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Journal of Multicultural Discourses


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The Rhetoric of Globalisation: The Europeanisation of Human Ideas


Molefi Kete Asante
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Department of African American Studies, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA Version of record first published: 22 Dec 2008.

To cite this article: Molefi Kete Asante (2006): The Rhetoric of Globalisation: The Europeanisation of Human Ideas, Journal of Multicultural Discourses, 1:2, 152-158 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.2167/md054.0

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The Rhetoric of Globalisation: The Europeanisation of Human Ideas


Molefi Kete Asante Department of African American Studies, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA

doi: 10.2167/md054.0

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Rationale
One of the abiding problems confronting world scholars is the totalising capacity of the West to reduce almost every human achievement or behaviour to the particular experience of the West. Such a condition has been emphasised in the brilliant analysis Decolonizing subjects from the discourse of difference, written by Narcisa Paredes-Canilao and published in the inaugural issue of this journal. It is in the recovery of a multiplicity of discourses that we entangle the Western assertion of dominance. This means for me, of course, that we cannot speak of non-Western discourses because in the very statement of such non-Westernity we have given a privileged position to the West. In fact, the West has taken some of the most revolutionary concepts of Africans and Asians and turned them into something supportive of the Western hegemony (Cummings, 2006). Like a black hole, nothing valuable seems to escape the grasp of Western intellectualism. The ultimate example of this reduction to European particularism is when concepts derived from the historical experiences of Africans or Asians are interpreted in the context of one European movement or another. In effect, what is produced in the literature is an imperialistic iconography supportive of the Europeanisation of all human ideas. Afrocentricity, for example, is often referred to as philosophically a part of the Hegelian notion of ideas when, in fact, it is much more rooted and grounded in the practical conceptualisations of the Yoruba philosophers of the Orisha Age. The conceptualisers of the Ifa documents and the creators of the concepts of iwa , Shango, Ogun, Yemanja, Obatala, Eshu, Oshun and so forth are more directly related to Afrocentricity as an intellectual idea than Hegel. Yet European totalisers and their African or Asian interpreters, who always seem to know more about Europe than they do their own traditions, insist in casting Afrocentricity as a subset of some European ideal. When an idea is seen as challenging the imperialising forms of Western thought then an entire cadre of writers is brought out to attempt to destroy the idea. It is a military, or
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perhaps military configuration, on the linguistic battlefield that activates European globalisation. Although the totalising experience of Europe as a phenomenon has become more aggressive in this era, it has been a characteristic of Western political and social life for more than one hundred years. When the German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck held a conference in Berlin in l884 1885 with 14 European nations to divide up the African continent among them, the political bulldog had been unleashed. It was not only something that would activate Europe against Africa; it would by virtue of the authority Europe claimed make Asia vulnerable to the same aggression. Alongside this aggression against Africa was the rhetoric of spheres of influence which meant that each European nation involved in the scramble for Africa could exercise its rights over a part of the territory if it had a trading post on the coastline. Before long African states were engaged in wars against the merchants, missionaries and militaries of these Europeans whose idea of capital privilege was also the grounds for imperialism (Chinweizu, 1975). It is obvious that when history becomes the undifferentiated subject of the European perspective on everything in the USA, the European explanation of the conquest of the indigenous people of New Zealand and Australia, or the Eurocentric interpretation of all political and cultural phenomena, it becomes impossible for us to truly understand cultural communication. A rhetoric of globalisation promoted by Western interests is not a discourse; it is a monologue. Therefore, we must challenge this construction of reality to reveal its dirty underside as a hierarchical calculation of white supremacy. There can be no trans-historical religion of Westernism that suits the entire world. There will only be the death of culture, the destruction of ways of life, the assault on information about societies, and the attempt to equate modernisation, urbanisation, art, education or architecture with Westernisation. The European idea takes the concept of the centre and the margin and plays with it in a different way than it is constructed by those who see culture as important in every human cultural centre. The Wests idea becomes binary, us against them, we and the others, in an antagonistic position of one culture to another. In effect, it is a construction for good and evil, superiority and inferiority in the minds of Europeans. I contend that it is necessary for radically new intellectuals to speak of centredness as a way people own or assume agency within their own contexts. Such an idea is fundamentally more about humanity than materialism, winning and domination. It is more about a cultures own sense of centring, that is, not marginalising ones own culture, but claiming it as a valuable part of humanity. Only in the sharing of cultures can we have multicultural discourses. A globalisation that seeks to have Chinese adopt French architecture, Japanese believe that European renaissance art is more important than Japanese classics, English music more classical than African music and Italian dance more classical than Indian dance, and so forth, remains a bad idea. The ultimate objective is not dialogue, but control, prediction and subjection. To paraphrase a British colonial official speaking of the British role in India in the 19th century, the idea behind globalisation is to make of all people Europeans

