Oriental Osmosis of Occidental – Part (2)
We face neither East nor West: we face forward.
– Kwame Nkrumah
In the eighteenth century European trade enclaves began a systematic colonization of the East. Both at scholarly and popular levels developed a set of stereotyped views of ‘How’ and ‘Why’ the people of the East were different and inferior. These were based on an array of unbridgeable oppositions between East and West – ‘and never the twain shall meet’, as Rudyard Kipling, speaking derogatively of the East. Subsequently, the views have taken political-economic undertone and have shaped into the East-West divide. The drivers for such division were principally some Western Europeans and, to a lesser extent, some Americans, as a demonstration of cultural pre-eminence of the West, particularly in the realm of science and technology.
Proponents were: Abbe Dubois a priest who wrote a famous book titled “Culture and Rituals of the Hindoos”, Katherine Mayo a journalist of US in ‘30s & others – ‘Drain Inspectors’ as Gandhiji described the latter. We must exclude Western pioneers in the study of Eastern philosophy and culture, such as Max Mueller, David Frawley —— However, everything to the East of them became the dominion of the backward Easterners, whether it was such diverse groups as the Arabs, Hindus or Chinese. Primarily, divergences in social customs, sexual mores, social etiquette, family culture, religion, language, dress, cuisine, and the rituals of the life cycle contributed to the East-West divide. The scholars, philosophers and leaders contrasted the development of modern civilization in the West with the backward civilization in the East, a fracas that persists today.
Western tends to mean modern, as Eastern tends to mean ancient. India or China were once at the forefront and over a couple of decades could be once again at the vanguard of technology or what we now call Western civilization. In mathematics the Indians have been the inventors of the symbol “Zero”. The Indian astronomers developed the concept of “infinity” & “atom” and made great progress in understanding of the universe. Indian dyers invented fast colours and discovered “Indigo”; the Indian ironworkers may have produced the first steel. Susruta Samhita enumerates eight branches of medical science that includes complicated brain surgery. In the thirteenth century the Chinese had gunpowder, the compass & (more such unearthed by Joseph Needham a famous scientific historian on Chinese science)…. the basis of modern technology and the Europeans were technologically primitive. Such temporal distinctions are seldom enduring.
Yet, today, the term “Western culture” usually excludes both Western religions and Western intellectual culture. It is Western pop culture: rock music, swanky cars, tattered jeans, sex talk, fast food, and so on. In many ways it’s more of an anti-culture than a true culture. Why? It not only annihilates the culture of the countries it invades, but it has already undermined the ethical or aesthetic refinement that was in itself to begin with. A sizable portion of ‘Western culture’ after the Second World War has actually been a ‘commercialization of culture’—– very powerful and illuminating insights into modern Western culture are the commentaries of Tom Wolfe.
Hence when Westerners insist upon maintaining the purity of Western culture what do they mean? Do they mean upholding Christianity? Do they mean upholding Greco-Roman or European intellectual values? Do they mean upholding modern Western pop culture or Western business interests?
Is there a cultural purity of homogeneity in any of this?
And what do so -called progressive Easterners mean when they speak of bringing in the benefits of Western culture? Apart from technological expertise, the West probably has very little culture to offer. Western religious leaders treat their Western religions as of global relevance, but instantly scorn at if natives of Eastern religious background consider that their religions also possess a global significance. This is palpably an abject religious chauvinism. Is not religion meant to deal with what is universal anyway?