Archive for the ‘the west’ Category

The following is based on the 13th and last part of Jacob Bronowski’s BBC series on the history of science and invention, “The Ascent of Man” (1973):

The human brain is three times larger than it was two million years ago. But almost all that growth took place in just three parts of the brain, those that control:

  1. The hand
  2. The tongue
  3. Foresight

Which allows us to build, to talk and to imagine our future far more than any other animal.

In addition, our minds are very plastic: most animals are wired to act just in certain ways, humans are not. We depend on knowledge, not reflex. That means a long childhood. And, even after we are grown, we must think and prepare before we act, we must balance short-term and long-term, our needs and those of others.  That in turn leads to ideas of justice, of right and wrong.

Most civilizations, like those of China, India and even the Europe in the Middle Ages, as great as they were, limited the imagination of the young, of those with talent. The son did what the father did what the grandfather did and on and on. Only the talent of a few is ever used, the rest is wasted. The West does not do this.

One way is through a democracy of the intellect: its thought and knowledge is built by scientists and thinkers not by kings and priests. The lives of Erasmus and John von Neumann show this.

Erasmus was a monk in the 1500s. Against orders he read the Greek and Roman classics. It opened up the world to him. He became friends with Sir Thomas More, who, like him, cared more for truth than for power and authority – so much so that the king had More put to death.

John von Neumann, who came up with game theory in the 1950s and did important work in understanding computers, took the other road. Towards the end of his life he worked for companies and governments, drawn to the centres of power. Science for the sake of power and money, not for the sake of truth. He wasted his great talent.

Likewise the West is in danger of throwing away its great promise:

I am infinitely saddened to find myself suddenly surrounded in the west by a sense of terrible loss of nerve, a retreat from knowledge into – into what? Into Zen Buddhism; into falsely profound questions about, Are we not really just animals at bottom; into extra-sensory perception and mystery. They do not lie along the line of what we are now able to know if we devote ourselves to it: an understanding of man himself. We are nature’s unique experiment to make the rational intelligence prove itself sounder than the reflex. Knowledge is our destiny. Self-knowledge, at last bringing together the experience of the arts and the explanations of science, waits ahead of us.

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A Guide to Anglos

Lord Nelson, whose victories over Napoleon’s navy helped English to pass French as a world language

An Anglo (450- ) is anyone whose chief language is English. About half the West is Anglo. Worldwide only the Chinese outnumber them.

In Shakespeare’s time there were only 5 million Anglos. Now there are over 500 million. The British Empire planted not just the English language all over the world, but also English ways of thinking and doing things.

Where Anglos live in large numbers (given in millions):

  • 65m: Britain and Ireland
  • 300m: North America and the West Indies
  • 30m: Australia and New Zealand
  • 50m: Africa
  • 100m: South Asia

The sun never sets on them, to use an old expression about the empire.

In the first three regions most people are Anglos; in the other two, in those countries that once belonged to the empire, only the richest tenth are.

Anglos do not think of themselves this way. They think that race matters more than language. White Anglos think they have more in common with Russians or Greeks than they do with the people in Jamaica or the well-to-do of India.

They do not understand that language runs deeper than race. Language brings a whole universe of ideas with it. It is impossible to use that language day in and day out, and especially to receive your education in it, without being affected. Only religion can affect you more deeply.

Included in this universe of Anglo ideas:

  • No man should be above the law.
  • Democracy is the best form of government.
  • Freedom – for individuals, businesses, property – makes society stronger, not weaker.
  • The rights of private property.
  • Judges should be independent of the government.
  • Individuals can think for themselves. They do not need government or religion to tell them what to think or do.
  • Belief in science and invention.
  • Life is about making money.
  • Race affects you more deeply than language, religion, upbringing, education or wealth.
  • In judging another person, race matters most, then wealth.
  • Sports as an important part of life.
  • Life is what we make it. We are not ruled by the stars or by fate.
  • Facts matter more than reason.
  • Religion is a private affair.
  • Poverty is a moral failing.
  • In foreign affairs might makes right.

There are nine “natural” Anglo countries. A natural country is a region with at least a million people where most speak the same language and follow the same religion:

  • Britain – including the heavily Protestant areas of northern Ireland
  • Ireland
  • West Indies – the islands including Belize, Guyana and Suriname
  • Anglo-America – the English-speaking, Protestant part of North America
  • Rhode Island – the heavily Catholic areas in north-eastern America, especially in and near Boston, Rhode Island and Long Island
  • Utah – the heavily Mormon part of America in and near Utah
  • Hawaii
  • Australia
  • New Zealand

While there are millions of Anglos in Africa and Asia, they do not make up most of society of a million or more anywhere. Singapore and Durban, South Africa come closest.

