Ken Boddie en Café beBee, beBee in English, Writers Ambassador • beBee 17/5/2016 · 3 min de lectura · 2,1K

East or West, What's Best?

Introductory Geography Lesson

I was tidying up some photographic files from a couple of years back, when I came across these two landscape pics. 

I took them from two lookout spots, both on the flat plateau which is Mt Tamborine, just south of Brisbane in South-East Queensland. The locations are within a couple of kilometres of each other and the shots were taken within an hour or so of each other. The first one (Photo 1) looks directly east, following a late afternoon storm, which passed quickly overhead, down across the coastal plain on which the famous Gold Coast strip is located, then out to sea. The second (Photo 2) looks west towards the setting sun, across the Gold Coast Hinterland and the remnants of a huge 40km wide caldera or collapsed volcano.

During post processing I was prompted to think about the similarities and extremes of East and West; not just literally, as depicted by the points of the compass and the contents within each frame, but in the more general context of society, culture and their foundation philosophies.

Looking in Both Directions

Both shots have similarities at a brief overview. They both show dramatic skies above a varied and interesting landscape, with extremes of bright light and dark shade. But the details revealed in each frame are quite different and varied. How so then the similarities and differences between Eastern and Western philosophies and cultures?

Over my career of too many decades, I have been fortunate enough to both travel to and work in a variety of lands which I have sorted into three groups as follows:

  • countries which are located within the birthplace or neighbouring influence of Eastern philosophy (China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka);
  • countries where Western philosophy developed and spread (Greece, Italy, France, Great Britain, Germany, Scandinavia); and
  • countries where there has been a historic clash and/or merging of Eastern and Western cultures, either in past or recent times, or both (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the Arabian Gulf States, North Africa, Turkey, Singapore and Hong Kong).

A Dose of Idealism 

Many idealists have suggested that perhaps the human race is tending towards a uniformity of cultures and thinking, and that we are losing our individuality of self and heritage, in a huge melting pot of common tastes and convergence.

Perhaps, given enough time, hard work and inspiration, the melting pot may become reality. But not before we have learned to look after each other (by merging the 'haves' and 'have nots'); to look after our planet, to enable it to continue to sustain us; so that we can eventually learn how to provide ample food and clean drinking water for our surviving generations.

But, until we have progressed towards thinking macroscopically in terms of the human race, rather than limiting our needs and wants as relatively microscopic entities, then perhaps we should think about the well documented origins and workings of the main philosophies, East and West, which have formed what is more often a clash than a merging of cultures.

What are our Differences?

Here is a fool's guide to some of the origins, components and constituents of Eastern and Western Philosophies, which can be verified by a myriad of 'Googled' papers, each presenting remarkably similar results. 

Firstly, let's summarise Western Philosophy:

  • Developed by the ancient Greeks and then spread to other Europeans, and eventually to their colonies.
  • Has its roots in science and rationale, with heavy use of logic, reasoning and categorisation, focusing on parts rather than the whole.
  • Individually oriented, with self at the centre, being your 'own person', independent from the universe and society.
  • Materialistic goals.
  • Strives to find and prove the truth by analysis. If it can't be explained and proven it doesn't exist.
  • Individual rights.

Compare then Eastern Philosophy:

  • Developed in ancient China and India, spreading throughout Asia. 
  • Has its roots in religion (e.g. Confucianism, Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Yoga) and does not distinguish between philosophy and religion, unifying ideas into a greater whole.
  • Group and society oriented, looking at the bigger picture, with the individual a small part of a greater ideal.
  • Spiritual goals.
  • Strives for harmony (yin and yang) with an inherent acceptance and without a need to prove.
  • Social responsibility. 

So What Can We Learn from Each Other?

With such radically different cultural bases, and following the flimsy argument that "opposites attract" rather than "let's knock the stuffing out of each other", wouldn't we expect that there may be lessons to be learned on both sides of the geographical divide? Having been brought up under the individualistic and materialistic influences of Western Society, I can see interesting and attractive benefits associated with eastern attitudes of harmony rather than conflict, society rather than self, and the setting of spiritual rather than materialistic goals. But what about the benefits of Western Society from an Eastern perspective? Are there any, or has the West merely corrupted Eastern minds into seeking an individual materialist middle class existence, with all its throw away toys, pollutants and self indulgence?

What do You think?

Am I and my future generations heading towards a melting pot, or am I and mine heading off in different directions?

Do I live in a fortress or a commune?

Do I shoulder social responsibility or walk the path of self advancement?

Do I have the choice of tap, still or sparkling?

Do I have to carry water on my head for four kilometres from the nearest well?

Am I bored of home cooked meals and eat out to break the boredom?

Am I happy to eat the same meagre staple diet, day in, day out?

Are my biceps toned?

Are my children dying of curable diseases?

Do I .....?

Do You .....?

or Should We .....?


When not researching the weird or the wonderful, the comical or the cultured, the sinful or the serious, I chase my creative side, the results of which can be seen as selected photographs of my travels on my website at: 

The author of the above, Ken Boddie, besides being a consulting engineer, is an enthusiastic photographer, rarely leisure-travelling without his Canon, and loves to interact with other like-minded photographers and people with an artistic background.

Ken's three day work week (part time commitment) as a consulting engineer allows him to follow his photography interests, and to plan trips to an ever increasing list of countries and places of scenic beauty and cultural diversity.

Ken Boddie 10/1/2018 · #40

#39 Good luck with your self improvement, Manjit. I had become quite dismayed that so many societies are driven by wealth and power and had quite forgotten that improvement starts with 'I'.

CityVP 🐝 Manjit 7/1/2018 · #39

#38 We should not be comparison shopping any philosophy but when we have large subject sets like east vs west, invariably it slides down into the debating rabbit hole. It is a rabbit hole because invariably when I have been involved in debating, I have never been taught to debate. Debating is a valid skill, and that is pathway for me to personally explore in the realm of critical thinking.

