Why the West?
Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences,
University of Wisconsin - Green
- Western Europe discovered the scientific method and the
connection between science and technology before many older
- Japan independently developed many of the qualities required
for success in science and technology.
- Many other cultures are rapidly acquiring science and
- The West was first, not unique.
- To explain the success of the West in science and technology,
we need to identify and focus on the cultural conditioning that was most
distinctive to the West.
- Crucial attributes are likely also to show up in the cultural
conditioning of Japan.
- These attributes can be learned; other cultures are doing just that.
Salient Features of Western Culture
“Western Culture” is a Serial Culture
Goldilocks Syndrome: Not too Little, Not too Much, but
Repeated Episodes of Hybridization and Synthesis
Loss and Recovery of Classical Civilization
Attitude Toward Change
Can be Desirable
Can be Controlled
Can be Initiated
Autonomy, Autonomy, Autonomy
Societies and Change
0 - No Change
- Stability: Unstable. Sooner or later change will happen, even if the society stays isolated.
- Examples: Pre-contact Hawaii, other isolated tribal societies. Easter Island, about as isolated as a society can get, collapsed from internal warfare and environmental destruction before Europeans arrived.
1 - Rejection
- Stability: Unstable. Sooner or later a change too powerful to exclude is bound to happen.
- Examples: Ming China, Inquisition Spain, Khomeini's Iran
2 - Assimilation
- Stability: Probably unstable. Sooner or later a change agent will probably appear that is too powerful or too resistant to assimilate.
- Examples: China throughout its history has been the type example of this response.
3 - Synthesis
- Stability: Most stable
- The West and Japan have repeatedly synthesized foreign innovations into their own societies.
- Turkey in modern times made a conscious decision to change its orientation from the Middle East to Europe.
- Plains Indians domesticated wild horses descended from Eurpean stock and utilized them before ever meeting a European.
4 - Traumatization
- Stability: Stable but permanently changes the society. Any society receiving a great enough shock will be traumatized temporarily, but in some societies traumas have been great enough or repeated enough to imprint the character of the society.
South after Civil War: lasted a few decades, largely effaced by later synthesis with modernization.
Russia: repeated traumas show up in deep pathos in arts and resignation and patience toward hardships.
Islamic World after 1258: never recovered former intellectual vitality
5 - Replacement
- Stability: Probably temporary by its very nature: leads eventually to synthesis, traumatization or extinction.
- Examples: Present Third World
6 - Extinction
- Stability: Extinction is forever
- Examples: Many pre-technological tribal societies
The "Goldilocks" History of the West
Some societies had too much of certain stimuli, others too little, and the West was "just right"
- Europe was just isolated enough to avoid being overwhelmed completely, but not so isolated as to be completely unaware of outside influences.
- Europe was just weak enough that it was often forced to cope with external threats and incursions, but never so weak as to be completely overrun.
- Europe was fragmented enough to avoid a stifling uniformity, but not so fragmented it could not communicate or cooperate.
- The collapse of Rome allowed northern European institutions to evolve, but Rome still provided an intellectual framework, a unifying scholarly language, and eventually a stimulus to reconstruct and surpass ancient achievements.
Bad Habits - Four Kinds of Ethnocentrism
- We are justified in forcing our ways on others
- Outsiders have nothing to teach us
(Roman Empire, China)
- Our way of life is the only possible way
(Hawaii, other isolated societies)
- "Honor" must be preserved at all costs
(Middle East, Mediterranean, Latin America, U.S. inner cities)
- A need to carry things
- Flat, unobstructed terrain
- Something to pull
Changing the World
"The Fall" in Western Values
- World created good (Garden of Eden)
- Evil is an intrusion on a good world
- Evil can (must) be overcome
- Evil has no rights
Contrast to cultures where Good and Evil are equally primordial
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Created 27 Dec 1997, Last Update 4 Jun 1997
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