Western Universalism: A subtle but deep-seated threat to multi-culture World!
We had a Project Charter for our project which was the central document for what we had to do. Very soon the client was pushing his way through. While I, a team lead at that time, was trying to explain that Project Charter being the “benchmark”, my Project Manager took over and said to the client – “You see Bob, the Project Charter is our Bible. This is what we go by…. “ and he went on to explain why we couldn’t oblige the client. Now, this seemed like a normal discussion in any project. The only thing was I didn’t care two hoots for what was in the Bible to live my life. Not because I have a religious hatred of some sorts, but because for me, Bible is NOT a central document for life. In fact none is.
I grew up in India being told about the greatness of the American democracy. The amazing principles that govern this amazing way of polity. It was not until 2000 that I understood the complete absurdity of the claim that America was a democracy. George Bush beat Al Gore based on the Supreme Court judgment and not the number of votes. In fact, the voters vote, but the the decision to take the entire state (irrespective of how thin the margin of a certain mandate maybe) is taken by the electors comprising the “electoral college”. That is not utilizing “One man, One vote”! That is a travesty in the name of democracy!
There are many cases of Science – discoveries and inventions – having happened outside the Western world, and yet, they were usurped by the Western Scientists in their name. For example, the world pretends that Calculus was born from Isaac Newton’s work when it is known that it was the discovery in India. To retain the monopoly in the record books however, it is now argued that it Calculus principles were not further developed to bring them to where Modern Calculus is. Now, isn’t that how every field develops? Is the telephony where Graham Bell left it? Actually, that was also something that Jagdish Bose showed long before Bell, but that is a subject of another day!
In all these examples, why is it that a Western Centric worldview is appropriated to be the World standard? Some have called it as the “Western Universalism” (Read Being Different: Indian Challenge to Western Universalism). Yes, we all are looking at a Global standard that is not supposedly aggressive, but when you look closely enough it is dictated by just one cultural sensibility. Since Western world considers Bible to be the “Word of God”, I have no other way but to call a Project Charter as Bible, even though I have no faith at all in that book!
The monopoly of Western cultural monopoly is not always so obvious. For most, it is very subtle. So subtle, that you would not even recognize unless you start competing in a field. Let us take the field of writing. Writers aren’t known particularly to have a parochial agenda. At least this is a community vocal enough to have brought out such a prejudice if there existed one. Right? WRONG!A Team charter is a Bible, only White male is a writer, rest hyphenated - subtle prejudice… Click To Tweet
Aminatta Forna, an author discussed this – Western Universalism – in one of her interviews. And the surprising part is that someone of her sensibility could not really point to the subtlety of prejudice in the way writers are classified, other than the White males! That it is a deeper and more widespread an issue, completely missed her!
All this classifying, it seems to me, is the very antithesis of literature. The way of literature is to seek universality. Writers try to reach beyond those things that divide us: culture, class, gender, race. Given the chance, we would resist classification. I have never met a writer who wishes to be described as a female writer, gay writer, black writer, Asian writer or African writer. We hyphenated writers complain about the privilege accorded to the white male writer, he who dominates the western canon and is the only one called simply “writer”.
Isn’t it interesting that in the generic world of “writers”, there is only one race and gender that competes? The rest are confined to their own rooms and left to fight out there? Isn’t that the reason why Nobel Prize for Literature has for most part been shared by this cozy club, while other categories sprinkled around more for esoteric delight?
The reason for this writing is not to bring upon the plank of victimization to stand on so that one can look down and complain of racial discrimination. But to bring about a debate whether One particular worldview is indeed worthy of being declared as Universal? In the world full of diversity – of views, ideas, writing, languages, faiths, ideologies and way of doing things – isn’t it anti-thesis of multi-culturalism and democracy to give Western Universalism a go-by? If liberal multi-cultural world where everyone’s ways is neither superior nor inferior (unless violent or hurtful), then we need a society where no one can place his/her way as the standard for the world!
Where Bible – in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-national team is replaced by “Constitution”. Just A Constitution! Not mine, not yours, just A Constitution! And, yes, we all are writers! Hyphenated adjectives be damned!