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All of a sudden, the Cold War, defined as the struggle between Big Powers, re-emerged into the global risk equation. But Britain did not hesitate to apply gunboats or cannon to maintain the strategic balance. Similarly, Britain played off one European power against another, until weakened by two world wars, her former colony, the United States emerged as the global superpower. Seen from the long lens of history, we are in the second Anglo-Saxon empire, with America being the new Rome. Just as the Roman empire shifted its capital from Rome to Constantinople now Istanbul in the 20th century, power shifted westward from London to Washington DC.

In the 20th century, two island economies, Britain and Japan, played leading roles in intervening in the continents of Europe and Asia through maritime power, but by the 21st century, air and technological power through size and scale changed the game in favour of the United States.

In 'Girl At The Baggage Claim,' Exploring The Cultural Divide Between East And West

The United States is a continental economy defended by two oceans, the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic, without a military rival within the Americas. In his new book, the Revenge of Geography , geostrategist Robert Kaplan argued how politics and warfare were determined throughout history largely by geography.


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Even though the arrival of air travel and Internet suggest that the world may become borderless, the reality is that the world is becoming more and more crowded. When the First World War broke out in , the global population was only 1. By the Second World War, the death count reached as high as 85 million, when world population was only 2. One of the great miracles of world history is that a small country like Portugal carved colonies out of huge countries like China. Asians should be forced to think, What did I do wrong?

Why did I fall behind? But even a country like China, which was, by far, the most developed society a thousand years ago, has flipped so far back relative to the rest of the world. What has happened? It is very strange that I am seen sometimes as an advocate of superior Asian values, because when I look at Asian societies, I just see their weaknesses. It amazes me that they are still repeating the mistakes that they made in the past. For example, in an essay I wrote on the turn of the millennium, I argued that the West succeeds on one very simple principle: meritocracy. You always ensure that you pick the best people to run your societies, your universe.

A lesson I learned at Harvard after one year was how ruthlessly meritocractic Harvard was. If they appointed any professor, they made sure that professor was the best in his field anywhere in the world.

The Asian culture of suppressing ego not helpful | Shanghai Daily

If more Asian societies are going to achieve what Japan has done, there will have to be far more fundamental questioning than there exists today in the Asian world. What do you mean by setting up a dichotomy between Western civilization and everybody else? We certainly think we know what the West means, or meant.

Colonialism fifty or a hundred years ago had a certain racial component. But beyond that, how far can you really take the apposition of the two cultures without contradicting yourself? When you live in the West, it's very hard to understand where the boundaries of the West are, because the natural assumption is that of Francis Fukuyama or V. Naipaul, that the West is a universal civilization, that history is a one-way street, that all societies as they grow and evolve will become more and more like the West. What separates my life from many in the room is that I have heard conversations in Western living rooms about the world, and then I have been in non-Western living rooms, in an Islamic home, in Chinese homes, and I have listened to their conversations and how they see the world.

You begin to realize that there are many different perspectives.

Can Asians Think?: Understanding the Divide Between East and West

If the other societies succeed, what you will see is modernization, but not Westernization, as they grow and change. What exactly will it mean? In the world of tomorrow, you will wake up and switch your television from one channel that gives you a Western perspective of the world to another which will describe the same events from a completely non-Western view. A British and a Japanese, both professors of art, met in a Japanese house. The British professor asked his Japanese friend to see his collection of Japanese art.

They spent half an hour in front of a scroll painting.

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The British professor got rather impatient and said, "Could we move on now to the rest of your collection? I want to use that personal anecdote to propose the thesis that the most dynamic civilizations are probably those which are most able to learn from others. You can trace that through European history, where, for example, much of our progress in science came from our absorbing from early Islam. Where in the world today do you see societies which are most open to adopting ideas from other societies and, therefore, most dynamic?

And certainly, in terms of the fields of science and technology, no other society even comes close to the exponential growth in the West. One of the big changes in today's world is that the American military is becoming so far superior to any other force that it has profound strategic implications for the whole world.

Because of demographics, the greatest number of minds that will be open will be in Asian societies and not in the West. These are the people now outside the intellectual mainstream who are being sucked in. We hope that they will absorb all of the strengths of Western culture and civilization without becoming detribalized, or losing their roots.

