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Progress, and the Myth of Western Civilization

Diversity and Uniformity

Every society must assume some attitude toward diversity and uniformity, which will here refer to the degrees and types of diversity that a society encourages or permits; and the corresponding degrees and types of uniformity that a society mandates. One of the recurring pretexts used by leaders interested in promoting their own self-interests, meaning one of the recurring forms of false Progress, is that some aspect of previously-acceptable diversity must be restricted for the common welfare. Since it is obvious to all that such restrictions will fall on some groups more than on others, necessarily harming the group which the new policy would restrict, such restrictions would have to benefit the remainder of society even more than they hurt the affected group, to even possibly benefit society-at-large. This was rarely, if ever, demonstrated to justify general restrictions against statistically significant (large) social groups; but the groups that stood to gain often proceeded anyway; whether they admitted it or not descending to the state of "might makes right."

One of the most significant storylines in the history of Progress in Civilization, is the evolution of social ideologies about diversity and uniformity. This issue, really the definitions and policies created to address it, determine the quality of a society, and will either prevent or create conflict both within a society, and between that society and others. History abounds with examples of States and transnational Cultures whose Progress was limited by their formal attitudes against diversity, as well as with examples of states whose formal attitude in favor of diversity fueled their Progess. In most instances these are the same entities, just at different phases in their development or decline. In all cases, great empires have grown by the inclusion and addition of new citizens and territories, under the guidance of principles that permitted, and even encouraged, various types of diversity. Their declines can almost always be attributed to the corruption of the principles that created their growth, including irrationally restricting the degree to which they accepted diversity.

The Myth of Western Civilization; the misperception that the word "Western" refers to a necessary distinction between "Westerners" and "Easterners;" depends on false assumptions about the "Western" identity, two of the most basic of which are the distinctions raised by the words "Race" and "Europe." These terms, most relevant to current conceptions of the "West," were given their formal meanings long ago, by groups and individuals whose primary interest was subjective; using pretexts to gain support for policies designed solely for their own benefit, and not to objectively match terminology to reality for the benefit of society-at-large. The popular conceptions of the English words "Race" and "Europe" are an indication of the difficulties that English-speakers (and Europeans in general) of earlier centuries encountered in relating Uniformity and Diversity issues to their societies, and identities.

RACE

"A "big lie" is more effective than a "small lie" if it is expressed boldly and unequivocally and repeated often enough." (B. Netanyahu, P.357)

Of all the false distinctions that have been made in the development of human ideology, perhaps the most self-destructive has been the terminological subdivision of humanity into sub-species called "Races." This is because of the way in which that terminological division fails to correspond to reality. Ideologies framed in racial terms are inherently irrational, and predestined to betray themselves as internally inconsistent or completely corrupt. The ever-present human need to make choices, or distinctions, has been frequently harnessed by demagogues who are not beneath utilizing racial pretexts they do not personally believe, for their own, cynical, personal benefit. Those leaders who do believe in racial divisions have proven to be the most dangerous of all, even to themselves and their own people. When leaders do not clearly comprehend the realities facing them and their societies, they are unable to formulate policies that will effectively achieve the goal of a more prosperous, healthy population. Of course, there will be disagreement over how to define a healthy society, but all leaders can be evaluated as to whether or not they were able to lead their societies to assume or maintain some minimal standards. The proportion of a society that does not have food, or that is illiterate; the degree of corruption within the society and government; the extent and nature of interaction with other societies; the degree of progressive innovation within a society; the personal integrity of the leader; these are some basic standards which provide a basis for evaluating leaders and societies with substantial objectivity. Ascribing to the concept that the human race is divided into subspecies which should each be given a separate designation, is not Progressive, meaning, does not improve a society with respect to any of the issues mentioned above. It feeds no one, and grows no food. It teaches no one to read, or research. It does not make a government behave less corruptly, and hinders, not fosters, innovation. It has no bearing on the personal integrity of the leader, except to the extent the leader is deceiving his or her own people with a doctrine the leader does not believe. It diminishes a society's desire to engage others, discouraging trade and learning.

