I would like to begin this essay by stating that my identity is, after many convoluted years, reasonably settled. Yes, my Kashmiri Muslim ethno religious background is indelible but it is also complemented by a more expansive, cosmopolitan self and a more capacious world view- the kind that defies stereotypes and caricatures. Yes, I am victim of identities and beliefs ascribed to me by people: I am, for instance a Muslim in the West; a Kashmiri outside Kashmir and too Western in Kashmir. I am, however, reconciled to these identities foisted upon me in different contexts. Whilst these labels were initially disturbing to me, they dont bother me anymore. I am who I am and my sense of self and identity is not and will not be determined by people and context. From an expansive point of view, I am of both the West and the East but I am neither of the West nor the East.
Having established the nature of my self and where I stand, I will now dwell on the theme of this essay. I would posit that the much touted fears of the decline of the West are bloated, over blown and exaggerated; they do not hold water. I may have what amounts to a vantage point over this assertion of mine. I have lived, been educated , observed and wandered across much of the Western world and I have lived, been educated and wandered across many parts of the non-Western world. The overall or cumulative experience could be said to be enough to make broad but perhaps reasonably accurate inferences and conclusions. There may then be merit in what is the central assertion of this essay: the West is not declining and it will hold sway for a long time to come.
The reasons are conceptual and ideational; they are not systemic though.
What I mean here is that the foundational ideational and conceptual and sub structure of the West premised as it is on critical thinking, empiricism and rationality- is strong and entails a certain way of looking at the world. This is neither an original insight nor a flash of brilliance but more in the nature of a pedestrian observation that seems to be elided these days. Call this way of looking at the world and the temperament or outlook it induces modernity or rationality or any other appellation. Whatever it is, it constitutes the foundational and enduring power of the West. It may also be stated here, at the risk of being labelled either racist or a self flagellating or demeaning non Westerner, that this way of looking at the world induces a special or even superior intelligence or intellectual attributes. This intellect, as some hold, is not owed to the systems and structures that the West has created over time but is owed to the temperament and outlook in condition. It has linguistic, cultural and social organization implications.
As long as this temperament endures, the West will not decline.
Insofar as the narrowing of the gap between some parts of the non West and the West is concerned and the conclusion of Western decline adduced from this, it is not only a specious conclusion but also prejudiced. The narrowing of the gap, if it exists, accrues from material, power and economic reasons. It is not ideational or conceptual. And the context that this narrowing is embedded in is Western. That is, the non West is not growing or developing in a native idiom but in the structures and systems devised in the West. Does this imply superiority of the West? Maybe or maybe not. But what cannot and should not be inferred from this is ethnocentrism peculiarity or inferiority of other cultures and societies.
The West has a lead in developing its systems of thought and ideational corpus. The techne and logos that accrued from this lead enabled the West to dominate the non West-often times in insalubrious and harmful ways. Others (or the non West) may or may not catch up to this conceptual and ideational lead. It, actually need not. The non West can articulate itself in its own organic idiom or a synthesis of the West and the non West. Whatever form this articulation and expression takes, its essence should not be competitive. The non West should not measure itself against the West but it can, to repeat, either adapt, adopt, synthesize or create a unique idiom of its own. The essence of this essence, however, should be informed by the idea or philosophy of the inherent equality of humankind and direction of the human quest towards amelioration of the human condition. Whether this quest will have a Western color or a non Western one should not detain us and arguing over it would be a mere quibble. When the world consciousness reaches this level, well and truly, we will all be modern. Till then, it is forces of atavism that will define our world – Western or non Western.
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