“In what is nowadays called a totalitarian state, or a military state, it’s easy. You just hold a bludgeon over their heads, and if they get out of line you smash them over the head. But as society has become more free and democratic, you lose that capacity. Therefore you have to turn to the techniques of propaganda. The logic is clear. Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state. That’s wise and good because, again, the common interests elude the bewildered herd. They can’t figure them out.”
Throughout this blog I use the word “Western” to refer to the dominant global power structure that operates through media conglomerates, and owns most of the worlds media. Even in India, a significant stake of the TV and print media is owned by Western media giants. The news is scrubbed, sanitized, and skewed in the interests of the West. Minor incidents in India are exaggerated with media spinning its wheels in full gear, while relatively far worse atrocities in the West are relatively attenuated (with some exceptions now and then, in order to give the illusion of fair play).
By “West”, I’m including primarily USA, UK, Australia, and to a certain extent West and Central European countries. There is a thread of belief that permeates most of the West, that equates civilization or being civilized mainly to Western culture, addressed below. This is of great import, as more than half the global population represents non-Western cultures, some whose civilization stretches back several centuries before Western/Greek civilization.
Note: by no means am I referring to all the people in the aforementioned countries, but primarily to a small percentage who have the power and influence in shaping far-reaching government policies and who also control the channels of transmission and dissemination of the knowledge that shapes these policies (academic institutions, think tanks, their publications, lobbies, media). In fact, most of the people within the Western world are themselves at the receiving end of the stick, just as the rest of the world… so it would be terribly tragic to club this majority as “Western”. Furthermore, within the Western world, there is a growing population of liberal left which not only fall in opposite end of the spectrum but serve as a vital counter-balance to right-wing conservatives. Just this characterization alone captures a huge chunk of the liberal left demographic, they are very likely: female, 20-40 years, into yoga, physical fitness, vegetarian, organics, environmentally conscious, LGBT supporters, pro-choice, open-minded to other cultures.
A Brief History
The idea of the default assumption of the “West” being superior traces back to early Christian/Biblical justification of Christian race being superior to all others, and that it was “the white man’s burden” to civilize the other races (through colonization, imperialism, slavery, inquisitions, pogroms, etc). For example, slavery was justified for many centuries through the Biblical justification of Africans as belonging to the inferior lineage of Noah’s outcast son Ham, destined to be slaves as punishment (see Wikipedia: “The Curse of Ham”).
While it originated in superiority based on religion and race, I’d say today it is a result of living in a highly insular culture, i.e. where you never really step outside your comfort zone into other cultures and countries, and even when you do, you’ve been brought up in such an insular culture, that you tend to measure other cultures by the yardstick of technological advancements.
Likely also because you are constantly bombarded with images of a dominant Western culture (in the media and entertainment industry — its language, philosophy, attire, music, classical music, literature, classical literature, etc). Making you think that none of these that exists outside of Western culture (like the idea of philosophy, classical music, classical literature existing outside of Western culture). Any portrayal of non-Western cultures are in the worst possible light to discredit any contribution from that culture. For example, it is well known that Hindus in the USA make up some of the top doctors, engineers, and professors. Yet, you hardly see that reflected in movies and television sitcoms, where a Hindu is more likely to be portrayed as a 7/11 operator, or an incompetent sidekick with a “funny” accent in movies, or a call-center operator.
Another example is when the media or Western right-wing conservatives feel free to criticize other cultures (by projecting human rights issues, crime, etc). But when the tables are turned (if anything, just to set a balance), feeling offended or shocked, or calling it as being biased.
Western Assumptions – Illustrations
Here are a few illustrations of assumptions which the West itself might not be aware of just how arrogant it may be.
- “the world celebrates New Years Day”
And if you’re living in say India or China (other than in a few cosmopolitan cities), and you look outside, there is not soul celebrating anything. India and China represents almost 1/3rd of the worlds population right there. They both celebrate New Year’s Day as an agricultural spring/harvest festival, in their respective spring/harvest season. Let’s turn the table: if India and China, being 1/3rd of the population, where to have control of the worlds media, and televised: “the world celebrates their (Indian/Chinese) New Years Day”, how would Western countries see that? As arrogance? ignorance? somewhat self-conceited? Yes, exactly.
