caladri.ca - (~/mongolcentrism.html) - Mongolcentrism

I live in and grew up in a country where Eurocentrism is the assumed, implicit, inviolable norm; nobody has to much think about or interrogate the assumption of European perspectives, biases and histories. I came of age in Honolulu, and there began to embrace non-European perspectives and narratives in a serious, personal and lasting way. If Polynesia was the locus of the start of that journey, I found going to Mongolia the culmination, or at least the start of the next step.

Taking part in the Mongol Rally and going from London to Ulaanbaatar was important to me from the outset as an attempt to broaden my understanding of what the dichotomy I'd grown up with between Europe and Asia really meant. Was it about real and fundamental differences in culture, people, history, ...? Whatever the difference (if one was even really tenable), was there a gradient in the middle, or really clear boundaries and delineations?

Whether I found answers to those questions belongs elsewhere, but the Mongols were deeply involved in all of them. If you do want to plot out a north Asian gradient, it will certainly be informed by the history of Mongol expansion, and the positioning of Turkic and Mongolic peoples, historically and today.

I found Polynesia, and particularly the Polynesians as explorers and innovators, a potent challenge to the idea of white and European supremacy; the Polynesians had covered vast distances routinely, and without so many resources to support them as Europeans had. (I like to point out that while the Europeans were just about done 'discovering' all these 'new' lands, and the United States was becoming well-established, Russian explorers only just managed to reach the north-eastern extents of the Eurasian land mass. Europeans were much more interested in exploitation than exploration, and were quite slow at actually getting around to exploring even lands that were contiguous with their own, especially considering the supposedly-impressive wealth and technology they had at their disposal, along with a much larger population to do the hard work of exploration.) The Mongols were, if anything, a more direct challenge to Eurocentrism. They had made it to Poland in the course of their expansion; lands I thought of as unambiguously-European had been conquered, or at least challenged, for a period of time by the Mongols.

I have taken to taking as much of a Mongolcentric perspective as I can; this is not a simple contrarian reaction to Eurocentrism, and I try to be intentional about not casting it too much in that way. It would be easy for me to be seen as simply exploiting a vague, detached, intellectualized, and appropriated view of Mongolia and Mongolic peoples throughout Eurasia, in the service of a little personal superiority over my fellow Europeans. I am aware of that, and attempt to not fall for it.

I study Mongolian, and try to find and give preference to Mongolian sources which can speak for themselves when I talk about Mongolia and the Mongols. It is not my place to speak for or lay claim to Mongolian identity, culture, heritage, or perspectives, in any way, shape or form.

Part of taking on a perspective which is outside the norm is that people expect you to apologize for every bad thing they associate with it, and freely project their anxieties onto it. I do not particularly need to apologize for violence committed by Mongols in the past in order for my Mongolcentrism to be as valid as default Eurocentrism. Eurocentric persons do not, and cannot reasonably, apologize for every historical act of European violence, exploitation, etc., at all times and in all places. There are contexts in which it is very important to interrogate and understand historical violence, but as one might talk about Plato without having to justify or defend against a litany of bad deeds done by Greeks, one can talk about the religious, mythological, poetical, cultural, linguistic, etc., importance of the Mongols without having to talk about whether Chinggis Haan was a particularly-nice guy.

I find it useful to be able to use my Mongolcentrism, not as an abstract thought experiment but as something I care about sincerely, as a challenge to the assumptions of default Eurocentrism. More than that, though, I am genuinely attracted to the beauty and complexity of Mongol arts, culture, history and language.

I hope to be able to add and say more here as time goes by, but I feel that this is a useful first step at talking publicly about my Mongolcentrism, and what the implications of that are for me. What is written here necessarily reflects the aspects of my Mongolcentrism which I have been interrogating and reflecting on most at the time of my writing this, but I hope that it will provide a useful basis for more and more in the future.