Japan: Regretfully the World’s Last Hope Against Eurocentrism

Eurocentrism in its extreme form.

Why does the world continue to allow for a lack of respect for diverse peoples and cultures? Comrades, these are troubling times indeed, when the masses embrace the capitalist corruption of the people’s liberation: Eurocentrism.

On a serious note, Eurocentrism is a terrible thing. It makes me mad, for one thing; so much that I wrote a blog post about it ages ago. It also, more importantly, leads to a decline in respect for diverse peoples and cultures. It leads to, for instance, Mitt Romney arguing that Israeli culture is better than Palestinian culture, and thus by extension that generally Western culture is better than Islamic culture. Or, on a rather depressing note, it leads to unnecessary violence like the recent shooting rampage at a Sikh temple. But, on a brighter note, there is hope against Eurocentrism. In fact, it is blatantly obvious hope, even if you only have some basic knowledge in international affairs and history. That hope is Japan.

Japan is the best – and perhaps (currently) the only – counterargument against Eurocentrism.

No, no, I don’t mean to imply that Japanese culture is awesome compared to Western culture. Because it’s not. Yes, I think the phonological structure of Japanese is interesting, and I think the Japanese have the best Asian confectionary; however, Samurai and ninja are overrated, and I don’t give a damn about how spiritually pure they are in their martial arts, and anime is just goddamn anime for goodness sakes.

But Japan is still, perhaps, for now, the only clear argument against Eurocentrism.

Think of it this way. When you think of the “developed world,” or of “modernized” countries, especially those with any political or economic power on the international stage, these would probably come to mind: America, Britain, Russia (sort of), Germany, Japan, France, and so on. Which one’s the odd one out? Japan. Why? Because it’s the only non-European one on the list. When you think of countries that were formerly colonial empires/imperialist douchebags, these would probably come to mind: Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Russia, and America (arguably). Who’s the odd one out again? Japan. Because, again, it’s the only non-European one on the list.

Starting to get the drift here?

Japan shows the white devils that they, too, can be imperialist douchebags by shooting those godless, heathen, pagan Chinamen. (See First Sino-Japanese War)

For the past century and a half or so, Japan has proven itself to be the only successful non-European nation – if we define success as becoming a world power rivaling that of the “Western” states. A number of recent economic powerhouses, such as China, South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, India, and so on, don’t count because they have only recently rose to power. Japan has been at it since the late 1800s, and not only that, it also has a history of being an imperialist douchebag like former Western colonial powers.

But one could argue that Japan is Westernized: they wear “Western” clothing, eat fast food, and have a democracy that supports freedom and equality. These, however, are relatively superficial. Traditional clothing is still very much commonplace in Japan, though in more limited contexts; and Japan still eats rice; and so on. Even their sort of freedom and equality is not exactly the same as in Europe or America. For instance, while there is freedom, there isn’t on the other hand much encouragement of individuality. Conformity to society is much more important; standing out, playing the unique hero – that’s discouraged. Shy from conflict, cooperate and compromise or even comply rather than “fight for what you believe in.” And so on. That’s not to mention that there’s still a clear patriarchal, even repressive, element of Japanese culture: women still have clear gender roles. Ultimately, the traditional influence on Japan is still extremely pervasive, even if guys don’t go around committing suicide to preserve their honor (as much).

Thus Japan – yes, that very Japan that gave you Pokemon and anime and sushi – proves that Western culture is not fully necessary for success. For Japan did not begin as a white folks’ nation with white folks’ culture, nor did it become one . Nay, even its modernization programme during the Meiji era relied heavily on cooperation between the government and corporate leaders of samurai stock, and it was done so in terms of a Confucian worldview (all honor to the Emperor, etc.); so so much for laissez-faire capitalism. And Japan’sefforts succeeded beyond imagination, flabbergasting the Europeans who watched in shock as Japan beat Russia and China and colonized Korea and Taiwan, proving that Westerners weren’t the only people capable of being big colonial douchebags/dicks/jerks. When Japan was defeated in World War II, they shocked the West once again as they rebuilt themselves into an economic power, without the need to adopt heavy doses of Western individualism, so much that in the 80s Americans feared that Japan would one day take over the world.

