2 – The Cultural Silk Road

Albeit most modern sciences and techniques (mathematics, glass production, automata, paper, paper-money, algebra, printing, gunpowder, firearms…), have ancient Asiatic roots, the development of complicated machines apt to substitute men’s work, such as steam engines, Jacquard looms, dynamos and turbines, motor vehicles, writing and computing machines, electric and nuclear energies, mass media, informatics, are connected in some way to the era  of European hegemony, such as Western exploration, colonialism and neo-colonialism, and, as it has been investigated by many contemporary authors, bear the imprinting of certain characteristics of Western cultures, such as Indo-European language logics and religious messianism. For these reasons, notwithstanding  many efforts made to challenge some of these new developments, such as the ones of  Huxley, McLuhan and Hawking, the mainstream Western thought has not expressed  valuable proposals on how to govern the rise of Intelligent Machines.

Contrary to what is happening in the West, all countries of the BRICS are going, since many decades, in the direction of re-evaluating their traditional cultures, such as Sinic and Indic philosophies, Islam and Eastern Christianity, which are less oriented towards rationalism and messianism. As a consequence, even if  BRICS are now in the forefront of the development of new technologies, we may expect that they will introduce balances to a strict mechanical logic, apt to oppose the risks of the machines overcoming men, expressed still recently by scientists and entrepreneurs such as Hawking and Musk. Let’s think, for instance, of the idea of a “fuzzy” logic, of the Azeri mathematician Lotfi Zadeh, already utilised in the past by Indian and Chinese scientists for predicting rainfalls. Recently, President Putin has spoken about the need to “bridle” Artificial Intelligence and to avoid a world monopoly in this area, and has expressed his preparedness to share with other world powers Russia’ achievements in this field. The fact itself that the final document of the Xiamen Summit had included a series of themes concerning cooperation in the control of several types of abuse of new technologies is evidence of a cultural preparedness, by participating countries, to meet this type of challenge.

Looking at it from with a positive point of view, culture is becoming a social need everywhere, also for balancing the de-personalizing effects of economy and technology. The countries alongside the land and maritime Silk Roads include almost all the most important sources of culture during history (the “Haft Kesvar”-“Seven Climates”-of Persian tradition) . Their histories had borne the risk to be forgotten, inter alia with the reduction of the role of their classical languages, the neglect of care for archaeological sites and museums, the prevalence of market-oriented publishing trends, fanatics’ destruction of ancient treasures, the ignorance of the history of Asian cultures.

Among other things, the Silk Road Initiative should provide finance for publishing, media, academies, universities, schools, archaeology and travel devoted to comparative culture (philology, philosophy, religions, history, literatures, music, arts, cinema, architecture…): the relationships among ancient languages and peoples, didactic methods, comparative cultural history,…

A cultural revival of the Eurasian Continent would contribute to salvage mankind from nihilism and mechanisation, and to the birth of a vibrant cultural industry in a time when simpler jobs are destroyed by technological unemployment.

1 – Two Keywords for Understanding the New Silk Road: Culture and “Win-Win approach”

China is explaining the New Silk Road (or “One-Belty-One Road”, or “Silk Road Initiative”Yi Dai-Yi Lu: hereinafter, “the Initiative”)to the world. Moreover, there is another multiplicity of initiatives, independent of China, which contribute to clarify it in a very differentiated way. Many books have been published in all continents and in many languages. That it normal, because, albeit China is acting as its catalyser, the initiative is not a monopoly of China, but on the contrary is an asset for the entire world.

In any case, a better coordination would be useful, because those multiple independent undertakings encounter difficulties in interfacing one another. According to me, two main aspects should be strongly emphasized: culture and win-win approach.

From the cultural point of view, the Initiative may represent even an answer to the lack of meaning of contemporary societies, too haunted by technical and contingent questions, and loosing hold on reflection and phantasy. As to the win-win approach, the logics of Western languages and cultures is too rigid and materialistic for being apt to explain the deep interrelationships existing among situations and people.

