eli5 What is the term “western” mean. Is it North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand


I have been seeing people in the internet saying Western Cloth, Western Media, Westernizing, Western Movies, Western Nations. What does the term “Western” mean. Can anyone explain to me like I am 5 years old

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Europe is “the West”, because before Europeans knew of America etc. they were the furthest west of the part of the world they knew about (“old world”). North America Australia and New Zealand are part of “the West” because they were colonised by Europeans and therefore have similar culture. Western countries are those, whose culture and politics today are mostly or entirely influenced by Europe.

“Western”, in that context, means “[West or Central] European or deriving from [West or Central] European culture”, as opposed to “Eastern” (which is less sharply defined but is usually used in reference to China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan). The term comes from the location of Europe as opposed to the rest of Eurasia.

All of the major nations of Europe (obviously) and the Americas (which derive from English, French, and Spanish culture) are ‘Western’ by this definition, as are Australia and New Zealand (which are mostly populated by descendants of Englishpeople). A Hollywood movie is Western culture, a t-shirt and jeans are Western clothes.

“Westernization” is the process by which a country not in the West adopts some of the ideas and cultural norms of the West. Modern Japan, for example, is quite Westernized, partly because they intentionally imported European and American ideas during the Meiji Restoration in the mid-late 1800s and partly because the US occupation of Japan after WWII introduced a *ton* of American culture via the American soldiers stationed there. China, by comparison, is comparatively less Westernized, although some Western ideas are certainly present.

the term “western” can mean different things depending on the context. sometimes it is used to refer to countries in the western hemisphere, such as north america, europe, australia, and new zealand. other times it is used to refer to a way of life or set of values that are associated with these regions, such as individualism and capitalism.

It doesn’t mean much. It’s super vague and changes based on context. Sometimes it’s code for Christian, sometimes white, sometimes European, and sometimes if just means modernized or globalized. Meanwhile a lot of so-called western philosophy is from ancient Greece and Turkey. 🤷‍♂️
ContraPoints explains it well and with multiple costume changes and bright colors to keep viewers engaged: https://youtu.be/hyaftqCORT4

It means those whose civilisations are seen as being descendants (even if not directly) of the Greeks and Romans. So those whose cultures and laws are based in ancient Greek and Roman laws and traditions.

It contrasts to the East which is Asia (because it was east from Europe).

So in this North America, Australia, New Zealand are Western countries/areas. Japan is also argued to be rather Westernised as it has taken a lot of its culture, laws, etc from the West.

Western means “white” in most cases. There’s exceptions but media saying western values means white, capitalist, usually Christian, US-centric values

Picture a map, make an imaginary line across the middle from top to bottom. The region to the left of that line is the West and the region to the right is the East. Simply speaking, West is Americas and Europe, East is Asia, in the middle sit Africa and Middle East, and Russia is both in Europe and Asia.

Western can mean countries to the West of your imaginary line and the cultures tied to them, same goes for the East. However, geography is only one factor, culture plays a bigger part. Countries in West Africa being called “Western” wouldn’t sound correct wouldn’t it?

For example, although Australia and New Zealand are much closer to Asia and can be considered Eastern countries geographically, their culture leans closer to the West due to European colonization, and even past that time period they’re still closer to the Western world than they are to the East.

Basically, Western can mean many things, whether it be the country, its culture, language, or influence.

The idea of “The West” has meant different things to different people. That said, it generally refers to Western Europe and its majority white former colonies: USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia. Clothes, media, and movies that originated in these places are often referred to as Western. Western Europe is generally the following countries and everything west of them: Italy, Austria, Germany, Sweden, Norway.

During the cold war “The West,” and “The East,” referred to the two different sides of the conflict. During colonial times, it was used by those who considered themselves ideologically descended from the ancient greeks. While in Europe, places like Poland and Hungary may consider themselves firmly “not western,” in the rest of the world it is often used as a proxy for whiteness and/or (neo)colonialism.

These countries are considered Western by some:

Mexico, South Africa, Finland, Czech Republic, The Baltic States, Slovenia, Greece, and Japan.

I think the expression originally was “invented” in the USA and was meant for them alone. Western as in west for longitude zero or west for Greenwich. The civilized country, vs the underdeveloped to the East, for Greenwich.

Later, has the meaning gotten to include many more countries. What these countries consist of, all depends on who you ask.

It really depends on context. But generally speaking “Western” countries are defined by three things:

1. Democracies with written constitutions, universal voting rights, and fair elections.
2. Rule of law and specific protections of human rights including the rights of women and religious minorities. This includes truly independent courts, and public officials who are not generally corrupt.
3. Capitalism as their economic model with basic economic protections for investors and consumers.

So this is why Poland is an odd duck despite being a member of the EU and NATO. It has a ton of autocratic impulses and is… shaky… on human rights.

Some countries also have a very hard time actually embracing some of these things because their fundamental beliefs are just kind of at odds with them. Japan for example is extremely insular and while they might talk the talk on human rights they don’t walk the walk.

For example CHINA, a country of 1.4 billion, granted citizenship to 1500 immigrants last year. That would be like Canada granting citizenship to 35 people in a year.

An interesting twist to all this is that I think certain ideas about capitalism and democracy are starting to show their age in an increasingly technological world and I would expect that at some point soon we are going to start seeing some people start to innovate about ways to run a society that don’t fit comfortably into any of the current political frameworks. For example I would very much expect that in our lifetimes we will see a serious attempt to start a society that both respects human rights but abandons capitalism instead relying on UBI and automation. And you could certainly imagine a near future society run by AI instead of democracy.