Chapter 20 – The Dialectics of Dichotomy

Having seen that the East-West dichotomy is omnipresent in history, philosophy, demographics, religion, culture, ideology, even sexuality, let us now, in looking at the dialectics of dicho- tomy, expand its scope to more exotic fields such as physiology, geopolitics, and cognition:

1) Cerebral Determinism

This notion is linked to human physiology.

We observe, in most cultures, the grammatical division of nouns into masculine and feminine, and in all cultures, the semantic division of names and objects into male and female. It means that gender is an innate sense people have of themselves and others, including animals and objects. This is an example of our human physiology, the structure of our sexes, correctly corresponding to and portraying categorizations of things in the world we perceive. Next, we all are able to distinguish between matter and idea. In philosophy this is called Cartesian dualism (Cambridge Dictionary, 1999), which is an example of the intimate relationship between our mind and brain correctly corresponding and portraying categorizations of mind and matter in the world we perceive. Likewise, the ways we think about the world we perceive with respect to our categorizations of matter and idea are causally determined or influenced by our linguistic system (Sapir, 1983). Since our physiology projects itself onto the world we perceive, this makes me wonder whether our definition of an inductive East and an analytical West is another example of the structure of our cognitive system – the two cerebral hemispheres – correctly corresponding and portraying categorizations of the world we perceive. The East-West dichotomy is not an invention; it is a discovery.

2) The Theory of Shared Labor

The second notion I would like to bring forward is the argument of shared labor in a geopolitical context, not in a Marxist or Weberian sense to explain labor shared within a society, but to explain labor shared among civilizations.

The definition of the East-West dichotomy (from Greek dicha, ‘apart,’ and tomos ‘cutting’) is a form of logical division consisting of the separation of the geopolitical map into two hemispheres, one of which has and the other has not in each case perpetually exhibited the tendency for analytically-based reasoning or integration-based reasoning. In any population, just as we may divide its members along a vertical scale into professional individuals and individuals who are not professionals (and each of these may be subdivided again), similarly we may divide cultures along a horizontal scale into analytically-based societies and societies which are integration-based. Because each side has what the other side is lacking, East and West together form a whole that is imperfect without both of its parts. If we now come to see the division into integration-based and analytically-based civilizations as a form of specialization in ‘cooperative labor’ with specific tasks and roles well adjusted to increase efficiency and intellectual output of humankind, we could imagine a certain regulatory mechanism or ‘collective consciousness’ that shifts whole populations – voluntary or involuntary – into their respective geopolitical roles and provides them with specific tasks so as to serve the greater good of the whole.

Ideas about a human ‘hive mind’ are not new to us. However, comparing insect and human societies still causes confusion (Cooley & Rieff, 1983; 2003). Not too long after Darwin observed group strategies and social organization in animals in his Origin of Species (1859), modern biologists and sociologists compared ant kingdoms (and occasionally, beehives) to human state-building and consumerism (Spencer, 1857; Hölldobler & Wilson, 1990, 1994; Weber, 1991; Marion, 1999). Philosophers tell us that there is a certain unifying moral force within society; psychologists talk about ‘conformity’ or ‘group identification’ as opposed to a society of total egoists and independent individuals (Cooley & Rieff, 1983). If this holds true for groups, why not for civilizations? In order to be most productive and efficient, labor must be shared.

To my knowledge, no Western culture has ever produced anything like the works of Confucius, and no Eastern culture has ever produced anything like Plato’s ideas. The notion of shared labor makes me think that the division into an analytically-based West and an integration-based East could be no coincidence in human evolution, but a collective behavior to fully exploit and develop all the cognitive capacities of the human race. Note that there is nothing in this world that is not shared by all humankind. It is just that the West grew up to excel in this, and the East grew up to excel in that.  We must only combine them in order to express all the knowledge.

3) Cognitive Dualism

The third notion is derived from John Dewey (1859-1952). In his book The Quest for Certainty (1929) he discusses the ‘doctrine of two truths,’ the sacred and the profane, which in turn is derived from dualism.

Dualism, in its simplest notion, is related to binary thinking, that is, to systems of thought that are two-valued: valid/invalid, true/false, good/bad, right/wrong. The doctrine of two truths, however, is more concretely used in the dualistic response to the conflict between spiritualism and science, the spiritual and the secular. Dewey saw all philosophical problems as being derived from dualistic oppositions, in particular between the spirit and physical matter, but it is his conclusion that is most significant: Dewey advocated rejecting Hegel’s dialectical idealism (that recommended the synthesis of oppositions seen as theses versus antitheses) on the grounds that the whole (synthesis) is never the sum of its parts (thesis and antithesis). Conclusively, contradictions are universal: It is ‘either-or’ or ‘both but incommensurable,’ as for example ‘ebb and flow,’ ‘yin and yang,’ or as the Chinese-English saying goes: “鱼和熊掌,不可兼得” (“You can’t have your cake and eat it, too” – unabridged: “鱼,我所欲也;熊掌,亦我所欲也,二者不可得兼,舍鱼儿取熊掌者也” [Mencius, 11A, 4]).

The study of the ‘other,’ Jean-Paul Sartre’s xenophobic masochism as expressed in “l’enfer, c’est les autres,” Jürgen Habermas’ paranoid ‘der Blick des anderen,’ or the Indian philosophy of ‘Deshi-Pardeshi’ (Inhabitor vs. Outsider), the silly but deadly communist-capitalist game – all of these simply indicate: I am not you, and you are not me. So, what is the argument? Don’t we all like to disagree, not because we have the better reasons, but because we can disagree? Isn’t it our right to say that “although ‘your’ country is made of gold, ‘I’ don’t like it!” Don’t I have the right to say no? It was in structuralism, famously represented by Claude Lévi-Strauss, where one did not only organize human thought and culture into binary oppositions, but attached hierarchies to them as well. For some reason in the European history of ideas, ‘rational’ is usually privileged and associated with men, while ‘emotional’ is inferior and associated with women. Blond hair in Western culture is privileged and associated with goodness, while black hair is inferior and associated with evil, and so on (Boon, 1972; Goddard, 1982). Was Lévi-Strauss right if one wanted to say that the ‘West’ is privileged and associated with ‘mastering the theories,’ while the ‘East’ is inferior and associated with ‘mastering the arts’? Surely, cultural values and prejudices vary over time. What does not is the underlying, psychologically calibrated mechanism of all human reasoning: its cognitive dualism.

To sum up, the above three notions demonstrate what seems to be a law of nature, namely that the East-West difference has been found consistently from the time of the Greeks 2,500 years ago to our present day, and that it is consistent with assumptions about our anatomy, the cerebral hemispheres, the dual nature of our reasoning, and the geopolitical concept of sharing labor (by way of collective consciousness) for the greater good and a higher efficiency in intellectual output. Because the human geopolitical situation is a mere extension of the physical and cognitive systems inherent in each of us, we have reason to believe that our societies, our planetary civilization, will continue to be predominantly dualistic in the near future, with an integration-based Eastern hemisphere and an analytically-based Western hemisphere.



Induction and Deduction

The Dichotomy with Asiacentrism




Cultural Effects of the Dichotomy

Two Successful Models

Two Incommensurable  Realities

The Theory of Power and to Whom It Belongs

The Problem of Standard

A Loveless Darwinian Desert

The Psychology of Communion

Cultural Evolution

A Copernican Revolution

The Problem with Nature

Truths and Values



The Dialectics of Dichotomy

Problems with the Dichotomy

The Future of the Dichotomy

The Author


Pattberg, Thorsten (2013), The East-West Dichotomy, Foreign Language Press, Beijing

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