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Solzhenitsyn at Harvard

Every few years I read the speech Solzhenitsyn gave at Harvard in 1978. That is because I remember that it was good but forget why. So here, in short, is what he said:

The West is blind. It thinks that it is the best part of the world: It thinks the rest of the world wants to be just like it – and would be if wicked governments and backwardness did not get in the way. It does not understand how different the rest of the world really is.

The West has a level of material well-being that no one thought possible a generation or two ago. And yet it has not brought happiness: only an unending desire for yet more things and no peace of mind.

This well-being has made the West soft and cowardly. Why give up such a comfortable life to die for freedom in some faraway country?

Unlike Russia, the West enjoys the rule of law. But it seems to be the rule of law and nothing else. People think that they have the right to do whatever the  please so long as they break no laws – even if it hurts others. Like filling television with sex and violence which everyone knows is bad for children to watch.

The West is free, yet everyone follows the herd. Not just ordinary people, but even leaders, intellectuals and the press.

The press only reports certain points of view. It rains down facts on us but makes little attempt to understand any of it.

Intellectuals are slaves to fashionable thinking. They are blind, they do not understand the world either. They still think socialism is good, not soul-destroying. Read Shafarevich.

During the Vietnam war intellectuals lost their nerve and cried for peace. That peace has led to the death and suffering now seen in South-East Asia.

The West has lost its willpower. It will not die for its beliefs. It is content to let Russia and other countries live in chains.

The West is only a world war away from complete destruction. It is in danger of perishing.

The West is very rich in material things, yet it is very poor in spiritual things.

Yet the same disease affects both Russia and America: a humanism cut off from God, from the old Christian ideas of moral duty, mercy, sacrifice and self-control. A humanism that puts man and his material desires above everything.  A humanism that thinks man is good by nature, that does not even recognize evil.

In the early days of America freedom was balanced by moral duty to God. Did they die for freedom so that we could live only for pleasure?

We all die. The point of life cannot be to simply to get the most pleasure out of it while we can. Instead our aim must be duty, moral growth, to leave life a better human being than when we started.

We are at a turning point.

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Orianna Fallaci (1929-2006), who died last week at age 77, was one of Italy’s most famous news reporters in her time. Although she is barely known in America, everyone in Europe over a certain in age knows who she is.

As a girl she helped her father fight against Mussolini in the Second World War. Later as a writer and news reporter she covered wars in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Lebanon and Kuwait. She interviewed some of the famous people of history of the late 1900s: Arafat, Kissinger, Indira Gandhi, Khomeini and others. Few liked her but few could tell her no.

She was full of rage. She saw herself as a Cassandra of the West. She was a Red and an atheist but she was born and buried in Florence to the sound of church bells.

Towards the end of her life she lived in New York. She was too old and too sick to write. But then came 9/11. She wrote a long newspaper article about it which later became the book “The Rage and the Pride”. It was rage at Muslims and pride in America and the West that made her write it.

The article is full of hatred for Muslims, but her chief concern is not so much to attack Muslims as to get the West to see the danger it is in from the Muslim world.

Many say that the war against Osama bin Laden is not a “clash of civilizations”. She says that it is. Europe has become too fat and contented and cowardly to see it for what it is.

Not only is Europe threatened by the likes of Osama bin Laden, it is also threatened by the Muslims who come to live in Europe. They are slowly taking over – the Muslim call to prayer fills the air instead of church bells. She gives the example of Somalis who lived in the great square in Florence: they show no regard or respect for the great beauty and history of Florence, not even its churches, yet demand respect and rights in return.

Many put the Muslim world on the same level as the West – different, yes, but just as worthy. She says that is brainless:

Even the West at its worst – Nazi Germany did not send its children off to die as suicide killers and then glory in it. How can we put people like that on the same level with the West? They do not respect others, they do not respect women, they do not respect freedom, they do not even respect life.

Yet just when Europe is so careful not to offend people like that – that would be “racist” – they are full of self-hatred! They no longer have faith in themselves, they no longer stand up for the West and all the good they have brought the world and which the world is now in danger of losing if Osama and his like have their way.