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in taste, desires, opinions, expressions, attitudes, behaviours and dress, while maintaining only the outer shell of their own origins.

Participation or Not?
To a large extent the Asian and African worlds have participated in this dramatic phenomenon because it is impossible for others to impose upon you without some acceptance on the part of the elites. The masses of people will follow the lead of those who are declared elites by virtue of political or economic power. If the elites say that Europe is better than their own culture, the masses will follow. This is the expectation of the globalising ideology. The only method of resistance is through the assertion of our own agency as actors and not mere spectators to history. As creators of our own societies we have valuable experiences to share, not to impose, which might be examined and adapted in a spirit of sharing and dialogue. This is the real meaning of multicultural interaction; otherwise we have a monocultural projection of Europe as the only culture worthy of discussion. Our intellectual acquiescence is much of the problem because our intellectuals have often granted Europe the right to assert itself without challenge. Europe reacts to this notion of centring by eschewing it because what is seen in the Europeans mind when one discusses cultural centres and concepts other than Europe is the displacement of Europe. We accept that there can be, and must be, in a radically democratic society, pluralism without hierarchy. Thus, the Eurocentric centre will have a place in a normal world but it cannot promote itself as an abnormality where others are victimised by an intellectual aggression that seeks to dislodge the legitimate ideas and concepts of other people. Already in the 21st century the Western pharmaceutical interests are literally attacking the core of African rural societies by recording traditional African medicines and remedies for diseases and turning them into computer files to be aggressively captured as patented medicines by Western pharmaceutical companies who will then market those medicines as their own. In this way the world will become globalised but the medicines that thousands of years of study, experience and observation have brought to African and Asian people will be turned into a commodity to be bought and sold in Western markets, and in some cases, in the markets out of which they originated, as patented medicines of these Western companies with no possibility of the originators receiving any compensation. In effect, for all practical purposes the medicines become European medicines.

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Abandon the Other


Scholars of Western civilisation speak of the West and Others. This is in line with the general thought of the West about rankings. In a book, Enduring Western Civilization , edited by Silvia Frederici (2005), it is made abundantly clear by a number of insightful writers that the West owes far more to these others than is generally acknowledged. The Nigerian intellectual Chinweizu (1975) wrote the penetrating book, The West and the Rest , to demonstrate the inability of the West to share intellectual, economic or cultural space; the

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pattern of the West appears to be domination. There are few examples in the world where Westerners live side by side with other cultures, even in African or Asian lands, without seeking to impose the West. Chinweizus critique remains one of the classic works on domination because he understands that we must abandon the notion of the other in order to assert a common human view.

Attempt to Appropriate Classical Africa


The racialisation of the term Western occurred after the colonisation of Egypt, China and India. The Europeans said there was civilisation in those ancient countries, but they just were not as high as European civilisation. Europe is the beginning and end of history. As Hegel understood it, Africa was outside of history, not to be spoken of in polite company. India and China were static, stagnant cultures and they could not compete with the active, dynamic West, with the Germanic people possessing the greatest gift of the divine spirit. Perhaps nothing was so blatant in European thought as the attempt to cut off ancient Egypt and Nubia from the rest of Africa to declare them parts of the West. In so doing, the idea was to deny the people who had been ruthlessly enslaved by Europe a connection to their classical past in the Nile Valley civilisations. This was a hoax played upon the world for several centuries but has now been eradicated in the minds of leading historians and Afrocentrists. A parade of scholars has seen Asian and African ideals as possible rescuers of the fatigue of the West. Speaking their own special truths, Africa and Asia challenge the Western idea of individualism by offering forms of collectivism and respect for humanity that re-centres the worlds thinking on humanity rather than materialism.

