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THE TRIUMPHANT WEST? June 28, 2012

Posted by wmmbb in Humankind/Planet Earth.
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Our European predecessors entered into these lands in which we live they changed the landscape, introduced plants and animals, and changed the laws and attitudes to land.The power of industrial society is subsumed by objective science.

On one reading of history and human experience this transformation is regarded as a considerable achievement transforming the wilderness. People displaced by the process of modernization from land in Europe to take a one trip of a lifetime on steam boat through the Suez Canal to cut out farms on the other side of the world. It was a tough landing, but the results were transforming. In a different context but reflecting the same process, Woody Guthie celebrated “this land was made for you and me”.

Brian Bethune in reviewing Niall Ferguson’s, Civilization: the West and the Rest, observes “the plain facts of Western Hegemony are hard to argue”. He writes:

A tour of the globe in 1500 would not have led the proverbial Martian visitor to predict it. Wealth, population, military strength and scientific knowledge were all centred in Asia. Of the world’s 10 largest cities, only Paris was Western. In 1900 the situation was reversed: Tokyo was the sole non-Western city in the top 10, and London, at 6.5 million people, was the world’s biggest metropolis. Eleven Western powers controlled more than half the planet and produced an astonishing three-quarters of its economic output.

That makes the question Ferguson poses worth asking: even if Europe did inflict terrible evils upon the rest of the world in its rise to domination over it, how did it accomplish that? He does not discount natural, but Europe-favouring, forces—among them, the way Europeans brought the Old World’s diseases to the New World, devastating its indigenous peoples and opening its riches for themselves. But accidental advantage was cemented, he argues, by six “killer apps”: competition (political, military, scientific), science (as a way of understanding and exploiting nature), property rights and the rule of law, medicine, a consumer society, and the work ethic.

The downsides are noted in the past tense as “racism, colonialism and imperialism”. Context is everything, or at least history is not simply the unwinding of time like the sound of a flowing stream. Events have consequences, with connections that always apparent or local in origin. Quakers sought to end slavery, and that was achieved, at least in the British Empire and similar notions were instrumental in the writing of “The Aboriginal Report (1837). The mission was to “civilize [and convert] and protect” the aboriginal peoples. Michael D Blackstock explains:

The author argues that these negative effects still persist because the key colonial players are still motivated by the interests of their predecessors of a century ago. Additionally, the author examines how “good intentions” by the colonizer can fail to deliver social justice.

So what can social justice mean when a whole set of cultural precepts and understandings are invalidated by a sense of superiority? 175 years later, Michael Anderson notes Justice Michael Kirby judgment with respect to the Hindmarsh Island Bridge case (Karinyeri v Commonwealth, 1998):

‘ … The experience of racist laws in Germany under the Third Reich and South Africa under apartheid was that of gradually escalating discrimination. Such has also been the experience of other places where adverse racial discrimination has been achieved with the help of the law. By the time a stage of “manifest abuse” and “outrage” is reached, courts have generally lost the capacity to influence or check such laws … .
[at par 163]
‘The laws of Germany and South Africa to which I have referred provide part of the context in which par (xxvi) is now understood by Australians and should be construed by this Court. I do not accept that in late twentieth century Australia that paragraph supports detrimental and adversely discriminatory laws when the provision is read against the history of racism during this century and the 1967 referendum in Australia intended to address that history. They knew the defects in past Australian laws and policies. And they would have known that the offensive legal regimes in Germany during the Third Reich and South Africa under apartheid were not the laws of uncivilised countries. Both in Germany and in South Africa the special laws enacted would probably have been regarded as unthinkable but a decade before they were made. They stand as a warning to us in the elaboration of our Constitution.
[at par 164]

There was no refrain in Woody Guthie’s song, “This land was there land”. And of course the apps of Western Civilization have been adopted by others, effecting the end of Western Hegemony. The principles are not as benign and beneficent in their ends as uncritically suggested since they have seen the industrial war on nature with the result the biosphere and ecology is not merely surrendering but dying. It would have been kinder, more charitable, and wiser to listen to the indigenous people, but violence allowed full reign precludes humility.

POSTSCRIPT:

Let’s not forget the 50th State of the Union:

(via Anacardia)

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