To be treated as equals to the West, the Global South must decolonize its minds What does the Decline of the West mean? – Аndrew Sheng of The Statesman asks. (How to decolonize minds – The Statesman) After Ukraine and Gaza, the line between the West and the Rest (what is today called the Global South) has been drawn clearer and clearer. In Ukraine, the West expected the Rest to support its principled stance in fighting for national sovereignty, freedom to choose and against aggression from neighbours. They were surprised that the Rest did not fall in line, with many abstaining from taking sides. In abandoning diplomacy and balance in favour of weaponizing everything, the collective West (America, Europe, Japan and Australia) is increasingly isolating itself from the Rest, divided into the East (strangely grouped as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea) and the Global South, comprising those countries that refuse to be aligned either to the East or the West.
Today’s modernity is clearly associated with the West, which has set the scientific, educational and cultural standards since the 15th century, when Portuguese and Spanish explorers opened up the Americas, Africa and Asian maritime trade routes. Colonization became a land and power grab by Europeans against the Rest, with the use of superior military firepower, energy and industrial and financial technology. This power grab continued to the 20th century, with Belgium taking Congo as late as 1908, the Philippines by the United States in 1906, whilst the Italians tried to colonize parts of Ethiopia in the 1930s.
When the United States took over the global hegemon mantle from the British empire after the end of the Second World War, many former colonies bought the neoliberal ideology that free trade and markets, democracy, rule of law and equality would be a universal creed for all nations and cultures. That naïve belief ended when inequality within the West itself widened, even as the gap with the Rest narrowed. Neoliberal idealism shattered as the West’s middle class began to turn toward protectionism, industrial policy and in the case of Israel, military occupation and subjugation of Palestinian rights.
The Palestinian-American father of post-colonial studies, Edward Said says: “Part of the main plan of imperialism…is that we will give you your history, we will write it for you, we will reorder the past…What’s more truly frightening is the defacement, the mutilation and ultimately, the eradication of history in order to create…an order that is favourable to the United States.”
Mental colonization, which is the ultimate aim of imperialism, is reached when the colonized, slave or vassal believe that the imperial power is superior to his or her own culture. Mental slavery is more frightening than physical slavery. But as rock-star Homo Sapiens historian Yuval Noah Harari said, artificial intelligence (AI) is all about mental colonization, when the private or state-run platform knows more about you than you yourself, and influences your likes, dislikes, and future.
Decolonization means different things to different peoples, depending on their own colonial or nearcolonial history. For indigenous people like the Maoris in New Zealand, it means remembering the cruel past of taking their lands and rights and at a minimum restoring their dignity in today’s laws. In former colonies like India and South Africa, the British “Raj” mentality is being replaced by home grown narratives in which the country seeks “strategic autonomy” in foreign affairs and greater sovereignty (some call it nationalism) in owning data and developing control or regulation over generative AI. No one has total sovereignty when a few platforms can use AI to obtain full data of how individuals and even nations are thinking or behaving.
We are on the cusp of uncharted mental territory where no man has gone before. The self-order of free markets is being replaced by an unpredictable non-order arising from competition by new statemarket bureaucracies that are neither fully elected nor humanly designed. The new order may even be machine or AI generated. Where is the justice when AI-generated algorithms can order the execution by missile strike or drone of someone branded a terrorist outside legal jurisdiction? Who will enforce natural justice when the system systematically dehumanizes humanity by treating individuals as digits to be manipulated, controlled or deleted?
In an entangled overcrowded planet, the system is inherently unstable when we resolve differences through conflict and war, because history has shown that war begets more war. Humanity survived through cooperation and peace.
The neocon presents the case for preparing for war to maintain peace, but since war can only be destructive, we must prepare always for the post-war peace. If there is a fundamental difference between the West and the Rest, it is that the theory-biased, principles-based West often forgets history and context, opting for fundamental “principles” of inalienable rights to guide action. Russian historians remember that it was the Western Europeans (Napoleonic France and Nazi Germany) that invaded Russia twice in the last two centuries. The Israeli expansion of territory in Palestine over time is there for all to see.
In population terms, the West is in the minority of one plus billion in an 8 billion world, owns more than half of global wealth and income, but on a per capita basis, consumes more than its fair share of planetary resources. For the majority Global South to consume like the average Westerner is a suicidal path because the world will run of planetary resources. The paradox of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is that the Global South must find its own paths and intellectual paradigms in a diverse search for sustainable living and meaning. Decolonization of the mind therefore requires the courage to reject the unsustainable, but also to find new pathways that are more holistic and democratically legitimate than the old. In short, decolonization is a journey waiting to unfold.
The Spanish poet Antonio Machado, in his famous poem, “Caminante no hay camino – Traveler, there is no road”, made the important point that the road is made by walking. In the post-Western world, the Global South must walk their own paths in search for a more peaceful and sus- tainable future.