But one need not know all of the details of world history to find proof of this. An examination of the dictionary definition of the word "Race" reveals that "Race" has only one meaning unrelated to speed contests: the meaning found in the phrase "the human race." The existence of the dictionary definition is an objective fact, in that it is objectively true that the dictionary definition has been printed, disseminated, and, in all likelihood, accepted as truth by the popular consciousness of our society. While most of the dictionary definitions are logically inconsistent or admittedly arbitrary, their inconsistency, or arbitrariness, has been absorbed into society as objective inevitabilities. This obviously hinders society's ability to formulate responses to issues and crises that are certain to arise. Below are two statements regarding the word "Race." The first is a statement regarding the origins of the word; the second is a definition of the word as typically found in current English dictionaries.

"Race - for such a common word - or rather two words, for "people, population" [16] and "speed competition" are unrelated - surprisingly little is known about the origins of race. The former comes via French from Italian razza, but the antecedents of razza are obscure. The "running" race originally meant "rush" and was borrowed from Old Norse ras "rush, running, race" - again of unknown origin." (P.428, Word Origins, by John Ayto.)

"race" (1st listing) - 16 definitions pertaining to movement, or competitions of speed.

"race" (2d listing) - "(ras), a group of persons related by common descent and heredity. 2. Anthropol. a) a classification of modern humans, sometimes, esp. Formerly, based on an arbitrary selection of physical characteristics, as skin color, facial form, or eye shape, and now frequently based on such genetic markers as blood groups. b) a human population partially isolated reproductively from other populations, whose members share a greater degree of physical and genetic similarity with one another than with other humans. 3. Any people united by common history, language, cultural traits, etc.; the Dutch race. 4. The human race or family; humankind. 5. Zool. A variety; subspecies. 6. Any group, class or kind, esp. Of persons. 7. The characteristic taste or flavor of wine. [1490-1500; -F-It razza, of uncer. origin]." (Dictionary 1, p.1110)

Note that, according to definition number 2, people having one blood type could be defined to belong to a different race than people having another blood type. That is obviously not how the word race is used in any English vernacular.

Of all the dictionary definitions listed above, the only specific and rational (valid) definition of race that pertains to defining humans is #4. The human race. The first definition does not in any way limit the group. Without being limited, the phrase "Common descent or heredity" applies equally to all humans, and not to any 'racial' group, unless further defined by subjective criteria. Definition #2a is accurate enough to include the word arbitrary in the definition, admitting that the system of racial classification is arbitrary, not rational or logical. This is telling evidence that racial classifications are subjective and not objective. Definition #2b does not define the extent to which a population must differ from others, or in what way, to be considered a separate race. It leaves that evaluation up to each individual, as purely arbitrary and subjective. Taking Definition #2b literally, a single family could qualify as a separate race. That is also obviously not the way the word race is ever used in English. Definition #3 does not define the degree of commonality required to characterize a race, which thus remains, again, purely subjective. Definition #3 is also undermined in that nobody seriously thinks of each European nation as being populated by a unique race. Only Definition #4 is an objective, specific definition leaving nothing to subjectivity. As the only objective way to use the word "Race" is to have it refer to the group of all humans, it is a fundamental fact that there is only one Race, the Human Race. Definition #5, subspecies, is defined as a zoological term, and therefore not intended to apply to humans. Nonetheless, this is the definition which Racist ideology depends upon, and insists can be applied to humans, by using the word "Race" to mean "subspecies of the human race." The misperception that it can be objective science to utilize definition #5 when referring to humans enables further false distinctions to be made in ideology and social policy, and encourages xenophobia. It is demonstrated below that the dictionary is correct in stating that this definition is inapplicable to humans. Definition #6, "Any group, class or kind" does not define the basis upon which the words group, class or kind can be applied to divide people but would allow any group to be arbitrarily defined as a race, even a baseball team. (The New York Yankee race?) Clearly, that is not the way anyone currently uses the word race.

