Chapter 16 – The Problem with Nature
Since the more inductive East and the more deductive West are both part of a gigantic ecosystem called earth, it is import to understand how the two cultural hemispheres traditionally see their relationship with what truly matters to all of us: nature.
Given that the analytically-based, deductive West has the advantage of “processing information in a linear manner, that is from top to bottom, it collects a myriad of pieces, lines them up, and arranges them in a logical order before drawing the conclusions”, it is clearly the dominant hemisphere when it comes to articulate, explain and write down human history. (brain.web, 2007).
The integration-based, inductive East on the other hand, “processes from bottom to top, holistically. It starts with the answer. It sees the big picture first, the great harmony, not the details”.
As a consequence of such a comparison, the deductive Western hemisphere is “not only thinking in a linear manner, processes in sequences, but is also a list maker, enjoys making master plans, and learns in sequences”. Western culture is “a good speller who makes rules to follow, works in the linear and sequential processing of math and scientific methods”.
By contrast, the inductive Eastern hemisphere processes information randomly. “It flips from one tack to another, it will get just as much done, but perhaps without having addressed priorities. It pays attention to coherence, greater meanings, illustrations and feelings”. Its memory is connected to “emotions and feelings, not dealing with things the way they are with reality but with ideal concepts”.
The inductive East, which naturally got a glimpse on the ‘whole picture’, is well aware of the job the deductive Western hemisphere is doing inAsiaby deconstructing and manipulating the world and all things:
The West is “linear, sequential, concrete, logical, verbal, and reality-based.
However, the deductive West, which naturally experiences a myriad of little details that make up the world, is not receptive of the job the Eastern hemisphere is doing in striving for a coherent ‘wholeness’ and ‘interconnectiveness’:
The East is “holistic, random, symbolic, intuitive, nonverbal, and fantasy-oriented”.
A similar East-West comparison has been made by Li Dazhao [李大钊] (1888-1927), philosopher and co-founder of the Communist Party of China:
The Eastern civilization is static, while the Western civilization takes initiative;
one is active, while the other is passive, so much for that.
The East harmonies with nature, the West conquers it;
The East is tranquil, the West is aggressive;
The East is introvert, the West is extrovert;
The East is dependent, the West is independent;
The East is reserved, the West is advancing;
The East is submissive, the West is creative;
The East is conservative, the West is progressive;
The East is intuition, the West is reason;
The East is spiritual, the West is empirical;
The East is humanistic, the West is scientific;
The East is mind, the West is matter;
The East is spirit, the West is substance;
The East is inductive, the West is deductive;
The East takes man and nature as inseparable parts;
the West takes man as the conqueror of nature.
(Li Dazhao, 2006)
Li Dazhao’s observations are in line with how Western scientists generally perceive themselves and their abusive relation with nature:
Only let mankind regain their rights over nature, assigned to them by the gift of God, and obtain that power, whose exercise will be governed by right reason and true religion. (Francis Bacon, 1620)
The separation of knowledge from ethics, or let us say a ‘value-free knowledge’ is what most obviously distinguished the Greek/Hellenistic/European civilization from all the others. For the deductive West, everything in the universe can be considered a potentially usable object that must be studied and manipulated so as to serve ‘man and his cause’. This ‘man and his cause’, in the good old days ofBritish Empire, meant, of course, the ‘British aristocracy and her cause’, but – during the European renaissance – had quickly turned into ‘Western man and his Western cause’.
Western man and his Western cause – this was about as far it could be stretched. Enough human beings and territory was left out that could make the scientific, deduction-based West fulfill it’s mission, namely, to force into submission all things – the entire material world and everything non-Western.
The Western ‘scientific way’ implies that there must be a non-scientific way, or just a ‘non-scientific other’ – nature and the ‘other people’ who value the unity with nature. Nature and the traditional people who align with nature are thus, by definition, positioned at the wrong side of the ‘man-conquers-nature’- equation and consequentially must be totally subjugated, deconstructed (divided) and manipulated to the will of its scientific conqueror.
To sum this up, to any non-Western observer the West and its deeply intolerant ‘scientific way’ appears to be inherently v i o l e n t (Nandy, 1989).
Asia, and by that I mean virtually all societies from the Russians over the Indians to the Muslims, Chinese, and Japanese, by definition had been on the receiving end of ‘World History’. They could help row, but not steer that boat. In an allegorical, Faustian sense, the political philosophers and scientist Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and Adam Smith (1723-1790) were all among those great Western enlightenment philosophers trading the Western conscience for the power it meant over those who still had to compromise with their conscience.
Until the final (Faustian) ‘reckoning’, the Western powers – over all those centuries – could almost frivolously humiliate every other society on earth until all ethical ground were lost, and the very Eastern humanitarian notions of ‘wholeness’, ‘harmoniousness’ and ‘oneness’ became meaningless and undesirable to the average Western mind. What is most disturbing, however, is this: Even the slightest sign of a nearing of ‘wholeness’, ‘harmoniousness’ and ‘oneness’ is now reminding the West of its past ‘failures’ and ‘shame’ and thus, in the eyes of any analytical-deductive Westerner, must be avoided at all costs.
The final reckoning was considered only a matter of time, in Gandhi’s words, until that ‘other’, be it nature or man, in a most subtle manner strikes back on its tormenter and destroys the illusion of Western-sciences-only validity:
This [Western] civilization is such that one only has to be patient, and it will be self-destroyed. (Mahatma Gandhi, 1938)
Gandhi was exaggerating; he did not believe that the West would simply destroy itself, or be destroyed by others, or that sciences would become invalid. But he believed in Eastern concepts of positive ‘value-creation’ and ‘non-violence’ that – in the long run – like all Eastern concepts of ‘tolerance’, ‘wholeness’, or ‘oneness’ would appeal to the Western imperialists’ sense of shame. And so it did:
A person cannot do without shame. If you are ashamed of your shamelessness, you will not need to be ashamed. (Mencius, 7A.6)
It is the old pattern, again: If the West searches for the power over nature (matter); it is the East that searches for the power over man (mind), and it is the healthy equilibrium that would benefit both of them and thus all of us.
Sadly, the analytical West is still patronizing ‘his’ spiritual East. The facts have changed, global power has shifted, but not so the Western feelings of total superiority. That is why the otherwise easily predictable rise and dominance of the integration-based Asia in the 21st century still looks somewhat like a miracle or bogus to most Europeans, even today.