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Some notes on East Asian cosmology, society, and economy – Part Two

By Mark Wegierski
web posted January 18, 2010

The now-emerging idea of "the observer affecting the event" and related concepts, of course, has applications far beyond physics, as for example, in an epistemological theory which explicitly embraces the Heideggerian "virtuous" -- not "vicious" -- cycle. (I.e., the more we know about something, the more interested we become in it; and the more interested we become in it, the more we know about it. The "knower" and "the thing known" cannot be strictly distinguished.)

In social terms, the adoption of this outlook could possibly lead to assigning increased value to the transrational and predetermined aspects of our identity, such as our familial and gender roles, as well as our place in local, regional, ethnic, and national communities. In more narrowly political terms, it could signify putting a greater importance on voluntarism (the will) and its exercise in the political arena -- as opposed to ostensibly rational debate; and on affective, as opposed to concrete, purely physical results. For example, if we feel that we are part of a great historic collectivity that makes our individual sacrifices meaningful to us, we can endure far more economic and other hardship than if we conceive of ourselves as individuals looking out only for ourselves. The justification for marrying and having and raising a family is, typically, for most people, an affective and transrational imperative. In fact, it would be difficult for a person concerned only with him or herself to make any rational argument for the family, from that perspective.

It might be argued further that the triumph of "chaos theory" and indeterminacy would presumably lead to greater caution in our constant, ongoing manipulation of the physical and social environments, as we simply cannot truly know or calculate the impact of our various transgressions against Nature.

In regard to the economic success of the Far East, it is probably fairly easy to argue that it is derived from the familial and social discipline of Far Eastern cultures (which generally originates from Confucianism -- or some elements of Shinto in Japan). The importance of social factors in the Far Eastern economic miracle cannot be underestimated. With the sense of belonging to a cohesive, homogenous civilization, and with the willingness to make enormous sacrifices for the extended family group, Far Eastern peoples have been able to work extremely hard for what are relatively far smaller pecuniary rewards than American workers receive. It should be also be noted that in South Korea and Japan, the great corporations have themselves reinforced the sense of community by extending a paternalistic care over their employees. In China, as well as in the various overseas Chinese communities, the small independent enterprise is often coterminous with an extended family group.

Because of this solid base of social conservatism, it could be argued that the downturn in Japan and much of Asia will only prove temporary. At some point, all those economies will come roaring back. It should also be noted that virtually at the height of the 1990s crisis, Japanese unemployment was no more than four percent, whereas the equivalent rate in the U.S. was seen as coterminous with a massive boom. Everyone in Japan appears to be willing to make sacrifices to keep the unemployment rate comparatively low.

As Samuel P. Huntington had argued in his famous article ("The Clash of Civilizations?" Foreign Affairs (Summer 1993)) and book (The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (Simon & Schuster, 1996)) the divergences in the world of the future are likely to be along cultural and civilizational lines. East Asia might well constitute a global focus of cohesion and social conservatism in distinct contrast to disintegrative North American individualism and liberalism. This excessive individualism and liberalism will almost certainly negatively effect the North American economy at some point.

It could be argued that there is an air of too much fervor and arrogance in the efforts of the United States to push its rights-dogmatism onto East Asian countries where it is clearly an alien cultural tradition, often seen by Asians as simply "crazy." Because of the "absolutism" of the U.S. stance on rights, it becomes more difficult to properly distinguish between the real cruelties of China, such as its treatment of Tibet and some religious minorities, and very trivial issues like the caning of a young U.S. vandal in Singapore.

It may seem hard to believe, but, according to some economists' estimates, the government of the United States under Clinton (let alone under Obama) actually controlled a greater proportion of the economy, than the government of China. One suspects that some of the biggest critics of China today were some of its biggest fans during the truly repressive period of the Cultural Revolution, which they thought was "cool". These persons typically hate contemporary, authoritarian China precisely because it has abandoned the earlier, grand, totalitarian, utopian dreams. The East Asians themselves often interpret the current American "human rights" emphasis as nothing more than an attempt to weaken the self-discipline and competitiveness of their societies, vis-à-vis America.

One might, in a rather speculative fashion, and on an Eastern theme, point out the possibility of a rather more distant future, where the peoples of Europe and heartland America could possibly be given some role to play in a more socially and technologically stable, unified, world-wide Oriental empire. It is perhaps only through this way that the massive, enervating Western decadence and decay can be overcome and transcended. One is given a possible picture of such a world in David Wingrove's bestselling -- though somewhat inept, partially internally-inconsistent, and rather dystopic -- popular science-fiction series (which numbers eight thick volumes) – Chung-kuo

We are certainly living in interesting times -- the form of bad luck wished upon an enemy in an ancient Chinese curse. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.






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