Westernism: The Name We Don’t Call Ourselves

Written by: Michael Kravshik.

Traditionally, people have primarily identified themselves based on the circumstances they were born into such as nationality, religion, tribal affiliation or skin colour. The growing interconnectedness of the globe has resulted in an increasing shift of focus away from these traditional groupings and towards ‘thought’ groupings based on personal beliefs (environmentalism, libertarianism or socialism for example). Since it is exceedingly important to group people based on how they view themselves, it is necessary to have the proper vocabulary in place to analyze these patterns. ‘-Ism’s’ are used to describe the numerous (and sometimes overlapping) ideologies and different ways of thinking that we as human beings are exceptionally prone to. These words are used to describe everything from global ideologies with billions of adherents to obscure movements with a hand-full of followers. Although ‘-ism’s’ generalize diverse groups of people, they can be extremely useful in understanding how people, and peoples, interact with one another. Modern society has been especially adept at creating these words to define the various groups that are perceived to oppose its values, such as communism or fascism. In spite of this, providing a simple and recognizable ‘-ism’ to easily identify the group of people who sustain modern society has been largely unsuccessful. Identifying and discussing this group of people has become increasingly complicated. This is because the terminology currently in use has either become twisted, politicized and divisive in colloquial usage or is not precise, simple, and widely recognized. To move past this ineffectual terminology and adapt to a world where individual core values are increasingly disconnected from the traditional self-identifiers, the establishment of a new term is essential. By giving this important ideology a precise and easily understood name, we will be better able to define ourselves, and more confidently identify both our sincere allies and genuine adversaries.

The name I have chosen to describe a person belonging to this group is a Westernist, someone who beleives in the tenants of Westernism. Westernism is a way of thinking, and has nothing to do with your nationality, the colour of your skin, the language you speak or the religion (or lack thereof) that you adhere to. The foundation of Westernist ideology is the right to free speech. It is the great enabler of a citizen’s political power. Every right that citizens of a modern democracy enjoy is dependent on maintaining free speech. Free speech allows the public to ask and, if necessary, fight for what they want from their governments. Free speech is a necessary requirement for governments to remain truly accountable to the desires of the population. The other core values of Westernism are also rooted in the major tenants of modern western thought, including human rights, fair representation in a democratic governing system, and the separation of religion and state. Westernists reside throughout the political spectrum, since both the left and right cherish these virtues. In short, these people are your average progeny of a western-style modern democracy while also including the millions of people around the world who share these values, but do not live under a government that upholds them. Mere citizenship to a modern democracy does not shape ones’ values, and only those who genuinely hold these beliefs at their core are sincere Westernists. Westernism does not advocate any specific policy, only the importance and necessity of debating all options honestly and openly.

Westernism’s acceptance of diverse opinions results in an extremely flexible ideological system where, in the ideal situation, mainstream moralities are based on the ideas that can be best defended in the court of public opinion. This makes Westernism extremely resilient to changing times, since there is no indisputable source of righteousness such as the Bible, or the Communist Manifesto. This is in contrast to many culturally, religiously or geographically affiliated ideologies, which tend to be rigid, reactionary, and tied to the history of a certain group of people or piece of land. Yet, people who believe in any particular faith or political ideology can be, and are still, Westernists. This is the case as long as they genuinely believe in not only the right of other people to oppose their beliefs in thought and speech, but the importance of them doing so. Westernism is not only extremely accepting of unfamiliar and unconventional ideas, but relies on them to drive society forward. This diversity of ideas ensures that for concepts to remain relevant, they must constantly be challenged by, and defeat, competing ones. To take a line from the controversial, yet comical best-selling author Mark Steyn, “Multiculturalism is a Uni-cultural Phenomenon”[1], as in no other culture besides Western culture subscribes to mutliculturalism. Mr. Steyn was focusing on the weaknesses of that trait and its very real and harmful consequences. However, it also illustrates that no other culture has ingrained intellectual modesty into itself. The concept that mainstream thought and ideas may in fact be flawed, sometimes significantly, is an astounding and unique trait.

