13 July 2007

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: The conflict of Civilisations + Cercedilla Saturday

3 items in this email

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing, the conflicts of civilizations. I have
included a link in today's essay to the essay I wrote for What is
civilization? Hope you will find the time to the meeting on Sunday.

Item two
This Saturday we are going to the lakes in Cercedilla. We are meeting at
the Moncloa bus station at 9.45am in the bar at the same level as the
metro. I posted this message on Wednesday and you can find it at:

Item three
Don't forget that Laura is going to the free cinema this evening;
details from this link:

take care


+++++++++++++++++VICTOR – FLAT FOR SALE+++++++++++++++++++++++++
Victor has asked me to forward you details about his brother's flat
which he is trying to sell:

Hi, My brother is selling this nice flat with a nice patio, it is just
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that Victor sent you:
Observaciones del anunciante:
Patio/jardín de 35 m2. 3 dormitorios con a/e. Dormitorio principal
forrado en madera. Salón independiente con mueble de pladur y amplia
cristalera. Aparcamiento en la puerta.

**********HOLIDAY FLATS**********
Mayte; Almería (Villa de Níjar);


Paloma; Marbella (near Elviria);


+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm – 8.30pm at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
-Email: philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk
-Yahoo group >> philomadridgroup-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk <
-Old essays: www.geocities.com/philomadrid
-Group photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo
-My tel 606081813
-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147

We discussed What is Civilization? In March of this year and you can
find the essay at:


(The present essay could do with a second revision)

The conflict of civilizations

Sometimes I am asked about the philosophy group what we do, who we are,
how it was started and many other questions. in my reply I find myself
using expressions such as "I started the group ....," "I wanted to
meet....," we discuss.....," "I enjoy ....." the use of the such words
as the adjective 'my' and 'our' suggests that somehow I owe the group or
that I have some sovereignty or some property rights over those that
come to meeting.

Of course, such language is very common in our day to day life. We use
'my' and 'our' to describe our family, a business or company, and our
friends. Of course, the meaning of possession when we use my in these
contexts is that it must, out of necessity, be a metaphorical meaning. I
have no property rights over those who come to the meeting as much as I
have any property rights over my friends or the people that might be
working for a business if I owed one. this possessive meaning is,
however, very strong because we do have real property rights and a
feeling of possession on material things such as a house, a personal
computer, a car, a pen and so on.

I want to argue that although we, today, recognise, that the use of my
in such expressions as my group and my friends implies metaphorical
possession, this metaphor is not necessarily a natural one. Or at the
very best we can argue that there are biological/evolutionary grounds
for thinking that 'my' does imply physical possession.

In my essay, What is civilization? I identified a civilization with a
living biological system. I also identified a civilization as a group
made up of individuals. The implication of all this is that it is in the
interest of individuals to cooperate in a group, for example, to take
advantage of division of labour. But on a more basic level the
individual must also adopt a strategy to survive, in evolutionary terms
this means to pass on one's genes onto the next generation. And as an
open biological system, the individual must interact with their
environment to exploit it for survival and of course to limit or
mitigate the effect of the environment has on the individual. The group
helps the individual to survive. The cost for the individual is to
cooperate with other members of the group. However, as Dawkins pointed
out (see essay for references) the idea of group survival is false; the
group does not take precedence over the individual in the evolution
scheme of things.

If we accept that the survival of the group is a myth, then how and why
should individuals congregate in groups? At the basic level individuals
with common genetic ancestry have a good reason to be together, at least
for some periods of time; for example, babies with their parents. But as
I have already pointed it also makes sense for individuals to cooperate
in a group. On the other hand, some individuals might be compelled to be
within a group either because they have been enslaved, in the same way
that some ants enslave other ants to serve them. Or because they do not
have enough economic resources to leave the group.

The link between civilization and my introduction about 'my' and 'our'
is that we consciously or unconsciously think of being members of a
civilization and that other people might be members of other
civilization. We can therefore find ourselves of speaking about our
civilization or their civilization, thus bringing once again the idea of
possession in our thinking.

For example we speak of western civilization, Chinese civilization,
Islamic civilization and so on. In the Wikipedia entry on the Clash of
Civilizations by Samuel P. Huntington, there is a list of some of the
more important civilizations in the history of human kind. However, the
more we move in history towards modern times the more we see
civilizations moving away from geographical circumstance to group
identity based on epistemological factors such as religions, political
beliefs and so on. So we have for example, the Mayan civilization based
in the geographical area of Central America, or the Egyptian
civilization based around the Nile River. Today western civilization is
not really based in one geographical area since many part of the world
consider themselves as part of western civilization; Europe, Australia,
Canada, and the USA.

