Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Is It the West that Is Egocentric?

It has been fashionable for some time now for Americans to be cowed into an almost reflexive self-criticism when they find themselves in the company of nationals from third world countries. The typical conversation of this sort begins with a short exchange about the difficulties being experienced by third world countries followed by a series of assertions about how the economic and political imperialism of the west, both past and present, and in particular that of the US is to blame for these difficulties. Of course the charge of cultural imperialism - the spread of western culture’s egocentric, materialistic and licentious character – is almost invariably added.

I used to think that the assault on western culture was no more than a sidebar thrown in for good measure. I have come to believe that it is much more than that – it is the most essential point of the argument. The west may indeed have engaged in policies that have been harmful to the interests of third world countries, but those same countries continue to engage in policies that do nothing to help them to overcome whatever challenges our policies might have created for them. That is why it is so important to assert that the west is immoral, its culture and values those of the cesspool. The tactic is meant to keep one from considering what those values might be.

I am not arguing that many third world cultures are not centuries old, and that they have not contributed much to world knowledge in many diverse areas. The Arabs, for instance, gave us our number system and with it modern mathematics, astronomy, and science. But they have not given us any great political ideals. Those are catalogued in the inventory of contributions made by the west. Western culture may indeed be marked by materialism and license, but the former is the consequence of our values and the latter the price paid when some abuse them. What are those values? Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – the values that took shape within the centuries old development of the west, and in particular the Anglo-Saxon west. They are the greatest contributions to political thought in human history. The reason that much of the third world continues to suffer politically and economically owes in large measure to the fact that it remains so egocentric that it refuses to adopt these western values.

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