Sunday, September 10, 2006

Why the Rest Hates the West

I mentioned earlier that I was reading Why the Rest Hates the West, by Meic Pearse. All I know about the author is what it says on the back of the book--he's a trained church historian from Wales with some kind of missionary background. He appears to be Evangelical, but with a very critical eye toward all things Western, including the its take on church. In fact, I think I'm going to have to buy this book, because more than just about anything I've read, it tracks with what I've been thinking over the past couple of years. Not that I just like to surround myself with books I agree with :-) Partly, I'm thinking it would be good to have something to recommend if anyone wants to know more about what I think, and partly he actually does contribute some ideas that I hadn't already come up with.

I should say first of all that he doesn't have much sympathy for Western liberal self-loathing. So this isn't just about bashing Western government or policies. Instead, he's trying to look at deeper issues--the fundamental characteristics of Western culture that not only tend to offend the rest of the world by making us appear barbaric, but that even Western Christians should have some cause to oppose. Along the way, he also points out the positives to be found in the same trends, so for instance one of the first issues he looks at is Western truth to self. He sees a gain in the Protestant emphasis on internal integrity over external conformity to rules, but a loss in the subsequent abandonment of objective morality that has left us with only being true to ourselves, as in being honestly and openly whatever we happen to be. We are honest about ourselves and all of our moral flaws, but then we stop there without any motivation to change.

Other issues he considers include the shifts from duties to rights, from tradition to progress, from personal to impersonal government, from intermediate-level communities to the nationalist/classist dichotomy, and the prolongation of adolescence into perpetual immaturity. He also looks at the unsustainability of Western culture--how these features have added up to birthrates lower than necessary to maintain the population.

Except for the last point, I not only agree with almost everything he has to say about the problems, but have at one point or another fixated on them as major reasons for my own distaste for Western culture. On the demographic issue, I haven't thought much about it, but he's probably right--Western anticulture is gradually killing itself off. Our lack of duty, our rejection of traditional family structures, our expectation that some impersonal system will support us in old age, and our selfish desire for eternal youth all serve to diminish the desire for children. The one European country that exceeds a sufficient birthrate to maintain its population is Muslim Albania, and the one Western nation that reaches a sufficient rate is America, where arguably the decay of religious values has not proceeded quite as far as it has elsewhere. But even in America, the gross statistics hide the fact that immigrant groups inflate the numbers, since they generally have more children than indigenous Westerners. In fact, Pearse predicts that the only way to stem the tide will be increased immigration--not just any immigrants, because those who assimilate to Western culture will adjust to Western birthrates. The vacuum will only be filled by non-assimilating immigrants, who hold onto their own cultures, values, religions, and associated birthrates. Since the alternative is for Westerners themselves to radically change their own priorities, the outcome will be the same. One way or another, in the not-too-distant future, Western countries will be run by people who embrace traditional values.

It's a grim outlook, and he does well to caution against racist nationalism as a reaction. Pearse entertains no rosy notions about how we will solve our conflicts with the non-Western world; clearly, he views Western culture as an aberration that needs to be corrected--that in fact will be corrected whether by our intention or not. But his recommendations are not easy to carry out. Essentially, he calls for a return to personal duty and responsibility--repentance, to put it simply, from our current course. He also advocates cooperation between traditionally-minded Westerners and non-Westerners. One important point he makes in the book is about tolerance. Where in Western thought it has come to mean an intolerant rejection of conviction, it was and still is for most of the world an agreement to let differences of conviction stand. Perhaps his most important point is this--that a return to conviction, to traditional adherence to particular religious and ethical norms, is not something to be feared, not something that will inevitably produce conflict with the world around us. If anything, the opposite is true--that our militant rejection of traditional convictions in any form puts us at enmity with the rest of the world.

All in all, it was an excellent read.

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