The most debilitating circumstance for a society based on the disagreement-prone Westernist ideology is when there is an inability to separate ideas, from the people who hold them. When people allow themselves to turn their hatred of an idea into hatred and utter disregard for anyone who believes in that idea, productive dialogue quickly evaporates. To avoid this, public discourse must focus on the virtues and drawbacks of an idea itself and not the specific people who support it. Since Westernism ascribes to the importance of challenging ideas, there is bound to be the inevitable harsh critic. Although this can be offsetting, it is as natural to Westernist discourse as the negative feelings baby deer might have towards the pack of wolves that ate their mother. In the ‘wilderness’ of free-speech based Westernist discourse, there should only be concern when people, not their ideas, are the object of hatred. For example, when the famed late-author Christopher Hitchens described in no uncertain words, his utter disdain for religion[2], he was proclaiming his distaste for the concept and not the people. In other words, a deer has every right to disagree with mother-natures’ concept of the food-chain, but it is unreasonable to hate all wolves for attempting to survive based on rules they had no ability to influence. It is equally unreasonable for wolves to hate and condemn all deer for the simple act of running away. Both are just trying to survive.  They do of course hate one another, but Westernists believe that unlike wolves and deer, human society is capable of avoiding this hatred. With the combination of humanity’s high-level cognitive functions, and the fact that we do not actually want to eat one another (most of us anyways), Westernists should be able to remain conscious of this important distinction.

While making an honest and enlightened attempt to prevent the dissemination of true racism and bigotry, society has been having difficulty properly identifying it. Westernists engaging in important and often controversial dialogue have been misidentified and punished, while true offenders have been overlooked. The following is an illustration of this frightening pattern. Damian Goddard, a Canadian sportscaster, suffered serious public backlash and even lost his job for a Twitter comment that characterized “true marriage” as one between a man and a woman. Does Mr. Goddard deserve to lose his job and be publically humiliated and harassed for expressing his personal beliefs on this controversial subject? He did not express any hatred toward homosexuals, nor did he feel it necessary to firebomb a same-sex marriage ceremony. He provided his opinion on the institution of marriage, not on homosexuals, and there is nothing hateful about that. He was later quoted as saying, “I draw a distinction between ‘hurt speech’ and hate speech, and the culture has shifted in which hurt speech has become hate speech.”[3] Over-sensitivity has increasingly allowed this important distinction to be ignored, and has resulted in the regulation of free expression, sometimes to the point of criminality. Restricting and policing freedoms to avoid hurt feelings does not adhere to Westernist ideology and has also proven to be ineffective in achieving its goal. Instead, the punishments for non-compliance breed an atmosphere of fear in the realm of public discourse, and important things go unsaid. This fear can be absolutely debilitating to a society built on, and in constant need of, innovative and unconventional thinking.  Only by reverting to Westernisms chief ‘gospel’, free speech, can the survival and continuous progress of modern society be maintained.

The 21st Century presents unprecedented challenges, as warplanes, tanks and battleships are no longer capable of providing an effective defense for the Westernist way of life. Using the term Westernism as an identification tool can help society properly assess all people, regardless of their political, religious or cultural conviction. It can then be established whether they are Westernists (who should be supported), non-Westernists (who should be debated) or anti-Westernists (who should be confronted). Non-Westernists do not adhere to Westernist values but are also not hostile to it, whereas anti-Westernists preach and act against Westernist values and society. Insidious anti-Westernist ideologies have declared war upon the foundations of modern society, and have been allowed to perilously foment within it. When the only ideologies being properly identified are the ones opposing modern society, the result is an inability to understand people in any meaningful way excepting their relation to those ideologies. The consequence is an undue focus on people’s differences, rather than their similarities. This is the wrong approach and is most apparent in the case of Islamic extremism, where crude, ill-defined terminologies such as ‘moderate Muslim’ have become the mainstay of public discourse. Moderate is a relative term, and only characterizes one’s belief in relation to another’s. Various attempts have been made to provide a consistent definition of the term, but have only resulted in further confusion and misidentification. Instead of framing the discussion as “the West vs. Islam,” with Westernist Muslims placed precariously in the middle, it should be framed as “Westernists vs. anti-Westernists.” Defining Muslims based only on their relationship to extremism reduces our ability to properly evaluate who should be the recipients of our moral and financial support. Only by properly identifying the millions of Muslims living in Cairo, Kabul, New York and London who are genuine Westernists, can they be effectively fostered and assisted. If in the position personally, I would much prefer to be described as a friend, rather than an enemy of an enemy.

