Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Asian Resistance

JZ argues…

Students of European history always argue that the values and technology of Europe are far superior to any other civilization. Thus, Europe dominated against other civilizations and spread its culture. However, this leaves out a key part of European attempts to colonize the Asian areas and their failure in trying to do so. This leads to the question of why the Asian countries were the one region that remained closed off to European military domination. It was the highly structured and organized Asian culture and political systems that defended themselves against the European global system.

First, remember that the Asian countries were actually the first to develop the main technologies that Europeans would eventually capitalize upon. Marco Polo, in his adventures through the Mongol Empire, would discover the navigational technologies and gunpowder that Europeans would eventually use in colonizing Latin America and Africa. In fact, the Chinese were first major explorers and reached all the way to Eastern and possibly Western Africa under Admiral Zenghe. Europeans only followed in the technological advances of the Chinese and Japanese empires.

Asian empires were highly structured and organized around central divine figures. Each Asian country had a different religious or spiritual system to justify their organizations. However, all of the countries had a central semi or fully divine leader with local warlords who ruled over families and kinship groups. The families were organized in a hierarchical way that resembled the overall structure of the empire. The general ideology of citizenship and organization was based upon the analogy of a chain in which each member was a rung that was connected to the next. This belief created a system of national loyalties and duties. While the Europeans were trying to create nation states, the Asian empires had already created a sense of individual loyalty to the good of the empire and its advancement through the acknowledgement of the emperor as their leader.

This allowed the Asian countries to oppose European domination. Portugal would be the first to try to dominate in Southeast Asia, China, and Japan. The Asian leaders only allowed for limited trading posts. This would continue all the way until the mid-1800s when the US would push an opening to Japanese isolation.

We prize individualism and rights as the European tradition. However, this creates a system of fragmentation that lacks cohesion and organization. Often this creates a sense of confusion that lacks proper investment for future technological advancements. The Asian systems developed an organized national economy and political system. This allowed them to create new forms of military and navigational technologies. Also, it create a sense of clear duties and responsibilities for the individual citizen to both family and empire.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

European Colonization

JZ argues…

European colonization has typically been described in historical textbooks as a heroic effort by the different explorers to bring the values of progress, individualism, and freedom to the “New World”. Most people have argued against the heroism of the explorers by saying that they were not really the first ones to discover the Western Hemisphere. However, this is not the point. The real issue is whether or not the exploration of the New World brought a new and greater cultural revolution to the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

The European viewpoint on exploration, represented in traditional historical opinions, is that the tribal regions of Africa, the Americas and Latin America, were barbaric and in need of enlightenment. However, these civilizations were actually highly advanced. The Aztecs and Incas of South America were large empires built very similar to the European kingdoms. They had highly centralized kingdoms with a priestly caste that was organized around a religious system of rituals, complex ideas, and authority. Their beliefs were based upon a polytheistic religious system that included numerous animal and nature spirits. They had a professional army that had conquered numerous smaller tribal regions and had brought them into an empire system. These structures were similar to the ones in the European monarchies and the Hindu kingdoms in India.

Another charge often brought up against the tribal systems of Africa and Latin America was that they were barbaric and violent. For example, the Aztecs were known for widespread use of human sacrifice to appease their pantheon of gods. However, this assumes that all tribal and kingdom systems in Africa and Latin America were the same. Rather, many of the tribal groups were known for being incredibly peaceful and tolerant of differences. For example, Christopher Columbus first discovered the Arawak Indian tribes on the island of Hispanola. He described these inhabitants as incredibly peaceful and not knowledgeable about war or the elements of war. Native tribes in Africa and Latin America tended to form consensus forms of political decision-making. In this form of governance, the tribal elders would meet with a chief. But, the chief was more of a facilitator of a discussion. He would not make the decision for the group. Rather, the group would come to a decision that would incorporate the best elements of all of the individual members.

