Of Clashes and Renaissances, again and again…and a little sugar

That number one cheerleader for the ‘Asian Renaissance’ is at it again, waving and twirling his poms-poms like an over-enthusiastic high-schooler.


Let me begin with an extreme and provocative point to get the argument going: Francis Fukuyama’s famous essay “The End of History” may have done some serious brain damage to Western minds in the 1990s and beyond.

Mr. Fukuyama should not be blamed for this brain damage. He wrote a subtle, sophisticated and nuanced essay. However, few Western intellectuals read the essay in its entirety. Instead, the only message they took away were two phrases: namely “the end of history” equals “the triumph of the West.”

Western hubris was thick in the air then. I experienced it. For example, in 1991 I heard a senior Belgian official, speaking on behalf of Europe, tell a group of Asians, “The Cold War has ended. There are only two superpowers left: the United States and Europe.”

This hubris also explains how Western minds failed to foresee that instead of the triumph of the West, the 1990s would see the end of Western domination of world history (but not the end of the West) and the return of Asia.

-Kishore Mahbubani

Sigh…not that same old tune again, Kishore.
How many times can one flog that tired and actually dead horse — Fukuyama’s “The End of History” and Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations.

A quicker and definitely more satisfying way to end this tired debate may be for Fukuyama, Huntington (though now deceased) and Mahbubani to climb into an octagon ring and simply duke it out. And of course, with Amartya Sen running in halfway to jump in the melee, all the while proclaiming: “There is NO Asian Values!”

While the esteemed gentlemen engage themselves thus, here is another perspective:


[…] the importance of Etzioni’s contributions in identifying the schism as occurring within rather than between civilizations, as Samuel Huntington’s (1996) thesis would have us believe. Although significant for drawing attention to the return of nonmaterial factors to the political sphere, Huntington’s thesis is deeply flawed. It etched a line in the sand that subsequently hardened, and one can validly question the extent to which predictions have become self-fulfilling prophecies. There is now an unhealthy propensity to see all quarrels, big or small, as part of a larger clash of civilizations. Etzioni’s redrawing of the fault line allows for a more accurate assessment of friend and foe and for appropriate strategies to be adopted for each.

-L. Kuok

If I am not mistaken, Ms. Kuok may be a fellow schoolmate from a long time ago. A fair review of the regional dynamics, of unapologetic ‘illiberal moderates’ and some possible touchpoints for policy engagement, but nothing really groundbreaking in the paper actually. Still, an interesting work, especially the portion on Malaysia; considering how the author may be a third generation member of the Asia Sugar King’s clan and its fortunes.


2 thoughts on “Of Clashes and Renaissances, again and again…and a little sugar

  1. The world is shrinking, Don. I remember while growing up we were kids from Arabkir (a part of Yerevan – capital of Armenia) and there were those from Zeitun, etc. Then we were those from Yerevan vs. the ones from the regions. Then we were those from Armenia vs. the ones from other Soviet republics. Then we were those from former Soviet Union vs. others. East vs. the West, etc. etc. When do you think we’ll stop thinking in terms of ourselves belonging to one group or another? In the constant struggle to be accepted, we find ourselves creating the society that categorizes, and divides. I like the point about these people jumping into the octagon. I wish all conflicts would get resolved that way instead of risking the lives of so many in the octagon of real war.

  2. ld,

    Yes, this is really a curious topic to consider, as you said, “we find ourselves creating the society that categorizes, and divides”.
    Whether we be influenced by Aristotlelian categori-zing, or are holding aloft the razor of ol’ Willie of Ockham (poor Willie, so often misquoted and misused/misapplied), or indeed even attempting to perform very rational Dedekind cuts;
    the foremost question(s) is – where and with what do we make the cuts/divisions ?

    And hearkening to what you said above and what we mused upon previously, is the world really shrinking, that is, “the history of the human race (what we know so far at least) has been one of increasing inter-group exchanges” ?
    Is the ‘global village’ really a modern in-progress phenomenon a la “this seeming inevitable simultaneous ‘entropy’ of human identities” ?
    Or perhaps rather than a entropic linearity from a Begining to an End, we are simply coming round to full circle, again…

    After all, whether our persuasion and first principles be of evolutionary genetics (all hail from the same one ‘primordial ancestor’) or of immanent creationism (Genesis 1:27), the first ‘global village’ had already existed aeons ago, when the first Man and Woman took their first steps out of that african eden garden, clothed only in fig leaves and animal skin.

    At which point does that first adamic two-person village outside of eden, become the ‘global village’ of today… ?


    [An arbitrage process of the grandest human scale, possibly fed by non-entropic asymmetric and additive ‘punctures’ (a storehouse of eternal souls? or a recycling of reincarnated sentient beings? )… and still on-going…

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