Western Identity — Ours and Theirs…Part I

1. INTRODUCTION

In the previous article on Identities (Identities and labels, how far should one go with them? ), we focussed somewhat at the Indian aspect of the Indian identity. Here we will try to address the Western aspect of the Indian identity. My assertion is that most of us (the English educated intelligentsia) have a dominant Western identity in us that arrogates to itself the power to make most of our practical decisions, since we are convinced that it is “most Rational”, “most modern” etc. While this is not in itself a bad thing, one may want to wonder at what’s happening to the Indian (or other non-Western) side of our identities, weighed down & atrophying under the burden. Perhaps it needs breathing room, & we can place our Western identity side-by-side with our Indian one for a while? Since this Western side of ours is not more than a century or two old, we should at least be able to take ownership of our Identity. We could then look at it with clarity, perhaps analyze it so we think critically of what is and isn’t working for us, and what needs to be retained, & what needs to be thrown away?

But before this “dethroning” of our Western identity to put it on par with our Indian one, we need to know a bit about the West, and about Westernization.

Here’s an attempt to know the West, starting with it’s own conception of itself, via words of renowned historian Arnold J Tonybee.

2. TONYBEE

We will refer to his handy book “The world and the West”, all of 99 pages. This appears to be a brilliantly condensed version of his “magnum opus” – “A Study of History” in four large Volumes (See Ref#4 for detail).

Let us now get familiar with our reference, A.J. Tonybee, and his “The world and the West”. Why this book is so interesting is explained by the Quotes from the book jacket:

"Universally acknowledged as one of the greatest living historians of his time." His book "A study of history" is considered a classic. ‘The world and the West’ represents the Reith Lectures for 1952 over the BBC.”

“…he invites us to look through impartial eyes at what this world has experienced in its contact with the West during the last five hundred years….”

The book is summarized as below-

[AJT QUOTE #1]

“For the worlds experience at our (Western) hands has been by no means as salutary as our wishful thinking would have us believe.

The most important single factor in this encounter between the world and the West is that our Western technical achievements, our "bag of tools", have taken the world by storm while our way of life has been assimilated only partly and imperfectly.

Nor is this a mere accident; experience shows that in all encounters between civilizations, a part of an alien culture is more readily accepted than the whole. But in today's world distances have been annihilated and man finds himself face to face not only with other men's tools but also with their ideas.

Our Western way of life is locked in deadly struggle with Russia's way of life and must compete with it for the allegiance of all mankind. It seems, therefore, that the present round of the collision between the world and the West will have to be fought out on the spiritual plane, with the weapons of the mind and the spirit.”

These words of his above still ring true today, except for some minor updates, i.e. substitute “ Islamic Fundamentalism” for “Russia”, factor in the recently acknowledged “rise of Asia” and it is up to date. It appears that the identity of most people is locked in the struggle to figure out how much one is of the “Rest” and how much of the “West”, with a marked preference assumed for the latter. One can note his sense of what are tasks still incomplete & imperfectly done. The sense of “Mission of the West” can’t be missed in the above tone. Also the sense of Western values & values of Christianity being inextricably tied to one another, though not apparent in above quote, is confidently present throughout his words.

This may also be a good place to say that the word “hindu” is being used in this article in the cultural sense, i.e. indigenous Indian thought & traditions, still followed by the vast majority of Indians that haven’t “converted” to exclusivist foreign ideologies like Abrahamism (Euro Christianity & Euro inspired Communism, etc ). The word Indic

(hindu, buddhist, jain, tribal etc, i.e the various Dharmic thought systems) fits the bill much better sometimes.

Here’s how the book is laid out. From “Book Contents”:

CONTENTS

I. Russia and the West

II. Islam and the West

III. India and the West

IV. The Far East and the West

V. The psychology of the encounters

VI. The World and the Greeks and the Romans

We will start with bringing in elements from Chapter III, this being of most relevance to us, and then more on to the broader Global issues via chapters I, II, IV, etc later, in parts 2, 3 etc of this article.

There will be plenty of direct quotes from the book in the main body of the article, in italics etc, prefaced by [AJT QUOTE # ] to distinguish them from my words; and a few in the REFERENCES section.

So without further ado, let’s move on to the Indian scene.

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