The Instigator
joepbr
Con (against)
Tied
0 Points
The Contender
rross
Pro (for)
Tied
0 Points

The West (as a concept)

Do you like this debate?NoYes+1
Add this debate to Google Add this debate to Delicious Add this debate to FaceBook Add this debate to Digg  
Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 1 vote the winner is...
It's a Tie!
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/15/2014 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 998 times Debate No: 52524
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (5)
Votes (1)

 

joepbr

Con

In this debate, I intend to challenge the widespread belief in the existence of something called "western world", which comprises, exclusively, the nations of the western half of Europe, plus the Anglo-Saxon part of the Americas and Oceania.
I want to prove that there isn't a single element that can define the west while excluding all the rest of the world as a whole.
Since my intention is to disprove the definition of the west, I'll let my opponent provide such definition which in turn will be challenged by me.

I hope to provide an entertaining debate, that hopefully will instigate a broader discussion on this subject.
rross

Pro

Thank you to Con for this debate. I've heard this complaint about "the West" a few times in real life lately and so it will be good to clear up the issue once and for all.

"The West" originally referred to Western Europe, but after the age of European colonization, the idea was extended to include the countries colonized by Western Europe, where the the colonizers achieved and maintained a racial majority and cultural control.

For instance, Australia and New Zealand were colonized by Great Britain. English became the dominant language, and the majority of citizens are British descendants. Therefore, Australia and New Zealand are part of "the West" even though they are physically closer to Asia than Europe. The same can be said for the USA and Canada.

A lot of countries were colonized, but the invaders never achieved a population majority - India is a good example of this, and Indonesia. These countries are therefore not Western.

There are no French, Belgian, Dutch or German colonies where the invaders replaced the original population to the extent that the new culture could be called Western, as far as I know.

For instance, although Algeria was occupied by the French for over a century, nowadays 99% of the population is ethnically Arab-Berber. (1) South Africa was colonized for a long time by the Dutch and the British, but racially the population has always maintained an African majority (2), and so South Africa is not part of "the West".

The most notable non-European countries that are counted as "western" are all English speaking.


The West and Latin America

I think that disagreement about definitions of "the West" comes about in relation to Latin America.

If Spain and Portugal are part of Western Europe, then according to my definition above, most of Central and South America should be counted as Western, and they often aren't. Many countries in Latin America - such as Bolivia (3) - do not show a clear European cultural dominance, and so they wouldn't be counted as Western anyway. However, in others, notably Argentina (4), the original population was wiped out almost as completely as it was in countries like the USA and Australia.

However, Spain and Portugal are not always included in definitions Western Europe. For instance, Eurovoc does not include them in its definition of Western Europe (5), but rather in Southern Europe (6).

When I say not always, of course, they are sometimes included in the term Western Europe (for example, on this WTO report (7)). Therefore, I think that the term "western europe" is not fixed, but changes by context.

Similarly, I have sometimes heard people refer to South America as part of "the West". This too changes by context.

Summary

When Western Europe is defined along the lines set out in Eurovoc (5), then "the West" includes Western Europe and all colonies and ex-colonies of Western Europe where a clear cultural and racial majority was maintained by the European occupiers.


(1) https://www.cia.gov...;
(2) https://www.cia.gov...;
(3) https://www.cia.gov...
(4) https://www.cia.gov...
(5) http://eurovoc.europa.eu...
(6) http://eurovoc.europa.eu...
(7) http://www.wto.org...
Debate Round No. 1
joepbr

Con

I thank you pro, for accepting my challenge.

My opponent rightly asserts that the idea of the west originally referred only to western Europe, and it was only after the process of colonization that it was expanded to other areas, which are not necessarily located in the western part of the world, so, it's safe to assume that the west is not defined by mere geographic position.

