Dublin, Ireland – When it comes to any issue, there are always invariably two opposing sides. Like many others I am usually sat on the fence taking bits and pieces from both sides, unless of course an issue is as clear cut like racism or social inequality. Most of the time I am left on the fence being pulled by both sides by two opposing sides which refuse to see the others point of view. ‘Other’ of course is the provocateur in most instances. The ‘other’ who wants to destroy our way of life, civilization, culture is this constant threat to the peace and well being of our society. The ‘other’ it appears, is nothing more than the illusion of a contrasting world view. This ‘other’ for many of us in Europe and America is the orient and for many in the Middle-East and Asia, it is the occident.
The world being split into the orient and occident is a tragedy because it neglects the fact that in reality there is no line between East and West. This line is an ideological concept which helps frame the world into opposing and yet very interconnected entities. Orientalism and Occidentalism are both a distortion of the truth. The two world views are in themselves affected by the history of colonialism.
Europe, which colonized Africa and Asia, seen these ancient civilizations of the East as easy pickings that they would subjugate for their own good. This superiority that the orient does not know what they need and we shall give it to them is still prevalent today among the most liberal and conservative individuals alike. Colonialism may have ended but the long-term effect of the sense of superiority of the West is not.
The orient is a mysterious being who can help unlock the potential for us as westerners, because we are out of touch with nature. This is train of thought is some of the most selfish thinking possible. It dehumanizes the opposite party of their humanity. There is no deep spiritualism of the East no more than there is of the West. The opposite train of thought is far more aggressive. It is as much a rejection of reality as the person who views the East as a mystical place, but it takes with it a certain type of hostility. This view sees the orient as being an illogical being devoid of moral fiber and beast like in their nature. They are a danger to the West and must be treated as such. Both views of the orient as beast and shaman are an illusion that has been branded on the East without it’s consent.
This superiority complex is still alive and well today with many commentators on China forgetting the fact that China is populated by people. It might seem like a silly sentence, China is of course the most populated country on the planet, but yet so many people do not see the Chinese as people, but as the orient, who eat dogs and are rude tourists that lack common sense and need to be shown the ‘proper’ way of living. This notion of superiority is insulting.
The occident on the other hand is a being much like the orient, it is a distorted image of the Westerner. The occident is a bit more difficult to describe because of the differing in opinions and views. In the Middle-East, the occident uses globalization to destroy culture and religion and turns these identities into mediocre concepts. It is then with little wonder that Osama Bin Laden has chosen the Twin Towers as his target against the occident. The Twin Towers were occupied by people from all nationalities engaging in business. This symbolic attack upon the inorganic and mechanical occident has sparked many in the Middle-East.
China on the other hand is quite difficult to grasp. On the one hand, many people today feel that the occidents culture is imposing itself on greater Chinese culture. This imposition threatens the way of life and culture of people and is thus a force of against what it is to be Chinese. Of course this fear is not without it’s cause, Chinese society and culture has been altered greatly, but this has been because of policies enacted by the Communist party, from the One-Child Policy, Culture Revolution and the reforms under Deng Xiaoping, China’s alterations have been a result of domestic influences, not foreign ones which was the case when colonial barriers broke China open in the 19th century. Many in China who feel adamant that the occident is ruining China usually have an inferiority complex covered in a superiority complex. Globalization makes their culture and ideology less important, and without that, they are ordinary people in society without a greater cause. There is nothing wrong with organic culture, but when it comes to cost of xenophobic tendencies, there is an issue then.
Slavoj Zizek’s documentary ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema’ can help explain this. They Live is an 1988 film wherein the main character is a homeless man who stumbles across a pair of sun glasses inside an old abandoned church. When he puts the on, he sees the world for what it really is without ideology. Billboards which say something like ‘go on holidays’ actually say ‘Marry and reproduce’ and money has written on it ‘this is your god’. The glasses pierce through the ideology of the world around the characters in the film and when John, the main character who finds the glasses discovers the Earth has been invaded by aliens, he quickly tries to help his friend by telling him to put on the glasses. The ensuing fight is idiotic and makes no sense.
“why doesn’t Armitage accept to put the glasses on, just to satisfy his friend? The only explanation is that he knows that his friend wants him to see something dangerous, to attain a prohibited knowledge which would totally spoil the relative peace of his daily life. The violence staged here is a positive violence, a condition of liberation — the lesson is that our liberation from ideology is not a spontaneous act, an act of discovering our true Self.” Slajov Zizek
For many of us, we see opposing views confront each other. East and West is one of longest opposing arguments we are still faced with today. Ironically this divide is quite artificial and based upon distortions of reality. In some sense, we today need the glasses from ‘They Live’ now more than ever to confront the orient and occident world view. Just like in the film this realization of attaining dangerous knoweldge which can upset our perception and ideology will always be met with a violent outburst, whether it is on the streets, or on twitter, the result is the same. Leaving the comforts of our ideology is painful, but necessary.
If you are looking for materials on either Occidentalism or Orientalism I recommend ‘Occidentalism: A Short History of Anti-Westernism’ by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit and ‘Orientalism’ by Edward W. Said.