The Bigger Picture

At a certain point, one might realize that World History narrates Western culture as the star players in history, with little attention given to events in Asia, Africa and Latin America. At a certain point, one might realize World History maps out a linear timeline of science and technology originating from the Greek, diffusing to the Romans, and declining in the Dark Ages before flourishing during the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, all of which revolve around Western culture.

 

The underlying cause for this, is ethnocentrism; a tendency to judge another culture by the standards of one's own culture. In this case, Eurocentrism, a specialized ethnocentrism, manifests itself in Western history. Recounting world progression, great emphasis had been placed on Europe as the cradle of modern day intellectual and cultural ideology, such as the origin of democracy and rational science.

However, in creating its own trajectory on the course of global events, the West has overlooked the merits and contributions of other societies. If we seek to understand civilization solely through an Eurocentric viewpoint, we likely fall prey to the disregard of  influences of non-European societies, and will inevitably undervalue them.

 

Disregarding Past Influences

Western history asserts that science and philosophy are exclusive European inventions. In particular, it expresses that the Greek established rational traditions of western science. It is believed that these inventions are not bounded to the past works of others. For example, it is known to most that Pythagoras, a Greek mathematician, formulated the Pythagorean Theorem that we still use today. As it turns out, this had not been a new idea. It was originally discovered by Indian mathematician Baudahayana 100 years before Pythagoras. Going back further in time, the basic concept of this Theorem was found on ancient Babylonian mathematical tablets.These offer insight into the assumption that scientific breakthrough are independent of ancient indigenous knowledge.

Undeniably, the predecessors may not have done anything with their knowledge while Pythagoras was wise to have embedded them in geometrical problem, turning geometry to Science. The Greek did the same to separate geography and astronomy from restraints of theocracy, and hence are given credit for them. Genius is he who creates, and he who develops. When you co-create and co-develop innovations, you finally arrive at the Greek level. Thus, to ignore the influence of other cultures had on the Greek would be grossly unjustified, for let us not forget that innovations are preceded by ridicule and opposition. Clearly, the West should extend its coverage of its accomplishments like how it extended its empire reach.

 

Undervaluing Non-Europeans Societies

In appealing to Eurocentrism, the West established a persistent “Us” and “Them” dichotomy towards non-Western societies. Non-Western societies are seen to be backwards. The Greek in the classical period saw non-Greek speakers to be “barbarians” as they did not speak clearly and considered them irrational. However, it is hardly appropriate to hold such a perception when in fact non-Greek shared Greek (supposedly rational) practices. People from preliterate kingdoms released stones in container to take a vote and people in city-state of Phoenicia appointed representatives on a yearly basis. These practices of democracy to a certain degree in non-Greek societies would render “barbaric” claims invalid.

Presently, non-Western philosophy is also seen by practitioners to be methodologically unsound. For example, Buddhism is not seen in a favorable light in the West. It is argued that its philosophy does not follow pragmatic reasoning. However, while Buddhist teaching stems from daily rituals and belief in amulets, it also encourages followers to seek validation from experience rather than ranked or religious authority. In fact, this Buddhist practice "could as well have been uttered by a senior Nobel-winning scientist”. On the other hand, Greek and ancient European science maintained no such standard for philosophical studies. Greek historian Herodotus was distinguished as “The Father of History”, when in fact he was simply a storyteller who shared accounts of events he had not witnessed, from inconsistent sources of both commoners and professionals. To which society should we then ascribe the tag “unsound” and the tag “scientific"?

 

It is worth noting that the Greek themselves acknowledged their cultural adaptations from the Egyptians and Phoenicians. Likewise, Herodotus admittedly written in his book Histories: “My business is to record what people say, but I am by no means bound to believe it”. People in history are vulnerable to the interpreter.

Here we see that historical facts are likely to be exaggerated when colored by subjective interpretations that disregard past influences and downplay non-Western societies. If so, it will make our pursuit for knowledge counterproductive. Understanding this, we should not seek to diminish such interpretations, as after all, the West is qualified to pride itself in its contributions to our modern world. If we were to engage in a wider perspective beyond what Western culture offers and encourage alternative perspectives, it would open up space for critique, dialogues to validate analysis and create inclination towards objectivity.

 

At a certain point, one will realize that the depth and breadth of human knowledge is an amalgamation of generations and cultures. Each culture takes its own view of the past and recreates a mix to fit its own culture.

At a certain point, one will realize that even in our pursuit for domination, we are inherently cooperative; we reach out to ideas around us. We are the result of a collective hope to shape a better good.