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[P]
The West Is Not A Place

By Scrymarch in Culture
Thu Oct 18, 2001 at 03:54:07 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

Every day I read about The West or Western culture and I have sickened of it. It represents a lazy and useless habit of mind.


Obtain, or envision if you can, a map of the world. Locate Prague. Extend a line towards and through the geographic poles such that the map is divided into two hemispheres. Take a crayon. In the Atlantic Ocean trace a large capital W. In Asia Minor trace a large capital E.

Ponder on this for a time. Reflect the extraordinary ties of culture, technology and geography that tie the W side together, and the contrasting ties that bind the E side together. Now hold the map in your open palm and rapidly compress your hand into a fist, because the map is absolute bollocks and the chaotic crumpled folds give a far better impression of what the world is like. You should know - you were just contemplating the cultural similarities of Ireland and the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Mongolia and New Zealand.

The North-South divide sometimes mooted is fairly useless as well. It would have the people of South Africa petitioning for asylum in Moldova.

The West is shorthand for Western European Civilisation. It stems as a concept from the split of the Roman Empire into Western and Eastern empires about two millenia ago; it was vaguely reinforced by the Cold War. It is characterised by traditions of Christian religon and belief in the worth of the individual. It is a byword for technological and mercantile success. And it no longer exists.

Much of Western Europe is Christian in name only; most are vague agnostics. The Phillipines and Brazil are far more devout, and are not usually considered part of the West. Mercantile and technological success has never been exclusively Western European - printing, gunpowder and the magnet all came from China through Arabia and Central Asia. Even using The West as a tag for twenty-first century wealth ignores the second largest economy in the world in Japan. The tradition of civil liberties formalised by democracy are firmly planted outside Western Europe - for some of last century more firmly than within it.

The traditional Western countries seem to be run by white men. Is The West a racial distinction? Only if "whites" are a race, Italians, Spaniards and Russians are not, and people such as Colin Powell are ignored.

Is The West a description of political power? The UN Security Council suggests it is not a good one.

So what is Western culture if it has no distinguishing attributes of geography, economics, religon, technology, race or politics? It seems to me that as it is usually used, Western means "like America". America wasn't even part of the Roman Empire. Using Western this way has unfortunate implications. It implies that the USA is the only model for a successful industrial democracy. And it implies success as a nation is predetermined with geographical solidity. It assumes, say, Pakistan, could never be a rich, industrial democracy, because they aren't part of The West.

Words have an intimate relationship with our minds that makes people loath to change what they say. This is more a call for precision than political correctness, though. In its cultural context, West is a useless and coagulated term. I offer, in conclusion, some synonyms. American, liberal, industrial, democratic, corporate, European, rich, English, Teutonic, secular, arrogant, free.

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The West Is Not A Place | 44 comments (36 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
In defense of the term "The West" (4.28 / 7) (#1)
by TheophileEscargot on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 07:45:37 AM EST

Points in favour of use of the term "The West".
  • It is short.
  • Most people understand its meaning: the countries of North America, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand. It possibly includes Japan and South Africa.
There are always boundary problems with words. I don't know whether Fluffy Grue is currently male or female, but I don't think that justifies abandoning the words male and female. (For a start I wouldn't be able to get pleasantly enraged at the sign "Male Toilet"). Just because "The West" does not have perfect boundaries does not mean the phrase should be abandoned: it deals with unpleasantly fuzzy notions.

Also, I don't think it's worth abandoning because it does not reflect physical geography. It's generally understood to reflect cultural geography: the practical disadvantages of the geographical problems are nil. I find it hard to imagine, for instance, a sailor getting lost on the way from San Francisco to Tokyo because he thought they were both in the "West".