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So these are the ones that will lead to the combination of what you find in the East and the West. When that happens, you may find that living in the West is a competitive disadvantage because you only have roots in one area, whereas these young people, who can dig their roots deep with different cultures, are the ones who will have the greatest competitive advantage.

But would you not agree that, perhaps five years ago, many in Asia took the way in which you articulated your position as an argument in favor of the superiority of Asian values? At a time when East Asia, in particular, was doing very well, there was a hubris about their achievements which contributed to their downfall at the time of the economic collapse in There is a risk that Asians will, in fact, not do as you are suggesting and draw heavily from other cultures, but will once again, when they are successful, become arrogant about their achievements, and fail to learn the lessons of the past.

Would you not agree that your points contribute to this risk? Phase one was at the end of the Cold War, when, as shown by the thesis of the end of history, all you have to do is change yourself to succeed. And that hubris was probably never felt so much in the West as by those who lived outside, who received a barrage of lectures about how you should change yourself. What you call Asian hubris was a reaction to that, and I agree with you that there were many over-confident assertions on the part of Asians that they had arrived, that they had made it.

I would say that the Asian financial crisis was a very healthy, useful shock for Asian societies to remind them that the race for development is a marathon and not a sprint. When I speak to young Asians today, there is a much healthier attitude towards the future. I remember the famous anecdote where Mahatma Gandhi was asked, "What do you think of Western civilization? What struck me about many of your remarks today is that you still seem to be judging the success of Asian societies in a Western frame of reference.

You spoke of backwardness, of catching up with the West. Is there any merit in the argument that if there is any meaning to the categories of Asia and the West, that Asia must represent an alternative to the West, that perhaps instead of gleaming chrome-and-glass skyscrapers in cities, we should be having a different version of civilization, with idyllic villages and people sitting under trees contemplating their navels? Are you not, in effect, seeing Asia as a teleological march towards a Western standard of living and type of civilization?

The difference is this: If you live in a state of poverty, you cannot in any way appreciate or enjoy any civilization, including your own. If you go, for example, to Cambodia, you have magnificent architectural ruins which have gone to waste because of war and poverty. You see the loss of Asian culture and civilization. If you want to preserve those great monuments, it costs a fortune. And indeed, for someone who lives in Southeast Asia, there is not a single good museum of Southeast Asian art, not even in Singapore, because to start and run a museum costs hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars.

If the Asians and I agree they have a rich history and past which they really want to revive and resuscitate, they first need to revive their economies and have the wealth needed to appreciate and understand the past. The only advantage of being a Singaporean is I happened to have lived in a very typical developing country during my childhood.

Our per capita income was the same as Ghana's, and we had riots.


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And now, I have also seen what it is like to live in a modern, developed society. Considering that people who live in Maine in this country do not see things the same way as people who live in Texas, or people who live on the West Coast similarly with those in the Midwest, it's not unusual that you would have a certain lack of comprehension of what is happening elsewhere. When you look at Asia, you perhaps see a resurgence, much of which has been accomplished through Western money. And so, at this point, what does Asia do? Does it, as China, finally begin to relax a little bit of the Communist control, allow Western investments, keep building as it has, and then develop its own areas of specialization?

In this way, will not Asia begin to redevelop and come out with its own areas of expertise to participate in the broader world economy and, through that, improve economic life? But you have levels of generalizations. If you live in the Western world, there is such a thing as the West.

You asked me if China will have to change its political system to develop. In the long run yes, in the short run no. And indeed, what China should do depends upon your assumption about what the rise of China will mean. Although a few are winning prestigious literary and artistic awards, the vast majority rush toward economic success without taking a moment to reflect. The language of criticism and analysis is often frowned upon in a region where harmony is emphasized over individualism. To do well in the sciences and to memorize the classics have been viewed as enough to make you a more-than-competent professional.

EAST or WEST: Which mindset do you have?

Think too hard about an issue, especially an ideological one, and who knows? You might turn into a nonconformist, even a radical, God forbid, a dissident and therefore a danger to the status quo. Is this a uniquely Asian problem? Of course not. But America still values the maverick, the inventor, the loudmouth class clown, the individual with a vision. But even in America, it is not so easy for an Asian kid in a Confucian family household to say something like that.


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I remember dull afternoons in Saigon when I had to recite poetry classics in front of a wizened literature teacher.