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Triumphal Westernism
The rhetoric of globalisation is about triumphalism; it is a celebration of Western conquest. Once dominance has been established then the globalising rhetoric declares the need to maintain standards as a way to create the impossibility of revolt. One maintains dominance by controlling access to privilege, resources and open channels of communication. Enshrined in the discourse between nations or between different peoples is suspicion based on the degree to which Western influences have been accepted or not. It is possible that an erosion of credibility can occur if this totalising rhetoric of the West becomes wedged between nations.

Components of Western Triumphalism


A general survey of the political rhetoric of the West demonstrates several principles that are responsible for some of the attitudes expressed by the political leaders. Among the Western attitudes that have been identified in the literature are aggressive individualism , chauvinistic rationalism and ruthless culturalism (Ani, 1994; Cummings, 2006). I am not saying that other nations and peoples have not expressed these same tendencies at certain times in their

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development; I am simply underscoring the extent of these ideas on Western political rhetoric. They have introduced a theology of white supremacy over other people in their rhetoric. Although we have seen the retreat of the most overt forms of this discourse in recent years, it has not been obliterated. Europe has become once again a source of concern because while Europeans are making a case for globalisation the European countries are practising intense forms of racism and discrimination against people of African and Asian backgrounds. Almost every European country has seen a rise in physical assaults against Africans, Arabs and Asians in the past five years. European intellectuals have not made their voices heard over the din of the political leaders who have played to the fears of the Europeans. In the USA and Brazil, the two largest nations in the Americas, there is resistant and persistent domination although there have been successes. Yet I sense that there is a tyrannical discourse let loose when political leaders assert a superior attitude toward others in the world. Now lets turn to a discussion of aggressive individualism , chauvinistic rationalism and ruthless culturalism as mechanisms for operating a system of Western globalisation. Aggressive individualism The concept of aggressive individualism is derived from the notion that the standard of value can be reduced to an individual. The philosophical concept of individualism relies on the belief that the individual is the primary unit of society. In sum, the political and social ideology of aggressive individualism celebrates self-reliance, autonomy, personal independence, individual liberty and triumphalism over others. I am not against self-reliance because I think it is a good thing, but the grossest form of aggressive individualism threatens the idea of human cooperation. Self-interest becomes the overriding goal. A great deal of the rhetoric in self-interest is about how the European is the embodiment of power and influence and is therefore above other human beings. In a self-interested sense this is seen when the local people are intended to serve the interests of the European as background for leisure activities. One sees this throughout Asia and Africa and it shows up in the strangest behaviours and practices of Asians and Africans. For example, in Singapore, New Delhi and Tokyo I have seen extensive advertisements for products that would remove melanin from ones skin in order to produce a desired whiteness. This is not a health issue; it is profoundly the result of European promotion of a way of life that has affected the psychological wellbeing of other people. What has been advanced is a value system that imperils the idea of mutual benefits and mutual respect. Chauvinistic rationalism One finds chauvinistic rationalism in the notion that Europeans are so different from the rest of the world that they define issues, ideas, civilisation and how one approaches reality. In the American context it is seen in the rhetoric of political leaders who claim that America is a civilised nation as a way to suggest that some nations are not civilised. Key to this view is that