Finally, I don't think any of the synonyms you provide really do the job. You can't really use any of them to say, for instance, "Most people in the <XXXXX> have access to television", without leaving out a lot of people.
----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death

We've talked about this before, I think (2.00 / 1) (#8)
by nurglich on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 11:30:51 AM EST

The discussion of the words "man", "mankind", etc. has certainly come up here before. "The West" is a pretty similar thing in that, while the words literally mean one thing, and probably actually meant that thing in the past, they now have different meanings in their specific contexts. "The West" may fall out of favor as the world becomes more industrialized, or the entire world may become "Western", and our great^x-grandchildren may have Space Internet discussions on their Space Computers about why the galaxy is considered "Western" when that doesn't really make any sense at all.

------------------------------------------
"There are no bad guys or innocent guys. There's just a bunch of guys!" --Ben Stiller, Zero Effect

[ Parent ]
See "Left" and "Right" (3.00 / 1) (#13)
by TheophileEscargot on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 12:35:48 PM EST

How many people even know that "progressives" traditionally sat on the left and "conservatives" on the right?

Hey, we should stop using those words too! They could be confusing: Republicans might be driving all around the block because they don't want to turn "left"...
----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

Short, understanding (3.66 / 3) (#28)
by Scrymarch on Thu Oct 18, 2001 at 09:33:24 AM EST

I agree that short words are generally good.

Most people think they understand the meaning, because the term once had a meaning and the state of the world today is related to that, historical, sense.

The example of male and female for boundary problems is not a good one, because fluffy_grue is either or male or female, you just don't know which. Japan is not either in or out of The West; people just aren't sure.

Of course the synonyms provided don't fully do the job - because The West lumps so many concepts awkwardly together it doesn't really mean anything. It's just a convenient mental bin.

[ Parent ]

Not necessarily (5.00 / 1) (#35)
by TheophileEscargot on Thu Oct 18, 2001 at 10:05:45 AM EST

The example of male and female for boundary problems is not a good one, because fluffy_grue is either or male or female, you just don't know which.

There are boundary problems with male and female. To take another example, there are sex-changers who have XX chromosomes and penises. You can't say they are really male or female and I just don't know which: they are in a grey area. It's meaningless to just say they are either one or the other, without evidence or proof that that statement is true.

Words are not precise tools. Even dictionary definitions are just reports of how words are used in practice: words can change or reverse their meanings over time ("awful", for example).

Most people here seem to feel that "The West" is a meaningful term. Language is regrettably democratic. Ultimately, what people think about the language is what the language becomes.
----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

I was with you until... (3.90 / 10) (#3)
by Zeram on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 08:02:37 AM EST

"Even using The West as a tag for twenty-first century wealth ignores the second largest economy in the world in Japan."

Japan has taken western culture and run with it in a way that is scary. They have integrated western culture into their own so well that it is both awe inspiring and frightening at the exact same time.

And besides that, I think you miss the obvious. You want to know what the west is? The west is Britany Spears belly button, Chasey Lains tits, male fashion models in their underwear on the side of a bus, the rugged indidualism that keeps us all hovering six inches off of everyone elses wings like some kind of social blue angels squad, and the belief that anything, absolutly anything can be purchased.

"John Waynes not dead, he frozen. And as soon find a cure for cancer we're gonna thaw out the duke. And he's gonna be pretty pissed off, you know why? Ever taken a cold shower? Multiply that by about fifteen million times, thats how pissed off the dukes gonna be! And then I'm gonna get the duke, and Lee Marvin, and John Cassivettis and Sam Peckinpah, and a case of wiskey, and we're gonna go down to texas..." -Dennis Leary
<----^---->
Like Anime? In the Philly metro area? Welcome to the machine...
japan (4.00 / 2) (#10)
by alprazolam on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 12:00:17 PM EST

Japan has taken western culture and run with it in a way that is scary. They have integrated western culture into their own so well that it is both awe inspiring and frightening at the exact same time.

That culture that you identify as western was already present in Japan. I think the article was just trying to point out that being economically modernized has nothing to do with your "culture" and certainly not with any "western" culture.

[ Parent ]

Western Influences (3.00 / 1) (#12)
by Blarney on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 12:13:20 PM EST

That culture that you identify as western was already present in Japan.

