East and West, the Orient vs the Occident, Masses vs Individuals. On one side there is the power of “the collective”, and also spirituality, the quiet fascination of ancient civilizations. On the other side there is “our” individualism and materialism, as well as our noisy and chaotic democracies.
Federico Rampini guides us in a travel through history, in order to understand where we are today, including in our divergent responses to the pandemic.
East or West: which one makes you dream? Or scares you?
This is a story that began with a war between the ancient Greece and Persia, with Alexander the Great and the Emperors ruling what we now call the Middle East. Two and a half millennia ago we started shaping our visions of the world in terms of a duality East-West. We imagined the Orient as a vast land dominated by authoritarian empires. This concept continued to inspire Karl Marx as well as other thinkers in the XIX century, when they wrote about “Asian dispotism”. It’s a mind frame that we are using today when we speak about Xi Jinping or Erdogan.
When did we start thinking of Asia as the cradle of religions, whereas the West is secular? Is this a myth? Is it still true today?
For more than twenty centuries we tried hard to discover each other, or to fight, or to seduce and influence each other. Depending on who was the dominant power, the other tried to copy and catch up. China, India, Japan are some of the civilizations discussed in this essay; as well as the evolution of gender roles.
The legacy of history is even more important today, as we must adapt to a new “Asian Century”, and some countries in the Far East seem to have reacted more effectively to the pandemic. Why did it happen? Confucian values have been mentioned as one factor. Unfortunately, we as Westerners know so little about Confucius… Federico Rampini’s book and presentation offers an opportunity to fill some of our knowledge gaps.