Culture has a salient geopolitical relevance in a world that defines itself by much more than diplomatic exchanges and inter-state relations. This is primarily because of the deeply visceral and emotional connotations associated with identity issues. This has been the case throughout history, as exchanges have taken place between people of different cultures for millennia, but today they are marked by unprecedented intensity and scope of relations. This offers great opportunities on a number of levels but also has the potential to initiate tension or conflict when combined with injustice, inequalities and insecurities.
Cultures are cognitive structures that shape how people view themselves, relate to the world and to each other. As I have explained in my theory “emotional amoral egoism”, human beings are motivated above all else by emotional self-interest. This includes ego, which entails negotiating between inner needs and social context and which requires a sense of belonging and a positive identity. Identity performs its functions by drawing boundaries. If the social context precludes a stable and positive group identity– for instance, because of being negatively defined by others – people are more likely to generate a resistance identity, with boundaries that appear impermeable and safe, or by engaging in identity construction that can lead to xenophobia, rigid ethnocentrism, or forms of ideological radicalism. Because of the emotional nature of identity issues, identity construction has to be authentic to each group itself and will be rejected if defined by others.
Having a positive group identity and self-identity does not have to imply denigrating difference, even if one’s own group is ultimately preferred. I would even argue that cultural and ethnic diversity can be thought of as benefiting humanity’s future, survival, strength and excellence. It promotes what I call cultural vigor similar to the way in which molecular and genetic diversity promotes “hybrid vigor” in nature and thus strength, resilience and a higher potential for a problem-free future. However, in order to yield such productive results, cultures and sub-cultures need to evolve in a non-exclusive manner in a context of transcultural security.