"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

On Being Western

What does being western mean to you?  In The Post-American World, Fareed Zakaria, (who grew up in India and now lives in the United States, by the way) gives some characteristics of what western culture involves.  He seems to agree with Samuel P. Huntington in saying that western civilization "'is precious not because it is universal but because it is unique.'" 

Unique how?  What makes "the West" western?  When I asked this on Facebook an hour ago, I got three replies along the lines of this:

But I wonder if Westerners in Europe would agree!   :-)

Describe it. Contrast it to "the East." Anything!  Just tell me...what does "the western lifestyle," "being western" and all that mean to you?  And do you consider yourself part of the West?  Is it based on where you live or attitudes you adopt?  Can someone like Mr. Zakaria who was born in India become western? If so, how?  By just moving here?


Wafa' said...

I am not a western but would love to see the outcome of these questions by your other readers :)

Susanne said...

You can still reply. What does being Western mean to you? How do you describe us? How can you tell someone is western? What does it mean? Contrast it to yourself if you want.

Joni said...

I don't really know what being western is either. I mean, other than living on the West Coast. Where it seems like East Coasters think we are somewhat more lazy and more laid back.

I certainly think of a cowboy when I hear "western" alone. And I can't really describe what western culture is because I don't know enough about any other culture. I know a few things but I think not having lived any where else for any length of time makes all the difference in understanding.

sanil said...

Individuality vs. community. Major emphasis on personal freedoms and what each person wants for themselves, as opposed to concern for the good of the family and society in the East.

I think this is the core, and the other differences are a result of trying to live that. Laws focus on how to grant individuals the most freedoms with the least loss to personal safety, for example.

I'm Western because of where i live, and partly because being born here means I was raised with those values and it's a very intrinsic part of who I am now. But I don't think it's better and would do fine in the East. I think someone can move from one culture to the other and become Eastern or Western, but I'm sure it would take some adjustment and they'd fall into old patterns for awhile, maybe even always see things partly from the point of view of their birth culture and think things in their new one are strange, even while adopting them.

Wafa' said...

a few weeks ago, someone in Facebook asked about the Saudi characteristic.If someone ask you to describe a Saudi person, what would you say? what's the Saudi Identity? . I told her that i don't believe in it. There is no such things. Yes there are heritages of the country, there are cultures and traditions that we all are familiar with and can identify ourselves through. but there is no such things as a...... identity. we are all different.

So the same goes here. I can only say that a western is someone who comes from the west, typically Europe, Canada and America. But they are called west because they are in the west, so that makes South and central America a west despite not being alike in so many things with America and Europe for example. on the other hand, there is Australia and Russia probably who are in the East side of the world but are always identify to be a west.
I would silly if i can describe the west- and that's only me- i know some westerns and i have seen enough to know that no one is the same. Can i say all western loves democracy for example? but then Hitler and Mussolini were dictator!!. Most people in the Arab and Islamic world thinks that "western" are morally corrupted but is that true, can you watch a movie or read about the life style of people there and think they are all the same !!. Can we say all western have blue eyes, tall and blonde, then what does that make of those with similar features who are from the East or those who don't have the same features like black, Asian, etc.

So in short all i can say is a western is someone who comes from a western country and that's that.

Sophia said...

Its hard to describe "western" if your from the west, because I think westerners see it as "default" and everything else as "other". My overall view on western culture - at least in the US - is this (very general, perhaps stereotypical, and largely influenced by Hofstede):

- Westerners are individualistic (the rights of the individual outweigh the need for group harmony)
- Westerners value individual achievements, assertiveness, aggressiveness and material success.
- Westerners are more apt to change and experiment, less rule-oriented and better able to take risks or accept uncertainty.

Amber said...

sanil said everything I was thinking, so I'm just gonna 'ditto' sanil. :)

Louai said...

Susie, can't believe that i am on your blog after these months!

Like Wafa as i am from the so called "East" I am excited to read others posts,
however i have a small question: Does the term "west" still really exist? since the East is no more than just a few countries or a nation or represent any geographical region, it might be the Middle East/Far East perhaps Africa/South America..etc.
I don't know but i feel the term West is existing if the term "East" is available, otherwise we have West without East!
and now we obviously doesn't have a real East so do we still have a clear or even a real West?

Lat said...

The East is still very much involved in culture and religion unlike the West.Basically it's the attitudes and values towards life that is different.I miss the cowboy part being called western :)It's like calling one a western within a western country :)

Susanne said...

Joni, I agree. It's hard to define especially when we've lived here all our lives.

Sanil, brilliant comment! That was very helpful - thank you!

Wafa', I loved what you said! Yes, maybe it only means you come from a western country ...indeed! Thank you for coming back to share all that. I realllllllllllllly love when you get all chatty and share your views!!

Sophia, thank you! I enjoyed that summary of traits. Makes sense!

Amber, I don't blame you. :)

Susanne said...

Louai!!! Wowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww! You graced my blog with your cheeky presence. Be still,my heart! ;-) Fantastic questions! Well, in this book Mr. Zakaria talks of the West and East so I was going along with that. Granted the book is three years old now so maybe the terms are becoming more obsolete by now. You've lived in both Syria and London...what do you think? Are the two basically the same? Is there a big enough difference that the two could be called two different cultures or are you saying there are way more than only two cultures (East, West) so we should subdivide the groups?Thought-provoking stuff! Thanks much! Always great to see you and hear from you!

Lat, and we even have Yankees living among Yankees! In the South we refer to Yankees as those north of the Mason-Dixon Line whereas much of the world I think calls us ALL Yankees. Those are fightin' words for a Southerner! ;-D And, yes, you see Americans even think "western" means cowboy! :)

I enjoyed what you added about religion and culture. I don't think America has much culture -- or any distinct one since we are a blend of so many, but I do think we have a fair amount of religious people. Probably unlike most of the rest of the West...depending on who makes up "the West" that is. :)

I really enjoyed all these replies. I could tell y'all what Zakaria wrote in his book to see if you agreed if anyone is interested. Otherwise, I'll just take what you shared under consideration. Enjoyed it all!

Suroor said...

Western to me is John Denver :D Haha!

Shoot! Susie, your blogger wants me to type 'fornicate' as the word verification! WTH?! :D

Susanne said...

O-o Sorry for that! Weird blogger!