Why Does the West Fail to Understand Reality?


Johan Galtung - TRANSCEND Media Service

Economic power: the West being overtaken by the Rest, with growth rates for the USA, Euro zone and Japan being respectively 0.1, -0.9, -0.2 (Italy -2.8), against Brazil 1.4, Russia 2.9, India 4.5, China 7.9.[i] BRIC.

  • Military power: the West being defeated by the Rest, now paying dearly for the missing peace treaty and normalization with North Korea; with the Viêt Nam, Afghanistan and Iraq anti-terror wars lost, and Libya and Mali, Syria and Iran immune to “military solutions”;
  • Political power: the West as minority, the UN General Assembly rejecting 138 to 9 with 41 abstentions the US veto approach to Israel;
  • Cultural power: non-Western models of development. like Buddhist and Muslim, Japanese and Chinese add to “Western universalism”;
  • Social power, focused on domestic power and increasing social inequalities expressed as indignation, Occupy and Arab Spring, now focused on the ratio between CEO and average worker income: getting it down to at most 10, from 500.  See the Swiss referenda.

We are already far into a world economically dominated by BRIC, with S added for South Africa to make the message clear: South-South-South against not even a billion living in the world Northwest+Japan; militarily with only a question of time before the first drones hit the USA, as follow-up to 9/11, and whoever engages in extrajudicial executions; key decisions are taken by BRICS (CELAC for Latin America), one day possibly making a counter-UN without veto; culturally seeing their diversity as a major asset, drawing on all cultures.  They may also draw on the two major economic systems, not like Pope John Paul II being anti-communist and anti-capitalist, but in favor of both, an antidote, down there, an antipode to the Pope: China’s capi-communism.

From the Age of the Merchant, with bankocracy rampant, to the Age of the People, democracy?  Much good for the world in this, but not for a West clinging to everything they had and maybe losing it all.

We live accelerated history these years, with slow beginnings gaining momentum, and then quantum jumps.  And yet all of the above was easily foreseen; also such events as economic crashes, the 1989 fall of the Soviet Empire from the Berlin Wall on, 9/11 2001; before that the 1973 oil crisis, the 1978 Iran revolution, Tiananmen 1989.  Predicting, not to prevent, these were too strong forces; to prepare for the inevitable, not to be overtaken by surprise?  How come?

Victim of its own success?  Ostrich burying the head in the sand? Incapable of taking bad news? Addicted to economic growth and military superiority, and to quasi-intellectuals addicted to power and money? Letting economists and others survive despite their flagrant mistakes?

All of the above.  However, there is a factor in the deep culture missing in Western science based on Aristotle and Descartes Discours de la Méthode from 1637.  That method has four rules: nothing is true unless proven to be, divide problems into many parts, move from the simple to the complex, ensure that nothing has been omitted. Aristotle adds theories, reproducing the propositions by deduction from axioms, freezing reality between data from below and theories from above.

What emerge are detailed descriptions connected by theories. What is missing is an understanding of the totality that has been subdivided, and dynamism, time.[ii]  These are rules for understanding a static world.

Daoism, holism and dialectics, is age-old.  The Western defenses:  holism smacks of New Age, dialectics of Marxism, both of China. Holism means rich description, many variables like global economic, military, political, cultural and social, not only one of them.  Dialectics means force and counter-force within each holon.  A push generates a counter-push, they may find an (often uneasy) balance, but typically the counter-push generates a counter-counterpush, and so on.

The holon changes, not linearly, but in waves, or better, spirals.

Take the economy: low real economy growth may cause high growth in the finance economy upsetting any balance between the two: crash.  Look at Dow Jones growth relative to GDP growth for a prediction.

MDCs relate to LDCs, not just “more developed”; a holon. If one pushes into the other, do not be surprised if there is a counter-push.

Take the military: an attack generates counter-force, resistance, guerrilla, terrorism, nonviolence; there could be a balance or a turn- around with the first attacker resisting.  We are not there, yet.

Take the political: deciding over others leads to forces deciding over themselves, freedom, autonomy, independence, communities; one day deciding over the former “deciders”, to quote Bush.  Not there, yet.

Take the cultural: imprinting on others, even cloning self in others, generates strong counter-forces, the search for identity in old or new cultures, balance; or turn-around. We are not there, yet.

