West and East do not meet?!


With the world’s ongoing economic openness to Asia, some may think that there would be more curiosity on the part of those in our region about the intellectual and cultural aspects of the peoples of the Far East, rather than just a desire to trade with them.

There has always been an interest in Western culture because the Levant and Egypt are located on the Mediterranean, leading to an openness to explore the culture of Greece and then Rome and France. Arab faculties of arts and sciences encourage specialization in Western studies, so it is not surprising to see that graduates know much more about Socrates, Plato and Aristotle than about Zoroaster, Buddha and Jain.

They study the Iliad and the Odyssey while they know nothing about the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. They study the views of Aristotle, Socrates and Virgil, but know little of Asian philosophy. “We conquered the Far East after we understood their philosophy,” said an associate of US General MacArthur.

Ken Wilber, a contemporary philosopher whose books influenced former US President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, said that he was able to find a common area between the views of the great philosophers from the West and the philosophical heritage and culture of the Far East in a way that respected the views of both sides without preference being shown for one or the other.

The Far East has suffered from colonization by the West which has stolen many of its ideas. The Chinese assert that they were the first to invent paper before the Pharaohs along with engineering inventions and irrigation systems and they even claim that the Italian traveler Marco Polo “stole” Chinese noodles on his trip to the Far East which then became Italian pasta and spaghetti.

All this raises a question with regard to Western and Eastern civilizations: Which is more important, the protection of the property of the individual or of the state? Individual ownership existed before state ownership, but the state introduced a system to protect the right of individual property and to prevent tyranny and corruption. The question is growing in importance with the rise of two completely different cultures.

China, with its communism system, relies on the state economy which has produced multinational companies like Huawei, while the West emphasizes the need to protect the rights of individual property and the private sector which has led to the establishment of giant technology companies like Apple.

With the West and the East growing in two different directions, can they ever meet?