Tell me more about traditional Japanese rock music then.



[ Parent ]

Japanese influences (5.00 / 1) (#14)
by StrontiumDog on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 12:41:46 PM EST

Japanese rock music is as Western as sushi, judo, Teenaged Ninja Turtles, pokemon, nintendo, haikus and anime.

21st century USA has more in common with 21st century Japan than with 19th century USA. Culture is not static, and cultural exchange is not a one-way phenomenon.

[ Parent ]

Well (4.00 / 1) (#15)
by Zeram on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 02:26:29 PM EST

for everything that America (ostentibly "the west") has taken from Japanese culture, sushi, martial arts, hello kitty, we have given them just as much, the early foundations of Manga/Anime, an obsession with fast cars, loud music, bondage as a culture/lifestyle. Japan is sort of an example of what western culture can be (note that I am not making any valuations one way or the other).
<----^---->
Like Anime? In the Philly metro area? Welcome to the machine...
[ Parent ]
i'm not talking about bullshit pop culture here (none / 0) (#17)
by alprazolam on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 03:04:35 PM EST

christ like that kind of shit even matters. i'm talking about foundations of social and political institutions.

[ Parent ]
Ok (none / 0) (#18)
by Zeram on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 03:22:41 PM EST

So Japan took democracy from us and tacked on an Emperor. Yes I know that England has a simmilar system, but again Japan's system is uniquely their own. The same thing with organized crime. The yakuza is seen as some times the only career choice for kids who have no real skills, or ability to get/hold a real job.
<----^---->
Like Anime? In the Philly metro area? Welcome to the machine...
[ Parent ]
The West As Consumerism (none / 0) (#30)
by Scrymarch on Thu Oct 18, 2001 at 09:44:55 AM EST

That was a word I was going to mention somewhere, but, er, didn't.

Japan and Hong Kong have both embraced consumerism with vigour, but that doesn't make them Western. Are Sweden and New Zealand Western? They have less capitalist zeal, and a more readily recognisable social structure.

[ Parent ]

Western Civilization (3.93 / 15) (#4)
by wiredog on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 08:26:05 AM EST

Dr. George Reisman, Professor at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles, writing in The Intellectual Activist, Volume V, No. 4, April 30, 1990:

From the perspective of intellectual and cultural content, Western civilization represents an understanding and acceptance of the following: the laws of logic; the concept of causality and, consequently, of a universe ruled by natural laws intelligible to man; on these foundations, the whole known corpus of the laws of mathematics and science; the individual's self-responsibility based on his free will to choose between good and evil; the value of man above all other species on the basis of his unique possession of the power of reason; the value and competence of the individual human being and his corollary possession of individual rights, among them the right to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness; the need for limited government and for the individual's freedom from the state; on this entire preceding foundation, the validity of capitalism, with its unprecedented and continuing economic development in terms of division of labor, technological progress, capital accumulation and rising living standards; in addition, the importance of visual arts and literature depicting man as capable of facing the world with confidence in his power to succeed, and music featuring harmony and melody.

Not sure I agree with all of that, but it's a good starting place.

If there's a choice between performance and ease of use, Linux will go for performance every time. -- Jerry Pournelle

In addition (4.25 / 8) (#11)
by StrontiumDog on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 12:09:11 PM EST

Western civilisation is the rejection of evil and narrowmindedness; the cultivation of all that is pure and good; the ability to experience multiple orgasms; premarital sex of a wholesome nature; in addition the rejection of all disease and filth; the posession of a sane mind and a sound body; in short, the epitome of excellence.

Sorry, defining "Western civilisation" by identifying it with a eulogy of all that is good and desirable may be gratifying to the ego, but sweeps under the carpet other elements of Western heritage such as racism, slavery, colonialism, the Inquisition, the Crusades, both World Wars, Nazi-ism, fascism, Marxism, socialism, communism, isolationism, protectionism, eugenetics, and totalitarianism.

