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Obstacles to Dialogue Today



1.  Cultures in Dialogue


            Today the great centers of wealth and power that derive from the production and control of information--Houston, Silicon Valley, the Ruhr, Lyon, Milan, Tokyo-Osaka, Shanghai, Taipei, Seoul, Mexico City, São Paulo--drain off the brain power of the outer zones--the scientists but also writers, architects, artists, and musicians.  The planet has also never before seen such immense migrations of poor peoples--so much of it forced or illegal.  These  people may bring only low-tech work skills, but they bring their cultural identity.  The great cultural capitals of proud nation states--Paris, London, New York, Sydney, Bangkok, Singapore--have become multiethnic and multicultural.

            But that has always been the case.  Mohendo-daro, Memphis and Thebes, Mahabalipuram, Angkor, Djenné Djeno in the Sahel, Teotihuac·n, Qosqo--all the centers of great cultures had been cosmopolitan cities, with markets full of foreign merchants but also with whole quarters of settled foreigners.  What we have come to know as distinctive and dominant civilizations--Egyptian, Persian, Chinese, Roman, and Mongolian--were the result of drawing toward themselves resources, artefacts, inventions, and concepts from the most diverse ethnic areas and cultures.  Anyone visiting Angkor Wat is struck to see altars on which Hindu deities dance around altars with seated Buddhas, friezes depicting everyday life so obviously carved by sculptors who had come from or gone to Borobudur, Chinese guard lions..

              "Different cultures within a region appear to be commenting on one another," anthropologist Shirley Lindenbaum wrote, "chamber music performances, with each group attuned to the sounds of their neighbors."  The understanding one culture has of others is a piecemeal affair; it is the appreciation of the utility or taste or beauty of things in neighboring or far-off cultures.  The appreciation is not necessarily that of the utility of something in the culture it came from, but the likely different utility it will have in the culture which adopts it.  Thus Brahminic priests and court rituals were imported into the court at Sukhothai and especially Ayutthaya in fifteenth century Siam without bringing in the caste system to that Buddhist kingdom.  Hindu priests and court rituals were imported into Bali in the fourteenth century, without bringing in reincarnation across species; a Balinese who dies will be reincarnated only in children of his own family.

            A culture is then an open-ended framework where ever more insights, inventions, and customs can be accommodated, to provide an ever richer environment for a people inhabiting a particular place.  A culture is comprehensive and comprehending--it supplies a people with a framework that gives meaning to fragments of experience and direction to lives.  It is also comprehensive and comprehending in that, in the measure that it is vibrant and expansive, it assimilates elements from surrounding cultures.  This kind of understanding is partial, fragmentary, and also creative: by assimilating foreign elements it endows them with new and different significance.

            And it is membership in a vibrant and expansive culture that produces in individuals the will to understand other cultures.  How eager to meet and hear travelers, merchants, and religious teachers were Kublai Khan, Jayavarnan VII, Chingiz Khan and Moctezoma!  And today it is the sense of being in a center of a vibrant and expansive culture themselves that motivates both scholars and ordinary travelers there to understand other cultures.

            Yet it is also true that the centers of wealth and power today generate racial and ethnic oppositions.  Often the poorer people in a society, and the poor people who come into a society, are viewed across racial and ethnic stereotypes.  But today dialogue between peoples is especially obstructed by racial and ethnic stereotypes that are created for political and military purposes, and that can be created overnight.  Sociologists have shown that in the United States before the second World War, Arabs were perceived as being good fighters and exotic desert lovers with harem girls.  Before World War II, there was little American political involvement in the Middle East.  The defense of Israel, and the struggle for control of the oil reserves changed all that.  Now Arabs are depicted as cruel, weak, and decadent.  A whole population that had no idea at all who or where the Hutus or Kosovars or Tamils are a week later have fixed images of them as people with whom dialogue is impossible.

            The production of such stereotypes is a much more important part of political and military initiatives than before.  For there has been an immense change in warfare in the past century: in the First World War, 90% of the killed and wounded were soldiers; in the Second World War, but 40%.  In the wars of the last decade, 90% of the killed and wounded are civilians.  In today's civil wars and guerrilla wars, the civilian population is in fact the principal strategic target.  But also when a superpower launches military initiatives in which in principle not one of its own soldiers are to be killed, then the civilian population is likewise the real target.  The smart military technology is not aimed at defeating the enemy troops but instead at destroying the civilian will to resist.  Thus the depicting of the entire civilian population of the target country as  fanatics one could not understand or dialogue with is an essential element of contemporary political and military offensives.



