Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Mechanical West

The West has always been seen as the seat of materialism, and in that sense, one might argue that spiritual ideas flow more from the East to the West, while material ideas flow more from the West to the East. But this requires examples, and leads to an interesting idea which itself requires explanation, historical or otherwise.

To begin with, I suspect the idea of 'East and West' applies only to the Eurasian supercontinent, and that the further you get away from this latitudinal zone, the less it applies. You could call North America part of this zone, and call it 'West' by colonial extension, and formerly 'East'. Africa, South America — both of these are hard to classify, although both have been tainted a lot by the West. The Indian subcontinent is a problem; it's obviously part of the origin of the West, and yet unalterably East.

The material ideas I'm thinking of, however, are the big modern ideas like democracy, capitalism, Marxism, and suchlike. All these are atheistic ideas spawned in the West and translated to the East. They are atheist religions, having no god and dealing with only the life that is. They create material benchmarks and judge the whole world by these. Medicine from the West, tested and tried by experiment and physical action, is 'medicine' — any Eastern treatment is 'alternative medicine'. Any alternative to American democracy is seen as 'alternative democracy' or something less than ideal.

The East has had to adopt Western practices in every technological and scientific area, in order to be taken seriously. The Japanese learnt this early, and are now the most Western of the East. Cyril Aydon, in A Brief History of Mankind, claims that the Industrial Revolution didn't come to China because it was not a civilisation that was mechanically-minded at the individual level, and that the peasantry did not have the leisure that the large Western middle class had to think about such things. I think he's right.

Perhaps the thing about the West is that it claims to believe in individuals and then uses machine structures, machine ideas, and machines to regulate their behaviour; the East believes in the collective, and in that sense is less hypocritical. As for India, it believes that everything is equally (un)real, and acts as if that is truth. It is all a wonderful world.

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