The Clash of Civilizations?

The Clash of Civilizations?



at the end of the Cold War thirty years ago a number of academics who had made their careers writing about the world in very broad strokes put out essays to help us understand what was going on and what was going to happen Francis Fukuyama for example got as famous as dry think-tank academics get when he wrote of liberal capitalist democracy as the end of history in other words that history itself had decided liberal capitalism and what so-called democracy were the end of history the best system for all people at all times rather than its being a product of specific choices and conditions into this phrase depth Samuel Huntington a political scientist at Harvard Huntington published an essay in the highly influential journal foreign affairs entitled the clash of civilizations or since it had a question mark at the end of it the clash of civilizations you know when people go I'm only asking questions with this essay Huntington refreshed the idea that civilizations as separate major cultural groups will inevitably come to blows Huntington was a student of Bernard Lewis a well-known historian Orientalist scholar Orientalism by the way is the long-standing academic practice of treating the Orient particularly those parts of the world most populated by Muslims as an object of study I should mention it's about literature and art too but that's not really my field you can read the book Orientalism by edward saeed for a good introduction and there's a link in the description Orientalism is why we talk about the Muslim world as if it were one thing we can read about and understand and the reason we think of the West as a thing at all and Bernard Lewis is actually the person who coined the term clash of civilizations so that's the rather simplistic intellectual tradition in which Huntington found himself as a result he took civilization as his lens through which to analyze conflict rather than any other possible factors Huntington said future conflict would be cultural and and that quote the principle conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations end quote he defines civilization as a broad cultural group broad enough to include hundreds of millions of people but small enough to constitute a distinct culture he said there were seven or eight major civilizations left which were and I'm quoting Western Confucian Japanese Islamic Hindu Slavic Orthodox Latin American and possibly African civilization end quote and conflict would occur on the lines separating them on the surface Huntington would seem to make a good point there is violence on the dividing lines between civilizations the real question is why if the most conflict is where civilizations are found right next to each other why doesn't he consider that similarities rather than differences are just as important as causes of conflict it seems counterintuitive perhaps especially to a generation taught to believe in civilizational conflict and yet there are various reasons for wars many of the biggest conflicts are between Cain and Abel people most similar to each other but who just have one difference like the name of the group they identify with historically a lot of wars have been between people of different civilizations because people of a technologically and economically advantaged state look to expand their power and wealth into the lands of people who were otherwise minding their own business as we know that's still going on Huntington and other mainstream public intellectuals lay the groundwork for this kind of thing what you might call imperialism by lending the Empire the academic seal of approval it's possible Huntington's thesis will be proven right in the sense that the modern Empire you know the people who invaded Afghanistan Iraq and Libya for example will continue to invade and meddle and poke bees nests in places around the world that are classified for the purpose of making sweeping statements as Islamic civilization by suggesting and defending these ideas people like Huntington gives legitimacy to states from one civilization invading and terrorizing those of another because it makes Wars and blowback from wars seem inevitable and easy to explain they hate us because they ain't us if The Clash of Sam's man reads them Huntington no thanks I would rather learn a lot more about the people I'm talking about before I start categorizing billions of people and if I don't learn about them first I won't assume I know things about them and I know which of my categories they belong in and which of my simple explanations to give for their reasons for doing things people like Pamela Geller and Brigitte Gabrielle make a killing promoting conspiracy theories about Muslims that can feed off these stereotypes they can talk about Islamic tourism as if that meant anything other than as a signal to white-supremacist that they'll only be talking about how bad terrorism committed by Muslims is even though police shootings and other right-wing terrorism kill exponentially more people but when talking about civilizational conflict huntington doesn't talk about any of the so-called west centuries of imperialism and settler violence I guess because like most Americans he'd prefer not to think about the past instead Huntington says to look at the fault lines between civilizations aside from the unnecessarily inflammatory language of fault lines more language that makes it sound like civilizations have to conflict the reason those lines exist at all is because that's where the advance of Empires stopped the so called civilizations they left behind grew up unaware their lives would be touched or punched in the face by dead empires these dead empires turn people into nations races and religions who were expected to fight to defend those labels so even in post-colonial States the dividing lines that make conflict possible still exist either as state borders created by empires or as rifts among ethnic or religious groups that can be traced back to empires if they strip away their adopted labels people are just individuals sharing a society even the conflicts people usually reference to support Huntington's argument are between similar groups look at the breakup of Yugoslavia especially Bosnia which was an active war when this essay came out people said look three different religious groups from three different civilizations are fighting each other well you could put it that way but the real question is why who even told them they were from different civilizations it was mostly some self-interested politicians and generals and others who had something to gain stirring up nationalist sentiment during the 1980s three groups of people living next to each other as far back as anyone could remember were ripped apart