2.  Dialogue with the Past


            To go to another land is so often to go to another time.  It is almost impossible to go to Istanbul without encountering, on view of the great mosques the Ottomans built on the seven hills of Constantine's Nova Roma, the Ottoman Middle Ages.  Almost impossible to go to Peru without encountering the Tuantinsuyo of the Inca.  The Spanish mansions of Qosqo are second-stories built on the great mortarless walls of the Inca city.  It would be almost impossible to leave the urbanized coast to cross the Australian outback without encountering aboriginal Australia.

            Last summer, contemplating the skeleton of Lucy in the little anthropological museum of Addis Ababa, how moved I was to see our remotest ancestoróthat is, a member of the earliest generation of our species.  How everything that we find out about the ancestors of the present Homo sapiens sapiens moves and concerns us!

            Whenever we go to encounter a past civilization, we have the sense of encountering our past, our forefathers.  Even when we encounter a culture that did not precede ours, that instead our culture destroyed, and a people from which we are not descended--for example, when we encounter the Inca world, we feel we are returning to an earlier world from which our world has come, an earlier world that, however vagrantly, gave birth to our world.

            Thirty years ago this return to our common ancestors motivated a good deal of ordinary travel.  In the face of the thermonuclear arms race and policies concocted in think-tanks that turned out to be disastrous, people who went to Japan, to Bhutan, or to the Amazon were seeking places where layers of older civilizations still persisted, were seeking the "wisdom of the past."  They were seeking the way people lived and lived together.

            Today the very nature of the media sweeps away the past.  The instantaneous nature of television reporting holds our eyes gaping upon the immediate future.  Newspapers and magazines keep us breathless in the expectation of new inventions in cancer research, in mineral sciences, in energy production, in genetically altered food crops.  The marketing industry excites us for new comfort and safety in personal transportation, new facilities in home cooking and entertainment, new pleasures in furnishing and clothing.  As a result we have the sense that what mergers and contracts are being made, what inventions patented in Houston, Silicon Valley, the Ruhr, Lyon, Milan, Tokyo-Osaka, Shanghai, Taipei, Seoul, Mexico City, and São Paulo are important, will determine our lives.  Societies that are still clinging to the allegedly discredited socialism or welfare state or that are not speeding up the allegedly needed market reforms are dismissed with impatience.

            More than that: new advances in communications, and also genetic engineering and cloning have made us think that human relations will soon be radically different from all that they have been until now.  As a result every society where layers of past civilization persist seems "backward" and gets discredited.

            There is another factor: it is that our immediate past forms a black wall that cuts us off from our forefathers and our ancestors.  The immediate past of rich countries is the two wars in which they embroiled the whole world.  And since then so many lands where layers of older civilizations persisted slaughtered their populations in the same way.  So many millions of people gassed, incinerated, buried in mass graves, disappeared.  There are today so many of us who have no idea where or how our parents were disappeared.  And so many of us no longer communicate with our fathers and forefathers, we no longer hear what they learned.



3.  The Assertion of Distinctiveness


            A culture, we said, is an open-ended framework where ever more insights, inventions, and customs can be accommodated, to provide the richest possible environment for a people inhabiting a particular place.  And a culture has a desire to be understood by others.  But a culture is also the means whereby a people in a particular place asserts their singularity.  On the island called New Guinea, in a population of a million and a half Papuans, some seven hundred languages were elaborated, and the most diverse practices--in initiation rituals, in spouse exchange among moities, and in ritualized homosexuality.  Among them, all Papuans, all living in very similar ecological situations and using very similar tools, there is the most astonishing diversity of cultures and languages.  Peoples living in close proximity institutionalized opposing notions of what constitutes legitimate marriage and what constitutes incest--conceptions which today Westerners think of as defining what is natural and moral and what therefore must be valid universally.  Every culture has to be seen as a formulation of the identity of a people, a statement of their distinctiveness.