Another argument often used is that the tribal systems were not economically sustainable. Rather, as it is argued, tribes barely survived due to their dependence on agriculture and nomadic patterns of movement. But, actually, most native tribes found areas in their local environment that would support their needs for food, shelter, and family growth. They made sure to take from their local environment the proportionate amount needed in order to sustain their community’s development. They would then share their resources communally to ensure the survival of the community as well as the individual. It was true that some tribes eventually went extinct due to their inability to survive in certain geographies. An example was the Anasazi tribes in the Southwest of America. They eventually went extinct due to the droughts and lack of food and water in the deserts of the Southwest. However, these were exceptions. Also, you would need to compare this with the European death rates due to plagues, lack of hygiene, and lack of understanding of their local environments. Widespread European deaths were far greater at that time than with the Native tribes.

The Europeans did not bring individualism and progress to the “New World”. Rather, they brought disease that wiped out Native cultures. They destroyed local Native cultures by setting up systems of slavery. And, they used the local cultures as a tool for European fights between their empires.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Separation of Church and State

JZ argues…

Separation of Church and State is a both a fiction and an undesirable element of any political system. This was shown by the practices of the Islamic empires of the Middle Ages. Currently, the United States government prides itself on having a non-theocratic system of government that creates a neutral government and tolerance for numerous religious groups. However, this is simply a fiction. Everyone understands that strong, organized Christian organizations have a huge influence on the Republican party in America. Furthermore, Democrats are now trying to show that they are equally religious in their decisions in order to win over voters. This suggests that the churches in American do have influence over politicians and that the people want it that way.

Now I am sure that some of you “wise fools” (sophomores) will argue that this is not a single Church but influence from many churches. However, all of these churches have a commonality of Christianity. This was recently seen when our first Muslim representative was elected to office. When he was sworn in, he brought a copy of the Quran. There was a national outcry that he brought a book that was not a part of the political traditions in America since its inception. This showed how strongly one religious faith does influence the way that we do politics in America.

Now, I am sure that many of you will argue that a theocracy or mixing of the religious faiths is impossible because of the multiple religious groups in the country. However, the Ottoman empire was able to deal with this while establishing a single faith that centered their empire. They would establish local millets or communities that could be led and centered around their religious faiths. These communities were allowed to have their own leaders, cultures, and laws as long as they showed ultimate respect and deference to the Sultan. The Sultan hardly ever interfered with the local communities except on issues of taxes for the empire. These communities did have to pay a head tax or jizya. But, they paid this tax in order to substitute for military service that they could not give since they weren’t Muslim. In contrast to European countries, Muslims, Christians and Jews generally lived in peace under this system. And, the empire had a focused belief system that united its vast different elements.

Such a system seemed to provide for both the needed consistent values of the empire and a recognition of religious reality. In this system, it was recognized that people cannot make decisions without a religious background.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Islamic Origins

JZ argues…

Well, here is a little shout out to all of my Catholic, Judaeo-Christian friends out there. Now, I know that you have all grown up in the Christian bubble here on the West side of the world. However, I would like to open up your holy minds and hearts to another major monotheistic tradition that has existed for the last seven hundred years. Lately, its gotten a little bit of a bad rap due to a few “incidents” that have happened in the world. However, I would like to argue that Islam is a relatively peaceful religion that stresses human rights and justice in its teachings and origins.

First off, you need to understand the original context for the religion of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad grew up on the Arabian peninsula at a time of the Bedouin tribes. Each tribe had its own god or spirit and believed that its spirituality was superior to all others. The only way to keep peace between the tribes was to build a temple to all of the pagan gods in Mecca. This temple, or Ka’aba housed statues that represented all of the pagan gods. Here, the tribes would meet once a year to trade in peace. However, outside of Mecca, the tribes were fiercely independent, competitive and war like.

Women and the poor were given harsh treatment in this society. The poor were all together ignored and allowed to simply beg from one city to the next. Most tribes treated the poor, who had no land or animals, as objects to be ignored. Women fared even worse. Women were seen as complete property of families. Girls were traded from one family to the next as dowries for marriages. Unwanted daughters were often eliminated by burying them in the desert after birth.

