Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tribal, But Not Simplistic

Tribal Europe became strong during the last centuries of the Roman empire. The Goths had a literary culture by 350 A.D., and subdivided into Visigoths and Ostrogoths. The Franks would ultimately be the most influential tribe, forming the basis of modern Europe; they emerged from their homeland (“Franconia” or “Frankenland”), in the area which is now on the German/Czech border.

The tribes began in the area north of the Danube and east of the Rhein, the cradle of Europe, and expanded as Roman influence imploded. These ancient tribes originally engaged in pagan polytheism; consider the close parallels between Norse mythology, Greco-Roman mythology, and Hinduism.

The major European tribal groupings (Germanic, Latin, Greek, Slavic) are siblings to the Persian/Iranian and Sanskrit groupings. Thus “western” culture has some surprising ties to the East.

But Arabic, Hebrew, Egyptian, and other Semitic cultural and genetic groups are not siblings of the Europeans. The eventual spread of monotheism and respect for human life represent the impact of Semitic thought on the Indo-European stock.

Europeans were all originally polytheistic. As the tribes switched from semi-nomadic to domestic lifestyles, the empire of the Franks emerged into dominance; the Merovingian and Carolinian dynasties would lead.

Europeans thus represent a mixed heritage; while the European languages are rather similar to Sanskrit, the moral and spiritual world view is Hebrew. Perhaps this is the source of the fact that “western” cultures are non-xenophobic, while “non western” cultures are xenophobic.

But the problem with this generalization is, as we have seen, it is difficult to define precisely which cultures are to be considered “western” and which are “non western”. The huge distance, in miles, between England and India shows us how far these tribes, originally living together, migrated.

The bottom line: European cultures have demonstrated a consistent openness to other civilizations, while the xenophobia of non-European traditions has led them to lock out foreign influences. Only in the twentieth century did significant numbers of non-European cultures begin to open themselves to other civilizations.