Arararararararararararagi

Anyone who can explain to me how this is related to the concept of Japanese conformity vs. individualism/playing hero will win free french fries.

My conclusion here is that perhaps culture does not determine the superiority of a nation or people; institutions (as well as historical luck) have a much bigger role. The Japanese developed institutions that kept them going for a long time, and, despite their current economic woes, still keep them going well enough to at least barely float. At the very least, something happened that caused Japan’s standard of living to rival that of America or France. I highly doubt it was because white people have better manners or philosophy. Japanese children are still taught values that adhere, directly or indirectly, to Confucian ethics and East Asian ideals. But this did not, and does not, really produce a culture inferior to that of the so-called “Judaeo-Christian” West (a concept which itself I find problematic, and, yes, you guessed it, Eurocentric).

If Japan, so steeped in its Confucian and East Asian roots, could produce a modern power without heavy doses of Western culture, who are we to day that an Islamic, Indian, or West African culture couldn’t do the same? That’s why Japan is so important. It’s the only clear evidence we have of a successful modern nation that isn’t Western in culture. Japan’s example proves that with good leaders, right timing, and luck, any culture can have the means to succeed and become the imperialist jerkass and/or economic powerhouse it always wanted to be, Western Judaeo-Christian culture or not.

Yes, Japan is overrated in some ways – no, in many ways. But in other ways, it really is the only hope against Eurocentrism, the only good evidence we have that you don’t have to be white to be an imperialist, greedy, violent, ruthless, colonizing douchebag if they try hard enough – and in some ways, that’s good for the white folks too. When every culture is a douchebag, maybe then it’d be easier to have respect for diverse peoples and cultures.

I admit I prefer Japanese rice over Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, or Indian rice. I like its texture and moistness. Also, this rice is white. Is that racist?

(Also, happy one year birthday to my blog. What an imperialist, people’s blast, a truest respect for diverse peoples and cultures:

Happy birthday to the masses, happy birthday to the masses, happy birthday to you all, may we rid the world of dirty reactionary imperialist-capitalists!)

Denounce Rick Santorum: Unite Against the Skyrim-Hating Imperialist Reactionaries

I would argue with almost 100% certainty that Mr. Rick Santorum would probably hate Skyrim for it’s pro-gay stance and endorsement of paganism (not to mention its grey and gray morality and violence). But I’m not here to talk about his homophobia or how he embarrasses Christians who believe in the separation of Church and State. Those are issues I find a bit more touchy.

However, what has irked me was Santorum’s delusions concerning history. Or perhaps he’s just a liar. Maybe both, who knows. Ultimately, he follows a long line of American nationalists (or, if you prefer, “patriots”) who fling around outdated ideas of Western superiority and why the ideals of white folks are awesomer than the ideals of everyone else. While I do agree that French Fries taste better than Tempura and that Hollywood is better than Bollywood (actually, scrap that, they’re both equally bad), the mere existence of Santorum’s Eurocentric rhetoric shows the fact that many people still do not have respect for diverse peoples and cultures.

There have been two chief instances where Santorum advocated Eurocentric delusions. In one case, he argued that the Crusades weren’t that bad. In another, he argued that the British Empire collapsed because they didn’t do enough to spread their virtues via imperialism.

Crusades

Even for those of us with a basic knowledge of history, the Crusades were anything but pretty. Last year, however, Mr. Santorum begged to differ:

“The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical. And that is what the perception is by the American left who hates Christendom. They hate Western civilization at the core. That’s the problem.”

Ultimately, Mr. Santorum’s claim boils down to “the Crusades weren’t bad, the Crusaders weren’t mean, they were justified.” Right. BS. In the First Crusade, for instance, a bunch of Europeans went to the Levant and basically massacred the inhabitants of Jerusalem, regardless of whether they were Muslim, Christian, or Jewish. In the Fourth Crusade, as another example, a group of Crusaders basically got bored and decided to sack Constantinople and kill Orthodox Christians instead of Muslims. In short, the Crusaders sh*tted over one of the most prosperous and cosmopolitan Christian states in Europe. Most of the Western knights started killing, raping, and burning, and only the Italian knights were smart enough to hoard all the good loot, like priceless works of art, instead of smashing and setting them on fire. Love thy neighbor, anyone?

