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CCSU Emeritus email@example.com > From: Jonathan Burack > As to the West and the Rest issue, Haines Brown seems to think the > "snap answer" to how the West rose to dominance was the unique triumph > there of "individuals who see private power as a means to lord it over > those who do not have as much power and this is the only way to > validate oneself." Now perhaps he is right or wrong. It is clear to me > he does not like this trend he describes (he calls it a "pathology" at > one point). Yes, I was making a value judgment, but it is not an unconventional one. The term "pathology" is often applied to it, and I cited Polanyi in that regard (I don't agree with Polanyi entirely). I did not trouble to defend the judgment because it was a peripheral issue. I suppose that someone who adopts the modern European ruling-class ideology would for good reason not find my judgments agreeable. This applies as well to my pop-psychological remark about self-validation. For example, here in the US there is a problem of compulsive spending, and my impression is that it is conventionally explained in such terms. While the explanation must always be subject to challenge, I'm not sure that means no explanations are valid. Just so there is no uncertainty, my adventurous remarks were directed at relations within the modern West, not the relation of the West with the Rest. These extrinsic relations are indeed complex and call for more subtle argumentation than my casual remarks. > That's okay, but the only issue for a historian, as I see it, is to > define carefully what "private power" means and what "validate" > means, etc., and then assemble evidence proving Europe was unique in > arising due to individuals so driven by these things. I personally > doubt the case can be made, though I think something along these lines > might be true. I'm not sure I quite understand. The notion of "private power" in modern Europe seems transparent: a private, minimally fettered, control over productive property. The only other power I can think of is that of real democracy, but this is not private power, but the power of social beings. Obviously these are difficult issues, but I don't think they need to be resolved in the present context. > I suspect the drive to "lord it over" others is well-nigh universal as > a major tendency in every culture. This remark seems problematic, and I don't know how seriously it was meant. The underlying issue is whether power over others is part of human nature and thus something universally present in all cultures. I needn't belabor the point that this is a presupposition that cannot be proven in principle. So other criteria come into play: is the assumption heuristic? Does it accord with our experience of social dynamics? The assumption that human nature is competitive lends itself to the "dismal science", for what does it imply for marriage, for family, or for community? In our daily lives, do we really feel that _in general_ people are lording it over us? > I do think a restless individualism, of both a "pathological" as well > as a very admirable sort (or both at once) was given a special boost > in Europe, but again the issue is evidence for that, and for my own > nuance on it, not whose values should prevail. To some extent, I agree. However, I worry about "restless", for surely individuality is not pathological, and so far individuality and individualism have been conflated. What does "individualism" mean? I look it up in the bible (Wikipedia) and its definition seems ambivalent, even contradictory. It can mean an "outlook that emphasizes 'the moral worth of the individual'". That's fine, but then it says it is to "value independence and self-reliance while opposing external interference upon one's own interests by society or institutions such as the government". This goes far beyond individuation and drags in the ideological position that self and society are hypostatized, even contradictory, entities. What then of the consensus in social science that individuation depends on our social existence? Modern Europe seems clearly to have promoted individualism in the sense of independence of private property from outside interference, and I don't know why the evidence for it should be thought to be tenuous. The American Revolution, for example, explicitly aimed to free commerce from taxes that brought no advantage. Perhaps the point is whether there is evidence to indicate that this independence from any constraint on individual action served primarily the bourgeoisie rather than aristocracy or peasantry. I suppose such a hypothesis must generally not contradict the evidence and have virtues (such as ideological import) greater than alternative explanations compatible with the evidence. This approach seems conventional. Surely the point here is not that conclusions must be deduced from phenomena---a position few would embrace. A Human skepticism is not very helpful. For example, there is little doubt in the natural sciences of a mounting ability to manipulate nature (for good or ill). Natural scientists therefore tend to be realists, not skeptics. Does the question about Rise of the West or Decline of the Rest become an either/or issue only if one assumes competition? There are other approaches to the issue that do not. For example, in general systems theory, systems "mature" in that early flexibility and creativity decline, and the locking in of systemic relations to address old needs makes the system less able to address emergent needs. If so, the mature system of the West naturally finds it increasingly difficult to resolve the problems generated by its development, while less mature systems of the Rest enjoy the opportunity to employ existing technologies in ways that open paths for their further evolution. So perhaps the rising and falling has more to do with internal dynamics than extrinsic power relations of the West and the Rest.