I feel quite at home here in Jakarta. And it’s really not all that different from my home city of Gothenburg in Sweden. Sure, there are a lot of details that are different, and there are a lot of statistical differences. But ultimately, this doesn’t matter all that much. The differences between countries are merely differences of statistics, and this is especially true for the big cities.
Illiteracy? We have it in all countries, and it’s growing more and more rare in almost all countries. Yes we have more illiteracy in Indonesia than in Sweden, especially on the countryside. This doesn’t change the fact that over 90% of all Indonesians can read. The percentage with collage degrees is growing bigger and bigger. There are a lot of educated people in both countries, and a lot of poorly educated people too.
Poverty? Well, it sucks for those who are really poor. However, most people here do not live in poverty. And while Sweden has a better social security system, some people slip through the cracks there as well. Also, while the average Swede has more money than the average Indonesian, the number of Indonesians who are richer than 90% of all Swedes probably outnumber the entire population of Sweden.
One idea that I have discussed with several people here is this: A person used to live in Gothenburg or Jakarta, or any other city in a reasonably free and stable society, is likely to feel more at home in any of these cities than at the countryside of his home country (or the countryside of any other country). This seems to be a common opinion among those who grew up in Indonesia as well as among those who grew up in the west but are currently living here.
The cities are one big global culture, where we all live together. City life is very much the same, we can easily relate to each other’s situation. To a large extent, we also have the same cultural references. For example, a few days ago I met an Indonesian woman who I had never talked with before. It turned out that we both like Chobits, a certain Japanese manga/anime. Many Japanese and Western stories are global stories now, and the Bollywood of India is getting more and more of global following as well. The world is shrinking faster and faster.
This “orientalism” is a form of categorism that used to be popular in European countries. The so-called “orient” ranged from Egypt to Japan. Yet it was considered to be the same thing. On this mindset, the orient was the opposite of the west, and there was no relevant difference between Egypt and Japan – they were both seen as being “the orient”, defined by not being the west.
In the prejudiced fantasy world of orientalism, being white meant being rational, masculine, Christian, and so on. While being “an oriental” meant being superstitious, feminine, and having any other faith than Christianity – which in this mindset was seen as being very bad and suspicious.
Occidentalism is the same kind of prejudiced fantasy world, but going in the other direction. In this form of categorism, the line is drawn between a vision of the genuine people and the occidental.
These fictional genuine people are supposedly found in the countryside and in poor countries, while the equally fictional “occidental” is found in the cities and in the west.
In this mindset, education and democracy are bad things. The “genuine” person is preferably an illiterate farmer. He is portrayed to be harmonious in his connection to his village, the overlords who rule over him, the nation state, and finally Mother Earth and/or God as the case may be.
His opposite, the occidental, is portrayed as having a good education but no soul. He is greedy, selfish, disconnected. He wants democracy because he’s too prideful to submit to the kind of authority that this mindset portrays as legitimate: Kings, military dictator, ethnicity-based dictators such as Adolph Hitler, and theocracy-based dictators such as the Talibans.
In the extreme occidentalist mindset displayed by Nazis and Talibans and others, all modern people of the world are merely pawn of the evil cosmopolitan western civilization. Since the Nazis idolizes a fictional western civilization, they need an explanation for why they hate the actual western civilization. This explanation is that the actual western civilization is not truly western, but instead Jewish. Hence the conspiracy theory about a so-called “Zionistic Occupation Government” claimed to be secretly ruling the world.
Most Occidentalism is not extreme like that. Instead it comes forms that are polite and on the surface looks respectful. For example, I once read an article in one of Sweden’s many intellectual magazines. This article warned the reader visiting non-western countries about hanging out with the intellectuals of that country. Instead, the reader should seek out the illiterate farmers of the countryside, since they are the true representatives of any country that isn’t western.
The writer was a Swedish intellectual. I assume that he would feel very insulted if anyone claimed that if you have an education then you couldn’t represent Sweden. That only those with the lowest level of education are genuinely Swedish. It wouldn’t surprise me if he would make the opposite argument: That only those with high education can represent Sweden. Because, you know, Sweden is such a sophisticated country and blah blah blah. In this context, the word “genuine” means nothing more or less than “is consistent with my prejudices”.
Occidentalism and orientalism is the same kind of fiction. The occidental does not exist in reality, just like the oriental does not exist in reality. They do however exist in the minds of some people, and this can be destructive. The idea that a person is more “genuine” if he is naïve and poorly educated and lacks understanding of politics, it is an idea that promotes fascism in all it’s forms. The idea that intellectuals somehow don’t count if they are not western is even worse.
An illiterate Asian is not a real oriental, and an intellectual regardless of origin is not a real occidental. Real orientals and occidentals does not exist, even if we use all of our mental violence to push real people into filling these roles. What does exist, however, is a global culture that is growing larger and more interconnected for every year. This culture is not western, although the west is a big part of it. Instead, it is global. This culture didn’t even start exclusively in the west. Of course it started in the west, but it started in other places as well. Different worlds has been merging for quite some time now, the whole being greater than the sum of it’s parts.
The global culture is strong on individualism and freedom, but this is a good thing. Individualism does not have to mean selfishness. On the contrary: If the individual is to be held in the highest regard, it means that EVERY individual should be held in the highest regard. We must all respect each other, and apply the Golden Rule. Or Kant’s Categorical Imperative, as a more advanced version of the principle is called in secular philosophy. The idea that you should treat others according to the same rules as you would want others to follow in their treatment of you.