Additionally, many of the Crusades occurred not necessarily because of evil Muslims killing everyone (most Muslim states, actually, didn’t give a damn about your religion as long as you paid your taxes*). It was politics, pure and simple. The First Crusade, for instance, was partly a Byzantine ploy. Long story short, the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I inherited the empire in the 1080s when Turkish hordes of doom were knocking on his doorstep and about to annihilate the empire. Alexios, being a Machiavellian genius, decided to use the backwater states of Europe against the Muslims. Making up some bullsh*t about how evil the Muslims were, he promised the Europeans lots of rewards (like plunder and etc.) if they helped him fight against the Turks. The Crusaders thought this was an awesome idea; however, the Crusaders decided to screw over the Byzantines and go solo and Alexios’ plan turned into a fail.

That’s not to mention other Crusades, such as those against Orthodox Christians and pagans in Eastern Europe, led by the Teutonic Knights, who wore funny helmets. The Teutonic Knights were anything but pleasant; they even fought against their fellow Christians.

So much for your pure, virtuous Crusaders, Mr. Santorum. Heck, even conservatives disagree with you. Anyhow, it is a pity that the word “Crusade” still carries with it romantic connotations of a noble struggle, while the Islamic equivalent, “Jihad,” gets all the negative connotations thrown at it.

Britain is an octopus... sort of like the kind in Japanese tentacle porn or something.

British Imperialism

So said Rick Santorum, the brilliant historian:

If you look at every European country that has had world domination, a world presence, from the French to the British – 100 years ago, the sun didn’t set on the British Empire. If you look at that empire today – why? Because they lost heart and faith in their heart in themselves and in their mission, who they were and what values they wanted to spread around the world. Not just for the betterment of the world, but safety and security and the benefit of their country.

A translation of his rant: white people, in particularly the British, were just and noble bringers of civilization to the barbaric savages of the rest of the world.

Sadly, the British, like all empires – regardless of whether they were European, Asian, Middle Eastern, African, or whatever – wanted money. Resources. Power. They were not colonizers“for the betterment of the world.” They were directly competing with their fellow Europeans, such as the French, Germans, and Russians, for – again – money, resources, and power. Millions of non-Europeans (not to mention lower-class Europeans!) labored and toiled to produce the resources that led to the prosperity of the European middle and upper class. The European leadership justified imperialism and colonialism because it was supposed to make the world better (c.f. White Man’s Burden). It was, of course, just propaganda used to subjugate previously-independent peoples and states under European rule.  That is not to say all European colonials were evil resource-hoarders. I’m pretty sure a good number earnestly (albeit deludedly) believed that they were helping the poor, savage folk of the non-European world. Some probably thought it was business as usual. But that doesn’t ignore the fact that a whole wollop of non-white people (and poorer white folks, too) were essentially enslaved for “the betterment of the world”.

You know, Mr. Santorum, I’m not sure why the Indians and half of Africa wanted independence, then. Maybe Gandhi was too barbaric to understand the splendor and virtues of the superior British race? Or, you know, I’m also wondering, why then did your god-heroes like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson declare independence from Britain if it was so great, huh?**

Everyone is Evil, Including Europeans, Mr. Santorum

My point here is, people like Mr. Santorum are going off blabbering outdated notions of Western superiority. We’ve gotten much better today at scoffing at such nonsense, but the Crusade (*snicker*) against Eurocentrism won’t be over under buffoons like Mr. Santorum learn that the Westerners weren’t – and aren’t – angelic messengers and warriors of god. Europeans and Americans are just as good and bad as everyone else. There were Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian, African, and Native American madmen just as greedy and violent as European imperialists or Crusaders.

Being a complete douchebag isn’t just limited to a single ethnicity or racial group or religion. Being ignorant and delusion also isn’t just limited to a single ethnicity or racial group or religion, either. In fact, I suppose Mr. Santorum is a good example of the latter, at the very least.