Take the social: “turn-around” is revolution, the Knecht is Herr.  There is a balance point closer to equality. Like maximum ratio 5:1.

Push on one, and the counterpush may also be in the others.

From this perspective the West is programmed for three mistakes:

  1. Failure to understand a relation, not just a difference.
  2. Failure to predict counter-forces, seeing pushing as blessing the attacked with Western=universal values; without asking.
  3. When the counter-forces grow stronger trying to beat them for a status quo ante, not searching for acceptable balance points.

Solutions?  Surprisingly simple: search for the balance points.

Economically: by controlling finance economy speculation, and by meeting emerging economies with exchange for mutual and equal benefit.

Militarily: by solving economic-political-cultural conflicts.

Politically: by meeting as equals, co-deciding, co-creating.

Socially: by reaping the benefits of more egalitarian societies.

Leave the static world with the West as cause and the Rest as effect. Others tried that in history. They are no longer with us.


[i]. IHT, 25-03-2013.

[ii].  Change came in physics, Leibniz, Newton.  But in human-social affairs West lives by Newton’s First and Second laws– things stay as they are or change with the push–not the Third law about a reactio to any actio.


 Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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5 Responses to “Why Does the West Fail to Understand Reality?”

  1. Dear Johan,

    Your piece clearly explains why my book is called “The GAME of War”. You describe the Game perfectly and I couldn’t agree more with you.

    Where we dissent is in the results: the losers and the winners. To me, the results have nothing to do with the West (East, North or South), with North Korea, Viêt Nam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Mali, Syria and Iran, with
    Political power, majorities or minorities, UN General Assembly’s voting results, US veto approach to Israel, cultural power, religious power, social power, etc, etc.

    To me, the results are:

    LOSERS: the people of ALL countries of the world. Not only
    the dead and those who mourn them, but EVERYONE.
    WINNERS:representatives of the Arms Trade, which can be
    from any country, any religion or atheists, any
    ethnic group, politically on the Right or the
    Left. The group includes: scientists who develop
    weapons, missiles, military uniforms and vehicles,
    manufacturers of the above mentioned toys, their
    employees, Armed Forces staff, politicians and
    diplomats involved in military transactions (both
    purchase and sale) Banks that make those
    operations possible, petrol and funeral companies.

    ADDITIONAL WINNERS: Those involved in the Refugee Industry, manufacturers of tents, beds and other adequate tent furniture, portable loos and kitchens, etc.

    To me, this is the REALITY that the world fails to see.

  2. Leo Maathuis says:

    Perhaps I should not focus on a side line, but nevertheless. Where it is very likely that countries like Iran will IN REVERSE attack the US with drones as the US keeps on challenging them, this has nothing to do with 9/11. There is quite a lot of evidence this was a kind of Home Affairs action as is indicated by for instance the Toronto Hearings (http://torontohearings.org/).
    Thanks for your analysis,
    Leo Maathuis

  3. satoshi says:

    In the above editorial, Prof. Galtung says, “Solutions? Surprisingly simple: search for the balance points.” And he describes solutions economically, militarily and politically and socially respectively. Excellent suggestions.

    However, the question is why the West does not implement/practice the “simple solutions” as Prof. Galtung’s suggests.

    – “Simplicity” is one thing. “Easiness” is another.
    – “Simplicity” is one thing. “Urgency/imperative” is another.
    – “Simplicity” is one thing. “Willingness” is another.

    Ask any Westerner the reason(s) why they do not implement/practice Prof. Galtung’s suggestions. What will they answer, then?

  4. Satoshi,

    With your……

    “Simplicity” is one thing. “Easiness” is another.
    “Simplicity” is one thing. “Urgency/imperative” is another.
    “Simplicity” is one thing. “Willingness” is another.

    ,,,, you said it all.

    1) EASINESS: Selling and using weapons, tanks, air fighters, etc, is much EASIER than not using them and of course keeps fighting pilots, military chiefs, happier.

    2) URGENCY/IMPERATIVE: Weapon manufacturing makes the creation of wars an IMPERATIVE AND URGENT matter.

    3) WILLINGNESS: With so many people involved in weapon research, manufacturing and trade, the WILLINGNESS for Peace of the rest is cancelled by the WILLINGNESS for war, which in reality is a WILLINGNESS FOR BUSINESS.

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