Monday, July 28, 2008

Where is West?

No secret, but the ongoing conflict between East and West has found new life. Yeah, not much of a news flash there, it’s been blatantly obvious since one fall Tuesday seven years ago - has it been that long already? And doubtless it was actually pretty obvious before that for anyone who was paying attention - but that seems to have been part of the issue… no one was.
Like some geo-political Valdez, with a drunk Captain at the helm, Western civilization ran aground on the shores of Islam.
It’s been obvious that the definition of ‘East’ in East versus west has changed over not only the course of my lifetime, but for a lot longer than that. It’s face has several times been worn by Communist China and it’s ideological Asian allies. It has been the Soviet Union. And, of course now it is the fundamentalist vein of Islam. Lot’s of virtual ink has been used yakking over how different this paradigm is. How it’s not political, but religious. How the geography of the opposition is both unconstrained and interspersed with less radical mindsets and to a lesser degree even interspersed with our own. I couldn’t comment upon an idea that is new to me on this front, let alone one that is new to anyone else who is at all in touch with the state of the world we live in.
I fully expect that this particular stand off will out live me. Though I do hope that it’s eventual outcome crystallizes in my lifetime. It’s such a big question - one of the biggest of our time, up there with peak oil and global warming - and one that would be particularly unfulfilling to leave unanswered in my day… even if the ‘answer’ is nothing more than a projection. Perhaps I should re-phrase this. It is a certainty that this divide will remain long after I am gone. But perhaps the core issue might lean towards resolution before I am done.
What I have been thinking about that may seem more original - it certainly does to me - is the notion of how we - The West - have changed.
I’ve taken to using the term ‘Neo-West’ of late as I feel it more accurately identifies who ‘we’ are.
Once upon a time, the West was Western Europe. Then the New World began to exert it’s might in the world - as the ‘we’ of the America’s found our ideological voices and the ingenuity to muster our resources into some relevance. This primarily came into focus through the two global conflicts of the 20th century. And with the rise of the Pax-Americana, shifted drastically through the cold-war to roughly where it is now.
But even that designation is misleading. The ‘West’ of my high-school days is significantly different from the ‘Neo-West’ of today. Certainly in a political sense. The geography of who is counted among the West has shifted, though in many ways the demographic of the people within those areas remains in many ways the same.
Obviously I am speaking foremost of the former Soviet Union. While significant parts of that vast land-mass are strife ridden and much of that strife is a Muslim/Non-Muslim divide, most of that it small scale. The land that was once behind the Iron Curtain and made up the greater part of the perceived ‘East’ of the Kennedy/Kruschev through Reagan/Gorbachev eras is now inarguably Neo-West.
The Land of the Rising Sun - once an enemy so reviled that the moral compass dropped quickly to the bottom, like say an atom-bomb, thus allowing the inhumane notion of visiting the horror of that same weapon upon them was seen as collateral damage - are now a thriving Neo-western nation. Indeed, one of the most thriving. If the definition of Neo-West is ‘industrial capitalist democracy’ (which isn’t necessarily the definition, but certainly works as starting criteria) then it’s arguable that Japan is the epitome of Neo-Western civilization. Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it! The unavoidable inclusion of Japan alone clearly severs the implicit understanding of my grandparent’s generation that ‘West’ meant white (or even pre-dominantly white) nations.
There are also countries that were the afterthoughts of Western Civilization. Places that were culturally and politically ‘West’ and had be so affiliated for generations, but by an accident of geography were typically ignored as being part of the family. Australia and New Zealand are the obvious examples here. Both colonies of Britain, both settled under similar circumstances to one another and to a lesser degree Canada. Both participated in the World Wars, are essentially English speaking, and have long been consumers of Western culture. It’s hard to say that they haven’t been part of the club. But they were always wallflowers at the member functions.
There is an obvious geo-centric argument to go against my claim that Canada has been a part of the West as long as the U.S. has been. We participated in both World Wars more immediately than the US - and going with my earlier thoughts that seems to have been one of the keys to membership previous to the past twenty years. And as the US became the dominant force in Western culture, Canada was both literally and figuratively right alongside. Yes, we as Canadians come similarly close to being the red-headed step-children along with our brethren from Down Under, but I feel that we’ve been sitting at the big kids table for most of a century.
Undoubtedly many more countries and or regions can lay claim to being part of the Neo-West. Western Europe is a given. Large portions of South and to a lesser degree Meso-America are ‘in the club.’ Parts of Africa, for sure seeing as the ‘white’ requirement has been dropped.
Israel? Why not. Israel certainly qualifies by any measure previously mentioned, and if being ‘pre-dominantly white’ is no longer relevant then why should religion? Excepting that the ‘East’ of this equation is primarily defined as Muslim. That alone firmly puts any Judaic society on the ‘camp of opposition’ to the existing ‘East’ simply by definition. There’s nothing that says this is a ‘Christian-nation’ thing. That’s an idea whose fleeting relevance gets more and more quaint in the face of rising US religiosity.

My point - for the moment - seems to be that ‘East’ and ‘West’ while still relevant terms, don’t in fact mean ‘East’ and ‘West’ cartographically anymore. It’s obvious that Western culture is no longer ‘Leave it to Beaver.’ Not even close. Though I think in many ways, by those of us who have been part of the ‘West’ since before our grandparents were born, it’s easy to forget. We may be a global society, but superficially at least, a patina of our former centricism remains while the fruit underneath the skin comes in so many different flavours - often a melange of the greater selection.
What does it all mean any more? How do these increasingly arbitrary divisions have such long legs?

Oh, why can't we all just get along? ;-)

1 comment:

Wrye said...

How do these increasingly arbitrary divisions have such long legs?

Becuase it always was an arbitrary and false division. It dates back to Herodotus, it has underpinned all of European civilization, and it is, at heart, a false dichotomy. Like Patriarchy.

You're getting some Edward Said for your birthday. 'nuff said.