As the supremacy of traditional self-identifiers slowly dissipates, understanding the most influential forces in the world has become a more challenging affair. The increasingly rapid diffusion of ideas has allowed ideologues world-wide to organize and influence the globe much more effectively and at unprecedented speeds. The lack of effective vocabulary, which has been compounded by the blurred distinction between ‘hurt’ and hate speech, have together inhibited the honest and meaningful discussion necessary to confront the most severe challenges facing modern society. By defining Westernism, I have only provided a name for an ideology that already exists as the core beliefs of individuals all over the world, and is already tremendously influential. As a tool of identification, Westernism can allow us to truly define ourselves, and in the process, aid us in identifying our sincere allies and genuine enemies (something we have had particular problems with in recent years). Anyone who believes in the unrivaled importance and absolute necessity of free speech should be proud to label themselves a Westernist. The root of the word Westernism is derived from the nations who conceived and uphold these values (however imperfectly). Although this may result in unwarranted negative connotations, the benefit of this association is the rapid comprehension of this term by a majority of people. People, regardless of their geographic location, should not feel discriminated against by its use because west is a direction, not a place, and everywhere is west of somewhere. All Westernists may not share biological ancestry but they do all share the same ideological ancestry; the people who built the imperfect, yet remarkably benevolent, society that we all either do, or want to enjoy.

                                                    

This is my opinion. What’s yours?


[1] Steyn, Mark. America Freedom Alliance Conference. (2007, August 17). Mark Steyn on Multiculturalism [Video File]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdEGJb5W5ks

[2] Hitchens, Christopher. (2010, June 25). Christopher Hitchens – Why Fight Religion [Video File]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uA6lVqXmplY&feature=related

[3] Lewis, M. (2011, November 16). Firing of Sportsnet broadcaster after gay marriage tweet tests religious freedom, free speech. The National Post. Retrieved from http://life.nationalpost.com/2011/11/16/broadcaster-firing-tests-religious-freedom-free-speech/

14 thoughts on “Westernism: The Name We Don’t Call Ourselves

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  4. good article – I basically agree. as you may recall from high-school I have a pretty black sense of humour, and I can’t stand over-sensitivity and political correctness. I think that criticism of religion, for instance, is unduly – as you would say ‘un-westernly’ – limited by social pressure, political correctness, cultural sensitivity etc… with the result that religious fanatics get away with things that secular organizations never could, or should, be allowed to do.
    I disagree with you about Godard though, If he had defined ‘true’ marriage as between two white christians, excluding jews, blacks etc, he would certainly have been fired, and gays don’t choose to be born gay anymore than blacks and jews choose to be born black or jewish. He wasn’t just expressing an opinion, he was advocating that an identifiable minority should have fewer rights than the rest of society, and that constitutes hate-speech by any interpretation of the concept.

    • Michael: hey simon – I agree entirely with the first part of your analysis. Hurt feelings are slowly becoming more important than our right to free speech it seems. Now I disagree with the second point because I disagree that calling it ‘real marriage’ actually advocates less rights. I don’t know his opinion on whether common law is ok for gay people, but in my experience people of religious conviction don’t really care about that. They don’t seem to have any issue with the actual legal rights part of it, only the name they call it. Either way, neither of us can be sure of his views on that, because it wasn’t part of the quote. Many people who discriminate against gay people are religious, but not all religious people are bigots. As long as they can separate the people from the concept. Did he actually express hatred for an identifiable group of people, or did he just use a word that people didn’t like (calling it not a ‘real’ marriage). He might hate the concept of gay marriage, but hating a concept is absolutely fine in my opinion. On top of that, he didn’t even say hate or anything equally harsh or discriminatory. Its his definition of a word. One I disagree with myself, but I still think he has every right to say so.

