Chapter 21 – Problems with the Dichotomy
There are a few problems with the East-West dichotomy as a global theory that need to be addressed in order to allow further discussion and research. Of all criticisms, these are the urgent ones I shall comment on:
The biggest accusation by scholars is that of ‘generali-zations’: “East” and “West”, these two categories, so we are told, are oversimplifying the current world-order and all other cultural, geographical, historical, political and social affairs (Hendry, 2006). We oppose the argument by saying that “East and West” indeed entails all those sub-categories, and many more, however every one of them is true only in the ab-stract, widest, most universal sense of the world, and that any definition is non-permanent and subject to change. For example, we explicitly concluded that the West is “more” deductive while the East is “more” inductive. In that way, generalizations are no harm to scholarship; besides, “East and West” as a inter-disciplinary concept has been the rough guide for universal historians such as Arendt (1993), Toynbee (1958), Tu (2003), Needham (1964), Nishida (1989), Kakuzo (1904) and Ji (2006); likewise for universal theoreticians, such as Bacon (1620), Hobbes (1671), Nietzsche (1909), Marx (1848), and Huntington (1993). They all did research on the conceptual contrast between Eastern societies and Western societies and, either di-rectly or obliquely, came (often independently from each other) to the conclusion that there are two cultural modes of humankind: the more rational, deduction-driven West, and the more intuitive, induction-driven East.
Still, the East-West dichotomy is occasionally misun-derstood by prominent individuals or special-interest groups, who do not like to be categorized like this or that, or who do not like to be categorized at all. Again, its aim is not to label individuals, but to describe entire civilizations and their “cultural evolution”, an evolution that is very real (Mace, 2005; Reynolds, 1983; Cavalli-Sforza et al, 1994).
Moreover, the branch of social science that effectively uses empirical investigation and critical analysis to under-stand the structure of Eastern societies and Western societies, ‘Sociology’, or ‘Sociology of Cultures’, usually observes developments on a macro level of societies (for example, group behavior, social networks etc.), and never attempts to explain individual activity and behavior. Individuals occasionally do feel victimized by scientific studies, and sometimes wronged by anthropological or so-cial scientific findings, however we need to remind ourselves that categorization, and therefore a degree of oversimplification and generalizations, lie in all things of our everyday lives.
Individuals as well as small groups are categorized by school-grades, credit-systems, occupation, profession, social status, ethnicity, even by the clothes we wear, the quarter we live in, the car we drive, and the books we read. In the case of “East and West”, we are talking about the cultural evolution, specification, and stratification of ideas of civilizations over the last 2,500 and earlier, with billions of very diverse individuals and their various actions filling up empty time with living history.
If zooming into separated households, naturally we would find each individual of that household having many identities. They identify themselves, for example, by their faith, profession, social status, ethnicity, hobbies, friends they have etc.
Looking at humankind from the moon, however, those identities can be summarized to belong to a certain region, cultural group, and civilization, East or West. Therefore, no individual today, no group of individuals should be of-fended, or – depending on their point of view – disappointed, if they cannot see themselves fitting imme-diately into the universal categories of East or West. It is a universal theory, not the story of any individual.
For a first-class, cold-blooded scientist, if you hap-pened to know someone dear to you; he would tend – in the words of Oscar Wilde – to “know the price of every-thing but the value of nothing”. It is a stereotype and a pity, and a bit cynicism perhaps to pitch a trained scientist against the notion of God, faith, human feelings, value statements, spiritual or charitable affairs. A scientist who describes God, poetry, music or our love for children with statistical models is – you will forgive me for saying so – the least desirable und a most unlovable companionship. But the scientist, armed with his methods and tools for meas-urements, can only speak for himself, the scientific community and its ways; there are others: the artist, the poet, the musician, the mother who all see things differ-ently from the scientist because they attach different first-hand experiences, well-founded subjectivity and values to poetry, music, or love for children than the scientist does. We could say then, any activity can lead to category, and any category can result into stereotyping. And now we are in big trouble. Let me explain. As any evolutionary anthropologist can confirm, hu-mans share 98.4 % of their genes with chimpanzees, 97.7 % with gorillas, and 96.4 % with orangutans (BBC, 2007/03/29). Yet, despite the great degree of genetic simi-larities I have not heard of a single scientist (outside the twisted tales written by H. P. Lovecraft, that is) who was married to an ape. Another surprise, if you wanted to know, mice share at least 90 % with human DNA, too. Does this finding mean there slightest possibility of any mouse learn-ing how to cook and getting a proper job? Not so, of course. Categories (humans and animals, in this case) cannot be arbitrary compared, even if they share 97.7 % of their genes. But people do exactly that, they defy catego-ries by arbitrary comparing them in an attempt to ridicule their validity.
