The Hierarchy of Importance: The Dominance of the Western School of Thought

Image Courtesy of Zeynep Sümer

Julia Neves, Queen’s University
Edited by Ran Cheng

Whether it is through the biological food chain or competition podiums, hierarchy in society is a concept introduced to us at a young age. Although it exists in menial daily activities, it is a constant trend throughout society in which certain things are given more value over others. This is especially evident on a global scale when westernization continues to overshadow other perspectives. A prime example of this is the dominance of media coverage on issues affecting Western countries, as they tend to be heavily reported on and addressed more promptly. The hierarchy of importance as it relates to current events prioritizes Western countries or narratives given by a Western perspective. This is a clear example of how this issue has persisted through centuries and  continues to be embedded within society.

This hierarchy of importance favoring Western countries is evidently a long-standing issue in the world of media. As a politics student, the introduction of the likes of feminist, Marxist, and realist perspectives, stresses the importance of using different lenses when it comes to evaluating history. However, the problem with having a western view of politics persists due to the very origin and creation of this field of study. Which does no surprise consisted of cis white western males which means that works in the past that did not fit their criteria was disregarded or brushed off. This still seems to be the case with the media nowadays, as the choices of current events to report on are highly biased. An example that demonstrates this point clearly is comparing the media coverage on the 2019 Notre Dame Cathedral Fire and the current Oil Spill in Peru. When the Notre Dame Cathedral fire happened in 2019, there was extensive media coverage. Social media, filled with people posting their stories about this tragedy, greatly increased the outreach of the event. This prompted donations from people around the world, including billionaires, which added up to about $835 million 10 days after the initial fire. On the other hand,  the oil spill that occurred in Peru at the beginning of this year did not seem to garner the attention of the international community. Many of the individuals that I mentioned this issue to had no idea it was occurring. This is an example of westernization and its stronghold in the media. Although both issues are pressing, one was given way more attention and support. The Peru oil spill and the Notre Dame fire are both tragedies for their respective countries. What makes this unfair is the difference in the amount of attention each received, and how much more help one received in comparison to the other. The intervention from people worldwide who were willing to donate towards the Notre Dame Cathedral was so rapid, and meanwhile, the oil spill is not being talked about enough. The social media traction it has gained is not even remotely close to the amount that Notre Dame gained. Therefore, this issue of the hierarchy of countries definitely places Western countries at the top and other countries below them.

Another issue about this hierarchy of importance is that crises are not recognized until Western countries deem it as one. Recognizing issues from non-western countries, ironically, seems to be a role given to Western countries. This becomes a problem because some of these conflicts have most likely been going on for years, or even decades, and will only get the attention it needs and deserves when it’s way overdue. One recent example is the United States recognizing the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and declaring it as a Genocide. This crisis in which the ethnic minority of Rohingya Muslims have been persecuted by the government of Myanmar has been going on for years. They have been denied citizenship by the country, their homes have been destroyed, and they have been killed and raped for being Muslim in a predominantly Buddhist country. Conversations about this genocide started taking place on Social media in 2017 – mostly because it was not gaining as much traction from the news media. Now, in 2022, the Biden Administration has finally officially recognized it as a genocide against the Rohingya Muslims. This recognition is long overdue as the persecution of Rohingya Muslims has been going on for over 5 years. The crisis could have been addressed sooner because it was evident that this was a genocide from the start. This agenda-setting by Western ideology initially failed to deem this crisis as a genocide, because the crisis unfavourably biased other issues directly affecting them to other issues directly affecting them. 

In conclusion, this persisting issue of Western dominance in politics and media creates a hierarchy of importance which is disadvantageous for non-western issues. Issues faced by the Western hemisphere seem to garner quicker reactions and support in comparison to those faced by other parts of the world. There seem to be hierarchies of power involved in deeming what is a pressing issue and what isn’t. Western ideology has dominance in all fields of study because, for centuries, white cis males with Western ideologies were the only ones who were accepted into these fields of study. Now, the past discrimination of minorities in all fields of study continues to affect this century, even though there has generally been more acceptance towards non-western thinkers. It is evident how actions from so long ago reinforce this hierarchy of knowledge maintained by the Western school of thought, all while silencing those who do not follow it.


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