Tuesday, June 25, 2002

The Great Traditions Send this entry to: Del.icio.us Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

The Great Traditions Multiculturalism and cultural relativism are in vogue today. Arrayed against them are the guardians of the old order, the Blooms (Harold and the late Allen) and those who write in and read The New Criterion (to give a minimal pointer as toward those I'm speaking of when I stay traditionalists). Though the former are in ascendence amongst the ruins of the Ivory Towers, it is the way of society that the cycle will likely swing back to the "traditionalists" at some point (they will then be termed post or neo-traditionalists). The criticism of Dead White Men isn't in my opinion wholly invalid (looking exclusively to your own past can cause an intellectual sclerorsis, look at the Scholastics or neo-Platonists of the 18th century). On the other hand-comparing the writings of Plotinus to the ruminations of an Australian Aborigine sage are ridiculous. The words barbarian and savage are out of favor for obvious reasons-they carry impolite connotations and judgement values. But, perhaps they could be resurrected in a different light. Those "traditionalists" who wish to give the Western Canon its place of prominence could admit that there is a difference between barbarian culture-those who are/were civilized in a different fashion-and savages, who lack the basic accoutrements of civilization (literacy, organized religion, statecraft, philosophy and rapid technological advancement). There are in my opinion three root civilizations from which the overwhelming majority of human cultures today derive. I will term them the west Eurasian, east Eurasian and south Eurasian complexes (the Eurasian oikoumene's. Other cultures, such as those of central or southeast Asia, or even Africa and the New World, can be thought as either derivative or synthesized from these cultures. The west Eurasian culture has produced the monotheistic religions, the majority of the world's scripts (Aramaic seems to be the distant basis for the Indian scripts that filtered up into Tibet and Mongolia via Buddhist monks and also into southeast Asia) and revolutions in statecraft and science. The south Eurasian culture has contributed greatly in the area of religion and philosophy and to a lesser extent language and art (southeast Asia). The east Eurasian culture of course has been more insulated from the others-but historically has leveraged its mass mobilization of society into a centralized empire-state to produce a dazzling array of technological advances in equilibria with societal stability. Some might quibble with my lumping of the Dar-al-Islam with post-Christendom-but remember, Philip the Arab was once Emperor of Rome and ruled from York in northern Britain (the lands of the Brigantes I believe) to the environs of the city of Petra in modern day Jordan. Before 1800-it was almost certain that more Greeks lived in Asia Minor than Greece. The Jewish Diaspora stretched from Persia to Amsterdam (and Samarkand too!). While western Christians (Roman Catholics later) viewed Islam as almost a pagan religion (note implications of idolatry and heathenism in the Song of Roland)-eastern Christians might view Muslims are heretics from the true faith (remember the iconoclast controversy and the Christian Levantine origin of many Byzantine Emperors between 700 and 850 CE). The Dar-al-Islam and Christendom are in effect two sides of the same coin-manifestations of the tearing apart and mingling of the group of cultures that originally nucleated around the eastern Mediterranean. Though the ancient cultures of Egypt, Anatolia and Levant are gone (language, religion, history and ethnos all swept aside by Christianity and Islam)-they are the common seeds for west Eurasian culture-both Christendom and the Dar-al-Islam. Certainly the Illiad and Odyssey are important works, but what about the Ramayana and Mahabarata (here you might get protests from religious Hindus who do not want to create an analogy with Greek myths and so de-sacralize their foundational religious narratives)? Solon and the Duke of Chou can both be considered in the same light. The radical cultural relativists-by elevating Native American and other traditions by indigenous peoples to the same level as those of literate civilizations have pushed the traditionalists into a corner where they cling to the same musty old books. To me, common-sense would dictate that you study oral narrative traditions in a different class and context than structured literate prose. The loose political assocations of pre-state peoples are interesting only to elucidate the possible genesis of the early states in the core regions of a cultural complex. Certainly I agree there is a difference in kind between the western Eurasian tradition, and in particular the western European one, and the old cultures of India and China. In fact, these latter traditions have been enormously modified by Europe and her recent historical hegemony (because I believe Islam is part of Europe's greater cultural sphere-I think it is partially immune to the modifying impulses of the West). I'm not suggesting that Shakespeare look to Shankara as a peer-but I am suggesting that barbarian (civilized) non-European traditions need not be dismissed out of hand as post-modernist or cultural relativist claptrap.

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Statistical Methods in Molecular Evolution
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