Tolling through the AsiaTimesOnLine archives I came across a highly provocative item by Henry C. K. Liu, a writer the Meme Merchants have followed for a number of years. What came up today was the first installment of a series he wrote back in July 2003: The Abduction of Modernity, The Race towards Barbarism. I say provocative in two senses: being thought-provoking in Lui’s inimitable way, and also provoking some very strong disagreement.
Before I was halfway through the article I found myself doing a kind of point by point rebuttal, the genesis of this piece, which I had to eventually push mentally aside in order to finish the article. The article was so thought-provoking that I feel I have to give myself a kind of ‘intellectual time out’, before I proceed with a more serious analysis or criticism of the article. Mr. Liu is a very smart and thoughtful writer, one has to at least try to meet him at his own level.
This morning in way of introducing the topic I will anticipate that much of the further discussion on the subject will revolve around two rather different world views, one the so-called ‘modern’ Western world view and the other the traditional Eastern Confucian world view. To be fair to Mr. Liu, the point of at least the first article of this series is precisely the nature of that ‘modernity’ and its relationship to Western civilization.
A strong dichotomy it appears.
Of the many possible dichotomies of civilizations you can draw, one is the dichotomy of a civilization that sees what is noble and valuable in the individual as what is in conformance with the cultural model, and another civilization who’s culture sees what is rare and valuable in the individual as everything that is different from the cultural model.
One of those world views, I propose, is ‘modern’, the other is not.
Another way of saying it is that in some civilizations the individual is primary and culture is secondary and in other cultures this accent is reversed. Both of these civilization views have their own unique problems and failure modes. What makes the civilization that puts the accent on the individual more evolutionarily advanced than the civilization that puts that accent on the cultural collective is that the former only emerges as a new holon out of the latter. The arrow of evolution.
Yet another way to look at the situation is to ask, is it the jewel or the crown? Do the jewels exist to glorify the crown, or is the crown the setting for the jewels that serve as the armature for the jewels to glorify their individualities in relationship to a larger whole?
One simple answer is of course the former, the concept of the crown originated long ago in the slope-browed-retro-troglodyte past to glorify the warrior prince, everything you attach to the crown is decoration that makes it a nicer crown and glorifies the wearer even better. You can of course evolve to conception that the emperor wearing the crown symbolizes the empire and glorifies it – the head of state – just don’t try to take it and wear it yourself.
Actually, one can look at a crown both ways simultaneously, and on several levels. We can talk about the crown of Western civilization and how it glorifies the jewels of its people. We can talk about the crown of Eastern civilization and its cultural jewels that glorify it. We can talk about the crown of Human civilization and its jewels as its: civilizations, its cultures, its individuals… and so on. It is the purpose of the crown to glorify something greater than itself. So what does the crown of human civilization glorify? all of its seven billion jewels or something larger and outside of Human civilization upon who’s head it rests – in some metaphorical sense.
Some thing to think about till I come up with the first article in the series.