History is never black and white. Even people we see as great and heroic can have darker sides. People we think of as villains can be heroes to others (case in point: see how Mongolians love Genghis Khan, not to mention the PRC). Heck, even Skyrim does a decent job at proving this point about history (albeit not as deeply as I hoped).***

All in all, we have a presidential candidate whose grasp on history is flawed at best, delusional at worst, and he has a whole mass of supporters who share his vision. Because of his insults to the glorious subject of history, as well as his offenses to diverse peoples and cultures, there is only one option for us: to denounce him and his imperialist, reactionary thoughts, and ensure they these thoughts not spread amongst the masses.

(As a side note, Mr. Santorum probably hates the new SimCity**** too, because it is pro-Environmental or something. Frankly, I don’t care – I just want to relive my childhood again. Long live SimCity! And that was a very long time since my last post…)

Disclaimer: I like the Imperials more than the Stormcloaks.

*The special tax, specifically, is called the jizya. In short, if you aren’t Muslim, you have to pay an extra tax, but otherwise you’re left alone; in the early years of Islam, Muslim leaders even stopped people from converting to Islam just so they could get more tax money. So much for your murdering-everyone-by-the-sword terrorist stereotype. Of course, some would then say that means the Islamic bureaucracies discriminated against non-Muslims anyways. In actuality, the Muslim leaders pretty much taxed the Muslims the same, by claiming the Muslims also had to pay an extra tax to fund charities (called Zakat). So, to summarize, Muslim rulers were just greedy tax hoarders Republicans would hate, and a lot of people originally converted to Islam for tax evasion… only to find out they pretty much had to pay the same amount as before.
**In reality the American revolutionaries weren’t exactly a bunch of nice folks, either, but I’ll rant about that another time.
*** For those of you who have no idea of what I’m talking about, basically, in Skyrim, you can join one of two equally flawed sides in the civil war. On one side you have the freedom-fighting but racist and overly idealistic Stormcloaks, on the other you have the cosmopolitan but bureaucratic and inefficient Empire.
****The new game was announced March 6. Apparently pollution from my city can drift over to my friends’ cities, which is good trolling material.

U mad? I mad. Eurocentrists MAKE ME MAD.

Not to mention that the Dark Ages are an outdated, Eurocentric idea.

I MAD. Eurocentrists make me MAD. Irate. Enraged. Furious. Angry. They are the great scourge in the most noble and magnificent academic discipline of history. They are like the ultra-capitalists and imperialists of history, reserving its richness only for the West – and only the West! – at the expense of all other cultures. They have no respect for diverse peoples and cultures.

The idea that Westerners (i.e., Europeans, Americans, Australians, etc.) are better than others is outdated, to an extent. Only racists would claim that white people are inherently better. Righht?

Yet the idea that Western civilization was somehow inherently better than other civilizations still remains in the academic disciplines of history and the social sciences, to some degree. It also remains in pop culture as well (see 300 with the democracy and freedom loving Spartans (not)). Sad as it is, some scholars – misguidedly, in my opinion – still try to find proof that something in the West allowed it to dominate the world, something that made them inherently better. Justifications range from the more plausible geographical reasons, to the less plausible but still (somewhat) reasonable economic reasons, to the more ridiculous “cultural” and “ethical” reasons.

An opinion piece on CNN recently attempted to justify the West’s rise to power using these very methods (see the article here). In this article, historian Niall Ferguson argues that the West had several so-called “killer apps” starting around 1500 that allowed it to beat the rest and dominate the world. Some of these “killer apps”, in my opinion, are reasonable (though I don’t fully agree with them). Unfortunately, others display – in my opinion – blatant Eurocentrism and ignorance about World history in general.

This disrespect for diverse peoples and cultures cannot be ignored. His blatantly Eurocentric arguments concerning history are easily countered with historical examples.

Ferguson’s firstly listed argument states:

Competition. Europe was politically fragmented into multiple monarchies and republics, which were in turn internally divided into competing corporate entities, among them the ancestors of modern business corporations.”

He maintains that Europe was 1) politically fragmented and 2) financially fragmented. This is true. Europeans fought each other. Nothing new. But here is the problem: he implies that everywhere outside of Europe was not fragmented, and that all non-European states and societies were somehow monolithic blobs that didn’t compete with each other. And because of this, Europe obviously could more easily take over the world.