Thus, in the English language, there are only two objective meanings of Race: One is defined in #4, above. The other is described in Listing #1, pertaining to movement or competitions of speed.

Racism is an ideology based on a misconception; the belief that the illusion of Race should have tangible socio-political consequence. This means the belief that it is meaningful to distinguish societally between people, based upon their skin color, hair type, or other shallowly-perceived physical characteristics; combining #s 2a and 5 above to result in a division of humanity into subspecies-type groupings based solely upon arbitrarily chosen physical characteristics. This misconception has contributed to the development of the Myth of Western Civilization by providing a basis for the belief that the peoples of the Northwest Asian Peninsula ("Europe"), and their cultures ("Western"), were more unlike than like the peoples and cultures originating beyond Europe.

But what of the likenesses? This is an example of deciding between calling a glass half full or half empty. It is a subjective matter. No one can rationally determine that the anatomical differences between people objectively outweigh their anatomical similarities, such that those differences must be reflected through social policy. (The substantially-objective differences between cultural groups are ideological, or material, rather than anatomical.)

There may be an almost infinite number of characteristics one could use if one needed categories into which to divide humanity, or place oneself. By height, weight, age, gender, color of the skin, hair, eyes; by socio-economic status, by language, religion, other culture, or by geography. By the crimes people have committed or by the accolades or degrees they have received. By the heroes they have chosen to emulate. By earlobe shape, blood type, food allergies, physical abnormalities, sharpness of vision, hearing, smell, taste, etc... ad infinitum. Some of the distinctions that can be made are more significant than others with regard to reaching specific conclusions. It may be because one confuses the significance of these distinctions that one uses the term "Race" in a subjective, unscientific fashion that does not enhance the process of communication. Only the objective use of the word "Race", to describe all of humanity, sends a message the meaning of which is not dependent on the interpretive idiosyncracies of each individual. More specific words abound for those who wish to specify objectively (English has what, a half million words?).

As it can be proven just by referring to the dictionary definitions of "Race," that there is only one Race, the Human Race, it can be shown in other, less formal ways as well. Based upon observation, there is no fixed borderline that can be drawn, from physical appearances, between the groups who have been labeled as separate races by those who have been fooled by the illusion of race (Racists). When an alleged set does not have a border, or limit, it is not truly a set. "Racial" groups are not real sets. There can be no members, much less "pure" members, of a nonexistent set; so there can be no such thing as "racial purity." (Although it must be admitted that strict consanguinity might achieve a short-lived, rather sterile degree of familial purity. This has never proven a successful method of providing a society with stable leadership, because the rulers inevitably become barren. It is as if a Creator, by operation of the Laws of Nature, has decreed that no matter what the Racists maintain, humans are destined and designed to intermingle their genes.) Purity is a concept best suited to the physical sciences, for describing the composition of objective chemicals and materials; or else in a clearly poetic sense. When sociology becomes an exact science and genetics are well understood; when we have more information upon which to rely than that provided by our eyes; then it may be possible to rationally discuss who is and who is not a member of a specific genetic subdivision of the human race. Until then, all such discussions will remain fundamentally subjective or irrational.

There are vast numbers of people occupying interstices between the so-called Races, and there is no a-priori reason to call them half-breeds, for they may just as logically be considered pure-breed examples of their own racial types. This holds especially true if their parents had the same "racial" characteristics as the children. There is no way for Racists to determine whether those they term "black", "white", and "Asian," are descended from ancestors who should rather be considered "purebred" examples of racial types which are considered "interracial" today. There is no objective standard, or way to create such a standard.