However, pro fails to define what made Western Europe western in the first place. She argues that some colonized lands became western simply because they achieved a majority of English speaking and British descendent population, but if being British or speaking English is what makes you western, then there is no reason to consider anything other than the British isles as western in Western Europe. Pro doesn't provide any char
acteristic present in both the British isles (and by extension, its former colonies of British majority) and in the rest of Western Europe that allows us to assume, without any doubt, that they belong to one single group called "the West", while all other societies, lacking such characteristic, can't possibly be western.

Pro also argues that countries colonized by Spain and Portugal can't be considered western because in some cases, the Iberian Peninsula isn't included as part of Wester
n Europe. There are two major fallacies in this argument, first is the fact that pro is using an argument fundamentally based in geographic factors, even though we both agree that geography does not define the concept of the west. Besides, pro comes as far as to agree that the exclusion of Iberian countries from Western Europe isn't a consensus, and that the concept of Western Europe itself, and by extension, the West, "is not fixed, but changes by context" (in pro's own words). This can be highlighted by the fact that her own source (1)(2) arbitrarily includes Andorra, which is part of the Iberian Peninsula, in Western Europe. All of this is an strong argument to my side, once my whole intention in this debate is to prove that the idea of the West can't be objectively defined, and pro has just conceded by noticing that the West is a fundamentally subjective idea.


(1) http://eurovoc.europa.eu......
(2) http://eurovoc.europa.eu...;
rross

Pro

boundaries and prototypes

People can categorize things in different ways. Two main ways are by boundaries or by prototypes.

I would like to reference a book here, and because it may not be available to everyone online, I will quote the relevant paragraphs. Blount is discussing an influential study in the field of cognitive anthropology, which investigated the way cultures partition and label the color spectrum differently.

"Each individual was shown the color spectrum as illustrated on a chart containing "chips" (small squares), and was asked to draw on an acetate overlay a line around the range of the chips for each color term in their language, thereby illustrating a boundary. In addition, they were asked to identify the chip that was the best representative of the color indicated by the term, giving a focal point. The results were interesting. Individuals speaking the same language did not draw boundary lines consistently, and across time the same individual did not replicate accurately ther original boundary line. By contrast, the agreement on the focal color was much more consistent, both across individuals and by the same individual at different times. Cultural influence was on focal salience to a considerably greater extent than on boundaries.

The result of immediate interest here is that the reliance of speakers on focal salience raises the questions aout how domains and their classification are to be characterized. If they are not defined by boundaries, then what is the basis or bases for domain identification? Focal salience indicates that the color domain is partitioned...by focality, a relationship to central representative "objects" in this case focal color. This type of object and domain relationship eventually came to be called prototypes, in which a prototypical object becomes the focal point for domain membership of other, related objects." [1] pg.16

Thus, people may have a good idea about what "green" and "blue" are, but there is variation (even individual variation) in exactly where the boundary is drawn so that blue is on one side and green is on the other. There is a band of bluey-green and greeny-blue shades in between.

This does not mean, as Pro suggests, that green and blue are "fundamentally subjective" ideas. It just means that we define color in terms of closeness to a prototype rather than in terms of distinct boundaries.

In the same way, we recognize India, Pakistan and China as real countries that exist, even though the dispute over the borders in the Kashmir region have been going on for decades now. [2]

drawing boundaries and making formal rules about categories

Imagine we worked in some kind of industrial environment where items needed to be categorized as "green" or "blue" and we wanted to reduce variation and confusion in the way this categorization was done. The simplest way is to make a rule, such as wavelengths bigger or equal to 500 nm are green, smaller than 500nm are blue. And all the workers are obliged to comply.

In a different context, say, if we were concerned about color purity, we could define the wavelength ranges for blue and green more narrowly, cutting out entirely the cyan range in the middle.

These rules about boundaries are to some extent arbitrary, but nevertheless blue and green are real concepts, and there is a real difference between them.

the West is a prototype category

When people talk about "western society" they are talking about the beliefs, habits, norms and behaviors that are common to a particular and large group of people, and which correspond to particular geographical territories. Some members of this group are more obvious than others. For example, people in the US and UK are definitely part of western society.

Others are less obvious. What about people in Greece and Brazil? Are they western or not? Harder to say immediately, (although I think not). As I said before, those boundaries may shift, but the prototypes do not.

the resolution

In the resolution, Pro does not set out a prototypical definition of "the West" but rather defines the boundaries: "the nations of the western half of Europe, plus the Anglo-Saxon part of the Americas and Oceania."

He has called on me to justify these boundaries.

As I said in the previous round, they are consistent with Western Europe as defined by Eurovoc, as well as any colonies or ex-colonies of Western Europe where the occupiers have imposed and maintained cultural domination and a racial majority.

Because the concept of The West is prototypical rather than bounded, there may be disagreement over the exact placement of the boundaries. However, by no means does this "challenge the widespread belief in the existence of something called 'western world'" as Pro claims in round 1.


[1] http://books.google.com.au...
[2] http://www.economist.com...
Debate Round No. 2
joepbr

Con

In the last round, Pro brings an interesting element to discussion. Her idea of boundaries and prototypes seem quite convincing at first sight, but, with a deeper analysis, it’s not difficult to realize that those concepts can’t explain the idea of the West the same way they can explain colors, simply because, while you have objective ways of describing colors, especially those core prototypes, that can be objectively defined as “blue” or “green” without arbitrariness.

As pro states, it’s possible to draw a boundary between these colors on grounds of wavelength for practical effects, like in industry or academy, and also, it’s possible to find a certain wavelength value where there is no disagreement about whether it’s blue or green. This can’t be done with the West, because there is no a priori elements that can be used to measure the “Westerness” of a country, and no element that, when reaching a certain value can objectively describe a country as definitely western. Rather, when someone finds it necessary to describe the West in a more objective way, like in an academic works, the boundary is often drawn a priori, and the elements that are used to justify such a boundary are only set a posteriori.

This results in some weird chimeras, like in Samuel P. Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations”(1), where the Western Civilization includes Spain, Portugal, Italy, Poland, and even the Philippines. Huntington claims that the trait that can best define his civilizations is religion, and therefore, the element he uses to measure westerness is Christianity. However, when he tries to explain why Eastern Europe and Latin America were left aside a, he says that Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity, which dominates Latin America and Easter Europe, respectively, are different enough from Protestantism to form different civilizations from the West, yet, he makes no effort to explain why the catholic countries cited above were included in his West.

While explaining her prototypes theory, pro raises the possibility of treating prototype categories from a perspective of purity, which is basically idea of only considering those things that are undoubtedly considered blue or green, ignoring everything in the middle. Let's see what happens when we apply this idea of purity to the concept of Western Europe:


Pro uses Eurovoc definition of Western Europe, but there are many others, which can include or exclude different countries. To find a pure Western Europe, we must find the region that is consistently included in Western Europe in every major source, so, let's start with the CIA World Factbook's Western Europe: (2)
Western Europe, CIA World Factbook
That's right. Not only the Iberian Peninsula was excluded, but also Germany is considered in Central Europe instead of Western, so Germany is definitely not pure.
This is Central Europe According to Alice F. A. Mutton (3):
File:Central Europe (by A.Mutton).PNG
The Benelux is out too. Now, let's see what's the UN's verdict (4):

Yes, that's what you are seeing: the UN doesn't consider Britain a Western European nation, but rather Northern European - Together with Scandinavia and the Baltic nations, so they are also not pure. Their former colonies, obviously, have the same fate.

The only country left now is France.

After a deep analysis on Western Europe, we have come to the ridiculous conclusion that France is the only country can be considered definitely Western, and even then, not entirely (Alsace and Lorraine are in Central Europe in my second example). I wouldn't say this is arbitrary "to some extent". This is the epitome of arbitrariness.

Now, I must admit, Pro outsmarted people like Samuel Huntington when she refused to fall on my trap by answering my request to justify the boundaries of the West with objective definitions and characteristics that are exclusive to the West. She didn't go further than some abstract concepts like "beliefs, habits, norms and behaviors", but if she had dared to define any specific belief, habit, norm and behavior she believes that defines the West, it wouldn't be had to find a series of nations that are not considered western by any standard that still embrace those elements just as much as any average Western nation, or nations that are considered definitely Western that don't present enough of those elements to be Western.

Here is a list of the elements that are commonly used to describe the West and lists of nations that could be included or excluded from the West if they are considered:

1) Religion: Basically, Huntington's theory: the West as a synonym of Christendom:
Countries included: All of Latin America, Eastern Europe (Except for Bosnia and Albania), the Philippines and a great deal of Africa.
If the West is equated to Protestant Christendom, as Huntington considers, not only southern Europe would be excluded, but, ironically, France too - the country we just proved to be the only purely Western one!!

2) Language: The West as countries with native European languages.
This definition would not just include all of the Americas, but Persian, Hindi and Urdu are languages of the same trunk as the majority of European languages, while Finnish and Hungarian are not.

3) Economy: The West as a synonym for the developed world.
Many Asian countries, specially Japan, are among the most developed countries in the world.

4) Politics: The West as the countries under democratic regimes.
There is a long list of countries that could be added to the list, going from South Korea to Botswana and Costa Rica to Indonesia.

5) Race/Ethnicity: Countries with a majority of ethnically white population.
This wouldn't just include the entire Eastern Europe in the West, as it would make Russia and Argentina more Western than the USA.

6) Ideology: This was the definition used during the Cold War: The West was the developed capitalist world, and the East was the Communist Block.
In the years immediately following the fall of the Berlin wall, most communist countries abandoned that ideology. Only a handful of countries kept the regime, but even those have adopted market economies. It could be said that Cuba is the only truly communist country left.

As you can see, all of those elements that could potentially be used to measure the westerness of countries, like wavelengths can measure the "blueness" or the "greenness" of colors fail miserably in conforming to the predefined boundaries of what is expected to be the "definitely western world". The only thing that can sustain the existence in the West is the fact that people believe that it exists. Since unfounded beliefs can't be treated objectively, there is no reason to consider the existence of is any trace of objectiveness in the concept of Western World.

Having said that, I believe I have substantially proved the resolution. My opponent, on the other hand, proved to be a great debater, however, she can't prove the unprovable.

Therefore, vote Con.

Notes:
a He says that there is a possibility that they can be part of the West, but doesn't work on this idea and treat them as non-western nevertheless.

Sources:

(1) http://books.google.com.br...
(2) https://www.cia.gov...
(3) http://books.google.com.br...
(4) https://unstats.un.org...

rross

Pro

Thank you to Con for this interesting debate on the existence of "the West". Actually, I wish the debate were a bit longer, because there are more elements to discuss I think, but we're already at the final round.

Summary

In round 1, Con challenged the existence of the Western World. He argued that because the boundaries of "the West" cannot be easily defined, that its very existence be called into question.

However, as I have explained, "the West" is a prototypical category rather than a bounded one. Even though its borders are difficult to define in absolute terms, it still exists.

Lots of categories are prototypical rather than bounded. For example, "nerds" and "Asians" are prototypical categories. We all know nerds and Asians when we see them, and some people are obviously neither, yet a distinct and absolute boundary between "nerds" and "not nerds", for example, would be controversial and difficult to define.

The Western World

Last round, I explained that "the Western World" refers to the beliefs, habits, norms and behaviors that are common to a particular and large group of people - to a general culture, in other words.

Con has criticized this because, he says, no single element of culture is definitive of "the West". He gives examples of religion, language, economy, politics, race and ideology.

It's an interesting argument, which echoes argument I've heard before that there is no such thing as culture. And to some extent, this is true. Culture is not a thing that roams about the globe affecting people. Rather, there are individuals, and individuals who live in close proximity to each other tend to behave and think in compatible or similar ways, but it's only an outsider who will look at patterns of behavior and label it as culture. Some people have gone so far to suggest that the idea of culture only exists in relation to an out-group of some kind.