The West is neither the epitome of immorality nor morality; it is amoral, like all other abstract concepts. Painting it as the essence of paradise on Earth is all well and good, but that's mental masturbation, and I personally prefer wanking to good porn rather than Dr. Reisman's prose.

[ Parent ]

Interesting (5.00 / 3) (#16)
by qpt on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 03:04:27 PM EST

You will note that Dr. Reisman's description of Western civilization does not list any qualities that are good or desirable as such. On the contrary, they merely happen to be good and desirable to you. There is no reason why other cultures could not value religious revelation over reason and social duty over individual freedom, and indeed, some do. By identifying Dr. Reisman's description with morality, you have revealed far more about yourself than about Western civilization. Again, there is nothing universally or objectively moral about the provided list of attributes.

As for the list of undesirable traits that you provided, none of them characterize the West qua the West. It is easy to imagine a culture that could lack any one of those traits and yet still be considered Western. On the other hand, it is very difficult to imagine that a culture that denied causality or individual rights could be considered Western.

Domine Deus, creator coeli et terrae respice humilitatem nostram.
[ Parent ]

Pamela Lee and me ... (4.00 / 2) (#19)
by StrontiumDog on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 03:47:20 PM EST

You will note that Dr. Reisman's description of Western civilization does not list any qualities that are good or desirable as such. On the contrary, they merely happen to be good and desirable to you
Dr. Reisman's description of Western civilization is a description of the West, by a Westerner, for Western audiences, and it describes the West in the most favourable terms possible within the Western value system. Period.

As for the list of undesirable traits that you provided, none of them characterize the West qua the West.
Rubbish. Why would you think such a thing? Because these traits or events don't factually characterize the West, or because the West likes to think that these traits or events are not characteristically Western? Marxism, socialism and communism, the archetypical "Western" bogeymen, are pure Western products. The Inquisition, Crusades, the World Wars and Nazi Germany were Western. Colonialism is almost archetypically defined by the colonial ambitions of Britain, Spain, Portugal and The Netherlands.
On the other hand, it is very difficult to imagine that a culture that denied causality or individual rights
e.g Europe as percieved by Americans ...
could be considered Western.
... and yet Americans still consider Europe to be Western.

In all seriousness, until very recently (i.e. 30-40 years ago), causality and individual rights were not universal in Western culture.

[ Parent ]

You misunderstand (5.00 / 1) (#20)
by qpt on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 04:14:39 PM EST

Dr. Reisman's description of Western civilization is a description of the West, by a Westerner, for Western audiences, and it describes the West in the most favourable terms possible within the Western value system. Period.
Period or not, that statement is simply incorrect. As you sarcastically demonstrated in your previous post, it is rather easy to provide more favourable descriptions of the West. Furthermore, it would be expected that a description of Western values by a Westerner would align with Western values. Would you expect a Westerner to be appalled by the values that characterize their culture?

The actuality of Western behavior certainly leaves room for moral outrage, but that is in altogether different matter than the West's values. You are correct in saying that in actuality, the West has been guilty of terrible things. However, none of these things are essential to what the West is, and are thus not part of its character. For example, Britney Spears is undeniably a product of Western culture, but she is by no means an essential product. That is to say, if Britney Spears had never been produced, Western culture would still be the same in its fundamentals as it is now.

As for your other objections, western Europe holds individual rights in much higher value than most of the world. The fact that they do not conceive of individual rights exectly as Americans do is irrelevent. The European socialist states are established on the premise that individuals are entitled to a certain standard of well-being. Socialism makes little sense when individuals are seen as merely disposable tools of society as a whole. Regarding your assertion that causality has only been recently acknowledged in the west, I would point out that the entire Western legal tradition rests on the concept that individuals are responsible for (i.e cause) their actions.

Domine Deus, creator coeli et terrae respice humilitatem nostram.
[ Parent ]

Are you sure? (none / 0) (#43)
by crank42 on Tue Oct 23, 2001 at 02:27:52 PM EST

For example, Britney Spears is undeniably a product of Western culture, but she is by no means an essential product.