because some of them chose to believe the different labels foisted on them had a kind of primordial fundamental meaning rather than just being unnecessary divisive labels how could they mean anything we're talking about people who interbred for centuries how could it be called cultural conflict when they're all from the same culture albeit with a few different customs their labels should have been so blurred they wouldn't matter not enough people questioned these labels or looked at the history of how their identities were constructed for them they just took them for granted half a million people died in the conflict that gave us the term ethnic cleansing or take 9/11 after 9/11 everyone said see Islamic civilization and Western civilization are now in conflict do you consider a few self selected spokespeople like george w bush and osama bin laden representative of hundreds of millions well believers in their civilization superiority certainly like to we see it in huntington but that's because they select examples to prove their points rather than learning huntington quotes bernard lewis saying that it it must be a clash of civilizations because the West hasn't done anything that could warrant this much anger from Muslims let's consider that if you killed someone I know and put someone else I know in jail I'll probably hate you if you do that to millions of people for hundreds of years without stopping without acknowledging your crimes without acknowledging your earth was built on this violence without any kind of guilt without any sign of stopping you don't get to say which level of anger in response is disproportionate 9/11 was a few people from one civilization killing 3,000 people from another that didn't mean the US had to invade Afghanistan then Iraq followed by the bombing of a dozen more countries and military involvement and dozens more 9/11 was an excuse to do what the US government had been planning to do anyway throughout the 1990s think tank thinkers some of whom would make up the bush cabinet would write op-eds and appear on the news regularly urging the government to attack places like Iraq and Iran why for their benefit may be and if 9/11 was as clash of civilizations why did the hijackers like pretty much all terrorists who are Muslim have a list of real grievances not just as academics like to say quote-unquote real or perceived grievances can you think of any examples do you know about what the European empires did to Muslims around the world do you know how the US has staged coos and propped up dictators in majority Muslim countries do you know how its supported both sides in the iran-iraq war helping to prolong it all through the 80s and kill almost a million people do you know about the war on Iraq in 1991 and the bombing of Iraq throughout the 1990s and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children due to sanctions do you know about the brutal occupation of Palestine the regular bombing of Gaza and the apartheid regime in the West Bank did the US and its allies commit those crimes because the people were from a different civilization they do these things because the interests of the people in power leave them too and I wasn't there when the specific decisions to do all these things were taken so I don't know who it was and what they said and how they decided but I'm sure culture had very little to do with it and finally if 9/11 was a clash of civilizations why were there so many people from both of those supposedly distinct groups mourning the deaths demanding peace and justice rather than war sometimes even apparently rock-solid facts like civilizational conflict fall apart when you ask the right questions most people I talked to online hold overly simple ideas about these things never thinking they need to question because if other people are talking about them they must be happening to me this thinking is no different from the way people say war is inevitable if war is inevitable you need to account for the causes of every single war and say why anything made each one inevitable instead we say hey war is inevitable so don't bother looking at causes and addressing those causes civilizations are going to be clashing a lot so don't bother looking for alternative explanations as to how the world works in his book also called the clash of civilizations Huntington talks about believing in some universal civilization but like most people who talk about such things he quite clearly regards the so called West as the fount of civilization the superior culture that all the rest of the world should follow the West and it's imaginary values are portrayed as the defenders of all that's good in the world if Huntington was the only person who thought that way it wouldn't be necessary to make this series of videos but there are millions of people who agree with it I don't want his prophecy to become self-fulfilling incidentally he also wrote a book about how Americans read white Americans should worried about immigration from Latin America because it threatens the essence of the American is so he's one of these people who's so scared of peaceful demographic change over time he's willing to see people die in the desert rather than have babies within the walls of his country si nationalists and others who think it's correct to divide the people of the world into broad vague groups with one small thing holding them together like a common civilization they're not very good at seeing things from another person's point of view they think people in other groups don't feel like we do or they don't think as well as we do or they have some other fundamental character flaw that's explained as cultural biological or otherwise that's why Huntington can take for granted so-called Western institutions like democracy and human rights are a mark of superior morality rather than just the triumph of rhetoric we enlightened Westerners are here to bring you our superior values and if you reject them there must be something wrong with your culture that's why it's so easy for Americans to forget about the literally hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died because a few rich people wanted to get richer through war and the literally trillions of dollars of their own money they they they that has been and will be taken away from them to pay for this war and yet 9/11 never forget it's why every day rich people take more from us and yet persuade us to call poor hard-working migrants freeloaders like I said in my first video in this series this conflating of civilization with the superior leads people like Huntington to see themselves as civilized and others who they choose as barbarians and Barbarian lives don't matter academics moreover have long helped the people in power to spread the dominant ideology