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Saturday, 9 January 2016

THE WEST AND THE REST

Is there such a thing as Western culture, Western society, philosophy?
While listening to a podcast on African Philosophy, I couldn't help but think that it seemed ludicrous to talk about "African" in the context of one big bundle of ideas and values from over 50 countries, each with its own identity and history.
Is there a case for being sceptical about a Western ideal as well? There are clear connections amongst countries belonging to certain geographical and colonial areas. Historical and cultural ties are undeniable, however, those ties were borne out of proximity or conquest rather than natural equivalence.

To this day, the differences between European and North American countries, between Northern and Southern Europe, Latin and Anglo-Saxon, East and West, Basque and Catalan, Milanese and Roman or even North and South London, are such that one could get lost in a myriad of microcosms.
Are there enough similarities to justify a Western macrocosm? Historical associations have been forced by politics and geography and, although there are clear connections and inherited traits, we seem to dismiss that we have just as much in common with cultures outside our immediate reach: maths, science, the alphabet, even philosophy... all have origins or share characteristics with those from India, China, Egypt and so on. Even the Bible, so symbolic of the Western divergence, have allegories derived from other ancient texts from further East.

The term 'Western' is relative to the context it is used for. In politics is 'us and them'; in society is often 'white and the others'. We then blur these parameters as we see fit. UEFA, the football governing body for Europe, embraces countries like Azerbaijan and Israel, more akin, historically, to Asia and the Middle East. We consider countries as far as Japan and South Korea to be westernised, meaning they have the same amenities and wealthy economies, but they're just as disparate from us in everyday life as other countries that don't get awarded the accolade. We're happy to accept ancient Greece as the font of our philosophies or Rome as the root for our laws, easily forgetting of Al-Ghazali and Hammurabi.
As the world gets smaller and we embrace a melting pot of ethnicities, ideals and outlooks blend, transform and create a more homogeneous variety of thoughts.
We might wish to separate ourselves from others but it's only a semantic option. In reality the mixing of cultures is an inevitability. Continuing to use the term "Western" only increases a sense of forced separation, it precludes that others are not worthy of our club. We keep stretching the chasm generated by politics and scaremongering, feeding the illusive dichotomy between the West and the Rest. Having linguistic and cultural diversity does not mean having separation of responsibilities.
Until we consider ourselves as one people sharing one land, one human race, differences will not lessen and wounds will not heal.

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