Are Arabians a race between white and black? Are Indians a race between black and Asian ? Where is the line between the Finns and the Turks? Or between the Turks and the Mongols? Or between the Finns and the Mongols? Or even between the Mongols and the Chinese? Is it the Chinese or the Mongols, or a different group, who represent the authentic version against which the hypothetical "purity" of other Asian races would be judged? For that matter, who are the real "White" people to define the "White race"? Is it the Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, Finns, Germans, Dutch, French, Flemish, English (including Scotch/Irish/Welsh), Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Slavs, Hispanics, Italians, or maybe the Swiss? Is it the Americans? What could it mean for a human being to be purebred? That there was inbreeding in the family? These questions are rhetorical, and not new: the falsity and folly of believing that there ever existed such a creature as a "purebred Englishman" was mercilessly exposed as a fallacy by Daniel Defoe around 1700, in "True Born Englishman." Every human being could be a race of their own if irrelevant distinctions were to be seen as racially significant (and therefore relevant).

If Race is understood to be a subjective or poetic term, or is used to distinguish between relatively definable groups, with objective differences, it poses no problem. Cicero named the Hispanic, Gallic, Phoenician, Greek, Latin and Italic groups as all being distinct from the Romans (P.110, Bacon Essays), objectively dividing them (from his standpoint) by geography and culture. Yet, any concept of race that named the Italians, Latins, and Romans, as three separate races, cannot have matched any modern Racist notions. Likewise, the sixth-century Bishop, Gregory of Tours used race (gens) as a proxy for "group", and wrote of the Frankish race as opposed to the Thuringian or Burgundian race. These were clearly geographic and politico-cultural distinctions which can not be taken as attempts to view these three Germanic groups as distinguishable from each other in an illogically Racist sense. Gregory, had he known the word "subspecies," would not likely have considered the Franks and Thuringians to represent different subspecies of the human race; just political subdivisions. Any system that made Franks and Thuringians into different "Races" would have resulted in the creation of, at least, hundreds of "Racial" categories, and would have really been a list of all existing political identities. To Gregory, identity was generated by geographic, political and cultural, more than genetic, implications (and Gregory did not know about DNA). Gregory knew that the average Thuringian could easily become a Frank, or a Burgundian, or a Lombard, simply by moving their residence or changing allegiance from one King to another. Gregory identified converts with Christianity; he did not insist that non-Christians were genetically distinct from Christians, whether they converted or not.

Cicero had written: "Now there is no single thing that is so similar to, so like, anything else as all of us are like one another. If corrupt habits and foolish opinions did not twist and turn aside our feeble minds from their original paths, no individual would be more like himself than everyone would be like everyone else. Thus, however one defines man, the same definition applies to us all. This is sufficient proof that there is no essential difference within mankind. If there were, the same definition would not cover everyone. Reason in fact-the one thing in which we are superior to the beasts, which enables us to make valid deductions, to argue, refute our opponents, debate, solve problems, draw conclusions-that certainly is common to us all. While it may vary in what it teaches, it is constant in its ability to learn. For the same things are grasped by the senses of all alike; and those rudimentary perceptions that are impressed upon the mind (the perceptions I mentioned above) are impressed alike on all minds. Speech, which interprets the mind, uses different languages but expresses the same ideas. Nor is there any member of any nation who cannot attain moral excellence by using nature as his guide.

The similarity between human beings is evident in their vices as well as their virtues."(P.107,CiceroLaws)

The cultural-relativist argument that it is improper to judge one culture or era by the standards of another is, therefore, not applicable here. The Fifth century BCE Hellene, Antiphon (below), long before Cicero, had also deduced that there is only one human Race. If "Race" is understood to denote language, culture, geography, or any other characteristic that it is capable of objectivity, it would not be an ideological problem. But that is not how "Race" is usually used today. A light-skinned person who was born in Africa will not necessarily be thought of as racially African, even if they speak the local dialect and know the local customs from birth. They may be personally African, though ancestrally European. If, by calling them "African," we mean to communicate the information that their family has roots in Africa, we would be wrong. But if we meant that they personally were born in Africa, that would be objectively correct.

Similarly, when referring as "Asian," to the ancestry of those born in America with ancestors from Asia; the terminology matches the concept. The term means "of or from Asia", which is the exact idea we intended to communicate about their ancestry. If, on the other hand, we describe such folk as individuals, as "Asian," meaning "of or from Asia," we would be incorrect; and transmit a false and misleading message about them as individuals. They may have no personal connection to Asia, may have been born in Wisconsin, and may speak only English, with a Midwestern accent, and identify almost exclusively with American culture. Or that person may even be Polynesian or native American, and may not even have Asian ancestry at all.