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rationalism is a Western phenomenon. Philosophy and logic are declared as the foundation of civilisation and they are given a Greek origin. Although this view has been hotly contested and disproved, it remains the view of the West. Of course we must insist that chauvinistic rationalism should not be imposed and the West cannot impose Greece as some universal culture that developed full-blown out of nothing without the foundations it received from Africa. Several years ago in the USA a book was published by Mary Lefkowitz (1995) entitled Not Out of Africa . Funded by a group of conservative foundations the objective of this book was to discredit the progressive and transformative Afrocentric school of thought that articulated the view that all humans have a right to their own agency (Asante, 1998). In her work, Lefkowitz sought to demonstrate that the Afrocentrist claim that the ancient African civilisation of Egypt predated Greece and was, in fact, the source of many Greek ideas, was false. Her ideas were contended and shown to be irrational and unsupported because the arguments laid out in her book were based on an Aryan idea that civilisation came first through the Greeks. The Afrocentrists showed that this was false. Indeed, Asa Hilliard, Theophile Obenga and Clyde Winters wrote brilliant essays contesting Lefkowitzs opinions (Asante & Mazama, 2003). Furthermore, Martin Bernals (l996) book, Black Athena , boldly asserted that there was an Afro-Asiatic base to Greek thought. In several debates with Lefkowitz I argued that her opinions were a part of the chauvinism of the West where there was a Greek for every door of knowledge. The very structure of the knowledge system in the West kept one from opening doors to Africa or Asia. An ancient Greek was behind every scientific or humanistic door. This was totally unreasonable and yet it had become the dominant ideology of Western education. Most of the pyramids in Egypt were completed by 2500 BC. Greece did not arrive in human history with any voice until the time of Homer around 900 BC. By the time of the Greeks it had been nearly 1500 years since the people in Africa had built the pyramids. In another study it would be easy to demonstrate that astronomy, sculpture, geometry, politics, medicine and philosophy originated in Egypt and was passed to the Greek students of the Africans beginning with Thales in 600 BC (Asante, 2001; Diop, 1974). Ruthless culturalism Ruthless culturalism is the promotion of the European American political ideal as the most correct form of human society. Any assault on this ideal is considered emotional, irrational and immoral. They defend this construct with numerous machinations of science, politics, statistics and literature. These mechanisms allow many ruthless culturalists to maintain their hegemonic imposition by creating symbolic, economic and cultural domination in most sectors of the society. Samuel Huntington (1993: 22), author of the book, The Clash of Civilization , presents an extensive account of this discourse. Huntingtons thesis claims great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. He argues that the world is divided into seven civilisations: Western, Latin American, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu and Slavic-Orthodox (Huntington, 1993: 26). In addition Africa was

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only viewed as a possible civilisation if an African consciousness was developed.

Resisting and Asserting


What is necessary for fullness in human society is the constant value of resisting domination while asserting common humanity. It is impossible for the rhetoric of globalisation to transform cultures into puppets of Eurocentricity where there is an active campaign of linguistic, philosophical and conceptual resistance. By asserting a common humanity we struggle against delusional and paranoid societies that seek domination. The two elements that work together to assure diverse and reliable discourse leading to the appreciation of human cultures are intuition and ritual; both are anti-Platonic and both are directly related to the subordination of the political to the natural. Thus, bringing into the discourse arena a tireless will to resist all forms of oppressive aggression and domination by an active ritualising of humanity and acceptance of natural intuition to fight for a common human future is the most positive approach to globalisation that seeks to institutionalise European domination. Correspondence Any correspondence should be directed to Dr Molefi Kete Asante, Department of African American Studies, Temple University, 1115 W. Berks Mall, Philadelphia, PA 19122, USA (masante@temple.edu). References
Ani, M. (1994) Yurugu. Lawrenceville, NJ: Africa World Press. Asante, M. (2003) Erasing Racism: The Survival of the American Nation . Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. Asante, M. (2001) The Painful Demise of Eurocentrism. Lawrenceville: Africa World Press. Asante, M. and Ama Mazama. (2002) Egypt vs. Greece and the American Academy. Chicago: AA Images. Chinweizu (1975) The West and the Rest of Us . Buffalo: Vintage. Cummings, J.F. (2006) How to Rule The World . Tokyo: Blue Ocean. Diop, C.A. (1974) The African Origin of Civilization. Chicago: Lawrence Hill. Frederici, S. (ed.) (2005) Enduring Western Civilization . Westport, CT: Praeger. Huntington, S. (1993) The clash of civilization. Foreign Affairs 72 (3). Lefkowitz, M. (1995) Not Out of Africa . New York: Oxford University Press.

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