    • Yes your on time with this post it’s sad but true. There is so much more hate & abuse that you didn’t even cover I’m sure that was out of respect for foollwers of Islam. I know if I was following something that mentally, pyhs, verbal, sexual abuse the female foollwers, not to mention that Islam is the orginal racist. I would be mad that someone said something about my harm that I was causing my fellow human. And for goodness shake if I was a follower of Islam I would not want anyone to know that Islam kills you for so many things like trying to get out of the crazy Islam faith or marrying someone out of the faith and so much more. Bottom line Islam is like being married to a wife beater who can take your life if so desired and they do this under the name of faith . Very sick people that follow Islam cult..it is not a faith based anything just pure hate.

    • You state that The biblical matiharcrs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah are regarded for their strength and caring qualities. Let’s have a close look at these women. Sarah infringed the human rights of her maid Hagar, indecently using her as a surrogate to carry a child that she intended to claim. She organised Abraham to have non-consensual sex with this maid. She later expelled Hagar and her child with barely a bottle of water and some bread. These are not caring qualities. Rebecca deceived her husband Isaac to gain advantage for her favoured son Jacob. She assured Jacob that she would take the blame if things went wrong, but never confessed to the deception when Isaac discovered it. Thus Jacob had to flee the threat of his estranged brother Esau. This is not the behaviour of a foolish woman. Rachel and Leah both prostituted their maids to their husband Jacob. The children of those maids were confiscated from them. The maids did not even have the right to name their birth children. The maids’ human rights were disregarded. Rachel and Leah could hardly be considered caring. These women were immoral and indecent.Stephen Marton

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  6. Interesting thesis, but one that I find inherently problematic for a few reasons. To me, the biggest strength of what you’re describing is that it exists only negatively – it isn’t a rigid ideology in its own right and is notable for its lack of dogma. Establishing fixed boundaries for what ‘westernism’ would entail would fix its meaning in time and place and, perhaps unintentionally, allow it to slide into inflexible rigidity. This is precisely what happened with Islam in many places where it’s become most virulent in recent decades. Historically, must Sunnis in what is today Pakistan followed a syncretic version of Sufi Islam with strong undertones carried through from the Vedic practices upon which it was overlaid. The same goes for Indonesia – even today, most Javanese practice a syncretic Sunni version of Islam that would be considered haram by most Arabs. But the increasing globalisation of Islam seen over the past few decades – aided and abetted to no small extent by the House of Saud – has constructed a narrative whereby to follow true Islam is to follow a narrow, rigid Wahhabi Sunni doctrine, which itself was highly influenced by reactionary anti-colonial interpretations of Islam in British India from the mid-1800s onwards (the Darul Uloom at Deoband being probably the most notable example). Remember that “Islamism” as it exists today is a reverse orientalist fantasy in and of itself, a reaction by a culture-shocked Sayyid Qutb against the excesses he percieved to exist in post-war America. Why does any of this matter? Because it should be obvious that all of these signifiers and identity markers are inherently always in flux – until a time comes when someone fixes their meaning inalienably in place and time, at which point constructive discourse becomes impossible. There is a contradiction between ‘fixing’ the notion of ‘westernism’ in place while acknowledging that evolutionary, responsive and progressive political discourse needs an unfettered, free flow of ideas and challenges to thrive (something I believe profoundly). As painful as it might be to acknowledge, even odious ideologies like radical Islam need to have their day in the court of public opinion and be challenged through the creation of normative values that can only occur if there are no preconcieved ideological constraints on discourse or established nomenclature that limits it (‘Islam,’ ‘Communism,’ ‘Liberalism,’ ‘Conservatism,’ etc). Establishing a false dichotomy between “Islam” and “Westernism” creates precisely the kinds of conditions that allowed for radical Islam and its ilk to rise to prominence today.

