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Socialization in Ladakh

Sample Paper 2 by Jenny Parker - Fall 2012

[This paper does an excellent job including the concepts of social identity, globalization, and socialization, as well as integrating Ishmael.]

In weeks 3-6 in our course we have adjusted our focus towards society and culture. Culture "consists of the values the members of a group hold, the languages they speak, the symbols they revere, the norms they follow and the material goods they create" (Giddens, 54). The complex relationship between society and culture was illustrated by the novel Ishmael and the article on Ladakh which showed two societies which were each differently affected by the similar problem of conformity.

In traditional Ladakh culture, value was placed on knowing and practicing the old traditions. living in an isolated community, individuals took care of each other and themselves, a society based on survival and partnership and not of economy or status. With the almost overnight introduction of Western culture via media and foreign travelers, Ladakh culture was shattered and they were thrown, totally unprepared from their traditional and time tested pastoral/agrarian society into the world of industrial society. Globalization was not kind to the once content and self-sufficient Ladakh. The nationalistic beliefs of the traditional culture, especially in the young dissolved into discontent and self-consciousness. Values shifted dramatically to monetary values, the Ladakhan culture quickly put aside their old values and replaced them with Western values that held little significance or supportive purpose in their little world (Norberg-Hodge).

The agents of this dramatic socialization were a combination of media and tourist Western influences exaggerated and proliferated by the enthusiasm of the Ladakh youth and young adults. Interestingly, while the elder members of society once held the positions of greatest influence among the community, they were quickly brushed aside as "stale news" for the flash and flare of Western culture. Inexperienced youth latched onto the fictitious romance of the Western world and co-influenced each other within peer groups. The identity of this once noble culture deteriorated rapidly as individuals began to see themselves as poor, or disadvantaged as compared to their impressions of the West (Norberg-Hodge). The social identity also shifted as once respected trades people were suddenly seen as out of fashion and antique, useless in the modern industrialized convenience world.

It would seem that prior the influence of globalization on Ladakh, there was no sense of social grouping. When a local was asked about the poor people in his village, he said that there were none. People seemed to be reasonable equals with each other and content in their lives. Following the Western media bombardment, the people of Ladakh felt as though their little society was the out-group of the world. They felt contempt for their simple and isolated lives, their traditions and their humble if any educations (Norberg-Hodge). They held the West as the ideal "in-group" and put their loyalty and respect on the other side of the world.

The interesting thing to me is that, at least from my traveling experience, most Westerners going to the regions of India, Nepal and Tibet are very often the type of Westerns who are very disgruntled and disappointed with their society and are looking to escape it to a more peaceful, less materialistic nation. Ironically, and tragically, the very act of these idealistic Westerns traveling to their peaceful dream society such as Ladakh were likely in large part the cause of the destruction of the very traditional culture which they wished to experience. Globalization and the Western influence is almost limitless in its reach. Hiking in Nepal you cannot find a guide who doesn't speak English, or a town without other tourists in it. Every tea hut servers yak versions of Western dishes, yak burgers, yak pizza, yak pasta. You are never far from a Coke can or a Mars bar wrapper. The irony is that the local people one idolizes and envies on their travels, looks as you as a Westerner with the same envy and idolism.

Looking to the West now, and the ideas brought up in the novel Ishmael. In Ishmael, we centered on examining two cultures, the Leavers and the Takers. The Leavers represented a society that blended very well with the other animals of the world. The Leavers were a small scale, hunter/gatherer society which took and used only what they needed and represented the early human species. Conversely, the Takers represented our modern industrialized society which used the planet as the fuel from which to burn it's fire (Quinn). The Takers did tremendous damage to the planet and through off the balance of the ecosystems' "take a penny, leave a penny" honor system of mutual survival.

Due to the strength of the industrialized Takers, the comparatively primitive Leavers were all but left in the dust as their traditional resources were reduced and they were likely subject to globalization, such as we observed in the Ladakh society. When the human species was only 10 million people, 100% of the population was made up of hunter/gatherers (Giddens,72). As our population has increased, and also contributing to our increase, we have seen a dramatic reduction of traditional, more natural survival based societies. Currently with a global human population over 6 billion, less than 000.1% of human societies practice hunter/gathering (Giddens, 72).

The practices of the Industrial revolution has certainly contributed to the population explosion world-wide but has also more greatly negatively offset the balance between humans and nature. The gorilla teacher Ishmael challenged his student to recognize the egocentrism of the Takers. Blinded by their own social ideas and values, the Takers tossed aside the ancient and time tested traditions of the Leavers in favor of their new, perceived easier and thus better practices (Quinn).

Like the Ladakhans who were until recently a fully self-sustaining society, the Takers too are dancing a fine line between evolutionary success and failure. Taker culture is tried and true. Like other species it does not try to overpower the natural will of nature and because of that it is flexible to whatever nature throws at it, it can evolve and adapt like most all other animals do. Conversely, Takers have distanced themselves from their traditions and their instructs. Instead of being reliant on nature and their long standing traditions for survival, they have put all of their money on an artificial environment that they themselves have created (Quinn). The problem is that mother nature will always be present and will always hold the trump card when it comes to humans, regardless of the size of their industrial complexes. Taking the recent North American disaster of hurricane Sandy into account, East Coast Taker residents are at a loss for how to survive. Because we as a society have distanced ourselves so greatly from traditional knowledge, so basic as how to stay warm, how to treat unfiltered water, and how to eat with no supplied power, we as a species are becoming very weak indeed.

We take social pride in our hierarchy above such seemingly simple animals as city raccoons, rats and seagulls but who has the last laugh? With thousands of East Coasters in panic about not having access to electricity and running water, freezing at night and starving by day, it is without doubt that the simple raccoon, rats and seagulls are sleeping peacefully at night still with full bellies and in warm nests.

Giddens, Anthony, et. al. Introduction to Sociology. New York: W.W. Nortons & Co., 2009.
Norberg-Hodge, Helena. The Future of Progress: The Pressure to Modernize. Dartington, UK: Green Books, 1992.
Quinn, Daniel. Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit. New York: Bantam Books, 1992.