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The West Must Accept Eastern Values without Losing its Own

Western countries must be prepared to take in not only a large number of migrants from Eastern countries, but also the values they carry with them. In addition, one must not forget that the Eastern mentality is more stable and persistent with respect to one's own values ​​than the Western mentality. This topic was discussed during a lecture at Moscow’s Gorky Park given by famous orientalist Aleksey Maslov, who is also the Head of HSE's School of Asian Studies.

Europe is lost in regard to Asia

For centuries, the West has built a philosophy of its own economic and cultural superiority over the East. The idea that the economic model of the West is the only true way for effective development stems from the hard work of Western scholars in the 19th and 20th centuries.

But the rapid growth of countries such as China and India has forced the Western community to think about the future of world order and the relationship of the roles the East and West play in it. This happened quite late, however. ‘For a long time, the West was arrogant in regard to the East,’ Aleksey Maslov said at the lecture ‘When East Meets West: Political Trends – the Fate of Culture.’ On the one hand, Western people have always sought out inspiration in the East. ‘The East is the most powerful drug for the Western cultural consciousness. It is here where Western artists, writers, and philosophers found inspiration,’ the lecturer noted. On the other hand, the West, excluding the thin layer of orientalists, never had the desire to truly understand the East. This has resulted in the dominance of pseudo-Eastern philosophy and culture in the West.

Even more complex is the case of history. An example of this is the looms that appeared in Europe at the beginning of the 19th century and increased productivity by up to 100-fold, but had already existed in China since the 13th century. In spite of a number of similar facts, however, Western history is dominated by the idea that the West has historically always been ahead of the East.    

‘Economically, the East has always been self-sufficient, not needing the resources of the West,’ Maslov noted. Why, then, have almost all Eastern countries fallen under the colonial yoke of the West throughout history? The answer is simple. The East never owned technology effective in waging war. And it was advantageous for the West, with its limited resources and territories, to establish a system of ‘centre-periphery,’ giving the East certain technologies and receiving in return finished products. Today the Western mentality, as Maslov posits, still has some semblance of a ‘colonial’ consciousness. The situation is changing rapidly, however, and it is clear that this is not happening to the West’s advantage.

Travel not now necessary to study the East

Western scholars studied the East for many centuries, and this study, as the lecturer notes, was similar to entomology, where the entomologist is the West and the butterfly – the East. Then the situation changed dramatically. Western schools of Eastern studies began inviting Eastern scholars to their institutes as leading experts, and it turned out that the East began to study itself.

‘But over time, when there was rapid growth for the Japanese economy, it appeared that the Western understanding of the East was not enough,’ Aleksey Maslov added. Americans invested billions of dollars in updating Eastern studies program. It took at least 10-15 years, however, to revamp existing schools.

And now the West is noticing that it is no longer necessary to go to the East to study it. Sometimes it is enough to go to the next block over. But the mass migration of the Eastern population to the West and the growing economic power of Eastern countries are far from being the main threat to the West.

Core values important

It is clear that the economy distributes geopolitical roles. But as the lecturer said, China’s main weapon may not be the economy, but national culture. This applies to all of Eastern civilization in relation to the West. ‘If the East hasn’t talked about itself for a long time, that does not mean it has nothing to show,’ Maslov added. This at least confirms the fact that the popularity of the East and Eastern culture is soaring in the West.  

Nevertheless, the West still has a very weak idea as to what the East’s strength is, according to the lecturer. ‘The West has always been able to integrate Eastern cultures into itself, but now the question is not about integration, but about forming parallel cultures,’ the speaker emphasized. The East is beginning to develop in its own way in the West, bringing its own values ​​here. Western values are, of course, also being implanted in Eastern civilization. Eastern people, in contrast to Western, have a high degree of adaptability in relation to other cultures, Maslov noted, adding that the East also has the ability to simultaneously preserve national identity.

As a result, Eastern collectivism may be stronger than Western individualism, the lecturer adds. But this does not, in his opinion, concern the necessity of fighting or entering into confrontations. ‘Civilization is defined by values,’ Maslov believes. What matters now is how well the West is aware of its own values ​​and how stable the core of these values are in Western civilization.     

Marina Selina, specially for the HSE News Service

 

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