Ethnocentricity in today’s world

Ethnocentrism in today’s world

Burbank, California; December 8, 2001; Joan Marques, MBA, Doctoral Student.



Without doubt, we all are guilty of some kind of ethnocentrism at one time or another. And it’s understandable. If you’ve always learned to do things a certain way, you will accept that as to be the right way. It usually takes thorough exposure to other cultures before you realize that there is no single good way of living, and that the perceptions you had until then may not even be the most ideal ones!


From this point on, I could go different ways with this article: I could start a comment on outdated religious philosophies, or on the desire for cultural imperialism by some industrialized countries, or I could try to combine these issues in a melting pot that may not be received as positively by every reader. I will choose for the combination.


There is no way to defend the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. We all know that a counter-statement had to be made, to call a halt to the actions of the terrorists. Unquestionably, the U.S. government must have had solid proof of the corner from which these attacks were orchestrated before they decided where to counter attack. And no, there is no good word that comes to mind either when we see the way women are treated by the Taliban leaders, an apparent bunch of religious extremists sanctifying rules that have fortunately been outdated for centuries!


Yet, one can wonder why up till this day no one successfully stood up to change these rules. And why till this day even in the most modernized “western” countries, several religious groups exist that encourage feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, poverty, and distinction between the quality of human beings. We encounter these traits in all orthodox forms of various religions: Catholicism, Christianity, Moslem, you name it.


Another issue that can jumble up one’s mind is the fact that one group just assumes that their way of living and looking at life is the best, and every other one is despicable. The extremist leaders of the East try to eradicate the “Wild Wild West”, and the Western cohort tries to eliminate those “backward thinking” Easterners. The bottom line is, that each group just thinks that their perception is best and should be applied globally. Result: yet another war. Where it started? Probably at a point where one of the groups decided that there was need to interfere in another group’s “kitchen,” and choose sides in an internal argument that had been going on for ages.


Ethnocentrism. It may be the most powerful action-motivator in today’s global society. It seeps through in the idea of globalization, where mainly the culture of the “better developed” (another interesting word) countries will torpedo the ones from the “Lesser Developed Countries”—LDCs-- (see several International Marketing books to find out who these underdogs will be), in time “blending” it all together to one unified culture. No doubt that this culture will hardly resemble the ones from the LDCs…


So now that Kandahar has fallen and the Taliban has fled, what’s next? How fast will we be able to copy the Western way of living into the Eastern community? Please understand that my aversion to copying one culture into another has nothing to do with approving the current oppression of women in the East. Not in the least. But it can’t harm to realize that what is shown to us through media is not always the absolute and general truth. Having lived in an LDC myself, I have seen too many commercial photographers from “industrialized” countries shooting pictures of the most dilapidated houses in the worst slums, thereby conveniently ignoring the many beautiful, flourishing, respectable neighborhoods. Why? Because they needed to make a statement! The bad impressions of the small, leaking hovels demonstrated the point they wanted to make: “See how they suffer? They need us! We have to interfere!”


So I’ve learned not to blindly trust everything I see or hear. Perception is a very subjective phenomenon. It’s personal. It’s culture-bounded. It’s ethnocentric. It’s unjust to think that what we perceive as best for us is also best for others. We should allow them their dignity and their choice, just like they should allow us ours. It will be interesting to see what the near-future U.S. plans for the East will be. 


One last hint: never wonder why others don’t like you. Many Americans were astonished when the terrorist acts started. They could not understand why anyone would want to hurt innocent U.S. citizens. And it was indeed a very mean and heartless act from whomever the terror-initiators were to generalize the object of their hatred in this horrible way. But maybe it would also be wise at this point in time to consider that the way many “LDCs” look at an industrialized giant, such as the U.S., is often less positive. With empty eyes they see their best cadre leaving them to find a more comfortable future in the U.S., they see one U.S. product after another finding its way to their store-shelves, simply demolishing their local or regional attempts; they see U.S. Multi National Companies launching themselves in their countries (often in their best neighborhoods), and disrupting their established economical orders (salaries, labor-rules, production levels, etc); they see McDonalds, Burger Kings and KFCs opening on street corners at the expense of their local food-businesses and traditions; they experience the worst way of cultural imperialism on a daily basis. And there is no way to compete with their scarce resources. They also see U.S. intervention in their national decision-making processes, whether through official governmental channels, or by commercial influence. So guess how the more patriotic ones among them feel about the U.S.?


On a humoristic note: the amazement of the U.S. people on negative opinions about them may be ascribed to their total lack of interest in other societies. Call it a combination of ethnocentrism and the existence of the reverse spelling of one of the best selling brands of bottled water in the U.S.: “evian” (Isn’t it a funny coincidence that this is the leading brand of imported bottled water sold here?)