In order to balance the East-West dichotomy and engage in meaningful dialogues guided by the principals of peaceful aim, mutual respect, tolerance, and patience, it seems reasonable to cancel out by law-making or binding oaths any maneuver designed to ‘cheat’, ‘take-over’, ‘ support hegemony’ and what not evil doings. To achieve this aim, unchecked Eurocentrism as well as Asiacentrism have to be avoided as good as it can be, and at all costs.
It seems necessary to address some of those areas that in my view deserve serious attention:
Oscar Wilde once said: “Nothing that is worth having can be taught”, meaning that everything that is worth having should be acquired through experience and self-cultivation, and it has to be acquired willingly. Those Western high-profile officials, directors and businessmen, who desire to govern, trade, research or teach, should have a period of residence in some Asian countries, or stay at Asian universities or other institutes of higher learning, finance or trade. For anyone who leads inAsia, it must be made compulsory. In fact, no executive, CEO, leader of a party, director of a large organization, letting alone head of state, should be allowed to attend such a post without having spent some time in theAsiaand speaking the local language. Such enlightenment ‘conditions’ are already an unspoken agreement in many scholarly circles, practiced in international law-making, but are far from being the rule in politics and economics. Therefore it should be made an essential prerequisite to spend some years abroad, just as a foreign postgraduate qualification should be made essential prerequisite for the highest posts in scholarship. No nation, however big it is, should afford half-educated leaders.
Biology, culture, policies – is the hierarchy of change. One can change one’s biology only through choice of courtship and the result of offspring, but one can slowly change one’s culture within one’s own lifetime by immigration, marriage, and learning. However, one’s policies are the quickest to change.
Policies, nowadays, are the greatest cognitive intrusion of all, as it is the fastest manipulation of memory and information which is widely recognized as the single most important method to deal with one’s ‘opponents’ effectively. So, what policies are Western politicians executing these days? Western politician have a keen interest on ‘leveling down’ all Asian cultures and traditions to a single common, Western-shaped ‘civilization extension’, be it through Western-initialized capitalism, market globalization, democracy, human rights, preemptive wars, sporting events, Santa Claus, or Coca-Cola.
Since globalization and ‘World History’ as an academic discipline, as mentioned before, are considered the expansion of Western civilization and Western history, it is relatively save for Western politicians, negotiators and scholars, to make concessions (e. g. allowing China to join the WTO, despite its authoritarian regime), give freebies (nuclear weapons to India), or occasionally give high praises for all kinds of cultural achievements, be they of the past or present. How all these niceties will add up to substantial Eastern representation in international affairs remains to be seen. First, how does any country know if it is ‘in’, if there is no ‘out’ in globalism? Second, who will take credit for what comes out ofAsia’s input; will it be the West?
When Francis Bacon first finished his Novum Organum (The New Instrument) in 1620, he originally had Artistotle’s Organum in mind and quoted only few of China’s great inventions like printing and gunpowder. However, after hearing about the Four Confucian Classics, especially reading Confucius’ The Great Learning (Da Xue, 大学), is it mere coincidence that Bacon thereupon took the Novum Organum to his 1940 six-Volume masterpiece which he proudly titled: The Great Renewal of Learning?
All world governments know the hierarchy of change: biological – cultural – policies changes. Because Western governments are short-lived (and thus, for the pragmatic reason of survival, political short-sighted), they will put all their energies and efforts on new policies, short-time changes to prove “what they can do”, while ignoring the long-term effects on the culture as a whole. Eastern governments are different; they will keep an eye or two on cultural, long-term changes and maintenances, but not without being dragged along by Western hasty policy-makers. Naturally, in case a government would openly endorse a strategy for biological change, this could lead – as it did in the past – to suspicion of xenophobia, racism and isolation, so biological changes are the ones best not overtly promoted by any government.