Without being flip, are you sure about that? It strikes me that Britney Spears and other mock-music pap creations for popular network radio are, in fact, entailed by the fundamental corporatist leaning of "Western" values. A necessary consequence of an essential property is, by deduction (although not by tradition) also an essential property. So, the product Britney Spears (as opposed to the person, if the distinction can still be made) is an essential product.

[ Parent ]

19th century liberalism + tunes (none / 0) (#31)
by Scrymarch on Thu Oct 18, 2001 at 09:52:11 AM EST

This is at least a coherent philosophy, but as pointed out by another poster, it's not really a definition of the West; it's an aspiration for the West. Whenever, today, cultures identifying themselves as Western interact with ones identified as non-Western, they would like to see themselves passing these values on.

It mightn't be such a problem describing this as liberalism if it hadn't been turned into a curse in some parts of the US. But really, apart from the music (and this has been changed radically in the 20th century by African music!), this could be combined with ancestor worship and Confucian philosophy. Is that Western? Not enough to warrant use of the term.

[ Parent ]

Umm... (4.00 / 7) (#7)
by GreenCrackBaby on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 11:24:42 AM EST

Read the article, and can sum it up with two words -- "so what."

"The west" is a term that is not going anywhere, as people understand exactly who you are talking about when you use the term. Arguing against it just makes you sound like one of those PC freaks who wants to change "manhole" to "maintenance hole".

Do people understand? (none / 0) (#33)
by Scrymarch on Thu Oct 18, 2001 at 09:55:50 AM EST

People understand a great number of different things from the use of the term West. See the comments for examples. This is hardly helps discussion about it. Better to drop the word entirely.

[ Parent ]
multiple meanings (none / 0) (#38)
by kubalaa on Fri Oct 19, 2001 at 06:25:45 AM EST

Words with ambiguous definitions can be very useful, because they adapt flexibly to their context while still adding subtle additional associations. The only real point seems to be that "The West" has multiple meanings. There's nothing wrong with that as long as you know your audience and are aware of the associations. Indeed, if I want to convey the combined notion of "individualistic, future-centered, materialistic, and egalitarian" versus "family-oriented, hierarchical, tradition-centered, non-materialistic," then simply saying "The West" is clearer and simpler.

Also, take "love," "good," "evil," "spiritual," or indeed any vague positive term like "excellent" or "fantastic." Surely these are all even more poorly defined than "The West." If your campaign is for linguistic accuracy then there are more worthy targets.

[ Parent ]

Hacker (none / 0) (#39)
by Robert S Gormley on Mon Oct 22, 2001 at 10:40:55 AM EST

Or, hacker to cracker...

[ Parent ]
Guns, Germs, and Steel (3.40 / 5) (#22)
by kmself on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 04:52:35 PM EST

Read Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. Understand both what "Western Civilization" refers to, and why it is considered the dominant influence on current global culture.

Western Civ is, of the cultures extant on the planet, a dominating influence. Nations grounded in the Western tradition dominated other cultures, for the mots part, not the other way around. Diamond's book is an exploration of the root causes of this.

Western Civ isn't exclusive. There are a tremendous number of cultural influences in the world, and culture itself morphs over time. In my Left Coast ghetto, I can find influences from Japan, Central America (strongly influenced by Spanish conquistadores), central Asia, England, and a slew of other traditions, within a five minute walk. And this is in a nominally Western country. Interestingly, one of the few cultures not represented is those of the original indeginous inhabitants of the region.

But the dominant themes are Western, as they are throughout most of the world, and certainly in those nations which represent the cultural, economic, and military powers of the day.

The term is accurate, your arguments unconvincing.

--
Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.

Magnificent book (3.00 / 1) (#34)
by Scrymarch on Thu Oct 18, 2001 at 10:03:29 AM EST

.. which argues, as I recall, that Eurasian people and ecosystems were colonisers across the world because of the shape of the Eurasian land mass.

