Posted 16 October 2008 - 01:42 AM
Well, I just read all this interesting discussion.
Two things always strike me in this kind of debate. First, 'the West' seems in many people's minds to be a homogenous entity based on a contemporary image of corporate and consumer culture most associated with the USA. And 'China' or 'the East', is a kind of timeless entity full of respectful, responsible collectivist people all frozen into Confuciun values.
Second is that our judgements are necessarily limited by our subjective experience and knowledge, so the real diversity and huge amount of nuances get overlooked.
It made me laugh to read Senor Boogie Woogie's post because it sounded like he's describing Russia, not China.
I have personal experience of different cultures and societies, West and non-West, I've always been caught somewhere in between in terms of influences, and I've lived, studied and worked in different countries, always like a kind of outsider, but it giave a chance to just observe what I see around me. I notice that some of the posters drew up lists of values supposedly West or East, and in different societies particular conditions and history will indeed probably lead to certain values becoming prominent. I have never been to America, but I imagine that with its particular history of development (religious settlers, having to develop and open up a new land) values such as adventurous spirit, God, importance of the individual, probably would become the founding values in that society.
I think people often forget the West is not some kind of single entity, but is also very diverse. Each 'Western' country has its own distinct history and conditions, even if there are some common religious and philosphical traditions. The values perceived now as 'Western' I would say are not 'western' or 'eastern' but simply 'modern'. Respect for age versus vitality of youth, for example. The fetish with youth and growing disregard for age is a recent development and is more about consumer culture than 'west' or 'east'. And consumer culture itself in its modern immediate gratification and wasteful form is a modern development. It is a modern thing that families have shrunk, that generations live apart, that talk now is all of 'rights' and not of 'obligations'. I think this is something that has maybe gone beyond the old notion of 'west' and 'east'. It has already displaced the old values and way of life of the west, and is now doing so in the east. This is urbanisation, increasing uniformity of consumer habits, and this brings with it change in values too.
People in Russia say the west is very materialistic and has no spiritual dimension, but it is hard to find a place more materialistic and obsessed with youth, money and image than Moscow. You go practically anywhere in the world now and in the big cities the culture and values are becoming so much more similar.
As for the different west-east values, harmony and contemplation, the search for the mean, usually associated with the east, but Greek philosphers speak of the same ideals. Importance of soceity above the individual, also associated with the east, but then you read say, Rousseau's 'Social Contract', and it puts the collective above the individual. Adventurous spirit, in some countries yes, but what about Blaise Pascal, mathematician and curious mind, but he said our misfortunes come from the fact that we can't just stay settled in one room. supposedly Western values like scientific explanation of the world, living with rather than in nature, also have their counterparts in eastern countries and history. The more you look at what is 'west' or 'east', the more you see that there is a common foundation that is universal, and that is now being displaced by a different foundation that is also universal in nature rather than based on one particular civilisation.
Maybe the one significant difference that I would tentatively advance based on my purely subjective experience is this: the east is more inclined to a fatalistic view and the west takes more the view that you are the master of your destiny. Maybe I perceive it this way just because I've got more the fatalistic view deep inside me no matter what I do to be the master of my destiny, so maybe my assertion has no real basis, but this, anyway, is how I see east and west.
sorry for being so boring and humourless, some of the posts had some good bits about humour, irony etc. I like Monty Python, and I like slapstick stuff too, and I like word puns, and Beijing humour... Yeah, I like to laugh, I just never remember the jokes afterwards.