — a phony $10 bill with Obama surrounded by racist imagery such as watermelon and fried chicken. A 2008 AP Survey found that one-third of white Democrats harbor negative views toward blacks — many calling them "lazy," "violent,'" responsible for their own troubles.7

     The more recent controversy over the "Ground Zero Mosque" has brought race and ethnicity to the fore again. Plans to build a mosque and Muslim institute five blocks from the planned site of the 9/11 monument in New York City triggered a storm of protest—ripe with racist outbursts. Tea Party spokesman Mark Williams called Allah the Muslim "monkey king" during a speech condemning the mosque. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that "building this structure on the edge of the battlefield created by radical Islamists . . . is a political statement of shocking arrogance and hypocrisy."8 This despite the intensions of the founders of the project, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, his wife, Daisy Khan, and Manhattan real-estate developer, Sharif El-Gamal. El-Gamal hoped to put forth "a new face of Islam, the voice that is not heard." Daisy Khan explained: "we want peace, and we want it where it matters most." Time writer Bobby Ghosh highlighted the irony of the controversy:

     The last legal hurdle to an Islamic center near the World Trade Center site has been removed, but bigotry and politics may prove formidable obstacles. New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission ruled that a building can be torn down to clear the way for Park 51, a cultural center and mosque. The project's critics range from those who believe Islam was the malevolent force that brought down the towers to opportunistic politicians. Ironically, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan, the project's main movers, are precisely the kind of Muslim leaders conservative commentators should welcome: modernists who condemn the death cult of al-Qaeda. Rauf is a Sufi, Islam's most mystical and accommodating branch, yet he finds himself accused of extremist leanings.9

     Clearly, hatred along ethnic and racial lines runs deep. How to bring public perceptions in line with scholarship on this subject remains an open question. Aware of this discrepancy, the American Anthropological Association issued a "Statement on Race" in May of 1998. One memo said: "as a result of public confusion about the meaning of 'race,' claims as to major biological differences among 'races' continue to be advanced. Stemming from past AAA actions designed to address public misconceptions on race and intelligence, the need was apparent for a clear AAA statement on the biology and politics of race that would be educational and informational." After outlining the genetic and anthropological evidence against the idea of biological racial differences, the letter concluded:

     How people have been accepted and treated within the context of a given society or culture has a direct impact on how they perform in that society. The "racial" worldview was invented to assign some groups to perpetual low status, while others were permitted access to privilege, power, and wealth. The tragedy in the United States has been that the policies and practices stemming from this worldview succeeded all too well in constructing unequal populations among Europeans, Native Americans, and peoples of African descent. Given what we know about the capacity of normal humans to achieve and function within any culture, we conclude that present-day inequalities between so-called "racial" groups are not consequences of their biological inheritance but products of historical and contemporary social, economic, educational, and political circumstances.10

     Unfortunately, stereotypes about blacks and broad generalizations about billions of people in the Islamic world have become commonplace. Clearly, much of what is taken as "fact" when it comes to human difference flies in the face of the evidence. This message needs to be widely disseminated: scholarship on this topics needs to be made accessible, so that our common humanity is underscored at every turn as a counterweight to the many deep-rooted misconceptions about race and ethnicity. Knowing that race and ethnicity is a social construct will hopefully go along way toward reducing the tensions that complicate this topic, allowing a focus on the social, political and cultural forces at work here (not misconception about "natural" or biological differences). Putting the biology of race debate aside, may allow for the kind of focus found in sociologist George Lipsitz's book The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics, which looks at the political and structural reasons race and "identity politics" continue to shape the political climate in the United States. Edward Said's work on the role of the media in perpetuating stereotypes about the Middle East points at another important aspect of the problem. This, too, could be given more attention once outmoded ideas about biology are abandoned. Moreover, stressing our common humanity will no doubt help people everywhere to refocus their energies upon the enormous global problems that face us all, rather than, what in a global context, appear as petty differences. We need to get this across to our students as a starting point.11