            Javanese dance, Mongolian throat singing, the griot singing of West Africa, the male initiation rites of the Asmat in Irian Jaya--these belong only to that people.  Japanese often say that the Japanese language communicates through allusions and silences in ways that no other language does, such that one who does not know the Japanese language cannot really understand many of the ways Japanese interact and many of the forms of Japanese art.  An occasional foreigner can learn Japanese Sumo wrestling or Spanish flamenco or Sumba island double ikat weaving, but it would take so long and involve such a total immersion in the training and culture that very few ever will.

            We can revel in the spectacle of human diversity, the spectacle of people quite differently placed than ourselves, encased in different material conditions, driven by different ambitions, possessed of different notions as to what life is all about.  We can be energized and exhilarated by the unending array of human possibilities--even if we are not tempted to adopt any particular one of them for ourselves.  We may well deplore the leveling of differences in the everyday life of peoples that is being produced by the global marketing of mass produced consumer goods.

            But some of these traits a culture produces to marks its singularity and distinctiveness we may well find morally objectionable or repugnant.  A culture may in fact do things in order to be not understood by others and by us.  A society can affirm its distinctiveness against its neighbors.  It may banish foreigners and burn foreign books and artworks.  In Sri Lanka Sinhalese security forces burnt the Jaffna public library; Serbian gunners shelled and destroyed the National Library in Sarajevo.  A society can affirm its distinctiveness against the rest of humanity--indeed, against humanity.  A society asserts its distinctiveness in rejecting the UN charter of human rights, or dialogue with any other society.  A society may even assert its opposition to the whole of the rest of humanity.  W

as there not something of that in the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan?  Those fifteen-hundred-year-old works were esteemed by everyone who knew about them to be part of our common world heritage.  To destroy them was  something the rest of humanity could not understand, could not accept.

            Religion is one of the characteristic ways by which a culture, indeed a civilization, affirms its distinctiveness.  We seem particularly unable to deal with, or even understand the fact that today when conflicts become genocidal, they so often take the form of religious wars.  Catholics, Orthodox, and Muslims in the Balkans.  Protestants and Catholics in northern Ireland.  Hindus and Buddhists in Sri Lanka.  Muslims and Jews in Israel and Palestine.  Muslims and Christians-animists in the Sudan.  Christians and Muslims in the Celebes.  We can see that when a people make their conflict with another people, a conflict which is perhaps territorial or economic, into a religious cause, they readily find material and military support from co-religionists in distant lands.  But beyond that: could it be that religion is about the only form of thought that can induce peoples who had perhaps for centuries lived together in cities and towns to now rise up and butcher their neighbors and set fire to their homes?  That religions can absolutize economic and ethnic conflicts and make them genocidal?

            When a people find themselves confronted with a culture which affirms its distinctiveness by setting out to destroy the fundamental values of their culture, understanding cannot issue in an all-encompassing view in which each culture has its place and its legitimacy.  Then must we say that the only way to recognize the distinctiveness of the culture that negates us, the only way to respect it, is to wage war on it?  Anything less than that is not to recognize what it is the other culture affirms.  Only force recognizes an action set forth in order to be not understood.

            But to wage war effectively it is necessary to know one's enemy, that is, to understand him.  War against a culture that sets itself outside of, or above, the rest of humanity also requires understanding of that culture, and thus dialogue with it.  Such dialogue always harbors the hope that the other party may begin to understand us.    

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Alibaba founder Jack Ma unveils ambitious plan

Mission: 100 million new jobs

By Dana McCauley

He already runs the world's biggest online shopping company, but Alibaba founder Jack Ma is not satisfied.

The Chinese billionaire has unveiled an even more ambitious plan to expand the company's reach across the globe, creating 100 million new jobs and transforming the global economy to create a more equitable world.

It may sound pie-in-the-sky, but the goal forms part of mission statement of the US$261 billion company's visionary executive chairman.

In a letter to shareholders, Ma outlined Alibaba's achievements of the past financial year - including a gross merchandise turnover of more than $195 billion (1 trillion RMB), an "unprecedented" figure - before looking to the future.

"We have more than 430 million annual active buyers, which means one out of every three individuals in China has made a purchase on our retail marketplaces," Ma wrote.