The argument that everywhere outside of Europe was not fragmented can be easily countered with numerous counterexamples, of which even schoolchildren can understand. You want to see examples of fragmentation outside of Europe around 1500? Freaking overrated-katana samurai-dwelling Japan. You want more examples? I’ll show you (I’ve highlighted sarcasm in italics, since the internet makes it so easy to detect that, right?):

(end sarcasm in italics)

That’s a lot, don’t you think? And even if you read some of the histories of these supposedly “monolithic” non-European empires such as those in China, India, and the Middle East, you’ll realize how un-monolithic they were. China, for instance, was and still is divided into numerous ethnicities which display great cultural differences with each other – even if they speak the same language. That’s not to mention that China was often in political turmoil (see Dynasty Warriors) anyways throughout its history. India, too, was always divided into numerous groups – and moreso than China, because rarely did an Indian empire actually dominate the entire subcontinent for more than a couple generations. As for the Middle East, well, there were always various groups coming in and out, into and out of power. The point? Everyone is fragmented.

Here’s another of Ferguson’s arguments:

The rule of law and representative government. An optimal system of social and political order emerged in the English-speaking world, based on private-property rights and the representation of property owners in elected legislatures.”

I find it interesting he ignores the supposed developments of freedom and democracy in other parts of Europe. Still, his argument is one that is often applied to Europe: i.e., Europeans developed political systems based on democracy, freedom, and so forth before everyone else did, because Spartans stand for democracy and freedom, right?

Sure. Yeah. Europe was so much freer. They believed in democracy. Yup. Totally true.

(Actually, I feel sorry for Marie Antoinette. I personally believe she was misguided and kind of ignorant, but not cruel per se; popular conception got the better of her. She also never said “Let them eat cake.”)

Finally, there is one Eurocentric claim of Ferguson’s that is equally troubling:

“Beginning in 1500, Europeans and European settlers in North America began to get richer than Asians (and everyone else, too).”

Basically, Ferguson argues that Europeans became awesomer economically (and, by implication, politically, culturally, socially, etc.) once Columbus discovered America. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Did Europe really become better starting in 1500?

Let’s start with statistics. Looking at these this chart from the Economist, one can see that China and India had the largest GDPs in the world up until the mid to late 1800s. Now that’s interesting, isn’t it?

In case you were too lazy to click the link.

Even though China and India were “declining” in the 1800s, their economies still dominated the world up until then. They had not only more people, but more resources as well, including many luxury goods like silk and spices, as well as better trade networks. Why do you think those Europeans wanted to explore the world and colonize the first place? Because it was fun? Did Columbus go looking for China because he wanted to eat instant noodles and try General Tso’s chicken, or because he was looking to make profit where profit was being made? (If you want to read more on a case-study of China as a counterexample to Ferguson’s claims, you can see my previous blog post).

So Ferguson is, ultimately, like a neo-imperialist – and I do not mean that in jest. After doing a bit of research on the guy, I discovered that there’s been a lot of controversy about him, especially considering his Eurocentric claims. Thankfully, there are many historians who are much more cautious, open-minded, well-informed, and, may I dare suggest, respectful of diverse peoples and cultures. Many historians are beginning to challenge the Eurocentric mindset, but it’s only a beginning. Many would scoff at what Ferguson claims in his book Civilization: The West and the Rest: “no civilisation has done a better job finding and educating the geniuses that lurk in the far right-hand tail of the distribution of talent in any human society. […]maybe the real threat is posed not by the rise of China, Islam or CO2 emissions, but by our own loss of faith in the civilisation we inherited from our ancestors.”

Right. As a non-European, I find his claims that non-Europeans are un-innovative and superior insulting. Does this all even matter? After all, he’s just a historian, right? Should you care? Yes. You should. Historians are academics and professionals. Their conclusions may very well shape public policy, the way governments think and act. The more we all can disregard Eurocentrists – and all kind of centrists, nationalists, and fanatics – the more we can respect diverse peoples and cultures.

Don’t make me MAD like these Eurocentrists. I MAD. I was so mad after reading his article, it wasn’t funny. I VERY MAD. VERY VERY MAD.

Further reading:

Art thou enraged? I AM ENRAGED.