The ‘My dad is stronger than your dad’ argument
Eighth on the Diplomad’s set of ten favourite lies is the belief that all cultures are equal.
If you’re accused of even thinking that cultures are unequal, then you are branded as a racist, and at State you can have your career ruined. But by any objective measure of success, western civilization is superior. This is actually not racist, since Japan, Singapore, and South Korea have internalized the best of the west, and essentially joined it.[The Diplomad]
The Diplomad, a blog run by United States Foreign Service officers, makes two contentions here: that western civilisation (or western culture) is superior based on all objective measures of success, and those non-Western countries that are exceptions to this have actually joined the West. Wrong, on both counts.
First of all civilisations and cultures cannot be measured objectively because their orientations and objectives can be very different. They are not after the same prize. How do you objectively measure a culture that, for example, strives for Gross National Happiness, against one that guns for improving its Gross National Product? Claims to civilisational superiority are like claims to cultural, religious or racial supremacy — not just politically incorrect, but manifestations of bigotry born out of insufficient understanding and awareness of the larger world. It is to the US State Department’s credit that it does not look upon such views all that favourably.
But if there is no such thing as a superior culture, how then can one explain the observed fact that some countries demonstrate a greater influence over the world than others? The answer lies in a country’s capability to translate its cultural or civilisational values into hard and soft power. And in broad historical terms, this is episodic — Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Indians, Chinese, Arabs and Europeans — each dominated the world during different times in history, before their inevitable decline. There is a lot that is admirable about American culture and civilisation, and to their credit, the leaders of the United States have been able to translate this into global power; but its pole position is not guaranteed in perpetuity. It cannot simply rely on its civilisational strengths to keep it ahead — its leaders and its people need to actively work on converting it into power and influence.
Those non-Western countries that have made it — Japan, South Korea and Singapore — have not suddenly become members of the West. They have modernised their societies and economies, but this has not come at the cost of losing their own culture. Democratic politics and capitalism are not inherently a part of Western civilisation. Adopting these political-economic systems does not make a country a part of the West. Indeed, the Diplomad’s argument is circular: Western civilisation is successful and every successful country becomes a part of the West.
The Diplomad is not the only one to make such assertions about civilisational superiority: when asked about his views on Western civilisation, Mahatma Gandhi famously replied that it would be a good idea. India managed to win its war against British colonial rule in spite of Gandhi’s put-down; America will find it difficult to win its war for the hearts and minds of the Islamic world (or any other world, for that matter) if it proceeds on the basis of cultural supremacy.