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mardi, 22 janvier 2013

Expanding the thinking


Expanding the thinking

We are witnessing a new era in Asia – in contrast to North America, Europe is in danger of missing the same

by Urs Schoettli

Ex: http://www.currentconcerns.ch/

cc. Many politically active thinkers have noticed in recent weeks that in some places, the equilibrium is shifting and the screws are adjusted anew. Does our thinking lag behind reality? Have we been fed only with polemics about entire parts of the world since the Lehman Brothers crisis?

    That means that thinking needs to be ex-panded so that it can focus on reality. The following articles are devoted to this issue.

While in Europe one crisis chases the next and tunes of gloom and doom are sounded, major developments are underway in Asia that give rise to optimism. Unfortunately, the historical turn of an era is perceived in a very limited manner in Europe. The US as a resident state of the Pacific Rim are more on alert.

Coming from Asia it is not a pleasant matter to visit Europe, currently. The Western World seems to have once again fallen victim to one of its collective civilization tantrums. An apocalyptic mood prevails everywhere, with respect to the euro, the climate, democracy and the market economy. What a dramatic difference to the euphoria following the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the Westerners thought that world history would now be written anew once and for all time, the noble values of liberalism would meet with worldwide recognition.

Under such circumstances it is difficult to be optimistic, and yet we want to take a chance. First we must recall once again that the Europeans of the 68 generation are among the most favored generations of world history. Not only could they benefit from the unprecedented prosperity and peace of the last six decades, they could as well witness two positive turning points in world history: the disappearance of the Iron Curtain in Europe and the re-emergence of Asia – not only its return to the world economy and to world politics, but also, and above all its cultural and intellectual renaissance.

Cause to be optimistic

It is due to a persistent Euro-centrism that up to now the Asian Renaissance has not yet been perceived by the intellectual mainstream in Continental Europe as a major turning point. What knowledge is being developed at universities about the development in Asia remains largely confined to an interested audience. What is lacking is the reflection and classification of the historical changes in Asia in a general critique of the times. The main task is to adequately comprehend the dimensions of the Asian Renaissance. What is going on today in India, in China and in Japan, how Asia positions itself in the world of the 21st Century, has its origins in a more distant past, which cannot be comprehended within the traditional world history, which has largely marginalized the Orient as exotic. Thus, for instance the discussion of the Confucian concept of the state in new China, or the relevance of the Meiji Restoration in Japan for pending reforms should finally be picked up in Europe as well.

The historical and cultural classification of the beginnings of Asian renaissance could certainly help to brighten up the rampant pessimism in Europe. Where do we find the overdue acknowledgement that we, despite of all the problems that worry us from Iran to North Korea, from Syria to South Africa, live in a time in which also optimism is justified? What can there be more splendid than to experience how in countries of continental dimensions two centuries of self-inflicted and externally caused decadence have been overcome, that about a billion people are freed from bitterest poverty, hundreds of millions of households have moved up into the middle class, new industries, the most modern infrastructure and glittering cities are being raised, the general level of education is being raised and dozens of universities can join up to the best in the world!

The perception of the new Asia in Europe is ambivalent. On the one side there is the corporate world, which has discovered Asia since long and does lucrative business there. Since long there are not only multinational and big companies, but also SMEs who have discovered Asia as a market and production location. Just Switzerland and Germany, which in contrast to many other European countries can still count on a competitive and highly innovative manufacturing industry, know how much the prosperity of the Old World depends on Asia’s welfare by now. On the other hand, there are also fears in the face of the “yellow peril” that Asians could buy Europe and steal its jobs.

Knowledge about Asia as an educational mandate

The short-winded media are focusing  once again on sensations and wrong developments in Asia. A majority of reports make India appear as a subject of corruption and poverty, China is described  regarding violations of human rights and regarding the persecution of dissidents. And as for Japan, the headlines are full of reports on the catastrophe at the nuclear site of Fukushima. Of course it is the function of a free press to denounce irregularities, but if commentators who have hardly ever lived in Asia and foreign correspondents who after a short time know everything better than the locals, if those people define the level of information alarming distorts are  of course, the inevitable consequence. 

It proves to be fatal that the knowledge about Asia does not count among traditional Western educational subjects but if this was the case, it would permit the Europeans to correctly evaluate the enormous changes Asia has gone through in the last three decades. Whereas in the Anglo-Saxon world a far stronger cosmopolitism of language and media permits Asian voices to gain direct publicity, in Continental Europe notwithstanding there is the paternalistic fug of a number of self-nominated experts who are as arrogant as to occupy the monopoly of interpretation and explanation of what is the mentality the “Asiatic type”, the “Chinese type”, of the “Indian type” or what it should be. Especially concerning the “Middle Kingdom” where there has been a long tradition of Europeans since Leibniz projecting their own ideas onto the Chinese people.

Indeed “9/11” was a shock, a bloody and bitter ceasure which to the present day has influenced and put a strain on the relations between the predominantly secularized West and the Islamic world. The decline partly already realized, partly imminent and leading to bloody religious wars which we had supposed to have been overcome since the Age of Enlightenment, is worrying and anguishing lots of people. It is the more important to correctly evaluate the modernization processes that are going on in Asia. For several decades pleasant developments have been happening there which should inspire some optimism in us. Who always looks at China focusing only on the aspect of a totalitarian regime, ignores the gigantic progress that has been achieved in terms of the development of Law in China. Who only focuses on corruption whenever talking about India, ignores the big number of purifying forces that are working among the citizens, in the media and in their policy. Even if the balance might be so-so, and even if there is still the possibility for some improvement, the general direction, the development which India, China and Southeastern Asia is taking makes you very confident. Positive things are happening there which Europeans may often only dream about.  

Solid foundations

Certainly Asia is not immune to economic downturns or even crises either. Currently the big three, Japan, China and India, also suffer from  the global economic turmoil of the euro crisis. However, the main causes of the economic downturn is homemade and can therefore be solved on their own again. Those who consider Asia’s economic renaissance a temporary phenomenon are wrong. Not only does the huge unmet demand in domestic markets ensure prospects for favorable growth, but  also the major infrastructural and institutional basis has been laid in the past three decades, which can be built upon in the future. Not least, we think of the tremendous advances in higher education.

The times when Europeans were able to give fatherly benevolent judgments on the success of Asians are over. Likewise, the injuries caused by the European colonial empires in 19th and 20th century receded into the background. No longer do all Chinese interlocutors remind you of the Europeans’ crimes in the Opium Wars. The generational change that is under way guarantees that you meet on an equal footing. On the Asian side there is still an enormous desire to learn, but there is the confidence as well that they will be able to catch up with the West, even surpass it. Injuries like the “Cultural Revolution” have faded into the background.

At the start of the Asian Age, the word “ex oriente lux” gets a new meaning. After the transfer of knowledge, techniques and ideas has gone unilaterally from the West to the decadent East for too long a time, a self-doubting Europe may now receive new impetus from Asia. In this case, the exchange should go far beyond prosperous economic relations and should bring cross-fertilization in a comprehensive sense. There would be a great benefit if - two centuries after Hegel’s time – the Europeans were able to look at developments in world history not only from their own cherished point of view.  

Source: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 19.11.2012

(Translation Current Concerns)

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