If we were to decide to improve international co-operation, Eastern and Western policy-makers, scientists and economists would have to create shared opportunities for growth, consistent with broadly accepted economic theories, open markets, and good diplomacy. The real problem with fast policy changes is that, if one studies history carefully, one will have understood that violence there was, and violence there will be. In policy making, “Might is Right”, and “Whoever controls the stick controls the buffalo”, and “Small Countries have no politics”. It is cruel, but this is simply how things are. There are great dangers of unchecked misuse of power through the means of ad-hoc policy-changes by a powerful hegemon, that are very arbitrary, egoistic, and because of their dubious nature, often non-negotiable.
Who again said that “the destructive energies of the deduction-based warrior culture would be channeled into the safer pursuits of a commercial society?” Hobbes,Ferguson, Smith, Stewart… another Scottish enlightened being? And who again argued that their “love for peace and harmony of the true Chinamen could be helpful to promote a stable, more just world-order?” Different cultures have different attitudes and behaviors:
In policy making, the West has relinquish some power and to slow down a bit with its often arbitrary, short-sighted, ad-hoc adjustments and consulting more often with its partners on an equal level. At the same time, the East could do a bit more in becoming less passive and conservative but more forceful in policy decision making, otherwise it will always be bullied around by its more pro-active Western counterpart(s).
3) Cultural Exchange
Among all things that are tradable – oil, wood, gold, commodities, human capital etc. – culture is the least obvious yet the most subversive good. Since the Orient and Occident produced lots of sustainable, lasting cultural artifacts, arts, ideas and theories, this all, we believe it or not, has been in sent down the path of cultural exchange and learning even long before the times of Alexander the Great’s conquest (326-323 BC) and Megasthenes visit to Pataliputra (c. 300 BC) etc. Why cultural exchange? Because, for some reason, Alexander thought is worthwhile to risk his reputation, even his empire by marrying the Bactrian princess Roxane (of today’s Northern Afghanistan) in exchange for gold, unity and political stability; what is more, Megasthenes bought maps and description back to Macedonian in order to be able to inform the Mediterranean world about ‘Indika’.
Oh, some say, it was always about trade; others it was about rule and conquers. Human curiosity must have played its part too. So perhaps did love, on Alexander and Roxane’s part. Translation certainly did help to understand each other. Universally, the first impression upon meeting other cultures is that of amazement and joy, not of fear and anger. It is in the human nature to practice cultural exchange.
So, did this “cultural exchange” activity made the world ‘flat’ – almost certainly not. On the contrary, cultural exchange – like economics – profits both partners but for entire different reasons. The fundamental psychology beneath all economic activity is the often astonishing fact, that one person thinks that a television-set is more worth than the 500 Euros he has to pay for it, and that the other person thinks that the 500 Euros are more worth than the television-set and thus is happily selling it away.
The really fascinating fact, however, is that a society in which everyone sells television-sets to each other is not sustainable, nor would anyone make any profit. Coming back from this analogy, East and West will never exchange the same commodities, nor the same cultural goods, nor attach the same value to it.
A culture includes certain religious practices, places of worship, music, festivals, rituals, customs, values, food, clothing, monuments, architecture, language, and arts. East and West, in fact, no two cultures will not and cannot entirely overlap, because what they have to give is not what they want to take for that same.
4) The way forward – the East in world affairs
The idea that Eastern societies and Western societies should do everything together because they’re exactly the same and their interests are identical is not, as some would have it, a sign of evolutionary maturity or scientific insight but a desperate form of political manipulation, new Western imperialism, and, yes, wishful thinking – surely what keeps things interesting is our cultural differences and identities.
Believing Eastern societies and Western societies to have the same interests and desires, believes and aims, world views and sense of history, seems to me to be an odd mixture of Western insecurity, the desire toward ‘Gleichschaltung’ (controlling the hearts and minds of Eastern people via Western controlled propaganda media [e. g. TheEconomist, BBC, CNN, Times, Hollywood], international standards etc.) and outright narcissism:
“If you want McDonalds and Volkswagen, if you want trade with me, that means you have to be the same as me.”
