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.