Monday, January 16, 2012

Western Thought

Outside of the project I'm reading an interesting book called 'Blue Latitudes' by Tony Horowitz. The author decided to travel to the various places where the explorer Captain Cook had gone. The entire thing is worth reading but this section on Tonga caught my eye.
Tonga is somewhat unique in Polynesia in that it was never colonized. Instead the Tongans consciously imitated British culture and reinforced their existing setup. The result was a continued monarchy and set of feudal lords. Tonga is fairly wealthy but has quite a bit of squalor at the low ends. With this in mind, Horowitz visited a maverick school there called 'Atenesi' which is Tongan for 'Athens'. He intereviewed the headmaster, an amazing man named Futa Helu. This paragraph stuck out at me:

"Western Europe had the seed of the greeks," he said, "while in Polynesia
criticism has never been encouraged. We are trying to change
that. There are enough automatons already in Tonga." Futa clearly wasn't
one of them. "We are what anthropologists call a shame culture. People spend
their time polishing their personal and family image, they don't want to lose
face or security. The church and nobility exploit this."

Is that the great gift of the Greeks? Social permission to criticize?

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