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CultureNeutral® Key Number 2 – Conflict


If diversity of thought and opinion exists anywhere, it is around the matters of what comprise culture and the role of culture in shaping our future.  We won’t wrestle with prognostication here. Consideration of past and present is sufficient for the moment.

Though neutrality has applications in peacetime, the origins and primary operational context of neutrality lies in conflict. Without that backdrop, it cannot be well understood or extended to a culture construct, or to culture-based conflict.

In the context of social strata, researchers like Hofstede, Hofstede & Minkov recognize the inherent power in the force of the cultural affinities around which people cohere, but acknowledge an accompanying consequential strain on cultural coexistence, as well. “Among groups there is a connection of inventions but separation of loyalties,” a concise reference to a global system of cultures in which conflict is inherent and inescapable.

Hofstede, Hofstede & Minkov shy away from a full frontal approach to culture “conflict,” devoting a chapter in their popular book, “Culture and Organizations, Software of the Mind,” to what they instead term “Intercultural Encounters.”  (Cultures and Organizations, 2010 McGraw Hill) They devote a fair amount of ink to the concept of cultural evolution before arriving at a challenging conclusion.

Focused on diversity within national borders, they conclude, “Research about the development of cultural values has shown repeatedly that there is little evidence of international convergence over time, except an increase of individualism for countries having become wealthier.” They follow the “rich-poor” culture driver with this: “Since technology is continually lowering the costs of collaboration and increasing those of conflict, there is selective pressure toward peaceful coexistence of moral circles.”

Hofstede, Hofstede & Minkov’s ideal of a linear culture evolutionary process is reflected in what might constitute a cultural fiat and a cultural conundrum at the same time. “We have no choice but to pursue the direction of expansion of the moral circle to all people in the world…but they have to learn to coexist without wanting others to become just like them.”  Whose morals and whose circle must be expanded to all people? They do not say. Nor do they say how to accomplish that without asking others “to become just like them” with respect to moralities.

Some twenty years earlier, however, Samuel P. Huntington, then Director of the Olin Institute of Strategic Studies at Harvard, referred to as “one of the most important social scientists of the second half of the twentieth century,” was working toward precisely the opposite conclusion. His prescient view of culture conflict in the context of political science led him to a different conclusion about convergence, as presented in his lead article, “The Clash of Civilizations?” (Summer 1993 Issue of Foreign Affairs)

Huntington didn’t wonder at all whether there was a culture convergence. Instead, through the lens of world politics, he discerned that groupings of nations, blocs, were no longer the most appropriate measure of culture convergence.

Huntington’s “map of the new world” pivoted on what he termed “the civilization paradigm” in which cultures were converging on a transnational basis to form global communities, groups of cultures transcending national borders. Huntington’s premise: eight primary world civilizations, each made up of many subcultures, were to become the basis for conflict in the 21st Century rather than the 20th Century model comprised of national blocs.  “Simple two-way divisions of countries into rich and poor or democratic and nondemocratic may help some but not all that much.” He posits, “Civilizations are the natural successors to the three worlds of the Cold War.” (Free World, Communist Bloc, Third World)

Jonas Gahr Støre is the Norwegian Foreign Minister, charged with working for Norway’s interests internationally. Speaking before a Ted Talks audience in November, 2011, the Foreign Minister discussed extensively the importance of dealing diplomatically with groups in addition to the traditional diplomacy between national entities. Does this lend credence to the advent of Huntington’s 21st Century civilization paradigm?

By his own admission, the civilization paradigm could not account for every event at that time.  In retrospect, since the end of the Cold War, it can and does account for no insignificant portion of the global turmoil leading up to and following September 11, 2001. Encompassing swaths of cultures within and across national borders and continents, the nature of global conflict can no longer be meaningfully overlaid with the more rigid and predictable system of hard national borders. The clash of cultures and subcultures aggregated into Huntington’s construct of civilizations cannot be dismissed as whimsy.

Humans have not existed without culture or conflict, with the possible exception of the brief honeymoon of Adam and Eve.  The team of Hofstede, Hofstede & Minkov would unequivocally agree with Huntington that where there are cultures, there has been and will be increasing conflict, whether we assign to it the euphemism “encounters” or any other for achieving the safety of emotional and psychological distance from the harsh reality of it.

Embrace this:  Conflict, it seems, may likewise be organic [1] and not cultural, as a fundamental side effect of the existence of multiple cultures. In association with the presence of culture, it is what anthropologist Julian Steward [2] referred to as “universal.” Ways of embracing and constructively addressing the idea of the given of universal culture-based conflict for the time being is central to the CultureNeutral® framework.

In large measure, this is the reason Diversity Programs have a fundamental challenge. They are designed to gloss over the aspect of conflict rather than accepting it as its fundamental form.  For the most part, no organization takes on a “Diversity Program” unless something is purported to be wrong in the first place.  It becomes an advocacy initiative, pleading a cause, promoting what had been seen as either a questionable need or a previously rejected premise. Consultants can be as tactful as they wish, as consummately professional as they wish. It won’t matter. In the end, Diversity programs are non-neutral forays into occupied economic territory, seeking to redistribute wealth in the form of jobs and contracts.  Many tiptoe through that, but there’s no way to get around that.

CONTINUE to CultureNeutral® Key Number 3 – Sovereignty

View or review all the CultureNeutral® Keys:

Key #1 Culture
Key #2 Conflict (Top of Page)
Key #3 Sovereignty
Key #4 Citizenship
Key #5 Neutrality


Copyright (C) Robert D. Jones – All Rights Reserved

[1] See: Genesis 11:5-9 for a recognition of the causal relationship between cultural/language differences and deterioration in cohesion.

[2] Steward, Julian H., “Theory of Culture Change, the methodology of multilinear evolution”, (1990) University of Illinois Press

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