The Otherness of Others

philosophy?In a very interesting article called, Can non-Europeans think?, Hamid Dabashi, a Professor at Columbia University in New York, asks some extremely searching questions about how we perceive ‘reality’. For the purposes of his article he speaks mainly about the philosophical status quo, but it is a question that is valid right across the board.  He points out that even with good intentions we are inclined to see ourselves and the societies in which we live as the standard and all other societies – and ways of being – as being, well other.  Our music is – music – while music from other cultures is ethnomusic. Our philosophy – is philosophy – non-European/Western philosophy is ethnophilosophy and so on.  But the following is, perhaps, the most interesting observation in this entire article –

 Why is European philosophy “philosophy”, but African philosophy ethnophilosophy, the way Indian music is ethnomusic – an ethnographic logic that is based on the very same reasoning that if you were to go to the New York Museum of Natural History (popularised in Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum [2006]), you only see animals and non-white peoples and their cultures featured inside glass cages, but no cage is in sight for white people and their cultures – they just get to stroll through the isles and enjoy the power and ability of looking at taxidermic Yaks, cave dwellers, elephants, Eskimos, buffalo, Native Americans, etc, all in a single winding row.

Professor Dabashi isn’t expecting Europeans to stop seeing their culture, thinking and experience as relevant or important – he just wants us – and I figure all Westerners – to see it as our view not the view of the world.  It’s an important distinction.

Can Non Europeans Think is a thought provoking and interesting article and one that is well worth reading.



[Portrait of Joan Brooks and Duke Niles, New York, N.Y., ca. Apr. 1947 – photographer – Gottlieb, William P., 1917-]



  1. So true! Thank you for pointing this article out. When I’m teaching World Cultures, the kids will say, “That’s gross!”, or That’s weird!” and my response is always that it’s just different!

  2. We are each taught about our reality through our various cultures… We each can perceive our reality differently given the information we are privy too.
    Once upon a time the world was thought flat and we would sail over its edge…. We will discover in the future that our reality is not as we are perceiving it today, as the various layers of Truth are uncovered….

    A very interesting post. 🙂

  3. Growing up in New York, I experienced that attitude at its highest level. On my first trip into the South, I watched the news in our motel room and I remember thinking, “This isn’t the real news. This is some bad imitation. The real news is on Channel 2 or Channel 4, back in New York.”

    I think we’re wired to divide the world into Us and Them. The only thing that would cure us is an invasion by aliens from another planet. Then, suddenly, we’d all be just human beings.

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