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The West

The West (395- ) means Western civilization. The Oxford dictionary, National Geographic and Samuel Huntington see it as western Europe and North America. I see it as the civilization that grew out of the western Roman Empire. Any country where the main religion is Catholic or Protestant Christianity I would regard as Western. That would take in Latin America and much of Africa and the Pacific. This post assumes my definition.

Some countries are partly Western, having taken on some Western ways, such as Japan, Turkey, Indonesia and Russia.

Current features:

  • writing: Latin letters
  • numbers: Arabic numbers
  • religion: Protestant or Roman Catholic
  • calendar: Gregorian calendar
  • epoch: years are counted from the birth of Christ
  • measurement: metric or English
  • philosophy: based on Plato and Aristotle
  • universal states: Roman Empire
  • cities: Rome, Florence, Venice, Paris, Berlin, London, New York, Los Angeles, Rio

A quick way to tell if a country is Western, or at least part Western, is to look at the writing.

The West compared to other parts of the world is violent and warlike. That is because it is divided into so many countries. It lacks a true empire that would keep it at peace. It is not for want of trying: Charlemagne, Napoleon and Hitler have tried.

Its longest period of peace was at the height of the British Empire. The current American Empire has kept the West at peace for most of the past 60 years. When it weakens, the West will again find itself at war.

Two things make the West different than the rest of the world:

  • The truth as something that can be known and written down. It gets this from Greek philosophy. You see it from the Nicene Creed to Einstein. God, physical laws, all of it can be known and written down and reasoned about. It is not a mystery, it is not beyond man’s understanding, it is not beyond word or number. It is black and white. Not only that, the truth matters. The truth is what will save mankind. So it is not just knowable, it is sought after. It is one of the highest callings of life, to seek the truth.
  • The West as universal. The West does not see itself as belonging to just one people or age, but as something for all mankind, as the purpose and end of history itself. Everything has been building up to this moment when the West burst upon the scene with all the answers (be it Christian or Communist or whatever).One other part of the world sees itself this way: the Muslim world: Islam is the faith for all mankind.

Many in the West will smile at this now. That is a sign that it is changing.

The West has been moving away from both of these positions over the past forty years. The truth is not knowable and not all that important. The West is not for everyone and certainly not what history has been working towards. It is just another part of the world, and maybe not even the best part.

The self-confidence that the West once had is giving way to self-doubt and despair. This is especially true in Europe, less so in America.

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Western truth

Something that set the West apart from the rest of the world was its idea about the truth. Up until my lifetime, the truth was “out there”, as the old television show the “X Files” put it. It could be discovered, it could be put down into words and definitions. It was clear cut. It could overturn our world.

And nothing was more important.

But now it seems the West is giving up on the truth. The truth is no longer absolute. It may no longer be out there and, even if it is, it is probably beyond human understanding and discovery.

Whatever we think is the truth is really just a point of view, an opinion that cannot be proved. In the end we believe what we want to believe, no matter how many times we tell ourselves that we are seeking the truth.

And, so what? Does it really matter if we find the truth? That seems to be the current feeling.

It is too soon to tell if this is just a passing thing or if the West is taking a new turn. If it is here to stay, then it is a very deep change.

The West’s old idea of truth goes way back. You might
think it is something that came in with the Enlightenment or with the science of Galileo or the humanists of the Renaissance. No, it goes back, way back. Back three thousands years.

What Moses, Thales, Socrates, Aristotle, Euclid, the Nicene Fathers, Aquinas, Galileo, Newton, Einstein and all the rest have in common is the truth as something man can know, something so clear cut that it can be written down. It is what unites the Nicene Creed to E = mc2.

It is not some experience of the soul, it is not ancient wisdom handed down through the generations, it is not above the clouds and the stars, it is not a mystery, it is not between the lines of an old story: we can know it as men and set it down in words!

We got this from both the Greeks and the Jews. God spoke to Moses and wrote down – wrote down – his commandments! And then he sent his Son to give us Further Instructions! Thales used reason to figure out how the world came to be. And just as Thales applied reason to physics, Socrates did the same to man and all the deep questions of life.

Revealed religion, philosophy, science.

Augustine, Aquinas and others applied Greek philosophy to religion, of all things. We take it for granted and think little of it, but the Muslims were not able to do it.

None of this had to be. Why should the truth be that easy to find and that easy to tell others?

And even if the West was foolish, in the process it found out a lot that no one else has. Like what is inside a star or how life can be made out of dead matter.

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