But, he said, while proud of Alibaba's online shopping achievements, "we want to do far more", saying that the benefits of globalisation had not been spread evenly, but that "digital disruption will bring us closer to a level playing field for young people and small businesses".

"We are not merely trying to shift buy/sell transactions from offline to online, nor are we changing conventional digital marketing models to squeeze out a little additional profit," he wrote.

"We are working to create the fundamental digital and physical infrastructure for the future of commerce, which includes marketplaces, payments, logistics, cloud computing, big data and a host of other fields."

The Alibaba group of companies, founded in 1999, accounts for 60 per cent of all Chinese online sales, and this year overtook Walmart as the world's largest retailer.


It has made Ma the second richest man in Asia, with a net worth of US$28.5 billion.


It's through cloud computing that Alibaba aims to expand its reach, and the company has been investing in the technology as part of a strategy that sees shoppers' data as the contemporary equivalent of mineral riches.

"Over the next 30 years, with computing power as the new 'technology breakthrough' and data as the new 'natural resource,' the landscape of retail, financial services, manufacturing and entertainment will be transformed," Ma wrote, forecasting a decades-long period of transformation.

"The internet revolution is a historical inflection point, much like when electricity was introduced, and it may have an even greater impact," he predicted.

Alibaba's mission, he said, was to "empower merchants with the ability to transform and upgrade their businesses for the future" and "help companies all over the world to grow".

"We believe, the commerce infrastructure we have created in China - marketplaces, payments, logistics, cloud computing and big data, all working in concert - can be applied on a global scale to lift up small and medium businesses and ordinary consumers around the world."

Eight years after launching, Alibaba Cloud hosts 35 per cent of Chinese websites, while delivering cloud computing and big data services.


Ma said Alibaba was constantly adapting to the changing e-commerce environment, as staying at the forefront of innovation was key to its continued success.

"In the coming years, we anticipate the birth of a re-imagined retail industry driven by the integration of online, offline, logistics and data across a single value chain," he said.

"With e-commerce itself rapidly becoming a "traditional business," pure e-commerce players will soon face tremendous challenges."

A shift to mobile revenue was one such change, he said, with mobile climbing from a single-digit percentage to three-years of total revenue from Alibaba's Chinese retail marketplaces, in the space of two years.

"This is why we are adapting, and it's why we strive to play a major role in the advancement of this new economic environment," Ma said.

Innovations like Alibaba's Qianniu app, which helps online businesses to improve sales and marketing while enhancing efficiency, were an example of the type of projects the company aimed to focus on.

"In 20 years, we hope to serve two billion consumers around the world, empower 10 million profitable businesses and create 100 million jobs," Ma said, adding: "This will be an even more difficult journey than the one behind us."


LISTEN : Newstalk ZB Political Editor Barry Soper speaks to Andrew Dickens on KPMG Early Edition

Mr Ma - who's worth around $50 billion - met with John Key in Beijing late yesterday. He made his money through founding the online commerce platform Ali Baba.

Standing alongside the Prime Minister, he heaped praise on the country, which he says is loved by many Chinese.

"At least 20 of my colleagues retired from Ali Baba. They're all very young, in their 40s, they all go to New Zealand."

"I asked what they do apart from the golf and green things and they say it's the people there."

It wasn't all social, with the Chinese billionaire also talking business.

Jack Ma told the entrepreneurs luncheon Kiwi businesspeople find it difficult to access the Chinese market.

Mr Ma said he wants to make that easier with his multi-platform organisation.

"We have Ali Baba University. We would either have courses in New Zealand or invite the entrepreneurs in New Zealand to stay in China for two weeks for training."

"The second is that we're going to open an Ali Baba business embassy next year in New Zealand."

John Key is in China meeting business and political leaders.



Innovation "Made in China" - The Case of Alibaba and the role of Net-based Small Business

Innovation is a key driver for economic development and social progress and small business is one of the best ways for people to express their willingness and capability to innovate.  Pervasive business ownership has, therefore, been the foundation in many societies for the continued improvement of people’s economic wellbeing. In the People’ Republic of China, however, private business ownership was prohibited between 1957 and 1978. Productive innovations were extremely restricted and as a consequence, China’s economy was on the verge of collapse by the end of 1978. The Chinese people had suffered a historic setback.