- “Vienna is the home of classical music” or “Do you listen to classical music?” or “the world celebrates Mozart”
People in India are aware of both Indian and Western classical music, and are careful to qualify the phrase “classical music” with for example, Indian, Western, or Chinese. Even more so when they’re talking to a Westerner, to distinguish that they’re not talking about Western classical music. For example, an Indian is not going to go to a Westerner and ask him “do you listen to classical music?” and if he says “yes, I love Beethovan”,… the Indian is not going to say, “no, I mean do you listen to classical music, you know like those from great classical composers like Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar, Syama Sastri, Purandara Dasa?”. That is, implying that the only classical music is Indian classical music, and if the Westerner doesn’t know any of these great classical composers or maestros, then he doesn’t know classical music. So, how would the Westerner see that? self-conceited? ignorance? Exactly.
- “Greek civilization as the cradle of modern civilization”
Quite often one hears “Greek civilization as the cradle of civilization”. Which civilization? Many aspects of calculus, trigonometry, Pythagorean theorem, quadratic equations, etc where developed indigenously and independently in both India and China. Indian schools of philosophy have also produced advanced philosophy (epistemology, logic theory, metaphysics, psychology, cosmology, etc) that far outstrips any Greek philosophy, far before Greek civilization. Whatever they called it, however different their method of proof and transmission of knowledge maybe… it is no doubt that Hindus possessed strong mathematical knowledge — as witnessed by numerous engineering and architectural feats that still stand today as ancient marvels, and practical philosophies for life, like the science of yoga which Hindus evolved into what it is today over thousands of years of practice.
The constant reference to these works by their Greek/Western philosophers and scholars sends a strong message to the native people of respective countries that they did not know any of these (thanks to 300 years by British and other European imperialism, scrubbing native culture of their heritage). I like what Chinese Government is doing, restoring the pride, by engaging in a massive plan to restructure its education material by referring to any discovery, philosophy, etc. that was indigenous, by their indigenous name. India should do the same. A nation becomes and remains subservient to its [former] rulers as long its pride is not restored.
Why this Bias?
So why is Western media biased? It has more to do with the fact that Western culture is essentially a market driven consumer culture, a profit-hungry machinery. If a non-Western culture opens up its culture to it (even better if it becomes a slave to it), it is no longer seen as a challenge to that machinery. If you challenge the machinery, then be prepared for it to be banging on your doors, demonizing and denigrating your culture, till it is broken, disintegrated, and assimilated into a mono-culture, with illusion of diversity. The machinery finds it easy to sell and control that which is uniform. It thrives on uniformity, order, and control. Diversity of cultures (each having their own languages, customs, classical music, classical literature, etc.) has been traditionally problematic for the machinery.
Just like, Monsanto can control the worlds rice supply, if it reduces all the rice (over a thousand varieties of rice in India alone) in the world into one rice variety (a Monsanto patented GMO rice). This is how Monsanto has succeeded in controlling 90% of all the soy beans grown world wide. But they have not succeeded in India as there are over 200 varieties of legumes/beans (dhals). So if they want to control India’s vegetable protein source (“if you control the food supply you control the nation/world”), then they’ll have to destroy the 200 varieties of dhal, reducing 200 to a hand full which can be controlled tightly. Yet another reason, why Del-Monte and Dole has not been able to penetrate the banana industry in India, as again there are over 50 varieties of bananas in India (whereas in the USA and most of Europe (exported mainly from South America) there is only one banana variety – the one that can be produced on massive scale and engineered to survive long flights/shipments).
All in all, it is about monopoly of how information is controlled. The Internet is certainly a disruptive force here, but by and far the media and entertainment industry really spells what goes into your head, whether it be Western bias or the food you eat. And like anything, if popular demand (via citizen journalism, social media, blogs, etc) reaches a critical mass, it can sway the media and corporations. After all, it is in their best interest: if it can’t fight them, join them.
Just like how despite the fact that GMO companies have been foiling the introduction of GMO-labelling bill by its tight control (on the media, politicians, and research institutions)… many companies (even pro-GMO companies) are voluntarily introducing GMO labelling, driven by popular demand.