By Ronan Keohane

Modern Western society is filled with normalised deceptions, normalised extortion, normalised manipulation, normalised surveillance, and tiresome conventions for the mere purpose of profits and material gain. We are constantly chasing an elusive mirage of happiness. One serious issue with such a reality is that while the very striking and evidential faults of Western culture have been normalised and left unaddressed, Western thought often picks out flaws in the “other” in order to validate how it is inherently superior.

 

Surveillance capitalism has seen our internet activity and private conversations utilised by artificial intelligence technologies within our devices to tailor advertisements towards us personally. On a daily basis we are exposed to photoshopped images with unrealistic body standards and smiling faces disguised as regular people who successfully sell products to insecure, insatiable consumers. Advertisements have outstripped their traditional formats in the realm of digital billboards, magazines and TV, and have found their way into social media pages (designed to be addictive for marketing purposes), and they are cleverly disguised as ordinary people and not what they truly are, compulsive living advertisements. It has reached a level where everywhere we look there are mantras of “buy my product/ live my lifestyle in order to resemble me and you can become truly happy, just like I am!”. This manifests into a horrifyingly toxic cyclical culture where advertisements in particular prey on peoples’ poor mental health and insecurities (amplified by social media) and ultimately exacerbate them.

 

This article strives to highlight different ways that universal concepts are viewed in Western philosophy as opposed to other styles from around the world. For the benefit of the reader, I would like to point out that these examples of differing mentalities surrounding fundamental concepts reflect an extremely small part of an extensive and complex framework of various philosophies.





Perspectives on life: 

The inevitable misery and suffering of life is not something widely emphasised in the Western world, we never settle for the ordinary and are always striving for something transcendent and magnificent. Christianity always informs us that we are not inherently pure, that we ought to yearn for greater purity through abstaining from sin, however the purest will always be the all-knowing lord and saviour

 

Contrastingly, in Buddhism, the reality of human suffering is not emphasised but is depicted as the first and central noble truth. Ordinary suffering, which every life contains, is normalised and seen as an inevitable reality, however the root of further suffering does not lie in what is not had or obtained; it is rather rooted in both desire and ignorance. Our constant yearning is seen as what makes us unhappy.

 

 

Perspective on time:

Time is relative. There exists a wide range of cultural differences surrounding how time is perceived. The Western world follows a linear perspective, an eschatological worldview that we live our daily lives slowly gearing toward a final judgement or damnation. These manifestations are seen in everyday life and throughout history with regards to perspectives on time. Well-known phrases surrounding time reflect this heavily, “time is money”, “you only live once” etc.  imply this idea that we should live our lives in haste since existence is finite, death is feared, we live our lives in trepidation. This contributes to the reasoning or sense of urgency behind living very fast-paced and ultimately, unhealthy lifestyles.

 

Other schools of thought contradict this perspective. Ancient Indians, for instance, perceived time as being cyclical, the end and beginning essentially being the same. East Asian philosophies tend to view time as a component of the cycle of existence, emphasising the importance of the broader existential cycle rather than isolated time alone. Aboriginie ideas surrounding time are entirely different: they emphasise a sense of place as opposed to time. Death is also perceived as a transmission of energy, that the energy and spirit will continue on after the physical death.

 

Perspectives on beauty:

Neoliberal capitalist society always promotes and focuses on what is most visually appealing – what is perfect, flawless, refined and beautiful- for the purpose of proliferating profits. This is built on the emphasis on refinement and perfection seen throughout Western artworks. Such an outlook sets the framework for a wide variety of other popular frames of thought: A beautiful face is a symmetrical face, an artistic ‘worthy’ dance is an organized or choreographed dance, an older person is “past their prime” etc. This trail of thought is damaging as it encourages the dismissal of imperfection and brokenness being a part of life. It leads to the internalisation of such messages and can lead to self- hate as we age, as our souls become stained with traumas.

 

The Japanese philosophical notion of wabi sabi completely refutes this obsession with clinical perfection and seeks to find the beauty within the broken or the worn out- celebrating the art of the rustic, the broken and the melancholic. Celebrating the marks and indications of age, damage or brokenness could possibly be helpful with self-forgiveness and self-understanding of the aging process, physical damage and psychological brokenness both internally and externally.



These examples are limited and barely begin to address other unconventional perspectives seen throughout international schools of philosophy. There is an extensive list of other sources that could be given with a variety of insights from non-Western theory which enable us to question our values and critically assess whether there is real merit in obsessing over what is perfect and efficient, and what we ought to yearn for at the expense of tenuous  mental health and unnecessary existential suffering. Academic philosophy degrees are often only representative of dominant Western frameworks while being negligent in the analyses or even definitions of alternative perspectives. A wider demonstration of other global philosophies has the potential to greatly expand our understanding of the universe and our understanding of ourselves on a much broader level than is given through solely Western paradigms.