Music: Universal

     The American Museum of Natural History in New York has an interesting exhibit called "What Makes Us Human?" Part of that display is what some archeologists have identified as a flute created by Neanderthals 43,000 years ago. The nature of this artifact is in disputed—it could be a bone with teeth marks in it, many have claimed. However, archeologists Nicholas J. Conard, Maria Malina and Susanne C. Münzel unearthed a stone-age flute in 2008. As the New York Times reported, "at least 35,000 years ago, in the depths of the last ice age, the sound of music filled a cave in what is now southwestern Germany, the same place and time early Homo sapiens were also carving the oldest known examples of figurative art in the world." The debate over the origins of music is fascinating. Are our brains wired for music? Did music evolve along with language? One way or another, however, human societies as far back as archeologist can look have engaged in music making of some sort. According to Steven Mithen, Professor of Early Prehistory, music making may extend back 1.8 million years to the time of homo ergaster, the first humanoids to walk on two legs.12

     Moreover, music from around the world is similar at its core. As Ethnomusicologist Bruno Nettl explained "humanity has decide not only to make music but, despite the vast amount of variation among musics of the world, to make music in a particular set of ways, There is, in other words, some kind of a universal grammar or syntax of music," certain patterns that tend to emerge, certain combinations of notes that appear in most types of music around the world—from culture to culture. Not only have all humans engaged in music making of one sort or another, they have often borrowed musical ideas across cultures. Again, to quote Nettl: "Most human societies have, for millennia, been in some kind of direct and indirect contact with each other, and that there is a single world of music, rather like a single superfamily of language that has spawned variants" as a result.13

     Jazz provides an illustration. In many ways, jazz is the quintessential cultural amalgam. Starting as a combination of African rhythms, slave songs and European marches and chord structures, it has never stopped evolving. Jazz musicians have been borrowing and reshaping musical ideas, adapting ideas from European classical music, rock and roll, Brazilian, Afro-Cuban music, and popular music for decades. Major jazz figures have experimented and incorporated music from other cultures into jazz—Duke Ellington (Japanese, Indian, Middle East music), Dizzy Gillespie (Afro-Cuban), Dave Brubeck (Turkish and Japanese music), Miles Davis (Flamenco/Spanish music), Stan Getz (Brazilian bossa nova), and Art Blakey (African). Contemporary jazz musicians have continued this trend—Chic Corea (Flamenco), Monty Alexander (Jamaican), Dee Dee Bridgewater (West African).

     A closer look at Miles Davis's work "Sketches of Spain" (1960) better illustrates the rich connections between jazz and other cultures and the power of cultural borrowing. Davis's adventurous reworking of traditional Spanish music chords, melodic structures and tempos found on "Sketches Of Spain" was inspired by Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez," a work written in 1939 that borrows heavily from a deeper musical past, drawing upon a long tradition of flamenco guitar and Arab musical ideas as well.14

     Many traditional Spanish classics pay homage to the country's Arab past. The composer of "Lamento Andaluz" is unknown, the song, nevertheless, is a lament, longing for the glory days of Andalusia, when Spain under the Moors was a cultural powerhouse. Francisco Tarrega composed "Capricho Arabe" in 1880 as an acknowledgment of the Moorish influence on Spanish music. The music is rich with the syncopated rhythms and melodic ideas of traditional Spanish music from the south of Spain—areas under Muslim control for nearly 700 years (755–1492).

     This connection with the past is embodied in Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez." The composer's best-known work, it was inspired by the gardens at Palacio Real de Aranjuez, the spring resort (or palace) and gardens originally built by Philip II of Spain in the 16th century. Rodrigo hoped to capture "the fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds and the gushing of fountains" in the gardens of Aranjuez. The musical ideas in both Rodrigo's and Tarrega's work can be traced back even further, however—to a time when Cordoba was at its height, when Spain was a conduit between Europe and the vast learning and cultural sophistication of the Islamic world. The similarities in traditional Andalusian Spanish music and traditional Arab music are reminders of this historic process and the tremendous value of cultural exchange.

     Arab music makes extensive use of maqams—the long pauses that split up melodic lines into several melodic passages. The maqam technique certainly sounds like Davis' approach to improvisation—the long pauses that helped to make him so famous. But that's getting ahead of the story.