Then, along came Muhammad and his received revelation of the Qur’an. Muhammad claimed to have received a revelation from God through the angel Gabriel. This revelation stated that there was only one God, Allah, who would unite all of the tribes. This undermined the Bedouin belief in polytheism. The Qur’an called for justice in the treatment of the poor, women and innocent life.

Muhammad returned from his retreat in the mountains and called for both unity amongst the tribes and a more moral treatment of the lowest members of the Arabian societies. The leaders of the Bedouin tribes saw Muhammad as a threat because he wanted to end the multiple gods that gave them their power. Also, he called for an end of the obsession with materialism thus ending their power and wealth. The leaders forced Muhammad into exile and he fled to Yathrib that was later named Medina.

Muhammad only became war like when the leaders of these tribes began to attack Medina. They saw that Muhammad had gathered too many followers. After several battles, Muhammad gained enough followers to return to Mecca where he easily captured the city. According to the customs of the day, he should have allowed his military to destroy the city, take the riches, rape women, and sell the survivors into slavery. Rather, he commanded them to respect the property of others, treat the women with respect, and destroy nothing. The only violence to property was Muhammad’s destruction of the statues of the gods inside of the Ka’ba. He kept the Ka’aba itself but made it into a shrine to the god of Islam, Allah.

There is an obvious question that should arise then. Why does Islam participate in all of the violence that we see today if its origins were relatively peaceful? Could it be due to the effects of the Crusades? Do we remember that Christian soldiers destroyed Jerusalem and murdered Jewish and Islamic people inside? Could it be due to the West’s interference in the Middle East? Remember, the US propped up Saddam Hussein in power during the 1980s. We still provide the weapons and aid that keeps the government of Saudi Arabia in power. And, they are just as brutal as Saddam or the Taliban to their women. Is it possible that our cultural values cause the misperceptions in the Middle East? We do seem to promote a culture that simply believes in power, acquisition of wealth, and the use of sex for any pleasurable experience.

How else do you explain the problems of violence and terrorism in the Middle East?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

How Protestants Saved Western Civilization

JZ argues…

Well…well…well. I am writing for a bunch of Catholic boyz. Well, I will need to set y’all straight on how Protestants saved the world.

The Protestant Reformation introduced the needed antidotes to the Catholic mindset for Western civilization. It was only because of the religious revolution initiated by Martin Luther that democracy, capitalism, and a sense of individualism could eventually win out over the deadening feudalism of the past.

The Catholic civilization was built upon three essential ingredients that Luther attacked: priestly authority, communal values, and hierarchy. The Church was structured like a pyramid with the Pope on the top and his underlings below him in a ladder of political power. The Priests (symbolically including Cardinals, bishops, and priests) were given a mysterious higher power in society. This allowed them to rule over the common person in all matters that would lead to change in society. Priests would educate the commoner in the truths of the church and tradition. This meant that they held the credentials for information and advice. No one else was allowed to develop ideas and creations that would undermine the priestly class’ opinions. Finally, people were instructed to believe in this rigid hierarchy based upon the notion that all people were essentially corrupt in nature and needed a community, led by a higher authority, to keep them in line.

Okay, so along comes Martin Luther who challenges each one of these beliefs. Martin Luther first challenged the notion of showing external works for salvation. Instead, he stressed internal purity of faith and understanding of God. While this was meant for spiritual issues, Luther was opening the door to individual thought and creativity. Next, Luther attacked the priestly class by arguing that all followers of God were essentially priests and equal in the eyes of God. This implied that all people were capable of achieving equality in function depending upon their individual skills and talents. Finally, he challenged the notion that the Church would be sole source of information and a reflection of God. He argued that the individual should go to the Bible and read it for him or herself. He meant to do this for purposes of salvation. But, check it out! This lays the ground for independent journalism, the need for an educated populace, and the value of individual critical thought.