If "Asian" means "having Asian ancestry", then how do we refer to the fact that someone actually is, personally, a native of Asia? One simple answer is by refusing to generalize, and by taking the time to specify exactly what we mean with a whole phrase, and not just with the one word. (We can say "they were born here, to ancestors from there;" or "they came here from Y three weeks ago;" or "they are natives so far as I know→" and so on.)

Another reason to be specific is that when we use as broad a generalization as "Asian" we are not distinguishing between the many vastly different peoples and cultures within Asia. Asia itself is a non-Asian concept; there is no word for Asia in Chinese. The term Asia is generally used as a complement to the terms Europe and Africa. But Jaipur, Syria, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, China, Tajikistan, etc...are all Asian. Is it too difficult to say "He's from Tashkent," or "Her family came here from Shanghai"? Only when one intends for a statement to apply in a geographic sense, to all the areas or people located within what we call Asia, does it make some sense to utilize the term Asian. (I.e. - Thai is an Asian language.) The context of each conversation will determine the degree of specificity required.

When it comes to the "Caucasoid-Negroid-Mongoloid" trichotomy, the focus is not usually on where a person is from personally, but ancestrally. Unless those terms are used for rational (usually, descriptive or medical) purposes, they lead us away from recognizing individuals for their personal characteristics and achievements, and toward attributing to them characteristics we may have no good reason to believe they possess. Those terms are inherently subjective, despite all attempts to cloak them in scientific or rational jargon. (Also, see "Race is a tainted term;" P.1 and 6C, The Baltimore Sun, 10/26/03.)

Except in limited cases, the single statement "she's Asian", "she's black," or "he's white," under the guise of a statement meant to provide information on the subject, informs the reader or listener of almost nothing useful (for make deductions and inferences). It doesn't inform the reader, or hearer, if the subject is rich or poor, sane or insane, young or old, dangerous or benign, a good neighbor or bad, a menace to society, or its salvation. It does not speak to religion, language, or nationality. Rather, it often informs the hearer more about the speaker's biases than about the subject. For example, if one were to call a tan-skinned person "white," that could well be an expression of a bias toward only calling the darkest people "black". If one were to call that same tan person "black," that could well be an expression of a bias toward only calling the palest people "white."

If we look at someone and draw social conclusions, based upon what we perceive to be their genetic composition, we risk being wildly mistaken. There are a great many cities where one quickly learns that a stranger's dress and hairstyle are a much surer indication than their natural body, of their cultural identity. Cultural identity is expressed in many ways, including through clothing and accessories. Throughout history, such behavior has helped people who were, genetically, almost identical; and who lived in the same communities and shared the same culture; to differentiate themselves from each other by expressing contrasting, or even opposing, cultural sub-identities. The Knights of the Hospital wore white crosses while the Knights of the Temple wore red crosses. The differences between them may have been significant within Christendom, but to most non-Latin neighbors of the Crusader kingdoms, the Knights of the Military Orders were virtually identical, and equally dangerous.

It is all too easy to fall into the trap of attributing the consequences of socio-economic conditions to ethnicity. Whichever groups occupy the lowest rung of a society's economic hierarchy; are frequently considered inherently lazy and unimaginative by the wealthier elements of that society. Imagine that most members of hypothetical group A happen to differ noticeably in appearance from most members of group B The irony is that, at the same time, while in a society dominated by group A, group B might be considered inherently inferior; in a society dominated by group B, group A might be considered equally inferior. An objective observer might reasonably conclude that neither group was inherently inferior, and that the social differences between those groups are to be explained by societal, not genetic, factors. Without proof that the general welfare would be promoted through the use of such distinctions, genetic appearance alone (which is often improperly equated with ethnicity), is no reason to make distinctions in cultural behavior through legislation, linguistic conventions, or social norms.

