Quora Answer: Is there anything wrong with Western Civilization?

Oct 18 2014

Is there anything wrong with Western Civilization? If so, what is it, why is it there, and what can we do about it?


What is wrong with “Western Civilization”? (an Oxymoron?)

This is an interesting question. It is like the question, is there anything wrong with being a Shark?

A shark merely is what it is, a killer from the deep. There is nothing wrong with being a Shark. However, one may be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get eaten by JAWS (i.e. suffer colonization and the brunt of globalization whereby the Western Worldview destroys other worlds).

So I think the point is not that there is something wrong with Western Civilization. But it is merely what it is, and we must recognize what it issomehow. But it turns out that understanding what the Western Worldview ISis extremely difficult because ISness is unique to Indo-European languages. So when we say “Is there something wrong . . .” we are employing IS. Right there the whole question becomes problematic because we are entangled in Being from the start. Perhaps Being is one of the things that makes the Western Civilization what it IS (beyond right or wrong, or beyond good and evil).

Is there something wrong with a antibiotic resistant bacteria that kills everyone in a hospital. The bacteria is doing what it does best, make people sick and perhaps kill people. The fact that they have become stronger and more resilient due to our misuses of antibiotics implicates us in our own demise.

Similarly we are involved in a population explosion on earth which is thought to max out around 20 billion. This is probably more than the carrying capacity of the planet, but the fact that we are misusing, wasting, and defiling the planet at the same time makes us more or less like the bacteria on a planetary scale. The fact that not just our species but all the species are likely to eventually die from our activities . .  is that wrong if that is who we are in ourselves, in our Being.

But what is this Being that we have, and no one else has, that seems to make our worldview more virulent than other worldviews. This it seems to me to be a fundamental question that few are addressing. Heidegger made a start in addressing it but being within the Western worldview he attributed Being to everyone, not realizing that it was specific to  Indo-Europeans. He is asking the nature of Indo-European Dasein but thinking that this term applies to all humans because he does not realize that Being is not universal. But still it is a very good question as to the nature of Indo-European Dasein. What is it about us that generates this world dominance. Obviously it is caught up in our relation to Technology and Science. Science is based on the Pure Being (present-at-hand) and Technology on Process Being (ready-to-hand). Dasein is our ecstatic Existenz in the Human Situation that renders these various modes of being-in-the-world meaningful.

Why did this linguistic anomaly that is the ultimate basis of science and technology arise in the Indo-European worldview? Shear chance? Dumb luck? An Evil destiny? Who knows. But our job is to try to understand it and its implications. What we can do is try to understand ourselves better. That does not mean that the lemmings will not stream over the cliff. It merely means that some of the lemmings might wake up, attempt to go the other way, change the blind direction of the pack behavior of the big Other, or Das Mann (They). It is probably only with utter disaster looming that we might attempt to change some of our behavior, but probably too late to have make any relevant difference to the fate of the planet and its inhabitants. But you never can tell, there is of course pure inexplicable happenstance (maybe a virus will kill off just humans and leave the planet to other species in a kind of Deep Ecological Utopia without humans: The World Without Us: Alan Weisman: 9780312427900: Amazon.com: Books). There are is always possible but improbable scenarios like this one.

One day someone wakes up and thinks, maybe I won’t continue to go along with the Others continuing my blind non-self-conscious behaviors that are leading toward our communal suicide. Enough people do this and perhaps something will change for the better. But, we are more likely to wake up if we understand ourselves better. That means going back and trying to trace the rise of the Worldview in its cultural origins and to concentrate on what is unique in it like the diabolical connection between ‘Being’ and Science & Technological dominance that ultimately leads to our terraforming of the planet.

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