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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Processes Too Complicated to Explain

  • Author(s): Coon, Carleton
  • et al.

Our government's interventions in foreign societies are plagued by unintended consequences, whether we are aiming for strategic advantage, conflict resolution, or economic development. Such consequences range from the trivial to the catastrophic; they can be significant enough to defeat the original purposes of the intervention. Since we cannot usually see them coming, our ability to cope with them is limited largely to damage control.

The problem is global. The noise level caused by cross-cultural confusion is rising rapidly almost everywhere, as technology and crowding force formerly isolated cultures into increasingly close proximity. It may be time to establish a new category of scientific inquiry specifically for this problem. This newly identified discipline could provide a focus for current efforts by anthropologists, historians, behavioral psychologists, evolutionists, and others, including diplomats and aid  bureaucracies (both public and private), to cooperate in constructing a conceptual framework that would help us understand how cultures respond when they impinge on each other, and help us foresee the consequences.

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