As to culture, the East-West relationship transcends a simplistic dialectic between “modernity” and “tradition”. Contrary to what is commonly believed, East and West have been intertwined since the beginning. The HouHanShu, the Qur’an, the “Trip to the Western Regions”, the Wolfram von Eschenbach, Marco Polo, Akbar, Ricci, Puccini, have shown in practice what these interrelationships mean. Today, Confucius, Tao, Chan, as well as Mahabharata or Bodhidharma, may represent answers to many of the most urgent questions of our technological time. Everything which moved or happens among East and West, such as Alexander, Zhuan Zang, Ibn Battuta, Ibn Sina, al Ghazzali, al-Biruni, Omar Khayyam, Jalal ad-Din .Zheng He, Cinggiz Khan, Kabir, still constitute an unexhausted source of inspiration and fantasy all over the world. As a consequence, the New Silk Road should be conceived first of all as a cultural project, utilising the many works and authors which have focussed on this transnational Eurasian space, such as Leibniz, Voltaire, Schopenhauer, Rerih, Guénon, Fenollosa, Pound and Gumilev.

As to the “win-win” idea, it is not sufficient to list the huge quantity of synergies which may be achieved thanks to a more coordinated approach. Each country and each individual should be made able to understand in which way its assets, its skills, its ambitions, may be better exploited and valued thanks to the opportunities of a broader interchange. This is true especially for Europe, which is experiencing a century-long decadence due to its narrow internal market and to the political limitations imposed by its belonging in the Western block. Only the unlimited Eastern finance and the fast growing Eastern markets may provide a long term sustained development for the sectors in which Europe is still leading, such as culture, tourism, fashion, food and beverages. Unfortunately, the insufficient structures of the European Union is such, that a coordinated approach to these matters does not exist today. In their mutual interests, the EU and China should foster a coordinated approach on both sides, first of all via the Investment Protection Treaty under negotiation; secondly, by organising the utilisation of the New Silk Road for channelling cooperation in new technologies and tourism on both directions, and, finally, for enhancing mutual knowledge between East and West.

In the past millennia, it was clear that Eurasia “functioned” as a sole entity. The Japanese geo-political scholar Shiratori spoke, in this connection, of a the continuous dialectic between the Northern cattle breeding and nomadic “Wu”, “武”(in Japanese, “Bu”) in the North of Eurasia, and the stable, agricultural “Wen”, “文”(in Japanese, “Bu”) along the shores of the seas and of the oceans . Recent paleo-ontological and linguistic studies have confirmed a certain mixture of Northern steppe tribes and Proto-sinic populations, for instance in the necropoles of Elgyin and Linzi.

Old Chinese scholars, albeit considering their country as being the centre of the world (as the name “Zhong Guo” suggests), attributed crucial importance to Europe since the oldest antiquity. Typical is the utilisation of the expression “Da Qin” (“Greater China”) for designating, according to the periods, Rome, Italy, the Roman Empire, the Middle Eastern “Rum”, or even Christianity. In such Old Chinese view, there were only two areas of the world which had a civilization comparable to the one of China: “Da Qin” and India. Much later, this idea was shared by many Europeans, including Marco Polo, Matteo Ricci, and especially the Enlighteners De Quesnais, Leibniz and Voltaire, who aimed at the unification of Europe under a sovereign similar to the Chinese Emperors Kang Xi and Qianlong.

Today, the world is facing unprecedented challenges. The development of informatics, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, neurobiology, etc… is producing new mental, biological and social entities, which had not been addressed either by traditional cultures, such as the Sinic San Jiao, or Vedic and Mediterranean Axial cultures, and not even contemplated by modern humanism, liberalism, socialism, Christian social thought or ecologism. In fact, what could the dignity of big data be? Which is the sense of liberty of a robot? The role of proletariat in a society of intelligent machines? Equality among humans, cyborgs and robots? The defence of all biospecies, except mankind?