Stereotypes in the Western world, in this 21st century of a thousand false identities, internet avatars, second worlds, total consumerism, stereotyping is almost pro-scribed; it has developed into a human art-form of mimicry that helps our ego-individual-cult and its survival. Stereo-types change so fast, and they are getting more by the hour. Cheap relativism is the way out, and the fashion of the day. It is in the interest of the deduction-driven West, as I argued elsewhere in this little book, to deconstruct and destroy any sense of consistency, unity, and wholeness, like the concepts of family, education, values, morals etc. thus not granting any privileged, non-relativist place to anything or anyone under the sun. Biological males and females, I hear are now the same, not because they are the same but because they are so different that it is all the same: an achievement not attained by the feminist or gay movement, but more so by a universal public spiritedness of mindless egalitarian and a pervasive retreat into cultural relativism. We are same and we are different has become analogous… never mind it’s all stereotyping, and any stereotype, be sensitive, will be criticized sooner or later. Being constantly different is the new conformity in the age of mass-production and consumerism. Relativism always depends on other aspects: “That is true, but not for me!”, do they say. In Cultural Studies, be a non-relativist and they will hang you for it. Better to avoid them, and to avoid statements that contain non-relativistic stereotyping; better to be as vague and indistinct as possible, especially in economics, politics, and, yes, today’s academic social writ-ing. The 21st-century Western shameless tendency to over-production and dislike of stereotypes is manifold, and I cannot discuss it in detail in this paper. It really got out of control in the ‘Information Age’ (Computer Age), and maybe it is also our fear of fatalism, isolation, social dis-crimination, peer evaluation, racism, prejudices, or just each individual’s reluctance to set forth a statement or hy-pothesis that, even if plausible, if checked by others, will almost certainly attract serious criticism. As a conse-quence, statement or hypothesis, in this pathetic century, is set forth either anonymously or after being lobbied by powerful and protective groups.
There is a reason why our political, media, and entre-preneurial discourses have become an obscure and utterly incomprehensible circus. No single person really stands up for anything, nor can anyone afford to rest on the spot; he or she might just miss the ropes for the next maneuver.
So, that sissy accusation of the East-West dichotomy being stereotyping is not worth two a penny this century. Some voices offered this good advice, however, that I shall take to heart. Those stereotypes, East and West, should be avoided over a good business dinner, simple because they have pervasive negative effects on people’s (national) feelings, friendly exchanges, and might even harm each side’s self-esteem and self-belief, just like placing a self-fulfilling prophecy to provoke chaos and distrust:
The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the original false conception come ‘true’. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetu-ates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning. (Robert K. Merton, 1968)
In other words, there is the theoretical possibility that the “East-West” stereotypes, as appealing as they are, have become true only because so many people acted upon and believed in it for thousand of years.
3) Small nations and periphery nations
Both cultural hemispheres, East and West, are divided into many more distinguishable societies. And those socie-ties are subdivided into distinguishable regions. As said elsewhere in this little book, looking at the trees or leaves will divert one’s attention from seeing the whole forest. For that reason, it seems unnecessary to discuss each and every society or region and their peculiarities. It is their cul-tural, economical, and political affiliation, shared history and values, and general relationship that give them the shape of a distinguishable culture (besides other equally distinguishable cultures), without discussing the charms of each independent and isolated character trait of its mem-ber communities.
Having said that, we don’t need much space to explain the role of the periphery regions: Middle East, Africa, Aus-tralia or Latin America all have close cultural, economical, and political affiliation, shared history and values, and general relationship with either Europe or Asia, or both in equal terms, in which case the may keep a balance for a while or else turn to one side or the other eventually.
As for the relationships between large states and small states within the cultural hemispheres, they may perceive themselves as interdependent, especially the smaller states, as learned from experience, will vehemently insist on that, but all the same, together, those large trees and small trees are inter-dependent and form the single forest.