contrary to whatever right-wing rant you've heard most academia is dominated by people who are somewhere within that thin part of the spectrum of liberals and conservatives and basically just take for granted the way things are instead of wanting to make real change leftists radicals communists anarchists these people usually get weeded out one way or another it's with the same reason you never see them on the news they would provide a whole new perspective on the world and what's going on Huntington is the kind of person who stands to gain from conflict people who get popular like this get offered lucrative jobs and offices that have the ears of high-ranking state officials or maybe just tenure what Huntington already had those things before he wrote this article so it's fair to say he's an establishment academic already but look how many books he sold for the twelve years between when he published the book and when he died look how many people craved his opinion whatever they get it's a reward for helping the people in power do what they want to do and it's why for years I could explain why pretty much everything that happened in the capitalist system was justified I had studied political science and political economy this is the way things are I had so much to unlearn Huntington says our cultural differences are real and fundamental his words more important than differences of ideology but his ideas of our basic differences like nationality and religion don't have to matter they aren't necessary or sufficient conditions for conflict they're not even barriers to Friendship if ideology didn't matter as much as culture a fascist and an anti-fascist both from Portland Oregon would be able to get along better than two anti-fascists from anywhere and that's not the case sometimes ideology is racial like in Rwanda where racial labels provided the Belgian Empire provided by the Belgian Empire led to some of the most horrific violence of the 20th century sometimes ideologies just about a different way of organizing the state than the economy which was one of the only real differences between the US and the Soviet Union after World War Two either way the two rivals had plenty of similarities Huntington's examples of cooperation within civilizations are really just examples of converging interests of local elites you can't judge a culture by the actions of its government government is owned by the upper class and works for their interests culture doesn't facilitate that so much as similar economic interests do and none of his examples of inter civilizational conflict like when he talks about wars between Arabs and the West very carefully framed to support his thesis none of his examples are very useful because he never actually talks about causes he just kind of implies this is how things are it was inevitable because they're from different cultures contradictory cultures maybe that's pretty typical of people who like to present themselves as disinterested academics don't worry about the causes or consequences of war let's just see how we can make sure our side wins this one huntington takes a very simplistic view of culture that way selecting people as representatives of entire civilizations for quotes to describe those civilizations right recognizing how very complex culture really is when you really learn about a culture like when you go to a different part of the world and live there for a while you realize there are some things that unite a culture but there are more tendencies than immutable cross time cross civilizational traits that apply to everyone you learn that culture evolves over time which is why which is why people say the past is a foreign country and even the traditions we think are as old as time are often no more than a few generations old that means it's tough to pin down any timeless traits of a culture though nationalists and orientalist historians have certainly tried the more you learn about a culture the more you can see the debate going on within that culture about some of the values Huntington says our defining traits of a civilization debates about right and wrong about religion politics art and taboos and the more you learn about the world the more you see our world is characterized not by isolated cultures with unique values and specific achievements to their name but by the mixing of cultures there are no homogeneous cultures they're all hybrids and everything we have comes from the achievements of people for thousands of years and every culture even a small group is composed of individuals who differ in how they think this shouldn't even need to be said but obviously that goes exponentially more when we're talking about entire civilizations sweeping generalizations about the Islamic world or Confucian astern trees are only useful for turning what could be reconciling and celebrating even cultural differences making all kinds of cross civilizational ties into a divisive conflict that no one asked for except and other neoconservatives who pined for the Cold War to quote Edwards high heed on Huntington the reader is forced to conclude he's really most interested in continuing and expanding the Cold War by other means rather than advancing lis ideas that might help us understand the current world scene or ideas that would reconcile cultures there's a link to that in the description too focusing on cultural conflict leads us away from seeing capitalism and the state social hierarchy and the concentration of power as the root of our biggest problems and that's why so many politicians media magnates and other opportunistic hucksters have so enthusiastically promoted the idea that civilizations will clash it's mostly a way to make money by scapegoating Muslims I guess that's all that had to be said about that next week we're talking about Western civilization if there is such a thing thank you

2 thoughts on “The Clash of Civilizations?

  1. I'm a Marxist-Leninist and I've recently found the "clash of civilizations" hypothesis (if it can even be called that) to be bunk. I just don't see it and I just don't think it makes sense. Capitalism has caused more death than "civilizational conflict." And I believe that Harvard and Princeton are some of the most pseudo-intellectual institutions in the world and we need to stop giving them the illusion of regality and untouchability, that illusion of infallibility.

  2. Nice video. I can think of a few good ways to counter Huntington's proposition, both from history and systems theory. Specifically, in permaculture, the 'transition zones' between environments are where we find the most biodiversity and exchange of 'information', not conflict, and that suggests that the conflict is systemic and purposeful.

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