The East-West dichotomy /Chapter 4
This so called ‘Crisis of the materialistic Civilization’ (Meadows, 1972; Husserl, 1970), the West, was supposed, of course, to go hand in hand with the ‘Revival of the spiritual Civilization’ (Kim, 2006), the East. In order to prevent our planet’s ecological system from the ultimate collapse, the deductive-based and nature-abusing West had to learn – so goes Meadows argument - four important lessons (Meadows, 1972):
i) The world is but one.
ii) The earth is limited, materials 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 the universal evolution and harmony in Nature.
Needless to say, the four findings i-ii-iii-iv above neatly correspondent to those induction-based, more intuitive Eastern concepts such as ‘oneness of Man and Heaven’ (天人合一), ‘harmonious society’, ‘re-occurrences 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 stops being Western, it would have to become Eastern. That is exactly what - the other way round - the West thought the East was supposed to become, namely more Western.
Meadows’ Limits (1972) were published during the Cold War (1950-1989). Imagine the frustrated uproar in some Western intellectual circles. Naturally, millions of Asian hearts - and many sympathizers - will doubtless have filled with ‘schadensfreude’ on hearing that there would be a ‘reckoning’ for the sins of the Western colonialist, imperialist and capitalists. Soon, sensationalism on either side ruled the day, with media and commentators 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 did) 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 conquer, divide, and rule, the West had simply overstretched itself (Spencer, 1857).
Ever since the European enlightenment and the industrial revolution, the technological advanced West subjugated the spiritual Eastern nations and taught the scientific ways, thereby inevitably helping Asia and all other nations to develop (助长) and grow, yet “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 for learning and the 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 all Western societies. One can only guess at the emotional abuse Asia, as a kind, ancient, proud and exceptionally intelligent civilization, suffered from the often kindless, very oppressive and unrequited “love-relationship” of the Western master and his Asian pupil, which reminds one of that Mad World-song 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” (Jules, 2006).
Western societies “looked right through” the Eastern pupils; there was simply nothing to learn from “a boy of 12”, as General Douglas MacArthur said, for example, about the Japanese, “as compared to our own development of 45 years” while commenting in front of the US Senate Committees on the Army and on Foreign Relations (Shibusawa, 2006).
Understandably, now that Meadows’ Limits (1972) were published, many Asians believed that the day Western master’s 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.) - so far in theory (Toynbee, 1958; Zaehner, 1976; Thoreau, 1988; Ji, 2006). The very opposite occurred, of course.
In praxis, as we all know, economic growth – although more or less stagnated in Western Europe and America - still went rampant and plentiful in developing places of ‘westernized’ Asia, albeit with the huge presence of Western companies and corporate money. The West, it seems, wasn’t exhausted as long as there are still growth opportunities, overseas markets and material resources to lay its hands on. Therefore, in this 21st century, in Asia some commentators are still asking the same question back in the 70’s: when will Asian values or belief systems finally start to show a measurable impact on those Western invaders, and, even more important: will the East be able to ‘give’ out as much as it is able to ‘take’ in (Wu, 2007)?
They evidence shows, the Eastern way has some influence on the West, a strengthening of the East is already in the making, although the deduction-based narcissist West, who 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), just as the ‘white West’ failed to anticipate its ethnic suicide (Heinsohn, 2003, 2005), and the West’s failure (or the failure of their 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% of the world’s population and Europe for only 11%. With contempt for Western aggressions and, in case of Russia and China, no need to feel intimidated by the Western powers any longer, Asia-centrism in geopolitical terms had set in after the 1950s, thus - 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 taken place in the 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. Ultra-nationalist 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) et al. are among the more sympathetic readings, both strongly opposing the Caucasian world order and Western values (Morita, 1989; Song, 1996). Why should Japanese culture bow down to America’s corporate culture’s fits? Why are China or India with their histories of 5000 years and 2,5 billion people not wise enough and many enough to resist this adolescent monkey business of the US, with regards to teaching Asia a lesson on human rights, democracy, and statecraft, while torturing ‘enemy combatants’ at Guantanamo Bay Dentention Camp on the shore of Cuba (Human Rights Watch, 2003; Amnesty International, 2005)?
Remarkably, the East-West dichotomy, as if an invisible hand dealt the right cards, still persists to determine world affairs and history despite long and enduring phases of centrism, trials of expansion, colonialism and empire, alliances and ganging-ups, rivalry or 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 that of 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 Jaques Derrida’s (1930-2004) concept of ‘différence’ suggested in his masterpiece De La Grammatologie (1967) in which he successfully argues 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 to interfere with scientific laws. If there is a scientific reason behind why the all-so powerful West never dies, yet on the other hand, no matter how many trials of conquest, colonialism, and intimidation, never turned the East into the West either; is there not a quench of realism in the idea to assume that 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 diametrical opposed directions, one becoming more inductive, the other becoming more deductive, yet managed to balance both hemispheres – the Eastern inductive ways as well as the Western deductive ways - in a grand global scheme upon all available geography? Alas, no humanist wants to hear a theory that equals our precious homo sapiens to the happenings of some dualistic virus that somehow achieved a perfect East-West equilibrium. The day we discover such a rare creature in the animal kingdom however might change that…
Until then, in order to answer those questions, some key areas can indeed 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’ Asia-centrism.