The tendency to gloss over or ignore cultural differences gives rise to inadequate national and international policies for social and economic development. Ignorance of these differences may result from fear of political division, but unless domination is complete it is also likely to set up dissent, and ethnic and racial conflict. In its mildest form, programmes for educational, agricultural, industrial and other development may simply be less effective and more expensive.
Cultural differences have ethnic, linguistic, racial and religious origins, and may co-exist with differences in social and political structure and in land tenure. All these considerations have particular bearing on the different requirements of development programmes applied to specific areas and communities.
People of different civilizations have different views on the relations between God and man, citizen and state, parent and child, husband and wife, as well as different views of rights and responsibilities, liberty and authority, equality and hierarchy. These differences are the product of centuries and will not soon disappear. On the contrary they will overwhelm the intellect of individuals and will direct contemporary and social forces.
The problem exists in industrialized countries as much as in developing countries, but it is probably more marked in the latter if only because of the preponderance of international aid. When international aid is given, it may follow national policy closely, but may also be based on considerations of ideological conflict between donor countries, on national policy models of the donor country, and generalized abstract study of conditions in the receiver country in relation to its own conditions.
People uprooted by the Volta River Project were resettled by planning authorities who were insensitive to their cultural traditions. Villages were split up and thousands of people from different ethnic backgrounds – speaking different languages, worshipping different gods and following different social customs were resettled together. The result was land disputes and outbreaks of violence.
Culture blindness manifests in the failure to understand that the systems of meaning within which people function may differ radically and that no single one of them is manifestly unique, self-justifying, universal and self-evident. No truths can in this sense be declared to be self-evident, since self-evidence is a shadow of culture and cultures vary.