We have all heard about plate tectonics, the theory that explains how the crust of the earth is divided into moving parts that crash causing earthquakes along its edges. What this theory says is that the earth is made of seven large plates and many small plates that move in different directions in three different ways: they converge, diverge, or transform (as they crash). While this may be purely a coincidence, it appears to me that human beings, in their evolution, have also developed cultural tectonic plates. If we divided the world in “cultural tectonic plates” meaning groups of people linked by language, religion, politics, history or what we define as culture, we would also have seven major cultural plates and some smaller ones. These seven plates would be:
-the Anglo Saxon Plate including US, Canada and Great Britain,
-the European Plate,
-the Chinese plate including both Koreas,
-the Indian plate,
-the Muslim plate,
-the African plate,
-the Latino plate
And in the smaller cultural plate category we should include the South East Asian Plate, Polynesia and Melanesia
The Japanese plate
The Russian and former Soviet republic plate
Just as plate tectonics cannot explain all earthquakes that happen around the globe (some take place in upstate NY!) but do explain most, cultural plate tectonics can´t explain all conflicts that exists around the world but can explain a majority.
We would probably need to move from blog attention span to print attention span to seriously elaborate on this theory but let me start with some examples of what I would call the “cultural faults.” The Rio Grande for example, is a fault. There may not be war at the Rio Grande but there´s conflict and frequent death. While the borders inside the Latino plate are generally easy to cross, the border between the Latino Plate and the Anglo Saxon plate is well guarded as tends to be all the borders between plates. The fault that links the Muslim plate with most other cultural plates are also areas of frequent tension. Turkey and Greece have traditionally been enemies; Russia is having many conflicts along its Muslim borders, with Chechnya being the best known nowadays; and so are the Israelis, the Indians and the Christian Lebanese. Even as far as the Phillipines there´s conflict along the South East Asian, Muslim fault. Presently Japan and its neighbors are at peace but relationships along the Chinese/Japanese fault have traditionally not been easy and there´s still frequent tension in the region. There´s also been consistent conflict in the India/China border, in the China/Russia border, in the US/Russia border, in the Japanese/Russia border, in the Europe/Russia border and even in the Africa/Europe border that happens along Africa and the Canary Islands, where there´s hundreds of deaths every year.
Now, this theory does not explain all conflicts. There have been wars inside Latin America; there has been the US Civil War and many other civil wars. There have also been many wars inside Europe for example. But conflict in my view is not only armed conflict in the sense of war. It is also economic inequalities that cause one side to use force to prevent the other side from trying to gain economic advantage as it´s the case between Europe and Africa. But even in geological terms, plate tectonics does not explain why there have been earthquakes in areas that are not in the faults – and there have been many. These theories just help us visualize and understand conflict. Now why would conflict arise at these “cultural faults?” I think the answer is simple. Traditionally people tend to team up with whoever is similar against those who are different. That has been the case in primitive tribal cultures as is the case today. But much more needs to be researched. Is India different because it used to be a floating chunk of the world that crashed into China? Unlikely, as this happened way before there were human beings. Still there is a correlation as that crash produced the highest mountains on the planet and in some way isolated the Indian people from contact with cultures north of them.
Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars