Hordes of tourists are seen at Maya Bay on Phi Phi Island, which is part of a national park south of Phuket and part of Krabi province. Photo: Phalinn Ooi/Flickr

It’s astonishing how little the West really knows of the East. It’s astounding how little the West respects the East therefore, persisting in the patterns of colonialism, of being the colonial masters toward the world and toward the East in particular.


So if only more people in the West knew more of the old texts, the old scriptures of philosophical and religious background of the East, more people in the West would deeply respect Asian cultures and would realize that the East has so much more to offer than nice beaches and bustling metropolises, known for skyscrapers, business, cuisine, and technology.

One reason for that lack of knowledge is that despite the glorified knowledge society, only the very few have become culturally sensitive, cross-culturally competent over it, as most who do business with the East have not been trained in this kind of cross-culturalism, but only in doing business.

Frankly, most of the Westerners traveling to the East are not philosophers, anthropologists, sinologists and the like, but rather economists and businesspeople, only interested in doing business with Asia and mainly in exploiting as many resources they can get their hands on, whether it is in nature or on people in terms of cheap labor.

Oh, I forgot to mention an important group of Westerners roaming around Asia: The Western Tourists, who are also known for their cultural sensitivity (caution: irony), whether they are going for yoga or health treatments to India or Sri Lanka, or for martial arts to Japan, Korea or China, or for exploring nature, the jungle or the Himalayas, or for culinary adventures or shopping sprees to the cities, or hanging out on the beaches in resorts. Their influence is only surpassed by those who are literally stationed in barracks, bunkers and bases, in a sense reminding of tourist contingents in their resorts, but instead are called soldiers.

One has in mind the extended US military presence in Asia, whether it is in the Middle East, on Diego Garcia, in the Philippines or Okinawa, or in South Korea. Despite the US military being kicked out of Vietnam after the French were driven away, the ripple effects on the civilian population are still to be felt and hanging over the whole region like fog. And then there is the British colonial footprint on India, a former imperial system of its own with a lot of rajas and maharajas, nowadays still a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and the “largest democracy on Earth.”

In Asia one can find many established political systems based on European ideologies, ranging from communism to capitalism, especially over the past century, or a combination of both, particularly in China since the 1980s with its economic success. And in many other Asian countries it worked out as well to pick the best political systems or syncretize the best elements for the wealth of their people.

I don’t want to exclude the role of global media, the majority of proponents of mainstream media, if you will, who reduce their view and therefore their viewers’ and readers’ view to economy and sports, the two driving forces of competition, reducing the whole narrative to what media think the people want to know.

But although media might be mostly right in their assessment of “sports” and “economy,” it is also interesting that nuanced documentaries about the East are mostly aired in the West in the dead of night, officially not to bother people with too much information about cultural backgrounds and history in broad daylight.

It seems that through this irresponsible media policy of infantilizing the people, only oriented on the presumed intellectual level of the majority of media consumers and their lack of knowledge of cultural backgrounds of the East, media moguls want to disguise the fact that they themselves are not overly interested in these sort of cultural reflections, being businesspeople themselves and not philosophers, anthropologists, sinologists and the like.

If generally businesspeople in the West learned more – or even anything – about the old scriptures and the rich cultural backgrounds of the East and were not only geared toward the natural riches of Asia, we would have a more respectful way of doing business

So when media moguls obviously overlook or deliberately calculate that “sports” and “economy,” with their focus on competition, are their major horses in the race, they foster modern warfare. Large parts of the media are fueled by these. And when all is said and done, meaning when they outperform the competition, the men and women of the world are into living like kings and a queens, rewarding themselves with luxury vacations in the Emirates.

As for economy, conducted with this kind of aggressive, expansive, and still entrenched colonial thinking patterns, economists with the help of global media act like Western colonial masters in their approach to the East.

Therefore, if generally businesspeople in the West learned more – or even anything – about the old scriptures and the rich cultural backgrounds of the East and were not only geared toward the natural riches of Asia, we would have a more respectful way of doing business, of interacting with one another, that differed from the “locust globalism” of exploiting everything in its way.

So it might be a good start if Westerners learned more – or even anything – about their own history first, before going East. But the biggest challenge in cross-cultural understanding between East and West is perhaps the still stark dichotomy between Western languages on one side, standardized and based on the Latin alphabet, and on the other side the various languages across Asia, where many countries from the Middle East over India to East Asia use their own languages with very different characters, such as Arabic, Chinese, Korean and Japanese.

Interestingly, to bridge the gap between these different cultures, English could serve them – as it does in India – as a lingua franca, as a working language in business, science and tourism, connecting the world like no other language.

Ironically, because of colonial times, more than French, Spanish, Dutch or Portuguese, the English language has taken the lead as a lingua franca in Asia, although the still existing resentments against English in some Asian countries can be seen as an indicator for resistance against British-American cultural imperialism or neo-colonialism.

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Immanuel Fruhmann

Dr. Dr. phil. Immanuel Fruhmann is an Austrian philosopher and educationist specialized in philosophy of science and language, cultural and social philosophy, as well as adult education, with years of experience in analysis of geopolitics and giving philosophical and educational insights to the public. He is psychotherapist in training and works as coach and consultant as well as writer. Fruhmann is a Knight of the Order of St George, a European Order of the Imperial House of Habsburg-Lorraine,...

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