Alibaba’s growth, driven by unleashing grassroots entrepreneurship, has become an exemplar of China’s innovation in the 21st century.  Started by 18 young people in 1999, Alibaba has grown into a giant global internet platform and has made many invaluable contributions to China’s progress. Highlighting the importance of pervasive small business ownership in unleashing grassroots innovation and improving economic wellbeing, Professor Lowrey will discuss Alibaba’s innovative strategies and explain the economic theory behind its inspiring success.




Dr. Ying Lowrey is Professor of Economics at Tsinghua University and Deputy Director of the Tsinghua Research Center for Chinese Entrepreneurs, and a member of the Academic Committee for Alibaba Group Research Institute. Her teaching and research interests include economics of innovation and entrepreneurship in the internet and platform economy, the modern microfinance market, business demographics, characteristics of business owners, and the role of free enterprise and competition in the macroeconomy. 

She received her economics Ph.D. from Duke University, economics MA from Yale University and mathematics BS from Wuhan University. Before joining Tsinghua University in 2012, she served as senior economist at the Office of Advocacy, U.S. Small Business Administration and has taught economics at George Washington University and San Diego State University.


Selected publications 




Founder of Ali Baba commits his work for Chinese on internet to generate 100 million microentrepren…chris macraeNov 23, 200950 views

Founder of Ali Baba commits his work for Chinese on internet to generate 100 million microentrepreneur jobs in 2010s - who else would you vote at the centre of 100 million job creation leagues?
=====================update sumer 2016:
unlike oiher years spent with bangaldeshi inspired youth, i spent 2015-2016 mainly with a class of chinese female students - what brilliant minds and tirelss sources of human energy - i hope this summary of why the whole world can celebrate what jack ma is doing is near to the mark - but as always look forward to editing any errors which are mine alone
chris.macrae@yahoo.co.uk washington dc text 240 316 8157
was english language tutoring

In 1995 he was sent to the usa on an exchange mission and encountered the worldwideweb - then unknown in China. He determined the www would be the biggest job creating innovation of his (or his generations) life and hopefully of every Chinese entrepreneur he could valuably link into.

Over the next 15 years his wizard coding teams went from something that was little more than an electronic yellow pages for small businesses to conceiving sustainability generation's 2 greatest retailing platforms china or the world may ever have seen..

the taobao platform is the most valuable job creating concept retailers have ever mediated because it reverses the western trend of globalisiation of retailers, bankers and big corporations squeezing out local and small enterprises from having a market; how taobao did that is an extraordinarily detailed story but note how Ma was concerned to ensure even the most cut-off of Chinese villagers could start up on tao bao (rural ecommerce is one of the innovations that Ma has led the www purpose to linkin)

His other mall was pitched at the more usual high cost fashions of big global merchandisers. Because of complex property laws in chinese cities, most expensive retailers are not much of a joy to shop in. So ali baba created a lifestyle -eg celebrate singles day 11/11 shopping virtually rather than the physically exhausting interaction in The West's biggest shopping days of the year)

SO 365/24/7 consumers of ali baba can choose who they value developing most with their purchasing power as well as searching merchandise with global image or local cultural joy

Alibaba has become china's and probably the word's largest retailing channel. It does this with next to no merchandise but brilliant coding so that every store front on its platforms delivers with equal reliability. Hunting out exactly how Ma forms partnerships so that big data analysis benefits the smallest enterprises and most local consumers ought to be a job of whomever is sustainability goals greatest economist.

Intriguingly to ensure he could compete with the chinese internet companies that raced to co-create the www that Ma had opened space for in china, Ma IPO'd Alibaba through a process 2010-2015 while developing his secret sustainability weapon under private ownership. AlIpay is china's number 1 financial inclusion delivery system and maybe global youth most humanly productive coding achievement to date.

Comparing china's top 10 internet properties with the west's is very interesting. Are the consuming behaviours on ali baba more sustainable than those on amazon or ebay or paypal? Are the learnng behaviours on baidu more sustaining of youth than on google or coursera or microsoft's linkedin. Time will tell but note how speaking english, chinese and coding (as well as mother tongue) are probably what educators anywhere on planet earth should NOW be most valuing their global youth's future freedom to thrive entrepreneurially around.

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