With the rise of political correctness, and the notions that diversity means that all cultures are the same, and should be respected as equals came the idea that too much focus on one’s own culture showed an excess of pride; ethnocentrism was a sin, and the worst sin was Euro centrism, the tendency to interpret the world in terms of western and especially European or Anglo-American values and experiences (I use European and Anglo-American interchangeably in this narrative). Reading the works of ‘dead white men’ was a waste of time, and it was far more important that our European and American children be taught the literature of Africa (if such can be found) than the literature of their progenitors in Europe.
This is a fatal notion, the idea that one should study the wisdom of failed cultures rather than the lessons of successful cultures. It is as if there was more value in studying the life of a convicted child molester rather than the life of a corporate executive. Perhaps the thought is that, by studying the life of a failure, one can avoid the pitfalls of that failure, whereas studying the life of a success is a waste of time. It is a defensive philosophy, the philosophy of an adapter, one who adapts to life as it comes, rather than the philosophy of a warrior, one who shapes life to fit ones own needs. It is NOT the philosophy of success.
There are cultures that are failures, in terms of benefiting their people, and there are cultures that adapt to changing conditions, and survive. European culture is the successful culture of the world. Through its two hallmark institutions, Capitalism and Democracy, Western Civilization has given the common person the opportunity to live truly free, and the potential to rise above his or her birth. We should be proud of that heritage, not ashamed that this heritage was so successful.
When the Spanish came to the New World, they did not come to colonize, or to explore. They came here to exploit, and exploit they did. They worked the indigenous peoples to death, decimating them and destroying entire tribes, through overwork, disease and starvation. The Indians made terrible slaves; they preferred to die rather than be exploited, and die they did.
This is one reason why the African slave trade started. Africans made excellent slaves; you could beat them, rape their women, destroy their families, and they would still work.
The point to be noticed, here, is that the Africans are still here, in America, and the indigenous Indian civilizations in the middle Americas are not. In fact, the Africans can be said to have blossomed, here; the descendants of the slaves have developed many musical forms that have become embedded into the American culture, they have contributed to American life in so many other ways, that one must marvel at how they have adjusted to life in this country, considering how broken their culture has been over 400 years of Slavery.
Which is the better course, to fight, and possibly die, for what one believes, or to surrender, and live for another day? The answer depends on one’s goal. If one wishes to simply survive, surrender is the best alternative. However, if one wishes to triumph, and live by one’s own rules, instead of another’s, then one must fight for one’s independence, because it will not be given to you. As in the example of the Indigenous Americans, struggle does not imply victory. In fact, the chances are good that one might lose, as did the indigenous Americans. The African descendants of American slaves survived and triumphed…but they did so by accepting American rules, not the rules of their ancestors. They have lost their culture, except, perhaps, in memory. The survivors of the indigenous North Americans, who chose to fight, rather than surrender, and lost, fought because they could not live in another culture system. Living by their own rules was more important than life itself.
Of course, these are not perfect examples; the North American indigenous natives often had very little choice but to fight; those that surrendered died anyway. And many African slaves died because they could not live under oppression…it is the characteristics of the people at a whole about which we are talking.
Virtually every grouping of peoples in the world has had its moments of aggression. Some have tried to dominate their neighbors, some, such as Genghis Khan, have come close to dominating the world. Few peoples or nations have managed to maintain this kind of aggression for more than a generation or two; more often than not, they are a result of one individual setting the people on fire and turning them loose on the world, for the sake of that individual, but not a characteristic of the people as a whole.
Europeans were different. From the beginning Europeans were aggressive. They were aggressive to each other, they were aggressive to their neighbors, they were aggressive and persistent, in ways that no other culture could match.
For instance…China had, at one time, a well developed maritime tradition. They had experienced mariners, and ocean going ships, to establish trade along their coast That lasted for a period of time, fifty years or so, and then China lost interest in ocean travel, and within a few years, lost the knowledge of how to make ocean going ships. China was never again a maritime power. Europeans, on the other hand, showed a progression of development that never went backward…and it was Europeans who opened up maritime commerce with China, not the other way around. While Chinese explorers are said to have visited the New World, they did not leave a record of such, the event went unnoticed in the Chinese Empire, as well as in the world, and the Chinese did not follow up on the discovery. The same could be said of other cultures which have claims to New World discovery. It was Europeans who saw the positive benefit of the New World, settled these lands and learned how to exploit these lands to their benefit.
It was Europeans who developed means of agriculture, beginning with the 16th century, which slowly stopped the endless famines that occurred in Europe over winter. It was Europeans who thought of exploiting their virtually unlimited supply of coal to produce steam power, thus beginning the industrial age. It was Europeans who developed political institutions which created the means for common citizens to have a voice in their governance. It was Europeans who developed the concept of literature, written novels and stories, which expanded people’s views of themselves. It was Europeans who developed the concept of the marketplace, and of Capitalism, which enabled the economy of every country to compete on an equal basis with any other nation. It was European Science and Medicine which has virtually doubled our lifespan, and improved the quality of our lives as we live longer.
In other words, Europeans lifted the common person from a life of subjugation and feudal labor to a life where the common person has the opportunity to excel, and reach his or her own limits. It was Europeans who lifted those nations which embraced those European institutions and ways of thought, from totalitarian feudalism to equal competitors on the world market. It was European Capitalism and Technology which transformed the world and saved the common man, NOT Socialism, Communism, or any other type of social order which limits the free expression of human beings.
While I would never suggest that we not attempt to understand the variety of cultures in the world, much as it is good to study the variety of birds and animals in the world, but that study should not get in the way of understanding just what it was that made the world what it is, and how to make it better; just what was it that made Europeans aggressive, self-possessed and persistent to the point where they triumphed over every other social system? That would, indeed, make a fruitful line of inquiry.