December 23, 2008
Yesterday we noted that significant cultural, societal and religious differences may well be attributed to how different groups perceive time and
…we see and understand that we ourselves are connected with a part of history. We are part of an inter-connected chain, with cause and effect relationships. Earlier man looked skyward and understood his primary relationship was with the cosmos only.
…what separated Europeans from others was time. How we used and assimilated time to define the priorities of our culture and the priorities of our personal relationships. ‘Westerners’ made the deliberate effort to use time in a more progressive way and effective way, integrating the progressive use of time into our lives and our relationships. ‘Easterners’ chose not to do the same.
As a result, western cultures forged ahead, tying even personal relationships to time. Eastern cultures placed no such premiums on time. For example, birthdays, anniversaries, etc., are really more of a western cultural phenomena, adopted as significant by eastern cultures only recently.
The better psychosphere bloggers- Dr Sanity, Shrinkwrapped, Gagdad Bob, Neo-neocon, Assistant Village Idiot and host of others, predicate their opinions and beliefs on how those opinions and beliefs impact relationships. It is less about ideologies than it is about who benefits and who is put at risk. They base their well qualified opinions with an eye to the outcome and repercussions on society, not just today, but down the road.
For western societies and cultures, there was a time when ‘empire’ was defined by territorial conquest and dominion. For the Romans, the acquisition of empire meant increased taxation and revenue that was to flow into Rome. They saw conquered people as producing assets only. As long as tributes and taxes were collected and allegiance to Rome assured, the Romans didn’t care how you lived or who you prayed to. The compact they established with conquered nations was simple: We’ll make your lives better by giving you roads and Roman technology so that your economy will expand and we’ll collect increased taxes. The Roman Empire built roads not as monuments but rather as both long and short term investments.
The Greeks were different. They saw conquest as an opportunity to spread Greek education, aesthetics, culture, philosophy and political ideology as a primary effort. They were determined to have Greek values replace local cultures, religions and value systems or at the very least, influence local cultures and religions. The Assyrians are an example of how the Greeks influenced the nations they conquered. Paul the Apostle (born Saul) was a sort of ‘Hellenized’ Jew born in Tarsus. He was no doubt looked upon suspiciously by some Jews, notwithstanding his constant challenging the Hellinists.
Over time, western civilization was to redefine ‘empire,’ albeit slowly.
The British colonials may have benefited economically from their empire, but they also left behind a legacy. Former British colonies, including India, Pakistan, and Kenya, all have educational systems that were instituted by the colonial power and parliamentary systems of government.
Former French colonies were not so fortunate. After centuries of exploitation, those colonies were abandoned to tremendous violence which in many cases continues to this day.
In any event, ‘empire’ became synonymous with ideas and time.
The American Empire refers to the influence American ideas have throughout the world. The fall of communism was in no small measure due to the desire millions had for freedom and democracy, ideals espoused, enshrined and promulgated by this nation and exemplified by American successes. It became clear that left to determine his own efforts, the individual could and would succeed. Capitalism was and remain an ideas that address moral and philosophical truths, notwithstanding efforts by many to portray it as a cold and economic engine only (see this). Of course, the proof is in the pudding. Nations that have embraced capitalism have succeeded. Nations that have not have failed. The poorest people in a capitalist society are far better off than the poorest nations that eschew capitalism.
In western societies, time became the measure of freedom. The more time you had to devote to determining your own destiny, the freer you were. The more time and time consuming demands the state placed upon you, the more enslaved you were.
To a large extent, the Jews were responsible for how we came to view and understand time and empire. While their contribution was more intellectual and cultural, it took Christianity to make that evolution practical.
It is in how Jewish and Christian ideologies worked together to understand the relationship of time and empire that came to define the Judeo-Christian ethic.That ethic seeks to sanctify time and relationships, not land or any particular religion. Each and every hour presents an opportunity for man to ascend to a more elevated status. That is our highest calling.
For the Jews, empire was never a defining characteristic. Jews did not need a homeland or any specific piece of geography to be identified as Jews or possessing a culture. In fact, Jews had many diverse cultures defined by geographical location. There were Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardic Jews, Mizrahi Jews and derivatives thereof. What tied these disparate groups together were values. Geography played no role in their identity, save for the desire to someday return to Zion. The idea of time was important in that it was in how we spent time relating to each other in the here and now and in reinforcing community values.
Nations that were to embrace democracy and allow for religious freedom saw no need for empire. Those nations came to understand that relationships with other democracies were far more advantageous than relationships defined by colonial rule. Social, economic and political alliances forged with shared values are more enduring and productive than forced social, economic and political alliances. Time was to be used to improve the lives of all, in the here and now.
In much of the Arab and Islamic world, how time and empire are defined account for much of their failure as nation states. It must also be said that these definitions have been authored by dysfunctional leaders driven by corruption, for whom Islam is no more than a tool to be employed as a hammer.
In the Judeo-Christian ethic, time is precious in a very literal sense. Jews may be waiting for the Messiah and Christians may wait for the Second Coming, but in the end, it is in how we live with each other in the here and now that counts. In much of the Islamic world the here and now mean nothing. Everything can be sacrificed (or slaughtered) in the name of the new empire and Caliphate.
Current Islamist teaching and political ideology divide the world into two camps. Those nations that are under the flag of Islam and those nations to be brought under that flag by force. The is no ‘Swiss neutrality.’ In the Middle East, the idea that the threat of force is an option that will never be abandoned, is enshrined. The Palestinians are a prime example. They believe a viable Palestinian state can only come when Israel is destroyed. The Palestinians have sacrificed millions of meaningful lives in the here and now, all in the name of an ideology (and tyranny) that cares little for them. These leaders have no real relationship with their people. Healthy relationships address the quality of life in the here and now. As far as the Palestinians and most Arabs are concerned, it is the old style empire they covet, no matter how long they must wait and no matter how many lives are ruined in the process. They Arabs have becomes the wannabe colonialists of our time, seeking to exploit the successful nations they cannot hope to equal.
These ideas serve the ideologues and despots well. Enemies are concocted and leadership is absolved from improving the lives of their people in the here and now.
…This highlights another reality. In Arab cultures, there is no real reward or recognition for loving the sanctity of life. Those who profess a desire for real peace, non violence, less corruption and less oppression are considered reformers.
…Repression, oppression, terror, genocide and hate flourish. Entire populations are groomed to know only hopelessness, and not hope. There are failed economies, failed civil infrastructures and failed educational infrastructures. A child born in the Arab world today has little hope of achieving success on his own. There is little in the way of opportunities or a way out if the bleakness. There is no bright future to look forward to.
So much for ‘enlightenment.’
Portions of this post have been previously posted.