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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Occidentalism by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit 
3rd-Dec-2006 11:59 pm
Nonfiction. Here we go!

Buruma, Ian and Avishai Margalit. Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies. New York: Penguin, 2004.
          Summary: An investigation into the origins and permutations of "occidentalism," a dehumanizing, two-dimensional image of the West as it relates to industrialization, economics, ethnocentrism, and religion.
          Comments: Obviously intended to be paired with Edward Said's classic Orientalism and in large part a reaction to the socio-political realignment in the wake of 9/11, this is the sort of comprehensive yet tightly-focused cultural history that I only wish I had the expertise to write. Though the authors contend that Occidentalism actually started in the West and was appropriated by the East, one of the underlying theses that comes out on occasion, particularly in "The Occidental City," is that these culture clashes are virtually prehistorical in their basis and that the supposed two sides of the issue have become oriented to a West vs. East schism.
          Otherwise, according to the authors, we can pretty much blame the Germans for every bad idea that has arisen since then. The essentialist notions of "Kultur" that gave rise to the Nazi party has also inspired generations of Japanese fascists, Russian nationalists, and Islamic jihadists. (And, apparently, Judeo-Christian tradition accounts for the rest.) Though I suppose it seems like an oversimplification to demonize one particular ideological movement for such a wealth of bigotry and tragedy (not to mention narcissistic to say that prejudice against the West is the West's own fault), there's no disputing the persuasive power of such revolutionary (bad) ideas.
          Naturally, no solutions whatsoever present themselves...but there aren't any quick-fix antidotes for bigotry. (If there were, well, no one would be writing books like these anymore.) Treatments represent the only alternative, and one of the best ones is simple, clear-sighted understanding. In that sense, this book is invaluable. After all, if we conclude that indeed "they" got it from "us," as the authors contend, then there really is no fundamental "us vs. them" schism at all--it's all just one big, dysfunctional "we," reaching as far back in time as all of us can see.
          Notes: hardcover, 1st edition, 1st printing
          Rating: 7.5/10 - An innovative, level-headed, and timely investigation into the source of anti-Western stereotypes. Highly recommended.
7th-Dec-2006 12:29 pm (UTC)
Umm, but what exactly is occidentalism? ^_^;;
7th-Dec-2006 12:47 pm (UTC)
Did you read the summary? :P
7th-Dec-2006 12:57 pm (UTC)
I read the summary a couple times! ^_^;;;
7th-Dec-2006 01:02 pm (UTC)
It must be too early in the morning. ^_~ Basically, it all boils down to one of those irrational "But they're EEEEEVIL!" (in the Judeo-Christian sense of the word) things: greedy, godless, soulless, money-grubbing, power-hungry, etc. Just take a walk down the Ten Commandments for inspiration. ^^;;;
7th-Dec-2006 01:35 pm (UTC)
So the way they see the West, and the way Bush sees the entire rest of the world? ^_^;
7th-Dec-2006 01:44 pm (UTC)
I don't pretend to know how Bush views the rest of the world, but "dehumanizing" really does explain and sum it all up nicely.
7th-Dec-2006 01:47 pm (UTC)

Dehumanizing on all sides, turn your opponent into a monolithic embodiment of evil... Reminds me of the protests over that film about would-be Palestinian suicide bombers, complaints that it humanized terrorists *rolls eyes*
7th-Dec-2006 01:55 pm (UTC)
Or, in the case of *orientalism*, childish/lower on the evolutionary scale and therefore less-than-human.

Course, Said's analyses have come under a lot of criticism lately, too, so all of these authors' assumptions should be taken with a grain of salt.
7th-Dec-2006 02:01 pm (UTC)
Yeah well, seems to me that kind of dehmanizing and demonizing your opponent goes back way before the existence of Germany ^^;

Heck, look at the portrayal of Egyptians in the Old Testament ^^
7th-Dec-2006 02:25 pm (UTC)
Heck, look at the portrayal of Egyptians in the Old Testament

Didn't you see what I said in the first paragraph? ^_~

('Course, a lot of people include the Middle East and Egypt in the early stages of The Rise of Western Civilization(tm)...)
7th-Dec-2006 02:46 pm (UTC)
Ahh ^_^;;

We were taught that Iraq was The Cradle of Civilization ^^

Probably first two groups of cavemen started the whole thing ^^; The tendency of humans to divide up into groups and then kill each other has been noted in other primates too, so we're not even unique in the animal world, just lots more efficient at killing......
7th-Dec-2006 02:52 pm (UTC)
And then some primates NEVER kill each other and have (homosexual) sex, instead. Comparing us to other animals to explain ourselves means next to nothing--since we can find an animal somewhere that will match a priori conclusions.
7th-Dec-2006 03:15 pm (UTC)
Not to explain, just to break that idea of being so totally apart from the rest of creation... Of course the danger would come in accepting war as being just natural and unavoidable ^^;
7th-Dec-2006 04:13 pm (UTC)
But if "nature" is can be used to justify ANY human behavior whatsoever, it proves nothing at all!
7th-Dec-2006 10:09 pm (UTC)
Well, of course by definition all human behavior would have to be considered natural ^^;;

I think it just brings down the arguments a bit; you're not doing the work of some all knowing god in the clouds, you're just following the worst of your animal programming.. Not that anyone would ever give consideration to that ^^;;
7th-Dec-2006 11:36 pm (UTC)
Hmm. I think you're flirting with that false nature vs. nurture dichotomy here...
8th-Dec-2006 12:33 am (UTC)
Hmm, I'm thinking more of global behavior patterns, rather than individual ones... Of course, even then there's no clear delineation, fighting and cooperating both seem to be inborn behaviors..

Eh, my specialty is cultural differences in the perception of foreign products, I'm out of my league ^_~
1st-Jan-2007 06:17 am (UTC)
Review archived.
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