Us versus them
Ian Buruma has a long essay about the "rise of everyone else", which is really one of the drivers for the relative decline of Western dominance. Most of Buruma's article is devoted to criticizing the bilateral competition model and attempting to show, often in a very roundabout way, that the West was never quite united and neither, for that matter is Everyone Else.
One of his more interesting asides involves the Shanghai Cooperation Council, that proto-alliance against Islamic fundamentalism which has received surprisingly little coverage in the Western press.
The real world, alas, is rarely so clean. Kagan acknowledges that the United States sometimes has to support authoritarian regimes to further its interests. But, like the Cold Warriors of old (who were slow to recognize the sharp divisions between China and the Soviet Union), he tends to see potential enemies as a common front. As an example of the new axis of autocracy, Kagan cites the Shanghai Coöperation Organization, a loose alliance consisting of China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. These are all autocracies, but is their alliance really based on a shared horror of democratic intervention, as Kagan believes? As Bill Emmott points out, the S.C.O. was formed because of concerns about Islamist movements in China, Russia, and Central Asia, but also because China doesn’t want Russia to dominate Central Asia and thinks that the S.C.O. can boost its influence there.
In other words history is driven by considerations other than the "West versus Everyone Else". If you could imagine an alternative history in which the West never existed there would still be empires, conquest, slavery, champions for freedom and maniacs longing to conquer the world moving through the centuries. The science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson for example, in his novel Years of Rice and Salt, imagines an alternative history in which not 30% but 99% of Europe was wiped out by the bubonic plague; in which Europeans have become a curiosity race like the Ainus of Japan. In Robinson's world, China and Islam contend for the domination of the world.
I hope Robinson finds time to write another book in which some of today's identity politicians, like Al Sharpton and Jeremiah Wright, for example, are transported into this alternative history. What would it be like to find that The Man was Chinese? How would a "Black God" fare in a world without white men? What sermons could Jeremiah Wright possibly deliver in such a world? What often passes for "progressive" thought is really another name for a narrow provincialism. One that will never be aware of organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Council; one that can never see history except as a stage in which the West and Everyone Else are locked in a kind of soap opera.
Where come the evils of the world? The question is reflected in the many depictions of the pastoral genre whose themes revolve around the phrase "Et in Aracadia, ego sum". "The Latin words means 'Even in Arcadia I exist', where 'I' is considered to refer to death." And the meaning of the phrase is conventionally taken to mean that Death is to be found even in the most idyllic of circumstances. It would be found even in a world without Europeans. But curiously enough, the phrase is also regarded as an esoteric anagram pointing the way to secret knowledge. Rearranged properly the words can also mean "I know the secrets of God". That implies that if there is no escape from Death in Arcadia, neither is there from Life or from Knowledge. Even if the plague had in fact killed all of Europe, the stars would still be mankind's destination.
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