    • Michael: Very interesting thought process, I especially like it since it is the first I have heard it. To begin with, your explanation of Islamism is right on the button. There is no doubt the influence of south asian deobandism has had on modern islamism, although most people tend to focus on Qutb as the originator (not that he didn’t have his hand as well, but maybe its best to call him a ‘mouthpiece’ of what the movement became). The saudi’s as you said have pushed that particular (Wahhabi) fixed narrative, and of course also provided some needed financial backing to stick it in place. Its an interesting connection to compare to Westernism, and I do see the connection your trying to make. I think one of the difficulties of making this connection comes down to written dogma. The koran is and has been fixed from the start. There have certainly been different ‘additives’ such as the hadith, but the words of god shall always remain so. So yes there is flux, but there are also core aspects which always remain. The same is true for any ideology, except when the core beliefs are in fact the need to debate. The length of your comment is directly related to the difficulty of conveying this argument over posts, so I appreciate the effort and will try to do the same here. Take western cultures’ treatment of women for example. For most of history that treatment was certainly not what we would consider righteous. However, after a long time (far too long) and due to the self-reflection imbued in the culture, we finally realized that giving both sexes equality was actually better for all of us. If there came a time when someone had a really good argument for relegating our women to second-class citizens again than perhaps Westernist culture might go down that route. As odious as that sounds, if it would truly be the best thing to do, then wouldn’t we want to do it? Luckily, I don’t think there is any argument for that, and I think it would be difficult to convince Westernists of it, especially after society has obtained the massive benefits of gender-equality. So I see your issue, you don’t like fixing things in place because it destroys discourse, and I totally agree. I think that is true in every case (Liberalism, communism, conservatism, all as you mentioned), except when the thing thats fixed IS the importance of the discourse.

      Should Westernism ever become a powerful ideology, I’ll bet that someone would try to ‘fix’ it in place further, history would seem to point to that conclusion. But if so than it really isn’t the Westernism I am arguing for, and hopefully I would still be alive to argue whoever it was on the subject haha.

      And I also entirely agree that Radical Islam must be debated, but I think the debate is easy in the context of Westernism. Radical Islam has no place for debate, and therefore can not accord to our values (whether those values are normative or not). The debate on whether values ARE normative or not, is just another debate within westernism. And even after the debate has been ‘concluded’ it will inevitably arise again. Just like we have the crazies who still want to keep women as chattel, there will always be the crazies who debate whatever has become the normative values of the time. But we need those crazies, since every once in a while one of them turns into Socrates, or St. Augustine, etc… No debate is ever really concluded in Westernism. Its my belief (which certainly can be debated, but perhaps I’m an optimist), that when open discourse is available, the result (though meandering) eventually is better than where it began. Sometimes it will result in a step back, but the two steps forward are not far off. And indeed history seems to conclude the same, since I would argue that even with all our faults we are certainly much better than any time in history. The thing that worries me now (which is an entirely different topic, but I’ll just mention it) is that our own culture seems to be moving away from this open-discourse in many ways (see the hurt vs. hate speech part of the post).

      The only aspect of your analysis that I don’t quite understand where your coming from was the last sentence, and in fact I was very careful to ensure that a) there isn’t a dichotomy, its infact a Tri-chotomy (if thats even a word?) and b) Islam is everywhere on that spectrum. Radical islamists are certainly anti-westernists. An indonesian farmer just trying to scrape by and feed his family who is unconcerned with any of these issues would be a non-westernist. And any muslim, whether in Karachi or New York is still a Westernist as long as they share the Westernist creed. That being said, although the current issues surrounding Islamism are at the top of people’s mind, this Tri-chotomy is not intended as discussion of Islam, which is just one of the big topics on many peoples mind currently. This tri-chotomy can be extended forward or backwards in time regardless of issues. For example, during the cold-war the Soviet government (not ALL the people, because as I said people do not always share the same ideology as their overlords) were anti-westernist. But also during the cold war, there were many people (and nations) who were not on either ‘team’ so to speak (the Indian government for example), and they would constitute the non-westernists. Whatever issue comes, I beleive this tri-chotomy is a useful identifier.

      Remember, not all people born into western culture are Westernist

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