Now connect all of this to current day Democracy, Capitalism, and Individualism. These are the three foundations of our modern day western civilization that we cherish. Each one of these foundations fits back into the Protestant spiritual rebellion against the Catholic hierarchy. Yes, Luther was rebelling for spiritual reasons. In fact, he argued against a local peasant rebellion against one of the German princes. He argued that his rebellion was only about religious issues and had nothing to do with political or economic equality. But, by attacking the traditions of the Catholic Church, he was opening the possibilities for individualism, critical thought, empowerment of the common people, and an equality based upon ability not position in society.

Well, have I convinced y’all? I know you are all Catholic children. Have I thoroughly changed you? If you would like, I have the address of the local Lutheran church. They accept conversions on a daily basis!!!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Middle Ages and Urbanization

JZ argues…

The creation of urban centers during the Medieval Ages was the beginning of the end for Western civilization. Urban centers begun the long sliding slope to the current day problems that we see with cities and largely populated areas. Cities have led to pollution, congestion, social anonymity, political corruption, and a degraded culture.

Most people think that the Medieval Ages were a dark period in Western civilization in which people lived under a cloud of oppression and ignorance. The stereotype of the “Dark Ages” is that people were just waiting to be freed by science, Enlightenment and Democracy. We typically assume that our lives are so much better today because we live longer and have better living conditions for housing, diet and education. We look at all of this proclaim that we have attained “progress” in our civilization. However, aren’t we just taking the positive elements of our civilization and using them to mask the real lack of progress made by urbanization and the growth of congregated populations?

Cities in European population primarily began as a way for merchants and craftsman to operate in congregated markets. They demanded more freedom from the traditional Church and State relationship. Local cities created their own political organizations and laws. Local craftsmen, like tailors, butchers, glass creators, and carpenters, all created businesses that offered hand made goods at prices demanded by the consumers. Laborers were attracted to work as apprentices and then to become their own masters. Labor formed guilds, sort of like unions, to create protections for labor and business. Thus, many people could believe that this was a demonstration of the positive aspects of some sort of primitive capitalist economy.

However, take a closer look at what was created. These towns created their own forms of governance placing them outside of the traditional forms of leadership of the government and church. This led to more extreme individualism and competition. The community lost a sense of identity and coherence that simply got worse as towns increased in size and scope. Business competition led to the growth of wealth amongst certain families. These families used their money to corrupt local politicians. Often these families created their own “turf” for business and would literally kill the competition in a mafiaesque style. Towns created problems for sanitation and trash. People in towns tended to use more and waste more since they were not under the limited conditions of the farmlands where farmers had learned to live with what they had.

One could argue that this was simply a part of the evolutionary process. As time would go by, the towns would become more sophisticated and learn from these errors of development. One could argue that we today have progressed over time far beyond these primitive moments. But have we?

We live in a “democracy”. But how many people really feel that they have a personal contact with their government. We get to vote every two, four, or six years. But, most people feel that the wealthy and powerful still influence those in charge. We may have a formal voice in government. But, isn’t this just a sham to cover up the reality of how little influence we have? Yes, it is true that we have become much better about our sanitation systems. But, don’t we still produce much more waste than was ever produced by farmers? Just look at how much your family will produce in trash in one week. Where does all that go? And, what effect does that have on our overall environment? Is it true that we are freer than the peasant of the Middle Ages? Well, yes, we are free in name. But, we actually work more and experience more stress. The peasants had so many church feast days that they actually worked less than we do. Ah, yes, but we live longer! But, for what? Do people have a sense of purpose and meaning in life today? Or is life simply a game to make more profit?

Still, aren’t we more educated? Well, yes, but for what purpose? The most popular shows on television today are Reality TV shows. And, more people vote for the next star on American Idol and Dancing with the Stars than for President. If this is the effect of an educated populace, then what is the point?

For all of these reasons, I would argue that the creation of cities were at best a new form of living and at worst a prison for western civilization. Now that argument is Zucktastic!!