IMHO parliamentary procedure is infuriating in terms of the speed of modern decision making and in the era of open systems, so I do find Roberts Rules antiquated and I do wish that governments used digital systems to vote instead of fearing that western civilization will collapse if they did not say aye or nay.

I am product of holistic eastern culture and the processed product of a western education. It is the question in your title which asks "What's Best?" and I do take that as rhetorical question. I am extremely mindful of the Tyranny of OR and I see the value of the Power of AND. That is why for creative thinking development I want to explore improv. Improv has nothing do with east vs west.

The reality of east vs west can be found in a modern Indian city, where the social scene makes the west look tame, for it is more west than the west. Then there is the whole new age movement or Ik Onkar that puts eastern philosophy on a pedestal and that is more east than the east. I can't make a better world from either debate or improv but I can create a wiser me. Millions of wiser people is what transforms this world but are many individuals invested that way?

+1 +1
Ken Boddie 7/1/2018 · #38

#36 Should we be debating whether Eastern or Western philosophy is best, Manjit, or should we rather be reviewing whether debate is the most effective tool for achieving advancement in today’s society? Born of Greek democratic roots, debate is by definition a Western concept, but does debate really improve our understanding of the options and achieve a logical conclusion of right and wrong, or does it more often draw out the decision making process to a stalemate? How often does the parliamentary system of debating truly represent a balance of the wishes of the people? Isn’t any real outcome dependent upon the numbers on and presentation skills of the predominant side? Taking the initiative of Eastern philosophy, how do we achieve what is best for state, country, or Mother Earth, rather than what is best for the most powerful collection of individuals represented at the debating chamber? I fear this question must remain rhetorical unless we are woken up by the onset of oblivion while there is still time to act.

CityVP 🐝 Manjit 6/1/2018 · #36

This forms an excellent basis for a debate but most people including me are not well versed in the skills of debate. If I link debate to the cognitive then the linkage to western philosophy is akin to professional boxing (intellectually speaking), but is there an eastern form of debate that is akin to kick boxing (this time more heart based than cognitive)? I suppose anything that resembles consensus building could be that.

Then there is that which is neither eastern or western form, but syncretic forms (a.k.a. alternatives)

This idea of teaching repetoire extends here also and thus these two links are about educators who are exploring in class thinking catalysts. I do want to learn debate because critical thinking is an important aspect of thinking and western philosophy assists that. I also want to continue my way of reflective thinking and perhaps being born into eastern philosophy has lent me to that direction. Ultimately the third leg of the thinking stool is creative thinking and that has no geography, and perhaps what unites east-west or even right brain-left brain etc.

The honing of debate skills is just one microcosm of what it is I want to learn. I acknowledge its importance and since I am in my personal life a syncretic blend of western and eastern cultures, the question of whether I am homogenizing culture is important - because the True North point is our source and the originality of that source. It is a challenge knowing our own compass and yet honouring original thinkers who enhance our individual learning pathways.

+1 +1
Ken Boddie 6/1/2018 · #35

#34 I’ll drink to that last sentence, Gert, and accept it unequivocally with my Eastern philosophical exposure, while ignoring my Western philosophical upbringing, which tempts me to analyse it. 😂

+1 +1
Gert Scholtz 5/1/2018 · #34

@Ken Boddie @John Rylance Interesting that you mention it as there is a north-south divide in South Africa. The north is the industrial hub, fast paced and nature itself throws us the grandest thunderstorms. The south is slower, the culture more leisurely and most of it is semi-desert. More than not towns in SA itself have a north-south divide, south is older, and north the direction of expansion. And then rugby – the north-south rivalry has been going for a good one hundred years. Which is best? Let’s just say in the north people live to work, and in the south they work to live. (cc @Ian Weinberg

+3 +3
Ken Boddie 4/1/2018 · #33

#32 Ah Vegemite, John! This product exemplifies the philosophical differences between East and West. Western culture (in this case primarily UK and Australia) has been fixated on the origins of and recipes for this black sticky gooey spread (a brewer's yeast derivative, copied from the English Marmite) and has failed to logically categorise this potent and sticky gunk into any of the main food groups. Eastern culture, however, has reportedly accepted without question its apparent benefits to society, as substantiated by a recent shortage of Vegemite in Hong Kong, the traditional Vegemite gateway into China, where demand recently outstripped the imported supply from the sole production factory in Port Melbourne. Furthermore, in Japan, demand for Vegemite stems from the black spread being rated “Umami” which is a Japanese word that literally "evokes a fifth sense of utmost deliciousness".
Now since in Australia alone, Vegemite is reportedly spread on approximately 1.2 billion slices of toast, bread or biscuits every year, if such toast, bread or biscuits were all placed end to end, they would go around the world three times (as reported by "Twisted History" and certainly beyond the limitations of my own mathematics). Surely such a gargantuan amount of gluey gunk is enough to repair any divide, whether north south or east west, through practical rather than philosophical application?
Personally I can neither stomach Vegemite nor Marmite, although I can see there may be some possibility of these products being used as an alternative road seal binder to bitumen, with or without the underlay of toast, bread or biscuits.

+1 +1
John Rylance 4/1/2018 · #32

Neither do the South Koreans play cricket, perhaps they could resolve their differences with a match and some sledging to air their grievances. I suggest you ask your Aussie mates to give them a few pointers in how to sledge, and maybe your South African mates could introduce them to the finer points of the "noble art" of rugby.
If you send food parcels no veggiemite. Our version Marmite causes enough argument, and veggiemite would increase rather than diminish the divide. In fact it would cause an all compass points divide and chaos. #31

+2 +2