Cowen's books In Praise of Commercial Culture and Creative Destruction are must-reads for anyone interested in the contemporary cultural scene. For a preview of his talk tonight, check out Reason's interview with him from our August/September 2003 issue. A snippet:
The day of very small cultures–of groups of 10,000 or 20,000 people that have their own language and formerly had little contact with "civilization"–is coming to an end. I'm thinking of groups such as the Pygmies and certain indigenous groups in Mexico. The end won't come tomorrow, or in 10 years, but groups like that are finding it harder to maintain their isolation. Instead, we have very creative regions or polities, but they tend to be like India, Brazil, or the United States: They're large and complex and varied, but no single part of it lives much in isolation. That is not a less creative outcome. In many ways, it's more creative, and the isolated people now have access to the treasures of the world.
As the world becomes more integrated, we lose a lot of dysentery and diarrhea and malaria and women dying in childbirth who don't have to. There's a whole list of benefits that we're all familiar with, and those to me are most important. But in terms of culture, there is a loss. For instance, it's absolutely true that a lot of languages are dying. There's a gain because you bring people into a broader language network where they can write for others and they can read things by others. I don't have a problem with that trade-off, but I don't want to deny that something is lost. These vanishing languages are rich, and they're interesting. There's a net gain, but you can't just paint a picture of an advance along all fronts. It's not the reality.
Whole thing here.