A serious problem arises for a society when its people and institutions employ the pseudo-scientific terminology of Racism; reflexively assume that visible, allegedly "Racial," distinctions, necessarily justify particular socio-legal consequences; and then institutionalize those consequences. The society will become less efficient, have fewer resources at its disposal, and will fail to recognize and will resist, real Progress. In the attempt to conserve alleged "Racial" or class "purity," however that is defined, the society will become static; eventually to be bypassed by more vigorous societies, employing more efficient forms of social organization. As there is no such thing as "Racial purity," attempts to assert the superiority of one sub- "Race," and inevitably the inferiority of others, have been illusory, subjective, unscientific, and socially self-destructive. Such attempts are the cultural equivalent of the insecure schoolyard bully who habitually belittles others in order to maintain a false feeling of superiority.

How many cultures and nations reached a point where their people felt that perfection had been achieved, everyone else was a barbarian, no further growth was necessary or possible; and then rapidly receded from relevance. Spain in the Sixteenth century, the Ottoman empire in the Eighteenth, Egypt before the sack of Thebes circa 660 BCE, pagan Rome, Imperial Constantinople, Ming China in the second half of the 15th century, and too many others to list. Growth is a necessary component of human life. Staticity is characteristic of the dead.

"Immigrants from different countries bring in different languages, customs, tools, and weapons. This diversity is an ornament for the realm, a decoration for the court, and an object of fear for our enemies." (P.124, Birth of Europe) This quote, attributed to (St) Stephen, first Christian king of Hungary, demonstrates that Stephen appreciated that his young realm needed to grow, and that it would not grow well if it remained closed or static.

There are many distinctions that must be made in the process of communicating. If we wish to convey the sense that someone is from a certain locale, then categorizing them geographically makes sense. If we wish to convey that someone professes a certain creed or speaks a certain language, describing them accordingly is only appropriate. The specifics of a given situation dictate which generalizations or stereotypes do or do not apply. When stereotypes are made without regard to the specific facts of a situation, and when those stereotypes and generalizations enter the popular consciousness and become institutionalized within a culture, there are serious and negative repercussions. Such was the ideology that encouraged and permitted the enslavement of large groups of darker-skinned folk by lighter-skinned folk before the abolition of slavery. Such was the ideology that intentionally committed the premeditated murder of more than ten million civilians during World War II. The enslavement and murder of whole ethnic or cultural groups, such as "those with skins darker than ours" or Jews, or gypsies, was facilitated by the ideological device of proclaiming them to be inferior beings, "untermentschen" (sub-humans), natural servants, or enemies of humanity and of the Creator, in league with the devil.

It is not such logic alone which proves the arbitrariness and inaccuracy of the system of classification of Race referred to in the dictionary quote: " a classification of modern humans, sometimes, esp. Formerly, based on an arbitrary selection of physical characteristics, as skin color, facial form, or eye shape, and now frequently based on such genetic markers as blood groups." The Human Genome Project proved scientifically that there is only one Race of humans; or at least that previous systems of racial classification are wholly incorrect. It has been shown that genes vary according to other criteria than are visible to the naked eye. It is quite possible for two people of supposedly-different "races" to be closer to each other genetically than to other members of their own supposed "races." People do not necessarily differ as much, genetically, as we may perceive with our eyes, and relatively arbitrary standards of similarity. The imperceptible genetic similarities between all humans greatly outweigh our visible differences, for the purposes of attempting to rationally subdivide the one Human Race.

This explains why past attempts to systematically subdivide humanity according to looks-based distinctions alone have failed miserably. "Racial" distinctions are false distinctions. Ideologies, and policies based upon those false distinctions have been doomed to fail in the long run. The gradual development and internalization of the ideology of Race, based upon false "racial" distinctions, coincided with the development of, and helped shape, the "European" or "Western" identity. Many of the great failures of those who would identify themselves as Western can be attributed to the extent to which their policies were based on this false conception of reality.

Copyright, 2004, by Yigal Kahana. All rights reserved.

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