Returning to the world of politics, one could say, there is no such thing as absolute independence and liberty, not for any state, not for any group of people. The French moralist Joseph Joubert (1754-1824), who lived through the French Revolution, called any noble cry for liberty a true farce:
Let your cry be for free souls rather even than for free men. […] Subordination is in itself a better thing than independence. The one implies order and ar-rangement; the other implies only self-sufficiency with isolation. The one means harmony, the other a single tone, the one is the whole; the other is but the part. (Jospeh Joubert, 1962)
One could ask, what if one part of the whole fails to participate or commit or contribute to its social environ-ment? I would argue that in that case, if a small, solitary state tries to single-mindedly change the pattern of the whole empire, it can only do so within the limits set by all other neighboring states. Just like any community within the global community of nations, each of its smaller mem-bers will be ruthlessly assessed, persistently judged for its performance and punished if it misbehaves or non-performs:
Now, the small states imitate the large, and yet are ashamed to receive their commands: This is like a scholar’s being ashamed to receive the commands of his master. If the small states know their place, they will benefit from the greatness of their masters. (Mencius, 7A,3)
4) Political correctness
Some great negotiators, like former United Nations Secretary Kofi Annan, or now his successor, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ko-moon, would not approve of divid-ing the world into two cultural hemispheres, or at least they would stir away from such a statement for the reasons of stereotyping as explained above. Generalizations, stereo-typing and categorizations lead to separatism and isolation, to nationalism, prejudice, even racism…, in short, to all what is bad for the United Nations’ good governance and true scholarship.
The fear for new totalities in itself is not so new. But to not talking about Eastern and Western values, about mu-tual respect, about balance, harmony, and the difficulties that we face if the West is continuing down its aggressive path, I would argue that even without mentioning the con-cept of East-West dichotomy, there is still going to be the dangers of separatism and isolation, nationalism and all what is bad for good governance and true scholarship.
Since everyone in world politics seemed so concerned about the price we have to pay for the different civilization modes of humankind, we should find the peaceful quarter to discuss the value of it all. The United Nations, having been informed countless times by the universal historians and universal philosophers, ford makers, great thinkers and Nobel laureates in East and West, that there is cultural diversity that not only needs to be addressed but needs to be understood, appreciated and tolerated. It is important that all its member nations understand and cherish this: the value created (not just the price paid), say by China’s Terracotta Army or the US’s military spending.
Asian nations are now a majority in numbers, opinions and in theory. As said elsewhere in this book, Asia is now a greater phenomenon than the US or Europe. Un-ashamed resistance to (or, worse, outright denial of) Asian values, Eastern philosophies, cultural achievements and Asia’s greater participation in world politics, that included the reformation of the United Nations and the G8, could lead to a true (and I fear justified) Clash of Civilizations, just like Huntington had prophesized.
5) Unipolarity, bipolarity, and multipolarity
There is a well-informed block of political analysts and economist who try to convince us that the relationship of Europe’s big three (Germany, France, Britain) plus the United States, and Asia’s big three (China, India, and Ja-pan) plus maybe Russia are only superficial, toxic and congenital defected – thus cannot be dovetailed (Laurence, 1962; Hendry, 2006). The alternative, it is suggested, would be the inevitable chaos of treating all nation-states as separate entities that form alliances at any time with whoever is able or willing, thus arbitrarily leading the world into unipolarity (one center of power), bipolarity (two cen-ters of power), or multipolarity (three or more centers of power), with no such thing as a permanent East-West di-vide.
Such a theory looks like a deliberately broken window of glass to me. Valuable time and energy would be wasted on the analysis of shards and smithers. But some people do pick up on this, collecting particular stats and data about each country’s human and non-human capital, natu-ral resources and endowments, which is nothing less than the surrender to the nurture approach favored, for instance by the social materialists Gared Diamond in his Guns, Germs and Steel (2003) and Heinsohn and his Söhne und Weltmacht (2005).
The social materialistic approach is an extension of Marxist’s materialism, or maybe just another fancy name for bean-counting. This very (Western) analytical, deduc-tion-based approach to make sense of the world and all relationships does not allow any value, metaphysical dis-cussion, ideologies and spiritual meaning; it does not know about ‘oneness’, or ‘balance’, or ‘harmoniousness’; or about human morals or factors like ‘tolerance’, ‘respect’, ‘love’ and ‘forgiveness’. It does not assume a greater role of man other than being a statistic. It demonstrates once more that particular Western idea-lessness and confusions I was talking about earlier: the limits of Western cultural mode and deductive-based science which in essence was almost begging for the re-emergence of the spiritual East, its former glories, wisdoms and its power to heal the global imbalance.
