Monday, October 30, 2006

Eastern Values

I'm cross-posting this from the CaFE forum, where people were discussing the defense of Western values:

I'm going to make myself even more unpopular. It seems to me that to talk of defending Western values, culture or civilisation is both factually inaccurate and tactically misguided.

I have the impression that most people who think of Western civilisation believe it to have been built on two pillars - the Bible, and Classical Greek civilisation. Both of those were Eastern in mentality and outlook. When Alexander the Great set out to conquer the known world, he headed east and carried on in that direction, taking in much of what is now the Arab world, including parts of North Africa, through Persia until he passed through Afghanistan to reach India. That was the world as he knew it, and for the Greeks, the strange northern barbarians were just curiosities in tales like Jason and the Argonauts.

Classical Greek culture was formed through centuries of contact, and conflict, with that, Eastern, world where writing, arithmetic and mathematics were developing long before literacy came to the north.

The Bible, especially the Old Testament (before the Romans made them look West as well), was equally the product of a non-European world: Egypt, Iraq, Persia were the neighbours of the Jews and the influences of those cultures can be seen as early as the Book of Genesis.

It is absolutely true that the traditions of democracy and Christianity took better root, eventually, in Europe but to seek to divorce these things from their Eastern antecedents seems wrong in fact.

It's also tactically inadvisable, because nothing could be more certain to eliminate the possibility of a worldwide enlightened movement than the dividing of the world into a civilised West, and a barbaric "other".

The great advantage we have, of course, was the miracle of the Enlightenment and the Reformation - roughly contemporary movements that liberated human inventiveness from the shackles of theocratic suppression. And others in the world want to benefit from this. It's worth browsing Memri's website from time to time to see, in addition to the horrors we associate with the Muslim media, the voices of sane, cultured, rational people striving under circumstances much less congenial than our own to liberate themselves from oppression.

If we describe ourselves - define ourselves - in opposition to them - West versus East, North versus South - then we reduce the possibilities of joining with them to build free and open democratic societies everywhere.

Muriel Grey has today defined something she calls "enlightenism". It's worth reading and considering. At the very least, I think you'll enjoy some of her language:

Read Grey's argument here

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