“The west” ideology part 1: What is the west?

14 Sep

Followig our undergoing research over the arab revolution, we came to challenge the very notion of « the west ». Historically wrong, geographically irrelevant, “the west” is in fact an ideology that is deeply damaging for the intellectual life and the human thinking.

The damages of this notion are not to be understated. It is used in hundreds of thousands of articles and books to think, conceptualize and understand the world’s politics. The notion is extremely ideological but nevertheless used and abused as if it was a reality: “the west” or “western” are never challenged nor defined in any piece that uses them. It can be seen as the greatest achievement of cultural hegemony over this century, submitting the thinking of everyone to an hill defined and irrelevant notion but powerful and overwhelming ideology.

Stuart Hall started to elaborate on the notion and we will use great parts of his article “the west and the rest”

This ideology is transmitted like a disease in any piece that will use “West; western, western countries, We (as west or as non west)” or any adjective or cultural references supposing a differentiation from “the west”.

Anyone deploying a discourse must position themselves as if they were the subject of the discourse. For example, we may not ourselves believe in the natural superiority of the West. But if we use the discourse of “the West and the Rest” we will necessarily find ourselves speaking from a position that holds that the West is a superior civilization.

And this happens whenever or wherever is “the west, west, western, us (as west)” is used: articles, information reports, diplomatic statements, conspirationist websites, political speeches… Its use have become so benine, so wide and so unchallenged that we can say this ideology has gathered the status of a cultural hegemony (Gramsci).

The problem is that this ideology is extremely fascistic, colonial, imperialistic, racist and inhumane. It carries in itself many threats that human thoughts should have eradicated: justification of slavery, crime against mankind, segregation, colonisation, religious superiority, racial inequalities, ethnic divisions and cleansing, and so on. Each time this very simple word is used, it carries with it a whole set of stereotypes and ideas.

What is “the west”?

To grasp definitions of what is “the west” one can rely on Hall. It also helps to understand what mechanisms are set into motion every single time “the west” is used, thought, spoken or written somewhere

The concept or idea of “the West” can be seen to function in the following ways:

First, it allows us to characterize and classify societies into different categories – i.e. “western,” “non-western.” It is a tool to think with. It sets a certain structure of thought and knowledge in motion.

Secondly, it is an image, or set of images. It condenses a number of different characteristics into one picture. It calls up in our mind’s eye – it represents in verbal and visual language – a composite picture of what different societies, cultures, peoples, and places are like. It functions as part of a language, a “system of representation.” (I say “system” because it doesn’t stand on its own, but works in conjunction with other images and ideas with which it forms a set: for example, “western” = urban = developed; or “non-western” = non-industrial = rural = agricultural = under-developed.)

Thirdly, it provides a standard or model of comparison. It allows us to compare to what extent different societies resemble, or differ from, one another. Non-western societies can accordingly be said to be “close to” or “far away from” or “catching up with” the West. It helps to explain difference.

Fourthly, it provides criteria of evaluation against which other societies are ranked and around which powerful positive and negative feelings cluster. (For example, “the West” = developed = good = desirable; or the “non-West” = under-developed = bad = undesirable.) It produces a certain kind of knowledge about a subject and certain attitudes towards it. In short, it functions as an ideology.”

“The west” can have a really restricted diplomatic reality somehow when referring to the voice of France, UK, and US at the UN security council. But the vague and non defined unification of their diplomatic stance and interests under “the west” sets the whole ideology in motion. The four ways described by Hall can be unleashed in the minds and the debates and one can choose to refer to one or more of the ways without need for definition. It is extremely rare (if it ever existed) that all countries in Europe + US + Canada + Australia can find a common politic or diplomatic stance or social common grounds. However, “the west” will be used and abused as referring to these countries.

Part 2 the origins of “the west”



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