We can see elements of this in relation to the definition of "the Western World". Even using the term brings to mind the existence of countries and people who are not in "the West". Often the term is deliberately used to exclude them. For instance, you might hear someone say, "In Western Society, women often leave home and live by themselves or with friends before they get married." What that person means is that it may not be acceptable for a woman to do so in other societies.

Pro's argument would be that this characteristic does not define the Western World, that there are other countries where women tend to to the same. This is true. It's kind of like my example of nerds before. Nerds aren't the only ones to get good marks, be interested in technology, read books for pleasure, have bad hair and use pocket protectors. All those qualities can be observed in the population as a whole. Nevertheless, it's a particular combination of qualities, behaviors and social associations that makes a person identifiable as a nerd.


The West really does exist

The West exists in the same way as the Middle East exists. The Middle East can be categorized in any number of ways (1,2,3,4). Cyrus, Egypt, Sudan, Pakestan, and Afghanistan may or may not be included, for example, not to mention Palestine/the West Bank/Gaza (I'm totally confused about how to refer to it, having been told off both ways now).

Nevertheless, it is a real concept. It would be ridiculous and laborsome to refer to a list of countries every time we wanted to talk about politics or society in the region. It's reasonable to group countries together that share similar qualities and refer to them as a group.

The countries of Western Europe (including the UK), the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, have lots of social qualities in common (due to historical and genetic ties) and are often aligned politically, so it is sometimes convenient to be able to refer to them as a category.


Subjectivity and categories

Con has said several times that the West is a "subjective" category. I suggest that all categories are subjective, to some extent. For example, to go back to the color analogy, the category of "green" comprises an infinite array of wavelengths (eg, 5). It's "subjective" and "arbitary" to create a category called "green" and to communicate that category with other humans. The same is true with other prototypical categories such as "fruit" and "furry things".

These categories only exist to the extent that we believe in them, as Con says. Nevertheless, I suggest that these categories are real in a human sense. After all, there is no reality except that which we perceive and share. We perceive and share the idea of "green" and also the idea of "the West". If we accept that our shared perceptions of reality count for something (a fairly basic assumption) then we can accept that the West does indeed exist.


(1) http://www.britannica.com...
(2) https://www.cia.gov...
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org...
(4) http://www.worldatlas.com...
(5) http://2000thingswpf.files.wordpress.com...
Debate Round No. 3
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by wrichcirw 3 years ago
wrichcirw
"Noo. It's like I said in the debate: just because there are shades of greeny-blue doesn't mean green and blue don't exist."

But here's the thing - Let's say you had a wolf in sheep's clothing, and everyone thought it was a sheep. Well, those people obviously don't know a wolf when they see one, yes?

---

"Well, you could talk about the region, like "East Asia" or "Western Europe"."

"But why should I have to? "

But why wouldn't you? I mean, my response was a reply to the statement "It would be ridiculous and laborsome to refer to a list of countries every time we wanted to talk about politics or society in the region."

IMHO it would be ridiculous to talk about politics or society in a region without referencing the region.

---

"And in any case, as we both agreed in the debate, we're not really talking about geographical boundaries, so your substitution would change the meaning."

That's because CON's position was all about debunking the myth that "the West" referred to geography at all.

---

"I suppose this can be confusing if we're used to thinking of States in terms of boundaries, but something like "the West" is a prototype category."

Yeah I think this is where I got tripped up. Blount mentioned a "chart" whereas we're talking about "maps".

---

Well, regardless, I think both of you met burden for what you thought the resolution was supposed to be - CON proved that "the West" is a nebulous concept without strict geographic borders, and PRO proved that "the West" does exist in some form or another. This debate really got tripped up by a lack of focus on exactly what the debate was supposed to be about.
Posted by rross 3 years ago
rross
@wrichcirw

"This is a contradictory statement. If you cannot draw a "distinct and absolute boundary between 'nerds' and 'not nerds'", then you do not know a nerd when you see one."