So, the West still thinks it is all about who’s got the oil, who’s got the money, who’s got the guns, or, better, who’s got the biggest guns. That’s how our children now think and are trained to reason. If your numbers add up, you are at the top of the league table. This is a conclusion the de-ductive ways dictates; let us recall: in deductive reasoning we reach a conclusion from previously know facts, a con-clusion that is sound and valid. That is the tragedy of our cause, and the cause for our decline. We are totally de-luded and lost in an artificial world of infinite particularities, of which we do not know how to let go and get out, all the while the East with its inductive ways simply “allocates new relations to recurring phenomenal patterns”; it shame-lessly dared to make un-scientific predictions and acted upon them, and now the world has changed like a puzzle that only a few Westerners are able to see, let alone to solve.
The East-West dichotomy predicts that if the world were to be reshuffled and start from anew, under any cir-cumstances it would happen all over again: the division of humankind into two cultural hemispheres: one more ra-tional, analytical, and deductive, the other more intuitive, spiritual, and inductive. It is an evolutionary program than runs through all of us, it is not arbitrary, in the same way cerebral determinism, cognitive dualism and shared labor are not arbitrary.
According to the East-West dichotomy, there is only equilibrium. This equilibrium may never be perfectly bal-anced and, at times, may pound more to one side than other, yet the world according to this can never be unipolar or multipolar.
If asked about a single, unified humanity, no reason-able person would openly disagree with this possibility. It seems rational: 1 + 1 = 1. ? Or maybe not? As an admis-sion of guilt, I should remark we human beings have always “come together,” relatively speaking, through our common ancestor, migration, trade, invasions, trade, colo-nialism, trade, imperialism, more trade, and now globalization. Yet, that same reasonable person, be it a president, CEO, star journalists, top leader, or just an ex-change student, French or Chinese or whatever nationality, as soon as he or she has to make decisions, talks officially, or deals with the ‘other’, he or she will choose his side and is going to use ‘East’ and ‘West’, these two terms, on every possible occasion. Why is it, that everyone knows about “East and West”, talks about “East and West”, be-longs to either East or West?
Here a possible explanation: Despite the outrageous disunity of the European nation states and the dysfunc-tional bureaucracy of the European Union, those 450 million or so citizens do not only embrace a common ‘Magna Charta of Liberty’ or ‘Magna Charta of Democracy and Human Rights’, but also the ‘Magna Charta of Loyalty’. What do I mean by ‘Magna Charta of Loyalty’? I mean this: The European powers, after so many centuries of ‘jointly conquering and dividing the world’, in the end had no more else to do than to ditch their territories or else declare war on each other.
After the two Great Wars, all of their remaining former colonies became independent. It seems but a rational choice to me, that the Europeans should unite to jointly face the New World Order, or else get the whipping they truly deserve, especially in the face of the rising powers of the Muslim/Arabic, Indian, and Chinese civilizations. In fact, if I were non-European, and I wanted to manipulate Europe, I would do my utmost to distract the Europeans from their ‘Manga Charta of Loyalty’; I would try to make ‘Loyalty’ not work for them, to play them and their interests against each other. Granted, by saying “‘Magna Charta of Loyalty’ of the European nations” I mean the European na-tions’ faithfulness to the European cause: the forceful continuation (and domination) of their civilization by means of their rational, analytical-based ways and deductive cul-tural mode over all worldly affairs, standards, institutions, politics, economics, and social issues.
Loyalty evolves most naturally for one’s common an-cestors, heredity, and community. It is an evolutionary tactic of a greater chance of survival and procreation of that group. That is why the Americans, Europeans and the Commonwealth realm, despite all their internal struggles and disputes, nevertheless refer to themselves as the ‘West’. The same pattern we find among the various nation states in Asia that, despite all their internal struggles and disputes, nevertheless refer to themselves as the ‘East’.
That is why East and West are incommensurable con-cepts: nothing can belong simultaneously to both parts; nor can both parts simultaneously occupy the same space.