It’s become a solid part of our cultural mythology that a profound gulf separates East from West, “and never the twain shall meet,” and this causes people to be disconcerted when I speak of East and West as a single culture. East and West are twins, with a common mother and father, but when these twins look at each other, they’re struck by the differences they see, not the similarities, just the way biological twins are. It takes an outsider like me to be struck by the fundamental cultural identity that exists between them.
Nothing could be more fundamental to any people than the way they get the wherewithal to live.
The people of our culture, East and West, do this by means of totalitarian agriculture, and have done so from the beginning—the same beginning; for the past ten thousand years the people of both East and West have built squarely, solidly, and exclusively on totalitarian agriculture as their base. There’s not a single thing to choose between them in this regard.
Totalitarian agriculture is more than a means of getting what you need to live, it’s the foundation for the most laborious lifestyle ever developed on this planet. This comes as a shock to many listeners, but there isn’t any question about it: No one works harder to stay alive than the people of our culture do. This has been so thoroughly documented in the past forty years that I doubt if you could find an anthropologist anywhere who would argue about it.
It’s my notion that the laboriousness of their lifestyle has given rise to another fundamental similarity between the peoples of East and West, and this is the similarity in their spiritual outlook. Again, it’s commonplace to imagine that an enormous gulf separates East and West in this regard, but the two of them look like twins to me, because they’re both obsessed by the strange idea that people need to be saved. In recent decades, the salvationist coloration of Eastern religions has been toned down for export to Beat, hippie, and New Age markets, but it’s unmistakable when seen in the originals, in native habitats.
It’s certainly true that the ends and means of salvation differ between East and West, but then the ends and means of salvation differ among all the salvationist religions of the world—this is precisely how you tell them apart. The essential fact remains that, anywhere in the world, East or West, you can walk up to a stranger and say, “Let me show you how to be saved,” and you’ll be understood.