     Many of the ideas of Arab music (the patterns of notes, the syncopated rhythms) predate Islam. This earlier music focused on vocals by singer-servant women called qaynah. These women put traditional Arab poetry to music. But although Arab musical ideas were probably influenced by contact with countries like Persia, Egypt and Ethiopia, few records remain. The pre-Islamic tradition featured haunting melodic lines and sense of time. In the Hijaz style, also known as the early Arabian classical school (developed during the Abbasid Era, 750–1258), the musicians added more instruments during performances. The Hijaz School was followed by the Andalusian style of Arab music, which began in the early 800s and spread to Cordoba, Seville, Toledo, Valencia and Granada, where it clearly influenced flamenco and southern Spanish traditional music. The similarities in melodic patterns, rhythm and chords are unmistakable.

     The wistful, melancholy ambiance in both Arab and traditional Andalusian music lends itself to the kind of cool jazz of Miles Davis. In each case, be it Arab, Spanish or jazz music, borrowing across cultural lines has had rich results. Such borrowing serves as a reminder of our common connections, of our common humanity. "Sketches of Spain" continues to sell year after year, generating royalties for the Davis estate, as more listeners are attracted and exposed to this masterful example of cultural borrowing.

     The growing popularity of Mariza and fado music is another case in point. Tall, elegant, bleached-blonde hair tight to her head, olive-skin, draped in a flowing black gown, eyes closed, her voice is captivating. During her debut concert in London, one reporter wrote, "At the Queen Elizabeth Hall, during the second standing ovation, she and her band left the stage. The musicians sat in the aisles as she wandered the venue singing without a microphone. Even without amplification, her voice was breathtaking. At the sound check, in an empty venue, her voice was enough to make every band member smile. The jaws of the engineers dropped in unison15." A Sydney Morning Herald headline read: "A goddess celebrates the beauty of her voice and her music.16" She is the superstar of Portuguese fado music, selling over a million recordings worldwide. She was born Marisa dos Reis Nunes on December 16, 1973 in Lourenço Marques, Mozambique. At the time, Mozambique was known as the Portuguese Overseas Province of Mozambique. She is the child of a Portuguese father and a mother of partial black African heritage—her ancestry includes Portuguese, German, Spanish, French, African and Indian forebears. At age 3, her family moved to Portugal, and later to Brazil. Exposed to a variety of musical styles—Brazilian, gospel, jazz, and fado—it all comes across in her music with an intensity that is hard to describe. 17

     Mariza is part of a growing movement, "world music," a growing group of musicians helping to build bridges of cultural understanding around the world. A review of Mariza's 2008 CD Terra explains:

Mariza has been opening up the borders of fado, and her latest album incorporates further departures from—or more properly, additions to—the tradition. Its title, Terra, is a kind of pun: It suggests both the earthy, grounded traditional basis of her music and an expansive, global scope of inspiration and appeal. The album explores the ever-broadening range of Mariza's musical experience and enlists an international cast of musicians: Spanish producer Javier Limón, best known for his flamenco work with the likes of Paco de Lucía; notable Cuban jazz pianist Chucho Valdés; English guitarist and Sting-sideman Dominic Miller; Brazilian pianist Ivan Lins. The album includes traditional fado repertoire, but Mariza reflects her African heritage in a breathtaking duet with Cape Verdean singer Tito Paris. She also gives a sweet and surprisingly jazzy rendition of Charlie Chaplin's classic "Smile."18

     Fado itself demonstrates the connections between cultures as well. The term means "fate." Its exact origins are unknown. It may be of African origins. It is clearly linked to Brazilian music—one of the most vibrant music traditions in the world. A description of Maracatu, one of nearly seven major types of music from Brazil (not counting various regional variations and mixing of traditions that are common) makes the point. John P. Murphy explains in, Music in Brazil: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture:

     Maracatu is related to the African-derived traditions of Cambinda and Aruenda, and to the syncretic belief system known as Jurema Sagrada (Sacred Jurema), which combines Afro-Brazilian practices such as spirit possession, Amerindian spiritual practices, and popular Catholicism, a diverse set of religious traditions cultivated by believers without involvement of clergy. It also draws on the characters (such as Mateus and Catrina from the bumba-meu-boi) and poetry (such as the four-and-ten-line verse form) of the dramatic dances of the region, which are transformations of traditional practices from Portugal.19