Most of the land mass of Eurasia is excluded by The West as the term descends from the Roman Empire. Jared Diamond devotes only a small amount of time, in the epilogue, to a highly speculative consideration of why Western Europe was more successful in colonisation than, say, China.

The rest of your assertion seems to be "The West exists because I know it when I see it". Well, maybe. This sounds more like a shared hallucination to me than a useful cultural term.

[ Parent ]

A derived history (4.00 / 1) (#37)
by kmself on Fri Oct 19, 2001 at 04:02:04 AM EST

I live in California, in a culture which traces its primary influences to England and continental Europe, the Roman Empire, Greece, and earlier Mediterranian civilisations, going back to the Sumerians.

You'll find the traces of this in language (largely Anglo-Saxon, with a mix of German, French, Spanish, Latin, and Greek roots). It's in our calandar: The first three months are named for Greek gods. July and August for Roman emperors. September through December, latin numerations. Days of the week correspond to Sun and Moon gods, the Norse own the mid-week. Romans start off the weekend. Ask yourself where your cereal, attic, fury, lyric inspiration, geometry, and alphabet come from. Why your hour has sixty minutes, your year twelve months, your calendar 356 days.

I could continue, but you should be able to put together the deep threads that run through our culture pointing to their early roots. The references are everywhere, they're pervasive, they're the pulse of life. Yes, there are other cultures intermingled, but the core beliefs, the structure, as opposed to the more peripheral influences of other cultures. Western Civ, for better or worse, is at the heart of the modern world. It's not simply a matter of what you see, it's tracing memetic concepts to their roots.

--
Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

Yes and no. (4.75 / 4) (#24)
by aphrael on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 07:12:12 PM EST

the particular term in question is a bad one. But there is a historical/cultural tie that binds all of Western Europe together --- the legacy of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, among other things. Understanding of this is important in European political analysis, as it helps to explain the difference between Hungary (say) and Rumania.

There are also historical and cultural ties that bind Western Europe with the US and Canada, and with Australia and new Zealand; and it is reasonable, when talking in geopolitical terms, to use a term to describe the body of nations bound by that relationship. 'West' may be a bad word for it, but the relationship is real.

Continous vs Discrete (none / 0) (#42)
by wiesmann on Tue Oct 23, 2001 at 11:07:02 AM EST

While I agree that there a ties that bind the "West" exist, the problem with this term is that it implies a very polarized world. You can be part of the west, or not. In reality, any country/region is part of different such communities. If you think in terms of "clubs", any nation/culture is part of many "clubs".

While Europe is part of the "West" as it is called, it is also part of the Mediteranean region - which results in ties and influences that the US, for instance does not have, which in turn results in a different perception on the situation in the near and middle east (funny here again with have terms that don't make so much sense).
Japan is at the same time a very western like country, but at the same time a very asian country (and probably many other things).

The main problem I see with this "west" term is that a lot of stuff is associated with it, to much IMHO. I suspect that one problem is that the US consider itself the center/flagship of the "west". Many culturals aspects often associated with "western civilisation" are rooted in the anglo-saxon/protestant culture, and considered alien in many places which are supposedly western (like continental europe).

In the current context, I think that talking about the west is not a good idea, because this implies breaking the universe into two parts (a very western idea, I suspect :-)). I think we don't need any more lines like, "your are with us, or against us", West vs East, Christianity vs Islam, Good vs Evil, etc...

[ Parent ]

I agree that it's meaningless (3.00 / 1) (#25)
by MSBob on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 09:23:50 PM EST

Talking about the Western civilization or Western culture is meaningless. Take countries such as Czech Republic or Poland or Hungary. Using the term Western civilization is insulting to them as they all share the same values of freedom and democracy as those countries which originally recognised as "Western Civilization". Yet when people speak of the West they never consider Central Europe to be a part of it. I just prefer when people talk of "Democratic Cultures" as opposed to say "Theocratic Cultures" that dominate most of the Middle Eastern countries for example.
I don't mind paying taxes, they buy me civilization.

