Caveats East and West

Caveats East and West

Battle of Quatre Bras, by James B. Wollen

My musings on dualisms come with many qualifications and the usual hemming and hawing. But, I’m going to skip past most of that and push on, despite the obvious flaws in any kind of capsulism.

Was thinking about the difference between layers in society and culture. That there has been, over time, a difference between the top and the bottom–and later the middle–across time, across cultures is too obvious to require elaboration at the moment. But there are differences as well between East and West, when it comes to those differences, which is far less obvious.

Conflict and Harmony. Of course, you had plenty of conflict in the East through the centuries. You had kingdoms, wars, empires, invasions, occupations, forced expulsions and so on, just as in the West. To form a kingdom or an empire means you had massive bloodshed along the way. No way around that. They don’t just pop up out of nowhere with everyone singing songs of joy around the campfire. Tyrants, oppression, slavery, forced labor, exploitation–all of that happened and happens around the world. Man’s inhumanity to man knows no geographical boundaries. But I think where you get some salient divergences between geographies is in how the average Joe or Wei reacts to the powers that be and why.

To boil it all down, I think in the West, especially in the United States, there is a sense that the people can be every bit as contentious and bellicose as our supposed leaders. In fact, I think they sometimes take their que from them. In much of the East, there is much more of a sense that the average person must play his or her role in society, and that is governed by ancient stories, traditions, philosophies and religions that mostly tell a story of harmony as eventual goal. So the dualities of war and peace, harmony and conflict tend to be more stark when comparing average people, rather than leaders, kings, queens, warlords and emperors across geographical zones.

Why are there vast differences? What is it about the stories we tell within cultures that help us become more or less like those who supposedly lead us? What is it about the various religions that seem to steer people toward mimicing the rules of heaven on earth, or something quite different?

Some scholars believe that we (in the West) are the sons and daughters of two main cultural tributaries: Hebraism and Hellenism. If we consider biblical stories of the formation of the nation of Israel, along with Homer’s Iliad, we get a mix of simple people and prophets waging war at the bequest of Yahweh, and not so simple people waging war right along side gods and goddesses. Conflict and strife seem to be called for by the heavens. It’s hard to find peace and harmony as eventual goals in either tradition. Even the End Times in Christian theology call for Armageddon and massive slaughter on a surreal scale. Our traditions seem to tell us you can not hope to find peace without first going through enough bloody battles to get there.

That has always puzzled me. Find peace through war? Hmmm. Why not just skip the war and find peace anyway?

Have read some very interesting books in the past about commonalities across the globe. Rudolf Otto’s Mysticism east and west, for example, was especially fascinating. A comparison between the German theologian Meister Eckhart and the Indian philosopher Sankara. But have not bumped into anything that really deals with the above. With the roots of why we appear to go in different directions at some level regarding peace and war as goals. If anyone has any suggestions for further study, please leave a comment or two or three.

 

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