This so-called ‘Crisis of the materialistic Civilization’ (Meadows, 1972; Husserl, 1970) of the West was supposed to go hand in hand with the ‘Revival of the spiritual Civilization’ (Kim, 2006), namely the East. In order to prevent our planet’s ecological system from ultimate collapse, the deductive-based and nature-abusing West had to learn – so goes Donella Meadows’ argument – four important lessons (Meadows, 1972):
i) The world is but one.
ii) The earth is limited, resources are limited, and therefore economic growth is limited.
iii) All the temporal alterations are going in circulation. All phenomena are but alterations rather than developments.
iv) Human interference with the ecological order will harm nature; balance is needed to maintain universal evolution and harmony in nature.
Needless to say, the four points above neatly correspond to those induction-based, more intuitive Eastern concepts such as ‘oneness of heaven and man’ (天人合一), ‘harmonious society,’ ‘recurrences in history,’ and ‘the non-linear concepts of time.’ With only two alternatives, the Eastern and Western way, it seems necessary that if the West stopped being Western, it would have to become Eastern. Conversely, that is exactly what the West thought the East was supposed to become, namely a carbon copy of the West.
Meadows’ The Limits to Growth was published during the Cold War (1950-1989). Imagine the uproar in some Western intellectual circles! Millions of Asians and their sympathizers certainly felt schadenfreude upon hearing that there would be a ‘reckoning’ for the sins of the Western colonialists, imperialists, and capitalists. Soon, sensationalism on either side prevailed, with media and intellectuals picking up clichés such as ‘Confucian Renaissance,’ ‘the enlightenment of the West towards a more harmonious society,’ or the triumph of ‘Asian values.’ The hasty – if not premature – conclusion of many scholars was this:
The declining West seemed morally bankrupt. That was believable because, like all other human relationships, the East-West relationship should have been based not only on mutual respect (which in this case it never was) but also should have offered the simple lesson of reciprocity, e.g. ‘give-and-take’ or ‘for every gain there is a loss,’ or ‘baoying’ (报应, retribution), or just ‘good or bad karma.’ But with its attitude of divide, conquer and rule, the West had simply gone too far (Spencer, 1857).
Ever since the European Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, the technologically advanced West subjugated the spiritual Eastern nations and taught them scientific ways, thereby inevitably helping Asia and all other nations to develop (助长) and grow. However, “the teacher had refused to appreciate his pupils,” to engage with them, and learn enough in return from their intuitive, induction-based traditions.
We have already mentioned the profound love of learning and respect for traditions in Eastern societies. As a consequence, the teacher-student relationship in Asia has always been far more spiritually important and guided by mutual respect, love, and humility than in Western societies. One can only imagine the emotional abuse Asia – a kind, ancient, proud, and exceptionally intelligent civilization – suffered at the hands of her often unfriendly and very oppressive Western master. This brings to mind the song “Mad World” by Gary Jules:
Made me feel the way that every child should, sit and listen; Went to school and I was very nervous, no one knew me; Hello teacher tell me what’s my lesson, look right through me.
(Gary Jules, 2006)
Western societies “looked right through” their Eastern pupils; there was simply nothing to learn from “a boy of twelve years old,” as General Douglas MacArthur said about the Japanese civilization, “as compared to our own (Western civilization’s) development of forty-five years” while testifying in front of the US Senate Committee on “Army and on Foreign Relations” (Shibusawa, 2006).
Now that Meadows’ The Limits to Growth was published, many Asians believed that the day their Western masters’ material growth stagnated would be the day when their faithful Asian pupils would offer their spiritual advice and wisdom (about harmoniousness, alternative world views, the oneness of nature and man etc.), at least in theory (Toynbee, 1958; Zaehner, 1976; Thoreau, 1988; Ji, 2006). The very opposite occurred, of course.
In practice, as we all know, economic growth – although more or less stagnant in Western Europe and America – is still rampant and plentiful in the developing parts of ‘Westernized’ Asia, albeit with the looming presence of Western companies and corporate money. The West, it seems, isn’t exhausted as long as there are still growth opportunities, overseas markets, and material resources to lay its hands on. Therefore, in this twenty-first century, in Asia some are still asking the same question they asked in the 1970’s: When will Asian values or belief systems finally start to have a measurable impact on those Western invaders, and, even more important: Will the East be able to ‘give’ as much as it is able to ‘take’ in (Wu, 2007)?
Evidence shows the East has some influence on the West. A strengthening of the East is already in the making, although the deduction-based narcissist West, which got itself lost, to use the words of Aby-Lughod, in a universe of “vulgar and utterly finicky, atomistic details,” for the time being is unable to see through the natural greater scheme of things (Ng, 1998; Wu, 1997, 1998; Wallerstein, 2005; Chirot, 1991; Aby-Lughod, 1989). Similarly, the ‘white West’ failed to anticipate its ethnic suicide (Heinsohn, 2003, 2005) and its failure (or the failure of its economic and social theories) to predict the rise of East Asia (Lin, 2006).
For, in having been able to resist Western imperialism and colonialism – above all a moral victory – and easily forming by far the most populous nations on the ‘world island,’ Asia now accounts for 65 percent of the world’s population and Europe for only 11 percent. With contempt for Western aggressions and, in the case of Russia and China, no longer intimidated by the Western powers, Asiacentrism in geopolitical terms had set in after the 1950’s – in my estimation long before the two giants, China and India, had their respective economies (c. 1990-2007) to prove it.
Today’s de-Westernization is not only taking place in obvious places like China, Japan, Russia, Korea etc., but also in the Middle East, Africa, and South-East Asia. Many people have serious doubts about the West, its intentions and deeply flawed views. Ultranationalist bestsellers like The Japan That Can Say No (1989) by Akio Morita and Shintaro Ishihara, and China Can Say No (1996) by Song Qiang (宋强) are among the milder ones of their kind, both strongly opposing the Caucasian world order and Western values (Morita, 1989; Song, 1996). Why should Japanese culture bow down to the whims of America’s corporate culture? Why don’t China and India with their histories of 5,000 years and combined population of 2.5 billion resist this pre-adolescent monkey business of the USA with regards to teaching Asia a lesson in human rights, democracy, and statecraft? After all, the USA ‘pre-emptively’ bombed the Middle East and tortured ‘enemy combatants’ at Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp on the shore of Cuba (Human Rights Watch, 2003; Amnesty International, 2005).
Remarkably, the East-West dichotomy, as if an invisible hand has dealt the right cards, still determines world affairs and history despite long and enduring phases of centrism, trials of expansion, colonialism and empire, alliances and ganging-ups, rivalry and false beliefs in superiority. What makes us think then that the disparity of East and West can be best explained by anything other than a law of nature? Is there a scientific ‘dualism’ similar to the one recognized by Valentinovich G. Plekhanov (1856-1918), founder of ‘dialectical materialism,’ who says that science entails contradictions inherited in all natural and social phenomena called ‘laws of dialectics’ [science of contradictions] (Plekhanov, 1891)? Is there are law of ‘difference’ similar to Jacques Derrida’s (1930-2004) concept of ‘différance’ suggested in his masterpiece De La Grammatologie (1967), in which he argued that the prime function of all languages and thoughts is ‘differing’ – the ‘differentiation’ of signs from each other (Derrida, 1967)?
As for common sense, a people’s good intentions, or bad ones, are useless when it comes to interfering with scientific laws. If there is a scientific reason behind why the omnipotent West never wanes, yet on the other hand, despite countless trials of conquest, colonialism, and intimidation, never turned the East into the West either… doesn’t this suggest the very dichotomy of East and West is essentially a natural trait of the human race? Is there a law of nature that pushed East and West in diametrically opposed directions, making one become more inductive, and the other more deductive, while keeping both hemispheres in balance?
Alas, no humanist wants to hear a theory that equates the evolution of our precious homo sapiens with the development of a dualism that somehow achieved a perfect East-West equilibrium. The day we discover such a rare dualistic creature in the animal kingdom, however, might change all that.
Until then, in order to answer those questions, some key areas can be discussed in which a possible unintended yet synchronized behavior of the integration-based East and analysis-based West has clearly played a role in keeping a relative equilibrium during the last 50 years of ‘catching-up-with-the-West’ Asiacentrism.
Pattberg, Thorsten (2013), The East-West Dichotomy, Foreign Language Press, Beijing