MSBob, I must object. (1.50 / 2) (#27)
by ti dave on Thu Oct 18, 2001 at 05:33:31 AM EST

Are you trying to convince me that the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary have long traditions of cherishing Freedom and Democracy?

None of these 3, nor any other Eastern European Nation have been a "Democratic Culture" longer than I've been on this Earth.

I can accept certain elements of these societies historically reflecting Western Cultural Values, but Freedom and Democracy are *very recent* additions.

Cheers,

ti dave
"If you dial," Iran said, eyes open and watching, "for greater venom, then I'll dial the same."

[ Parent ]
You're not looking back far enough (4.66 / 3) (#36)
by MSBob on Thu Oct 18, 2001 at 01:19:13 PM EST

Those countries were ENSLAVED by the soviets for 45 years. Saying that they have no culture of democracy built is bullshit. Did you know that Poland was one of the first countries (ad. 1791) in the world with a democratic constitution that guaranteed the basic rights to all of the citizens? You're quite ignorant about European history and it would be best if you kept your uninformed opinions to yourself instead of embarrasing yourself on this forum.
I don't mind paying taxes, they buy me civilization.

[ Parent ]
Your Head is buried in the Sand. (2.33 / 3) (#40)
by ti dave on Mon Oct 22, 2001 at 12:58:12 PM EST

From Polandonline.com;

"Prussia, Russia, and Austria all annexed parts of Poland in 1772. A small Polish state was left at the mercy of its enemies. In 1793 Poland was further partitioned among the three powers. The patriot Thaddeus Kosciusko led a peasant army in a national insurrection against the Russians. In 1795 Poland's last remaining territory was occupied by the three partitioning powers. Many Poles fled the country. In 1807 Napoleon supported the formation of a small and weak Polish state, but after Napoleon's defeat by Russia the Russians returned."

So, by your example, in 1791 a small, weak Polish state was able to create a viable Constitution and then only 2 years later was divided up by 3 foreign powers?

"Czar Alexander I of Russia permitted the existence of a Russian-controlled Polish kingdom. An uprising of the Poles in 1830 was put down by the Russians, who then began a period of suppression of Polish culture and institutions. In 1863 another insurrection resulted in the total extinction of Poland as a separate political unit. During World War I Russia fought Austria and Germany, often on Polish territory, and during this time the population suffered greatly. The Polish leaders, however, gained the support of the Allies, especially France, and in 1918 an independent Poland again appeared with Jozef Pilsudski as head of state. The pianist Ignacy Paderewski became prime minister."

Hmmmm...
"Polish Kingdom" and "Suppression of Polish Culture and Institutions" Doesn't sound very Democratic to me yet.
Independent Poland in 1918...But wait, there's more!

"In 1921 the Soviets and the Poles signed a peace treaty, which gave Poland substantial territories in the east that were mainly populated by Ukrainians and Belorussians. The internal political situation in Poland was not very stable, and in 1926 Pilsudski took control as president of the republic and head of the government. He was thus a virtual dictator. After his death in 1935 political unrest again developed, but this period ended with the outbreak of World War II."

Wow!
A somewhat Democratic Republic from 1918 to 1926.
Your assertion seems to hold true for all of 8 years!
Face the facts MSBob, Poland has fewer than 30 years of Democracy under it's belt.

You're partially correct about the Polish Constitution, but let's look a little deeper into the practical application of it;

From:
http://www.kasprzyk.demon.co.uk/www/Decline.html


"Taking advantage of Russia's involvement in a war against Turkey, the King launched a reform programme (1788-1792) and the task was carried out by the "Four-Year" or "Great Sejm" which established a new Constitution; the Constitution of the Third of May. Established in 1791, under this Constitution the "liberum Veto" was abolished and a majority rule introduced, and personal freedoms guaranteed to all the people. The Constitution was hailed in the United States, England and France, but was seen as a threat to the absolute rulers of Prussia, Austria and, especially, Russia. So, in 1792, at Russia's instigation a handful of magnates led by Ksawery Branicki, Szczesny Potocki and Seweryn Rzewuski betrayed the Commonwealth and formed the Confederation of Targowica against the new Constitution and then "asked" for help. Russian troops crossed the borders and war broke out. The King's nephew, Joseph Poniatowski and Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a veteran of the American War of Independence, put up heroic resistance but all hope faded away when the Prussians joined in, attacking the Polish armies in the rear. Many patriots were forced to flee.

