Anti-Colonial Decolonized Universal History (Part 2)

What if I told you that virtually everything you’ve been taught about European and American history is false? What if I said that far from leading human development in the fields of science, industry, culture, philosophy, and religion, Europeans and their American cousins have on a world scale been marginal and unoriginal?

What if you were told instead that African, Arab, Persian, Chinese, and indigenous peoples across the planet have demonstrated superior intelligence, more scientific originality, greater technological proficiency, and deeper spirituality than their western counterparts?

Well, believe it or not, those are the conclusions of critical thinkers in the Global South. As I pointed out in a recent posting, the latter are reconceptualizing and debunking Euro-Centric colonized history. In the process, they put Europeans and American “achievements” in their proper place as minor, derivative and ultimately destructive.

I’m referring to critical thinking specialists like Franz Hinkelammert of Costa Rica, Enrique Dussel of Argentina, and Ramon Grosfoguel of Puerto Rico. [The first (age, 91) is a colleague of mine; the second (age, 87) was my teacher in Brazil in 1984]. The work of all three centralize liberation theology.  

Together with other Global South philosophers, sociologists, political scientists, economists, and theologians, they are inviting the rest of us to understand that the history we’ve been taught is narrow and misleading. It falsely presents as “universal” the historical experiences of nations and cultures that globally are of marginal importance at best. At worst, they are larcenous and plagiarist.

According to the thinkers I’m referencing, Eurocentric history has become universalized only because of its imposition on richer more original cultures through the militarized processes of imperial colonialism. All of us are its victims.

Euro-centric Fake History

For instance, westerners are taught that philosophy surfaced for the first time in “ancient” Greece six centuries before the dawn of the Common Era. It was only then that ideas of universal good, justice, and democracy came to be thought about in systematic ways.

None of that is true according to the thinkers referenced here. Philosophy and concern for universal values emerged not in Greece, but in the more ancient centers of learning located in Egypt, among African Bantu peoples, in ancient Babylon (modern Iraq), and eventually in China, India, as well as among Native Peoples in Abya Yala (the Americas). (The latter, by the way, were all immigrants from Asia. They brought with them their essentially Asian values.)

Take, for instance, the concept of justice. It was enshrined in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE). The latter defined justice as caring for widows, orphans, the poor, and immigrants. That is, justice centralized not one’s own spouse, but that of others; not one’s own child, but the abandoned children of others; not members of the royal household, but those without material resources; not one’s own people, but foreign residents. That understanding of the good was adopted a thousand years later by, for instance, the prophetic tradition of ancient Israel, including the Jewish prophet Yeshua of Nazareth.

Anti-Colonial History

To counter western misconceptions, critical thinkers from the Global South paint a new anti-colonial and decolonized picture of humankind’s origins. It recognizes the African beginnings of homo sapiens (300,00 years ago) and its eastward movement from Africa with its Bantu and Egyptian cultures to the ancient cities of Babylon (modern Iraq) to Arabia, India, China, across the Bering Straits to Turtle Island and then southward all the way to Tierra del Fuego. To this ancient human migration, Europe and the Mediterranean cultures were comparative latecomers and quite marginal until about 140 years ago.

This of course runs counter to Eurocentric narratives like that of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) who found the roots of human culture in the Mediterranean, in 5th century (BCE) Athens while denigrating Far Eastern cultures like China’s as infantile, prescientific, and morally deficient. In fact, however, the Mediterranean was nothing more than the center of a marginal (and comparatively inferior) culture. 

By way of contrast, critical historians like Dussel point out that:

  • Egyptian philosophers anticipated the analysis, theories, and insights of Aristotle and Plato 3000 years before the latter’s’ celebrated writings.
  • Ancient Babylon (modern Iraq) represents one of the world’s oldest settlements. Bagdad is perhaps the most sacred city in world history – much more important than Rome, London, or Berlin. (It and its historical relics were absolutely destroyed by 21st century barbarians and iconoclasts led by George W. Bush. According to Dussel, that destruction was a worse tragedy than would have been the levelling of all three European cities just mentioned.)
  • The “West” owes a huge debt of gratitude to Islamic science which was not inhibited by Roman Catholicism’s fundamentalism and anti-science dogma. As a result, during Christianity’s “dark ages,” Islam experienced a Golden Age that spread learning across Eurasia from the Atlantic to the Pacific and up into the Philippines. It’s no accident, for instance, that Europeans ended up using Arabic numbers. They were invented by Arabs in Bagdad, not in Paris. Moreover, Copernicus “discovered” what Islamic astronomers had known for 600 years. And the Pythagorean theorem was not invented by Pythagoras in Greece, but by Syrian scholars 1000 years earlier.
  • The Chinese had their own versions of the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution long before Europe’s. In fact, the Renaissance began in China. Already by 1463 Chinese scholars began translating Plato from Greek to Latin. Geniuses like Leonardo DaVinci depended heavily upon and even merely copied the insights already elaborated in Chinese tomes.
  • Chinese scholars had invented paper in the 6th century CE, the printing press in the 8th century, and paper money in the 9th. (The printing press wasn’t “invented” in Europe until 1436.)
  • Already in 1434, a delegate from China appeared in the court of Eugenio IV in Florence with books presenting profound treatises on astronomy, agricultural tools, and military weapons.
  • Throughout the Middle Ages, Europe was completely dependent on China for fine textiles such a silk. Kings and queens ate and drank from Chinese porcelain (“China”).
  • In 1870, China produced more steel than England and the United States combined. Chinese engineers traveled to Sheffield to teach industrialists there how to make steel.

Western Distortions

The West’s so-called Enlightenment specifically targeted the insights just cited as backward and belonging to “Dark Ages.” Enlightenment thinking sought a completely new beginning divorced from a “superstitious” past.

By the same token, it rejected Hammurabi’s Code as the product of an era superstitiously thought to be governed by gods and goddesses through their priests, temples, and cathedrals. All of that was eventually rejected as unenlightened.

Ironically, however, ancient religious ideas were merely swapped for more destructive modern ones. The gods of the Dark Ages were replaced by a new God called “Market” – a true fetish in the sense of “an inanimate object worshipped for its supposed magical powers or because it is considered to be inhabited by a spirit.”

Far from decreeing concern for widows and orphans, the poor and strangers, a fetishized Market demanded their rejection as unworthy and disposable. The Market god’s idea of justice continues to demand self-centeredness. Its “invisible hand” gives everyone their due even if it means their (deserved) destruction and that of the natural environment required to support life itself. The outworkings of market are final, infallible, and therefore beyond question.

According to Global South critical thinkers, it is that god and that theology that are responsible for modern “inquisitions,” wars, nuclear brinksmanship, mass extinctions, and environmental omnicide.

Conclusion

All of this means that:

  • American “exceptionalism” and its older European counterpart are true largely in the negative sense that both Europe and “America” were long excepted (absent) from the antecedent intellectual, industrial, and spiritual achievements of superior and more original cultures.        
  • The “history” we’ve been taught is filled with lies and omissions. It is ideological in the sense that it has been fabricated to support economic, political, and social structures responsible for transferring knowledge and wealth from universal history’s most productive peoples who are not white Europeans. Rather, they are Egyptians, Persians, Chinese, Muslim Arabs, and the indigenous descendants of Asian migrants in Abya Yala.
  • Western insistence on “intellectual property” is disingenuous. For centuries, Europeans have appropriated (mostly without attribution) ideas and productive processes that have originated in much older cultures now accused of “stealing” what originated with them. In fact, ALL of the great “European” inventions of the 18th and 19th centuries (including the steam engine) were anticipated elsewhere.
  • In all of this, religion (far from irrelevant and transcended by secularism) has been and continues to be central. To begin with, the claim that God exclusively revealed himself (sic) to Europeans through institutions such as the Catholic Church (and later by Reformation national churches) delegitimized more ancient and more deeply spiritual traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Beyond that, capitalism with its fetishized Market God has been responsible for far more barbaric deaths than the much-maligned War Deity of the Old Testament.
  • The Chinese People’s Republic is no upstart. It’s “miracle” is no miracle. Instead, current developments represent a 6000-year-old cultural, industrial, and mercantile leader reassuming its accustomed place of world leadership.
  • Haitian filmmaker, Raoul Peck’s summary of European history’s three basic points is correct. He described them as (1) “Civilization” (i.e., white supremacy), (2) colonialism, and (3) extermination.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

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