Noo. It's like I said in the debate: just because there are shades of greeny-blue doesn't mean green and blue don't exist. If there's someone who's really into physics and maths but at the same time is fashionable and plays sport, is she a nerd? People may disagree. Does that mean that nerdship doesn't exist at all, just because there are elements that are difficult to categorize? (the answer is no)

"Well, you could talk about the region, like "East Asia" or "Western Europe"."

But why should I have to? And in any case, as we both agreed in the debate, we're not really talking about geographical boundaries, so your substitution would change the meaning.

"I had a LOT of trouble conceptualizing PRO's arguments. Were the "chips" actually part of the legend?"

What legend? The "chips" were squares of color on a sheet. Something like this, I imagine, but just shades of the colors being compared.

http://sublimated.com.au...

" Is there a chip in England and a chip in Germany? Why or why not?"

The experiment Blount was describing only did colors. But they took them to different cultures, because the way people divide the color spectrum into categories depends on culture and language.

More importantly for the debate, categorization is processed by comparing the element to be categorized in terms of its similarity to available prototypes rather than its position in relation to a boundary.

I suppose this can be confusing if we're used to thinking of States in terms of boundaries, but something like "the West" is a prototype category.

Con argued that there's no single prototype point for "the West" as there is for a color category. And that's true and interesting. I guess prototypes can sometimes be diffuse.
Posted by rross 3 years ago
rross
Thanks joepbr. I think you did fine creating the debate. When I said I wanted more rounds, I just meant that it was an interesting topic and there was more to say. I meant it in a good way.

Yeah, voting on this site is unpredictable. Sometimes people vote, sometimes they don't. :)
Posted by wrichcirw 3 years ago
wrichcirw
Some notes:

"We all know nerds and Asians when we see them, and some people are obviously neither, yet a distinct and absolute boundary between "nerds" and "not nerds", for example, would be controversial and difficult to define."

This is a contradictory statement. If you cannot draw a "distinct and absolute boundary between 'nerds' and 'not nerds'", then you do not know a nerd when you see one.

---

"Nerds aren't the only ones to get good marks, be interested in technology, read books for pleasure, have bad hair and use pocket protectors. All those qualities can be observed in the population as a whole."

rofl, pocket protectors are not something that can be observed in the population as a whole. Hell I don't even know what the function of a pocket protector is supposed to be or why I would ever buy one.

---

"It would be ridiculous and laborsome to refer to a list of countries every time we wanted to talk about politics or society in the region."

Well, you could talk about the region, like "East Asia" or "Western Europe".

---

I was really convinced of CON's argumentation on nearly every point except exactly what this debate was about (which is kind of important, lol).

I had a LOT of trouble conceptualizing PRO's arguments. Were the "chips" actually part of the legend? Apparently not, since you were supposed to draw borders around them. How many chips were there? Is there a chip in England and a chip in Germany? Why or why not? etc...
Posted by joepbr 3 years ago
joepbr
Thanks rross, I think this was a great debate. Maybe I should have added more rounds, I'm new here, so I'm still trying to understand how to deal with creating a debate. Now I wonder if anyone will actually care about reading and voting on this debate, it doesn't seem to have attracted the attention of many so far.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by wrichcirw 3 years ago
wrichcirw
joepbrrrossTied
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:--Vote Checkmark3 points
Used the most reliable sources:--Vote Checkmark2 points
Total points awarded:00 
Reasons for voting decision: hmmm...I didn't realize how much I wanted to read about this topic until I read this debate (that's supposed to be a high compliment especially in regards to the substance of this debate). However, the debate suffered from an unclear resolution - PRO apparently wanted to argue the of "existence of something called "western world"", whereas CON wanted to argue the lack of "existence of something called "western world", which comprises, exclusively, the nations of the western half of Europe, plus the Anglo-Saxon part of the Americas and Oceania." Therefore, it's impossible to determine a winner, especially given the ambiguity of the title. Overall, I found that I have a conception of the West much more aligned with economics, and would consider Japan to indeed be part of the West. I could not visualize PRO's prototype rendition no matter how many times I read the Blount quote.