Two worlds face to face
The crisis of our times is a crisis of cultures as well as of economics and politics. "What happens to the values of art, science, literature, philosophy and religion, affects and is affected by what happens to the material conditions of life and the international relations of nations.
No one today would any longer want to entertain the notion of a culture confined to a particular section of mankind or to a single nation with the civilizations beyond dismissed as mere superstitions or anachronisms. The problem of international understanding today is a problem of the relations between cultures, for from such cultures a new community of mutual respect will finally emerge.
Unesco itself is a sign and acknowledgment of the important use to which the instruments of education, science and culture can be put in advancing peace and the welfare of man. Since its foundation, unesco has concerned itself with the multitudinous problems raised both by the legitimate diversity of cultures and by the necessity for mutual relations between them. In fact the need for better understanding and mutual appreciation between different peoples of one another's cultures was recognized by the founders of unesco, and its encouragement placed by them among the major objectives of the Organization.
In 1949, unesco initiated a series of studies and enquiries on the state of indigenous cultures of the various peoples of the world and on the relations existing between these cultures. It published two thought-provoking volumes on Humanism and Education in East and West, and on the Interrelations of Cultures. In 1954 it sponsored two international forums in Europe and South America on the contributions of the New World and Europe to cultural life.
Today the vast problem of the cultural relations between peoples is receiving increasing attention both by unesco, as an international agency, and its member nations. Of three major projects which the next session of unesco's General Conference will be called upon to approve in New Delhi in November, one is "the promotion of mutual appreciation of Eastern and Western cultural values."
It is clear that many nations of the East believe that the world as a whole can benefit from a greater appreciation of the elements of their cultures. Also clear is the fact that this belief is readily accepted by Western nations, in varying degrees. But because the engines of cultural diffusion are forcing the flow largely from West to East, chiefly in the form of scientific and technological knowledge and ideas, two harmful effects are produced. The more obvious is that the East is not presented with sufficient fullness to the West in any form whatever. Less obvious but equally important is the fact that Asian and other nations get a seriously distorted idea of the total Western culture. These fragmentary, or distorted notions either create or add to many contemporary problems.
In its March 1956 issue, the unesco courier discussed one aspect of this problem under the title "Are our children learning history with a slant?" (U.S. edition May 1956). A portion of the present number is devoted to a unique example of artistic co-operation combining Eastern inspiration and Western craftsmanship.