Civilization as a Way of Life

EDITORIAL, 8 Nov 2010

#137 | Johan Galtung - TRANSCEND Media Service

Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, Berlin.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, what a good idea, a conference on a world without walls in the country of Kant who never put his brilliant mind to work on the walls between civilizations but postulated global hospitality.  He did not have the traveled and troubled life of, say, an Ibn Khaldun, nor an Oriental wife with other thought categories than his own.  So let this talk also function as the epilogue to a forthcoming book, A Theory of Civilization, TRANSCEND University Press, 2010.

Six civilizations define 15 walls, religiously-philosophically, and today also economically-politically, as development models.  Clashes, the major clash, forgotten by Samuel Huntington on the book with a title taken from Bernard Lewis being the West against all of the Rest. Colonialism, imperialism.  The solution: winning, dominating.  There are other ways: compromise, transcendence, new civilizations.

First, the Western judeo-christian-secular civilization, politically-economically in two versions, liberal focused on economic growth, democracy and civil-political rights, and marxist focused on distribution, basic needs and economic-social rights.  A smart compromise came early, social democracy-capitalism, the welfare state based on the market and a basic needs oriented safety net.

Second, the islamic civilization with five pillars focused on togetherness and sharing, an economic floor but no ceiling, a polity of consensus based on the Qur’an-hadith and Mohammed as politician.

Third, the hindu civilization, a cradle, and crossroad of them all, unbelievably diverse, but with structural violence excluding the lower castes, the casteless and the tribal people as less than human.

Fourth, the buddhist civilization, focused on spiritual growth with an economy focused on neither too little, nor too much as both impede spiritual growth.  And nonviolence toward all forms of life.

Fifth, Chinese civilization, ingeniously combining the three teachings, the san fa, of daoist holism and yin-yang dialectics, of confucian knowledge-wisdom as basis for power, and buddhist value of all life as basis for solidarity.  Eclecticism as means and social and world harmony as goals, but excluding Chinese “hinterland” neighbors.

Sixth, Japanese civilization, based on confucianism and buddhism and an eclecticism fusing state and capital, capital and labor, and capital- and labor-intensity, but also on shinto defining Japan as a divine country centered on the emperor.

And taking shape a seventh Black Africa model based on sharing, distribution, solidarity and democracy as dialogue to consensus.

Strong civilizations, strong models.  Doomed to clash, isolate, or can they dialogue, select-eclect, transcend by cultural diplomacy?

Key problem: the West, but not because of universalist claims to be valid everywhere at all times.  But for US exceptionalism, a judaism excluding non-Jews, and caste hinduism excluding casteless they all meet Kant’s criterion of universalizability.  The problem is singularism, the claim to be the only one.  The unbelievable arrogance of one way street teaching, of development assistance, of cultural influence—of a colonialism where the West managed to learn nothing.

Right now the West of the West, the USA, is losing not only its empire, but after .com, housing and finance bubbles comes the US$ bubble, with the federal debt increasing 3,2 billion dollars per day since 2006, the unemployed 7,300 per day since 2008 and 1,400 jobs lost in industries per day since 2006.  And 2 1/2 times more money circulating, meaning printed, than before the 2008 crash (Der Spiegel, 44-2010).  Worse than a failed state: a failed society.

Will this make the West less arrogant, learning to pay attention to economic-social rights, to togetherness and sharing, to neither too little nor too much, to spiritual growth, to economic and political eclecticism, and democracy by dialogue?  To harmony through mutual and equal benefit?  The better a Western country manages to learn from the rest of the world, not only preach, the better the people will fare. And the more a non-Western country develops of its own, independent of the West, the better it will fare; not belittling what it can learn from the West for dynamism, democratic transitions and human rights.

So much for five of the fifteen relations we get with six models.

How about the other ten?  Islam has the same problem as the West, seeing itself as not only universal but also singular.  But islam opens for a third possibility beyond the realms of peace and of war, the dar-al-islam and the dar-al-harb: the dar-al-ahd, the convention, the treaty, agreement, like the buddhist-muslim cooperation that was running the Silk Road for nearly one thousand years.  The West is much more dualist and manichean, prone to see non-West as inferior, evil.

How about hinduism and the others?  Very problematic, likely to join with others of the same ilk, like the exceptionalist USA and the chosen Jews with a promised land peopled by others in a USA-Israel-India triangle of heavily militarized anti-pariah pariah states.

And buddhism?  Too pluralistic and cooperative, eclectic to the point of being self-destructive, like violent monks in Sri Lanka, military in Thailand, kamikaze in military Japan.  Maybe dialogue, not fusion should be encouraged, also in China-Japan?  More autonomy.

And how about exactly China-Japan, what impedes the European EC-EU approach in an East Asian Union, EAU?  Actually only the Japan (and Germany) tied to its new emperor (and Führer) after 1945, Washington (hat immer recht).  That will peter out with the US Empire, and up comes a stronger EU and an EAU.  Civilizations as regions hopefully able also to learn from others, to select and eclect.  And on the horizon a United Civilizations, taking the best from them all, with the Zapatero-Erdögan-UN Alliance of Civilizations as a fine beginning.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 8 Nov 2010.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Civilization as a Way of Life, is included. Thank you.

If you enjoyed this article, please donate to TMS to join the growing list of TMS Supporters.

Share this article:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

2 Responses to “Civilization as a Way of Life”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Salman Al-Abbasi, Elisabete Santana. Elisabete Santana said: Civilization as a Way of Life. By Johan Galtung [Solutions-oriented Peace #Journalism] -> […]