[Originally published by me on another blog in March 2008]In 2006-2007 there was considerable debate in the EU about whether Turkey belonged in this ever-expanding union. One frequently heard objection was that they didn't have Western values.
Anti-muslim. Lacking Western values is most certainly a code word for saying that they were Muslims, and Muslims are not welcome. The churches immediately grasped this opportunity to say that they represented Western values (ie, were anti-Muslim), but it's only by rejecting the Church's values during the Enlightenment that the West came into its own, so enthusiasm for their offer was short-lived.
Impossible task. But I found myself pondering what these so-called Western values might be. And in no time I was tied up in the contradictions of Utilitarianism (greatest good for the greatest number), Social Contract Theory (what makes for the best society), Kantianism (a variation of do unto others), Cultural Relativism (I'm OK, you're OK), Social Justice vs Capitalism, ... Let me out of here!
Seven Pillars of Western Wisdom. A year later a review of The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East by Kishore Mahbubani in the 9 Feb 2008 Economist caught my eye. The author resents Western power, but nonetheless recommends the East build upon the "seven pillars of Western wisdom", which he gives as the following:
- Free-market economics
- Science and technology
- A culture of peace
- The rule of law
View from the East. Having lived and traveled in decidedly non-Western cultures where values are really different, my first reaction was that this list captured many of the ideals of Western culture. But what's "culture of peace" doing there? This list is really about what a South-Asian admires. Perhaps the endless India-Pakistan Kashmir war/tensions and Sri Lankan rebellion are the source of the peace value. And maybe "pragmatism" is a reaction to the religious and Marxist ideology that have stifled India's growth, "meritocracy" the reaction to the caste system, etc. The inverse of this list provides an unintended, but fascinating, look at problems in the East. And it's also revealing for what's not there. It would be interesting to pursue this line, but let's get back to Western values.
What about... Some things are obviously missing, or perhaps they are subsumed in his existing categories. Here are some that come to mind immediately:
- Equality (gender, race, class, ...)
- Social justice.
- Personal freedom.
- Promoting individual excellence.
Lower your expectations. Many of the above categories have inherent conflicts, so a consistent list is impossible. For example, "Do not kill" sounds good, but then there are all those exceptions (self defense, war, euthanasia, ...). Nonetheless, I found his list to be a good, thought provoking, starting point.