     Capturing a sense of connection has been at the heart of Yo-Yo Ma's "Silk Road Project," an organization founded by Ma as a catalyst for promoting innovation and learning through cross-cultural and interdisciplinary partnerships. The project focuses on the vast history of cultural exchange between East and West along the Silk Road that stretched from China to Syria beginning over a thousand years ago. Ma's recent CD's, "Silk Road Journeys: When Strangers Meet" and "New Possibilities," the result of "Silk Road Chicago," the first city-wide year-long residency spearheaded by the Silk Road Project, certainly suggest a new, inclusive view of culture and the power of music to reach across many cultures. As Ma put it: "Every time I open a newspaper, I am reminded that we live in a world where we can no longer afford not to know our neighbors." The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra founded by the late Edward Said (a renown scholar of literature and the Middle East) and Israeli conductor and musician, Daniel Barenboim is another example. Said and Barenboim created "a workshop for young musicians from Israel and various countries of the Middle East with the aim of combining musical study and development with the sharing of knowledge and comprehension between people from cultures that traditionally have been rivals." The European Union Youth Orchestra, founded by South African Lionel Bryer in 1974, is another well know example of using music as a bridge to international dialogue.

Hang Together or Hang Separately

     While music is probably the most obvious example of cultural borrowing and our common humanity, other examples include commonalities involving myth and literature, language, art and mathematics. Writing over fifty years ago, Joseph Campbell made a similar point in The Hero With A Thousand Faces:

     There are of course differences between the numerous mythologies and religions of mankind, but this is a book about similarities; and once these are understood the differences will be found to be much less great than is popularly (and politically) supposed. My hope is that a comparative elucidation may contribute to the perhaps not-quite-desperate cause of those forces that are working in the present world for unification, not in the name of some ecclesiastical or political empire, but in the sense of human and mutual understanding. As we are told in the Vedas: " Truth is one, the sages speak of it by many names."20

     The headlines read: "German public urged not to panic following Ebola scare." On Thursday, 5 August 1999 The Irish public broadcasting service RTE carried the following story:

Health authorities in Germany have urged the public not to panic following the admission to hospital of a man suspected of having the highly infectious and incurable Ebola virus. The precise diagnosis was not known, although German newspapers splashed the story as the "Ebola Scare". Doctors at the Berlin isolation hospital played down the chances of a more widespread outbreak, whatever the disease turns out to be. The 39–year-old cameraman who had returned from the Ivory Coast at the weekend was in a worsening condition in a Berlin hospital. He is being treated in a hospital isolation unit by medical staff wearing airtight suits. Another man, a biologist who accompanied the cameraman, is also in hospital, but has so far shown no symptoms.21

     Ten years earlier test monkeys in a Washington D.C. lab died of Ebola. These incidents seem like scenes from the runaway bestseller The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story by Richard Preston. For anyone tempted to take the view that global problems "aren't my problems" or a "why should I care about poverty in Africa" outlook, Preston's book or The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Laurie Garrett are frightful reminders of the dangers that confront the world. Garrett makes a compelling case for the interdependence of our world, and how poverty and poor health in one region (particularly Africa, home to many of the most lethal diseases in the world) poses a threat to people everywhere, particularly in the age of jet-travel and a global exchange of people and commodities. Add to this the growing problems of a global nature—from global warming and terrorism and the spread of nuclear and biological weapons—and the need for international cooperation is clear.

     Granted, emphasizing our common humanity alone is not likely to bring about the kind of cooperation needed today. Singapore's Kishore Mahbubani has been a voice for cooperation and a realignment of global and international institutions as a step forward. As a tabla! July 24, 2009 story read:

     If there is someone in Singapore who can claim to be "Mr. International", it is Mr. Kishore Mahbubani. The dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy is Indian by race. He was born here but his parents migrated to Singapore from Sindh, which is now part of Pakistan, during the Partition. He grew up to become a diplomat and married an American of Irish origin. As years rolled by, he became Singapore's representative at the United Nations and even presided over the Security Council, dealing with nations having diverse interests.22

     The report Global Redesign Initiative: Singapore Hearing, Asia's Role in Global Governance by Kishore Mahbubani and Simon Chesterman offers concrete steps for improving international cooperation, for example:

The vast majority of Asian governments now understand that collective action does not erode, but instead protects sovereignty. The ability to manage internal problems increasingly requires engagement at the international level. Yet barriers remain to Asia playing a greater role on the world stage. Some of these are structural, such as the procedures for changing the allocation of seats on the United Nations Security Council or in the leadership of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.23

     Mahbubani, like the Dalai Lama, makes wise and prudent suggestions. However, envisioning a common humanity would seem the more fundamental step or a parallel step, part of a necessary on-going process. Before any action can be taken, the mind-set needs to change. A compelling, yet accessible, case must be made, stressing our common humanity. Such an approach may better help people everywhere realize, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, that if we do not hang together, we will hang separately. World Historians—with some reprioritizing and cross-pollination from a variety of other disciplines—are probably best equipped to highlight this inclusive view. It is clearly a pressing concern.

John Murnane is the Director of Academic Programs at Worcester Academy in Worcester, Massachusetts. Dr. Murnane also serves as an Instructor of History at Fitchburg State University and is an AP consultant and reader for the College Board in World History. He plays the saxophone and the clarinet. He can be contacted at


1 The Dalai Lama, Toward A True Kinship of Faiths: How the World's Religions Can Come Together (New York, 2010), ix.

2 Joel M. Charon, Ten Questions: A Sociological Perspective (Wordsworth, 2006), 156.

3 I have tried to outline a practical method of beginning this process in this journal, a method of dislodging stereotypes about other cultures. See John Murnane, "Reversing the Disneyfication Process: Using Disney Films to Debunk Stereotypes and Oversimplification In Middle and High School Social Science Courses," World History Connected, October 2007 <> visited 14 November, 2010.

4 James D. Watson: DNA: The Secret of Life (New York, 2006), 259. The UC Berkley lectures are on youtube. See Richard Lewontin, "The Concept of Race" < > visited 1, November, 2010.

5 Donald C. Johanson, Lucy's Legacy: The Quest for Human Origins (New York, 2009), 254.

6 Stephen Jay Gould quoted in, "The Search for Adam and Eve," Newsweek, January, 1988, 50.

7 For racist depictions of Barack Obama, see < > and <>

8 See "The Mosque at Ground Zero Abraham H. Foxman National Director of the Anti-Defamation League Posted: August 2, 2010 <> visited, 1 Oct, 2010

9 Bobby Ghosh, "The Moment," Time, August 16, 2010, 11. On the controversy more generally, see Newsweek, August 16, 2010 cover story "A Mosque at Ground Zero?"

10 <>visited, 1 Oct, 2010

11 George Lipsitz makes a compelling case for the political and structural forces that reinforce inequalities along racial and ethnic lines in his book The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics. Edward Said's work made the cultural (academia's and the media's role included) in the perpetuation of racial stereotypes known.

12 Steven Mithen, The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind ad Body (Cambridge, 2006).

13 Bruno Nettl, The Study of Ethnomusicology: Thirty-one Issues and Concepts (Chicago, 2005).

14 The information regarding Miles Davis and music here comes from John Murnane, "Towards an Inclusive Narrative: Jazz and the Power of Borrowing Across Cultures" visited, 1 October, 2010.

15 The Sunday Times, London March 2, 2003, Mariza interview with John McKie.

16 John Shand, "A goddess celebrates the beauty of her voice and her music" Sidney Herald, October 7, 2009.

17 The Sunday Times, London, September 14, 2008.

18 Nashville Scene

< > visited August 1, 2010.

19 John P. Murphy, Music in Brazil: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture (Oxford, 2006), 89.

20 Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, xiii. George Gheverghese Joseph's The Crest of the Peacock: Non-European Roots of Mathematics can be seen in this light, as Princeton Press notes on the back of the book, "from the Ishango Bone of central Africa and the Inca quipu of South America to the dawn of modern mathematics, The Crest of the Peacock makes it clear that human beings everywhere have been capable of advanced and innovative mathematical thinking."

21 <> visited August 1, 2010.

22 Tabla! July 24, 2009, 7.

23 Kishore Mahbubani and Simon Chesterman, Global Redesign Initiative: Singapore Hearing, Asia's Role in Global Governance, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Research Paper Series < >Visited 15 January, 2011.


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