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Another clash of civilizations

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - January 21, 2021 - 12:00am

The period we are going through has many names, unlike previous times in history where the years were called by a specific phrase or word fully describing the era. There was the dark ages, the renaissance, the industrial revolution and the atomic age. Then came the age of globalization; but that did not seem adequate as more and more countries resisted globalization and resorted to nationalism.

Even at the beginning of this century, many futurologists and academicians theorized that the combination of globalization and the promise of a new technological revolution would usher in an age when the world will only have one civilization.

In 1996, Samuel Huntington wrote a book called The Clash of Civilizations. It said that in the post-Communist world the patterns of geopolitics in the world will be divided based on civilizations. There will be four major civilizations – Western or Christian; Confucian or Chinese; Islamic and Hindu. He wrote that the boundaries between civilizations resemble “tectonic plates.”

The earth’s rigid outermost shell is broken into seven or eight major plates. Where the plates meet, earthquakes, volcanic activity, mountain building and oceanic trenches normally occur.

The theory is that conflicts are inevitable where these different civilizations meet. Further, other observers note that the difference between civilizations is irreconcilable. For a while the belief was that globalization and the new technological revolution will erase these differences and a single world civilization will emerge.

One important thing to note is that civilization is not based on race. In Africa, the wars between black Christians and Muslims can often be fierce and destructive. India is a single nation with a common racial background; but the conflicts between Hindus and Muslims seem irreconcilable.

The Chinese and Filipinos are both Asian; but there is no denying that the Filipinos identify more with the Western or Christian part of the world than with its Confucian neighbor.

Huntington had several conclusions in his book which, on second reading, seem relevant today. First, he says that for the first time in global history of politics, “…there is both multipolar and multicivilizational modernization…” which is distinct from Westernization and is producing neither a universal civilization in any meaningful way nor the Westernization of non-western societies.

Second, the balance of power among civilizations is shifting; the West is declining in relative influence. Asian civilizations are expanding their economic, military and political strength; Islam is exploding demographically with destabilizing consequences for Muslim countries and their neighbors and non-Western civilizations are reaffirming the value of their own cultures.

Third, “a civilization based on world order is emerging; societies sharing cultural affinities cooperate with each other.”

One major conclusion of Huntington is that efforts to shift societies from one civilization to another are unsuccessful. This is an important lesson for those who are trying to make the Philippines an annex of China. History shows that countries group themselves together around the lead of a group of core states.

Fourth, the West’s universalist pretensions increasingly bring it into conflict with other civilizations, most seriously with Islam and China. This also is true as Islam and China try to impose their will on other countries, even those belonging to other civilizations. Finally, the survival of Western civilization, and all other major civilizations, depends on their acceptance as unique and not universal or superior.

Huntington has a map in his book dividing the world into nine major subcivilizations. These are Western, Latin American, African, Islamic, Sinic (Chinese), Hindu, Orthodox, Buddhist, Japanese. In this map, Japanese civilization is clearly separate while Korea is part of Chinese civilization. The Philippines is mostly part of Western civilization although part of Mindanao is shaded to indicate it belongs to the Islamic civilization. Europe is divided between the West and Orthodox Eastern Europe. This reflects a division of the Roman Empire between the West with its Latin culture and the East with its Greek culture. Subsequently, the Catholic Church became divided also with the Roman Catholic Church based in Rome and the Greek Orthodox Church based in Constantinople, now Istanbul.

There are still thinkers who believe that the “clash of civilizations” can be avoided. Mark Zuckerberg dreams of a united mankind where everyone is online. However, this has also led to more clashes. Both Islamic and Chinese civilizations see this as Western attempts to impose democracy and human rights on Islamic and Chinese people. This has resulted in Islamic backlash and rigid censorship by China on online communications.

Recently, the revival of interest in the “clash of civilizations” has motivated thinkers like Yuval Noah Harari to point out that there is still much evidence of the world of nations being able to cooperate. There is the United Nations that has managed to survive because the world realizes we need a world body of nations. Then there is the Olympics that have endured except in times of war; and multilateral agreements like the Paris Climate Agreement.

A famed historian, Arnold Toynbee, says that the world has seen something like 21 civilizations rise and fall throughout history. That means some of the civilizations today could fall and new civilizations can take its place.

What will cause the fall of future civilizations? My bet is on climate change which will trigger ecological catastrophes. But a new civilization will rise – maybe a Malay civilization.

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An invitation to young writers:

Young Writers’ Hangout via Zoom will be held  on Jan 30, 2-3 p.m. Contact writethingsph@gmail.com.  0945.2273216

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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