The big difference between the West and the Rest is the concept of the individual. Something that has been ‘forgotten’ or more realistically ‘suppressed’ in this our ‘post modern’ world. It is something easily missed if you do not have a rich background not in pure history but in social, economic, philosophic and practical history.
Starting with ‘the rest’ there is what is most likely an evolutionary base state of biological relatives, clan and tribe, those who we are of and who we know.
For a million years our ancestors operated in family groups, hunting groups, nomadic bands, of varying sizes and proximity depending on resources and most likely personal power. The family group was the natural base unit, not our family of mother and father but a more power based prime and his or her immediate family and then close relatives and a relational entourage.
While in the most basic state this family group could be either maternal or paternal in nature in most cases it would be physical in basis and paternal, with occasions where circumstances lead to a maternally lead or co leadership. Not getting into the development of language and our brain it is very likely that this development was biased by the ‘natural’ circumstances and lead to a paternal bias.
In the nomadic hunter gatherer state there is no real demarcation between family discipline, clan rule and religion, it is all one and the world is alive with thinking alien beings because our ancestors would have no conception of self as different from other. Superstition, ghosts, magic are all in the world. Like us these people would tend to idealize the past and childhood and so elders and then those who have passed develop a powerful mystique leading to ancestor worship.
As sedentary habits developed along with more complex societies and more hierarchy, ancestor worship tends to develop a formalized place in the society and the head of the family develops a priest like persona. As the hierarchy develops with time and population the family heads of the leading families develop into an aristocracy. Hierarchy being ‘natural’ the head of family is the most important figure and all others subsidiary. Often the mate of the leader is next most important, often symbolically, sometimes with nominal power. Then come heirs and possible heirs along with direct and near relatives. Then depending on the circumstances of time and history, would come lesser relatives, entourage members, hangers on, servants…slaves.
Thus evolves the PaterFamilias the GodFather, the ClanHead the chief, the chieftain, the king. As the sedentary society develops to a certain extant it becomes more possible for some surplus of resources to be accrued and then used. This may be communal at first but the chief has a big say and the chief can use the surplus to ‘pay’ for certain things. For protection, psychic, physical, social. As in any possible society the chief has a small inner circle, the circle members have circles. The nearer the chief you are the more power you are likely to have. Though, as with feral cliques today, individual members may be extremely marginal to the group.
This is the world we first start to see in recorded history. These societies became highly sophisticated and wide spread though far from global, or even continental in scope. In these societies the head of family was the only really important person, all others were subordinate with their self defined by their relationship (inherent and developed) to the head the main measure of their importance. They were not individuals they were members of sub classes and ‘knew their place’ in the society and would act to suppress anyone who stepped out of line, because it destroyed that understanding of worth.
Even the PaterFamilias was defined by position and if they fell from that position they were essentially non persons. This is something one should take into account when reading history in this historical past, actions that to us seem illogical were often driven by what we might see as a pathological need to maintain their place in society. It happens today but it is really pathological now because we should not define ourselves by our position and relation to others, though we do, a ‘natural’ hang over from our deep deep past.
In that world the old gods, demigods, demons etc explained much that had once been explained by animistic magic. It was always about heirarchy and your position vs the ‘real power.’
Into this world came the monotheistic religions. There were multiple starts and they most likely had philosophical links one to the other over hundreds or even a few thousand years. But eventually there was Judaism with its powerful emphasis on the god and a personal relationship to god for all members of the faith, though the relationship has a strong blood line connection which limited the impact. Then came Christianity which expanded the potential for membership to all mankind.
We can talk forever about the reality of the Christ and the Resurrection and many other events of the epoch but they are beyond the scope of this discussion. What the church that Paul created out the fabric of Jesus of Nazareth’s life did, was call out to those who felt hollow in the ancient regime, whose life as defined by their relationship to the PaterFamilias was empty of real meaning. Everyone has worth, everyone has a connection to the Christ, to God. You have inherent value equal to anyone else but no more, you are responsible for your actions and responsible for what you leave behind in this world.
And because Paul ended his apostolic work in Rome he established what was to become the path to the individual. Rome tried to suppress Christianity but eventually, through the back door of mothers and servants, saints and heroes, it built an eminence that forced the emperor to become Christian. Probably in the hope of subverting the faith but in the very long run with the result of it becoming a form of government unto itself separated from the political world. Over a thousand years and more the Catholic (universal) Church grew and spread and reached out first across Rome and then Rome and Byzantium and then far beyond the original secular boundaries. And the bishops and their clerks did battle (usually on paper or papyrus) with the emperors, kings, dukes, caliphs, to establish the Church as responsible for the soul of all the people, high and low, while the secular rulers were responsible for right rule and ‘happiness’ of the people.
Unintentionally this developed into a foundational philosophy that defines ‘the West.’ That every person is an individual with rights and worth that are equal before God (the universe) and before the Law (the government, other people.) It also definitively decided the secular and the sacred as two realms that should not intersect. The sacred should not Rule the Secular, the Secular cannot rule the Sacred. They are different realms one focused on the individual re the Universe. The other the integration of individuals in society.
If you look out across the world, Asia, Africa, Pacifica and pointedly the Islamic world, this evolution of the Individual, and its concomitant separation of secular and personal/sacred/religion, never occurred. It is a thing that people see when described, and feel once embedded in it but it is not native to those societies. It is something quite antithetical to some of those societies while quite easily integrated in others
Islam has Sharia, demanding obedience to the one God and a hierarchy of subservience that is at odds with the individual and the separation of the secular and sacred. You have Asia which, generically and simplistically, subsumes the secular and sacred in the nation/government/hierarchy and expects the individual to ‘worship’ this gestalt (in many ways very much like Marxism.) You have much of the rest of the world ‘Africa and Pacifica’ which is still extremely tribal, with a headman and hierarchy, where the perceived ‘cult’ of the individual is destructive in that it makes the cannon fodder think they have value.
I claim that the West is defined in part, by one very simple concept. That the individual has value in and of themself. Every person matters however young or old, damaged or heroic. That a closely related principle is that the secular and sacred realms do not overlap other than in the individual and thus are separate spheres as the individual is sovereign.
Every person has value to the universe and to society. Every person is responsible for themselves in the ‘eyes’ of the universe and society. No one can be responsible for any other responsible individual.
The problems I see in the ‘West’ today are caused by a long term breakdown of education and social learning due to both knowing and unknowing destruction of teaching the young and educating the populous.
We spout platitudes about individual rights and responsibility but do not root that in a social fabric. We have allowed our societies enemies to take the reins of education both active (schools) and passive (media) and trash the reality of what came before in the banal hope that ‘a better idea’ is in the wings. The enemy boosts the narcissistic tendencies of Individualism, see gender bending, et al, to destroy the root concept of the individual as having Value in the eyes the Universe (God) and society.
The espousal of individual value is the most powerful concept in our society. This does not mean that we are free of all bonds, we are responsible for ourselves as well and that means responsible for our mind, body, family, society and universe inasmuch as it touches us. But if everyone has value then every last pervert, criminal, fool, teacher, hero is of value independent of their being or history. Self aware machines would fall under this, as well as every human ever conceived and every living thing…this does not mean we have to starve because the lettuce plant might ‘want’ to go to seed on down the line to some reasonable level of ethical behavior on our part and the part of society.
I leave you to think about this, I am putting this down as my understanding right now. Not some timeless philosophy of all. And i understand that some ramifications of the above are unsettling but that is the way of the world we live in, there is no perfection, just striving.