In 1793 Russia and Prussia signed the Second Partition Treaty, seizing more than half the country and about four million more of the population. The last Sejm of the Commonwealth, which met at Grodno, was forced to legalise the partition and abolish most of the reforms of the "Great Sejm"."

Impressive!
Their Constitution was in effect for 2 years.
Hardly a Grand Tradition.

Also, while I'm at it;

"You're quite ignorant about European history nd it would be best if you kept your uninformed opinions to yourself instead of embarrasing yourself on this forum."

You seem to be making quite the ignorant "Blanket Statement" about someone you've never met!

You're quite ugly when you're lashing out like this.

Truth be told, I lived in Europe for over six years, learning about its' History as well as making it. I'll take your admonition with a grain of salt, thank you.

ti dave


"If you dial," Iran said, eyes open and watching, "for greater venom, then I'll dial the same."

[ Parent ]
There is actually a country called "The West& (4.00 / 2) (#26)
by the trinidad kid on Thu Oct 18, 2001 at 04:37:07 AM EST

or as it is pronounced in Arabic "al Geria" - Algeria to you and me.

I know it when I see it (5.00 / 1) (#41)
by Scrymarch on Tue Oct 23, 2001 at 09:54:31 AM EST

There's a lot of fine responses in the comments below and they have provoked me to new thought.

A common response might be:

The West is meangingful - I know what it means. You can't break it down in a reductionist way, though. A swathe of forces, patterns and movements, when the light catches them the right way, are The West. [Optionally, go on to mention a number of factors often mutually exclusive with those mentioned by others.]

It's a reasonable argument, because all words rely ultimately on this same kind of poetic basis. "Western culture" gives a romantic sense of Roman centurions using mobile phones. West is on the poetic edge, though; it only conveys an impression, not a strong and widely agreed on meaning.

I distrust the use of poetry in argument. It means too many things to too many people. Very frequently, West is a marker for a argument trying to get away with a vague generalisation. Phrases like "Western oppression" or "Western cultural imperialism" come to mind, but so does "Western civilisation".

Dr Mahatir Mohammed, longtime prime minister of Malaysia, speaking about "Asian values" instead of "Western conspiracies" as a code for "parliamentary autocracy" instead of "liberal democracy". Silvio Berlosconi, prime minister of Italy, clumsily praising Western civilisation, by which he, again, essentially meant liberal democracy. The nasty and false implication that personal liberty and the pursuit of happiness are somehow incompatible with playing Go and speaking a tonal language - or that playing baseball and speaking a Western European language suit it naturally. This is what annoys me about the term The West. It had meaning once. The meaning, with the common culture, has bled away to a smudge. I suspect by distrusting the term, I might see slightly clearer.

America: The Multinational Society (4.00 / 1) (#44)
by opentuba on Thu Oct 25, 2001 at 12:40:22 AM EST

There is a great essay my Ishamael Reed entitled America:The Multinational Society. A good and relavent portion of it reads:

Western civilization, then, becomes another confusing category like Third World, or Judeo-Christian culture, as man attempts to impose his small-screen view of political and cultural reality upon a complex world.

This essay is a good read, and makes some good points about the use of the term, Western. I agree with Reed, in the sense that the term is a drastic over-simplification, and should not be used with the fervor as it is being used today. /* Stephen J. Barr */
Knowledge == Power. Money == Power. Substitution rule of equality: Knowledge == Money.

The West Is Not A Place | 44 comments (36 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
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