EXTRACT FROM ESSAY (2001):THE TRANSMISSION OF CULTURE:
” As Claude Levi Strauss has written — for a culture ‘isolation is the fatal flaw’.A society located in the Highlands of New Guinea and a society on the shores of the Mediterranean will inevitably develop differently because of the inabilty to receive ideas in the one case and the proximity to ideas in the other.An isolated society may adapt marvellously to its environment as in the case of the Australian Aborigine but there is no stimulus for innovation to transform it.
In the following extended quotation, Ruth Benedict graphically explains western civilization’s dependence on foreign ideas:
“Western civilization itself is based on inventions borrowed from every part of the world… the alphabet was invented by semitic people in areas north of the Red Sea and carried by Phoenecians to Greece and Rome. Over centuries it spread throughout Europe and into India. Paper and gunpoweder too are old inventions made in China. The true arch, with its keystone, was a great architectural invention made in Babylonia 30 cnturies before Christ; but ancient Greek architecture is not based on it.The great monuments and temples of Peru and Central America were built without any knowledge of it.Gradually,however, the Babylonian invention was adopted in ancient Etruria and in Rome and became basic in Gothic Cathedrals.Mofified into a ome, it is used in modern public buildings … coffee was brought into cultivation by South American Indians, and Bolivian Indians cultivated 240 varieties… bananas come from Central America … and Polynesian peoples had carrried themselves over immense areas of the Pacific ocean before European navigators made their voyages of discovery.”