Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Is the Confucist System Particularly Suited to the Global Future?

As far as cycles of history go, the West has been 'on the rise' arguably since the 15th century at least. Have we perhaps reached to apogee of power and relevance? If, as Max Weber contends, culture matters, then might not that so-called Protestant ethic (and Judeo-Christian and Greaco-Roman heritage) which got us this far (i.e. to political liberalism, industrialization, the nation state and military dominance) still matter? The issue here that may lead to our collapse, or at least decline into the nugatory, seems twofold: 1) one can argue that we have, in fact, lost a common heritage, a common culture from which we traditionally drew strength. There are no longer accepted standards of education or even agreement upon what texts or ideas should be studied and known to a Westerner. More often, we now force students into 'understanding' the non-Westerner, spending more energy making them swallow (oh and they better like it; no dissent or argument about the importance of the text please) the Koran and read minor (and just plain bad) African writers than understand the importance of a Shakespeare, Voltaire, or Hamilton. And 2) In the emerging era of integrated economies, a globalized workforce, assymetrical warfare, and megapolei (yes, I'm thinking Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo here) the Western cultural traditions no longer carry the day anyway. The same process that Max Weber observed developing in the 16th century with regard to Calvinism may indeed be underway in Asia today. Now Paddy's understanding of the Analects is, admittedly shallow, but I wonder if there is something about the 'Confucist Ethic' (authoritarian, disciplined, family oriented, communal/social, where the individual is less important than the community) that especially suits the emerging social situation in the advanced cities of the world. I'll propose just one example of contrasts to show what I mean: Washington DC --> racially segregated and crime-ridden ghetto of poor/skyrocketing crime rate (over 7300 violent crimes per 100,000 people)/nearly 35% of children in USA born out of wedlock (much higher the further down the education/poverty ladder...i.e. large parts of DC)/ well over 50% or marriages end in divorce. AND THEN THERE's Tokyo --> racists, yes, but against outsiders, not domestic populations/a barely perceptable crime rate by our standards (under 50 violent crimes per 100,000 people)/ 1% of children born out of wedlock (and believe me, that 1% brings shame upon themselves and their families)/16% of marriages end in divorce. Is there something here that concerns culture and tradition that we're losing, but which is fortifying Asia for the struggles -- social, economic, and political -- ahead?

And , yes, if you couldn't tell, Paddy is involved in a crash course of Asian studies in preparation for the summer in China, which prompts such musings. Now where did that geisha get to with my Guinness??!


GuyMontag said...

I don't know if you have any interest in the works of Neal Stephenson, Paddy, but much of his fantastic novel The Diamond Age addresses this very sort of idea. The whole plot is basically a re-enactment of the Boxer rebellion but set in the future where nanotechnology has revolutionized life (but not in any way which really matters) and nation-state distinctions have worn away to the extent that ethnic and philosophical phyles have taken their place.

Actually, coincedentally enough, it also makes some points about education which are somewhat relevant to discussions here.

Anyway, it's a good book.

sobinator said...

await my response Paddy, its brewing...I just dont want the chinese govt. knocking on my door so i need to proof read. Interesting topic though.

sobinator said...

id like to consider this issue the Paddy Corollary to the Weber doctrine from now on though it has a good ring to it.