Why the West rules – for now

‘Why the West Rules—For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future’ is a history book by a British historian Ian Morris, published in 2010.

The following is an extract from Wikipedia:
“The book compares East and West across the last 15,000 years, arguing that physical geography rather than culture, religion, politics, genetics, or great men explains Western domination of the globe. Morris’ Social Development Index considers the amount of energy a civilization can usefully capture, its ability to organize (measured by the size of its largest cities), war-making capability (weapons, troop strength, logistics), and information technology (speed and reach of writing, printing, telecommunication, etc.).

The evidence and statistical methods used in this book are explained in more detail in Social Development,[1] a free eBook, and by the published volume, The Measure of Civilization.

Morris argues that:
When agriculture was first invented, areas with reliable rainfall benefited most.
Irrigation benefited drier areas such as Egypt and the Fertile Crescent.

Plants and animals more easily domesticated gave certain areas an early advantage, especially the Fertile Crescent and China. (See cradle of civilization.) Development of Africa and the Americas started on the same path, but it was delayed by thousands of years.

With the development of ships in Eurasia, rivers became trade routes. Europe and empires in Greece and Rome benefited from the Mediterranean, compared to Chinese empires (who later built the Grand Canal for similar purposes).

Raids from the Eurasian Steppe brought diseases that caused epidemics in settled populations.

The Social Development Index shows the West leading until the 6th century, China leading until the 18th century, and the West leading again in the modern era.

After the development of ocean-going ships, the significantly greater size of the Pacific Ocean made trans-Atlantic exploration and trade more feasible and profitable for Europe than trans-Pacific exploration and trade for East Asia. Though the mariner’s compass was invented in China in the 11th century, Chinese exploration was less successful than the European Age of Discovery and subsequent colonization.

Eurasian diseases to which people in the Americas had no immunity were a by-product of Eurasian development that devastated Native Americans after contact, in addition to superior European weapons.

Globalization and advances in information technology are leveling differences between civilizational areas.

This is an incomplete outline. Below are extracts from a review in ‘The Telegraph’ of 25 Feb. 2018.

His theorem runs as follows. There is no biological reason why the West came to dominate. People in large groups are much the same everywhere – lazy, greedy and scared, and always looking for easier, more profitable and safer ways to do things, “in the process building stronger states, trading further afield, settling in greater cities”.

He portrays the rise and fall of empires as amoeba-like movements, in which individuals have little long-term influence. Collapses follow the same cruel pattern: conquest, riches, babies, competition, starvation. The struggle to control the core brings in people from the margin, who then take over – viz the Phoenicians, the Mongols, the Goths, the Huns.

Geography, Morris argues, is the main reason why the West rules.

Not that China didn’t catch up. In fact, for 1,200 years (between 550 to 1776), China pulled ahead of the West. Marco Polo described China’s commerce as being “on such a stupendous scale that no one who hears tell of it without seeing it for himself can possibly credit it”. Sound familiar? Long before we did, the Chinese had compasses, paper, guns – and maritime superiority.

The future that Morris anticipates is not conventional or reassuring.

He leaves us with two scenarios. In the first, China Easternises everyone by 2045. “All over the world, people will forget the glories of the Euro-American past. They will learn Mandarin, not English, celebrate Zheng He, not Columbus, read Confucius instead of Plato…”
In Morris’s second scenario, thanks to technology we stand to become machine-enhanced, post-biological creatures. We will become like Däniken’s aliens – so destroying the premise of this enjoyable and thought-provoking book. “The ancient distinctions between East and West will be irrelevant to robots.”

(Comment: In his video, Prof. Morris gives the West less than 3 generations before China catches up and overtakes the West, viz. the USA. Refer my 2 posts –to come – titled ‘Will the West be overtaken?’)

 

 

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