Aggressive westernization thus equals de-humanizing of the world-community. Ideally, in this world we should maintain two modes of civilization, two forces, and two choices, two voices, this and that – well-balanced. Otherwise we are left with only one way of reasoning, Western reasoning, that already runs into the terrible illusion of possessing the single, absolute and finite truth. It would lead to a monopoly on ‘Civilization’ that does not know of tolerance or harmony.
How do East and West engage in a mutual, beneficial relationship; and if they do, what form should that relationship take; a communion maybe? And what are the dangers? As Blanchot, one of the 20th century key literature writers, once beautifully put it:
“Dort, wo sich eine voruebergehende Gemeinschaft zwischen zwei Wesen bildet, die fuereinander geschaffen sind oder nicht geschaffen sind, baut sich eine Kriegsmaschine auf, oder besser gesagt, die Moeglichkeit eines Desasters, die die Drohung einer universellen Vernichtung in sich traegt.”
[Wherever two entities temporarily evolve into a communion, to be made for each other or not, an engine of war is being built this way. Or, to rephrase it, such a communion bears the potential threat of universal destruction.] (Maurice Blanchot, 1983)
If two entities are forced to evolve into a single ‘one’, conflict and disaster are inevitable. For all we know such a union can work forever. But chances are it will end in a terrible fight, terror and humiliation, just like an arranged marriage that was not to be. If communion fails, if we are left with only one single dominant mode of civilization; that one will be a totality.
Regardless of how the universe really is – there is hope for the existing of a single truth – in secular as well as in religious affairs it all comes down to what we truly believe (and want to believe) and how we react toward the ‘other’. If there were only two beings left on earth, no communion would be called for. The two could live happily together – on distance. If it is communion that is not meant to be because of the incommensurability of the two great cultural hemispheres and their distinctive ways, I say don’t risk it and the possible mutual destruction that could follow; it is totalities that have done us no good. From within itself no civilization offers universal truth. Forced and complete westernization of humankind, just like its mother and father, colonialism and imperialism before, will not only stand trial to the senseless de-humanization of history, it might also create the deadliest potential for mutual self-destruction and loss of morals the world has ever experienced.
Can the West peacefully align itself with the intuitive Eastern powers and thus guarantee all of us the peaceful, fair, and tolerant equilibrium? I say, only if the East emancipates itself from the sorry role as the receiver of world history. Now is the time to become more assertive, now is the moment to make reasonable demands. An ASEAN+3 (+Taiwan,Japan,South Korea) is a possibility; the dissolution of the imbalanced G8 in favor of a G15 or G20 (including BRIC) another. There is still much to gain for both hemispheres before they can finally put their complete attention to each other. There are the periphery nations of divided Africa; there is Latin America; there is fragile Eastern Europe; and there is the US-led occupation of the Middle East (and a military build-up against Europe’s greatest ancient foe: the Persians (now Iran); plenty of cultural assimilation is going on, unifications by trade and stealth are looming, and lots of pawns are left to send over the great board of geopolitics.
It is without doubt that all cultures and nations contributed, one way or the other, to the overall diversity of human civilization. Yet, it is also without doubt that some cultures and nations – depending on their antiquity, size and formidability – did contribute more than others in the past and, more importantly, will continue to contribute more than others in the future. Many will just plainly vanish. It is believed that the number of Classical Greek and Latin manuscripts combined, estimated c. 30,000, is outnumbered by 1,000,000+ ancient Sanskrit manuscripts that are already discovered (Taylor, 2008), letting alone millions of Chinese texts written in the Middle Kingdom, yet most European do not want to hear the truth: That they just had been lucky – punching above their weight – for too long a time. Economic and cultural activity in itself is not a Western patent, certainly not the art of statecraft and… yes, the art of war.