Huntington believes that after the end of the cold war today's conflicts
are clashes along the divisions of civilizations mostly based on
cultural or religious differences. He refers to the conflicts between
India and Pakistan, Chechnya, the ex Yugoslavia and of course the
supposed war on terror based between the west and Islam. One of his
strong positions is basically that the belief of western civilization
that it has discovered the 'universal' values is both naive and probably
leads to antagonism between the west and other civilizations. There are
many objectors to Huntington's position, but I won't be discussing these

I will focus my discussion on western civilization, and its relationship
with other civilizations. Indeed, today the most visible clash is
between the west and other civilization; sometimes by the west some
people mean the USA. Of course, I am using the word civilization in a
rather loose way since it is not clear that there are civilizations in
the classical model any more, where we find political ideology,
religion, economic policies, and geographical location all in one
package. I would say that the situation today is more groups spread
geographically than geographical location giving rise to civilization.

It is therefore not clear whether we can speak of civilizations any more
or whether we should speak of groups and ideologies. The present
situation in China is an example of a clash between groups rather than
geographical conflict. The rapid economic development in China has meant
that the old economic communist model is being replaced with a
capitalist free market. One of the implications of this transition is
that labour conditions are really bad in China; not that they were ever
rosy in the past. (This is all documented and available on the
internet.) Those who are critical of western civilization, or rather
western economic model, would point out that this system is creating a
divide between rural china, which is as impoverished as ever, and the
new middle classes in the cities.

But the clash is not between the west and Chinese civilization, but
rather between an economic ideology, that by its very nature creates a
wealth divide, and old traditional economic practises that stand no
chance against the new system. Maybe, we can understand this situation,
by looking at the model of infections by viruses and bacteria. A person
that does not have an immune system equipped with antibodies to deal
with a given virus, is more likely to be attacked by that virus than one
that does have antibodies.

No doubt, the free economy model is a very powerful one, and
irrespective of the morality and side effects, it can easily usurp an
existing model, for example the command type of economy found under the
communist system. I would argue that one of the reasons why the free
market economy model is successful is because it exploits the survival
instinct of the individual. In reality, we might even argue that the
free economic model has been the prevailing economic model throughout
civilizations and ages.

Few would disagree that the free economy model creates two groups within
a society, a groups of a few people who control large amounts of wealth
and other people who need a regular income to survive. Wealth usually
equates with power or at the very least influence of power. Thus if
wealth is linked with political or economic power I would suggest that
this is due to the fact that individuals can exploit their environment
more successfully than the rest of the group. Thus those who have
economic wealth probably also have the edge in survival. We mustn't
forget that wealth is relative to one's environment and not some
absolute standard.

What can, therefore, be regarded as conflict of civilization is none
other than members within a group adopting strategies that might be
successful and common within other groups. The china example can be
explained as either the west encroaching on the stability of Chinese
civilization (one of the civilizations identified by Huntington) or some
members of the Chinese community adopting a system that benefits them
more than the old system. Although china has adopted the free market
economy principles (where it suites them) there is no uncontrolled rush
by the same system to adopt other aspect of western civilization, such
as free speech or human rights. It is unlikely that western civilization
is in conflict with the Chinese civilization, on the contrary, the
chances are that the Chinese civilization is cherry picking aspects from
other civilizations. And incidentally, other groups are cherry picking
aspects of the Chinese civilization for their own benefit. As Huntington
points out, those countries around china are less likely to criticise
china or withdraw support because they stand to lose a great deal of
wealth if they did.

When I visited what was Czechoslovakia in the early 1990, about one year
after the Velvet Revolution, some well informed people I spoke to
couldn't help point out the rampant pilfering and stealing of the
country's infrastructure, from railway tracks to industrial cables. The
people I spoke to would say that those who were robbing the country
could not distinguish between making a profit and steal from people.
Some went on so far as to suggest that it was commonly believed that
cheating and stealing from people was indeed the meaning of to make a
profit. I have not been there since, from what people tell me now, it
seems that this mentality has not totally disappeared. This is not
surprising since under the communist system the free economy was
regarded as a method of stealing from others.

The point is that groups are very prone to misunderstand and
misinterpret ideas, ideologies and maybe even actions from outside
groups or worse still, be falsely indoctrinated. Let us take a very
present day case of the war on terror for a better name. I specifically
want to focus on one aspect to illustrate how a conflict of civilization
can easily be nothing more than a misinterpretation of some ideology or
concept. I specifically want to refer to the words jihad and crusade.

