Monday, December 20, 2021

What Are The Right Questions?

Why do we believe that the Pyramid of Giza and Mount Rushmore symbolize different kinds of political ideals? The purpose of both monuments was deification of the ruling elite—the ancient Egyptians wanted to venerate their pharaohs; the Americans wanted to venerate their presidents. The Americans have not mummified their founders but it can be argued that in a spiritual sense, they have—they have spent a massive amount of financial and intellectual resources on deifying the founders and transforming them into a modern counterpart of the ancient pharaohs. 

Why do we believe that the West, which came into being when the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the Americas, is founded on Ancient Greek philosophy? There is no connection between Greek philosophy and the West. The idea that the two are connected was developed in the eighteenth century (the so-called Age of Enlightenment) by French philosophers who were embarrassed by the barbarity with which the conquistadors, imperialists, slavers, colonizers, and settlers had won the Western empire. So these philosophers started claiming that the West had nothing to do with colonization and was founded on Ancient Greek philosophy. This was their rationalization, their propaganda, their myth—this has nothing to do with reality. 

Why do we believe that the philosophy of Ancient Athens is unique—that this kind of philosophical argumentation did not happen anywhere else? The German philosopher Karl Jaspers has written that all the major schools of philosophy and politics seem to have sprouted, apparently independently, in Persia, India, China, and Greece in the same period. He called this period the Axial Age (from 800 BC to 300 AD). During this period there was the rise of Zoroaster in Persia; the Vedic sages, the Buddha, and other thinkers in India; Confucius and Lao-Tse in China; and Pythagoras in Greece. All the important questions of philosophy and politics that we are deliberating to this day were conceived in this period. 

Why do we believe that the West, which venerates its political elites like Egyptians venerated their pharaohs, would be devoted to liberty, individualism, and property rights? In the last 500 years, the West has been the biggest violator of human rights and property rights. The notion that the West is founded on Ancient Greek philosophy enables the Western leaders to justify their destructive foreign policy. The Western elites are able to argue that since their way of life is more than 2000 years old, it is the best. In the twentieth century, America has repeatedly used its military power to impose Western culture on other nations. The choice that the Americans gave to the Middle Easterners, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Koreans, Africans, and South Americans was simple—become like us, hand over your natural resources to us, or we will destroy you.

Why do we believe that the European conquistadors and imperialists who committed genocides, plunder, rapes, and slavery on an world-historical scale, and wiped out several ancient cultures, were from an “enlightened” civilization which was motivated by the ideals of liberty, peace, human rights, and individualism? Between 1519 and 1526, Hernan Cortes wrote five letters (the English translation of these letters have been published in the book Five Letters of Relation) to the Spanish monarchs. Cortes has described his journey through the valley of Puebla where he interacted with several Native Indian city-states. About the city-state called Tlaxcala, Cortes said: It had a population of 150,000; in its markets, more than 30,000 people were involved in buying and selling; it had farms which measured thirty leagues in circumference. 

The Tlaxcala army was on the verge of wiping out Cortes and his band of conquistadors. But Cortes managed to convince the Tlaxcala that they should grant him an audience. The Tlaxcala did not have a European style monarchy—they were being governed by a group of elders. In his letters, Cortes seems to be amazed that such a large community, with extensive agricultural and manufacturing economy, could function smoothly without a monarch. The Tlaxcala held public debates (in the style of Athenian democracy) to take their political decisions. Cortes has described the debates which happened before the Tlaxcala agreed to accept the help of the conquistadors for defeating their ancient enemy, the Aztecs. 1000 Spaniards did not defeat the Aztecs—the Tlaxcala army of more than 20,000 native warriors was there to do the fighting. 

The Native Indian city-states of the Americas had much more liberty and individualism than the European nations from which the conquistadors and imperialists had arrived. The case can be made that the Europeans learned about liberty and individualism through their interaction with the native American tribes. It is the Western lies and propaganda which prevent us from seeing the truth that the Western culture is tyrannical, violent, and nihilistic—it is antithetical to rationality, liberty, morality, and individualism. To have the right answers we have to begin by asking the right questions.

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