You will remember that soon after 9/11, President Bush used the word
crusade in one of his speech when refereeing the need to fight
terrorism. Not surprisingly, there was an up roar in Muslim countries
because in these societies crusade still means a Christian war again
Muslims. As Mr Bernard Lewis* says in an article in the OpinionJournal,
27 September, 2007, that this".....was unfortunate, but excusable. In
Western usage, this word has long since lost its original meaning of "a
war for the cross," but "Yet "crusade" still touches a raw nerve in the
Middle East, where the Crusades are seen and presented as early medieval
precursors of European imperialism..."

Lewis says this about the word jihad, "Some Muslims, particularly in
modern times, have interpreted the duty of jihad in a spiritual and
moral sense. The more common interpretation and that of the overwhelming
majority of the classical jurists and commentators, presents jihad as
armed struggle for Islam against infidels and apostates. Unlike
"crusade," it has retained its religious and military connotation into
modern times."

If the evidence from the relevant regions and societies are any thing to
go by, those conservative members within Islam who stick to the old
interpretation of jihad seem to address their violent wrath against
other fellow Muslims more than they do other groups or civilizations.
Even the present woes in Iraq are none other than a conflict between
disparate local groups. The point is that whatever one's cause or reason
one does not clash with those within the group. Conflict within a group,
I suggest, is evidence that groups are not the priority in biological
systems, but individuals are. Or sub groups within a bigger group, thus
the sub group falling victim of the ingroup bias which is members of a
group give preferential treatment to other members of the group that
those outside the group.

However, this Jihad vs. crusade arguments introduces again the idea that
lack of knowledge about other civilization plays an important part in
relationships between civilizations. Our lack of understanding and
awareness of what other peoples and groups do it would be difficult to
understand their motivation. Let's take once again the issue of child
labour in certain countries, say for example, India or china. When
western countries object to this practise most probably few people that
are directly involved with child labour know that western economies were
built with child labour during the industrial revolution. And those who
do know would use this as evidence to justify what they are doing.
Basically their argument goes something like this: if you did it, then
it is alright for us to do it as well. Those who use this argument miss
the whole point about the west's (certain groups within the west)
objections to such arguments. The point is that we have learnt from our
experience and there is no need for you to pass through the same
hardships as we did.

The conflict of civilization is unlikely to be something that really
exists as an ontological unity. It is more likely that what is really
happening is that groups within societies and nation states asserting
their interest over other groups either within their own society or
other societies. Each trying to advance their 'cause' if and when the
opportunity arises. We mustn't forget that for every successful business
person in china there are probably millions who are still living under
oppressive and abject conditions. And for every self proclaimed defender
of Islam who blows up a bomb on a bus in London there are millions of
other Muslims who are law abiding citizens within the so called western
countries. The idea that there is a clash between Islam and the west or
that the free market economy is displacing the Chinese system is of
course without any basis. Except of course that it makes senses for some
to use this language especially if they have a lot to lose.

The question that ought to concern us is whether there is an objective
test that can be used to establish if an activity or idea can be
introduced legitimately into another group or civilization. The first
thing that comes to mind about this test is what are we testing for? Are
we testing whether the new idea conflicts with the present practises or
something else? In my opinion, we should test for the individual in
other words, how does the new idea affect the individual? This is not a
question of whether the individual is better off, but whether the
individual is free to develop his or her personal identity. Of course,
such a question makes sense in a philosophy essay; an accountant would
probably want to know the state of one's bank account and not one's
personal identity. Hence, a philosophical test does not imply being
better off financially or any other way.

Another issue such a test would introduce would be that everyone who is
concerned with test would accept the legitimacy and the credentials of
the test. One test could very well be what I will call the medical test.
This is what I mean. We all accept that medical treatment is generally
aimed at the individual; although medicine makes full use of statistics,
at the end it is the individual who receives medical treatment.
Incidentally, this is also evidence in favour of considering the
individual and not the group, or rather the group ought to be considered
through the individual. The test would be this: if we had a medical
treatment B that was better than treatment A, would we be justified to
offer someone treatment A if they held radically different values than
us? to put this in a more real life context, if we had to aid a group of
patients in china, India, Iraq or whatever country that might be
regarded as members of a different civilization from our own, would we
be justified in supplying twenty or thirty year old medical technology?
(We probably do, but that does not affect the philosophical test.)

The answer is, of course, that we would never be justified to offer
anyone twenty or thirty year old medical technology that is not as
effective as present day technology. In other words, medical technology
ought to transcend civilizations or cultural norms. Why then should we
make allowances with such other things as human rights, free speech,
political representation, impartial legal system, freedom of association
and so on? To conclude, we should not mix up oppressive political
systems or bad religion with norms that form part of a civilization.

Take care

15 July 2007

Bernard Lewis
Jihad vs. Crusade
A historian's guide to the new war.
Thursday, September 27, 2001 12:02 a.m. EDT

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: The conflict of
Civilisations + Cercedilla Saturday

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