Will the West be overtaken? (Part 1)

When I watched the video on ‘Why the West rules – for now’ by Ian Morris, an archaeologist/historian, I was intrigued. Morris gives the West no more than 3 generations before it loses its lead on the East on ’social development.’

The West is initially the ‘Near East’ or Western Asia; ultimately it is the USA. This is confusing. The term ‘Eurasia,’ which seems to me to represent an ambition by some modern Eurocentric writers to expropriate for Europe the early achievements of the cultures of the former Fertile Crescent of West Asia, is also used by Morris.

The East is consistently China, because it was allegedly the first culture to grow rice. However, Stephen Oppenheimer asserts that rice growing began in the terrain of the now-sunken Sundaland of Southeast Asia. Oppenheimer’s historical cultural pathway is based on genetics, a more reliable way of reading the movements of cultures or peoples through history.

Overcoming my scepticism, I read on. What is social development? “… social development is the bundle of technological, subsistence, organisational, and cultural accomplishments through which people feed, clothe, house and reproduce themselves, explain the world around them, resolve disputes within their communities, extend their power at the expense of other communities, and defend themselves against others’ attempts to extend power. Social development … measures a community’s ability to get things done, which, in principle, can be compared across time and space.”

“The simplest way to think about energy capture is in terms of consumption per person, measured in kilocalories per day.” Then one needs to organise the energy capture, aided by information, and a capacity for war. It seems to me that, in the history of mankind, war is as important as geography, Morris’ initial causal factor in energy capture.

Geography, subsuming climate, determines social development, which then affects geography. So says Morris. Biology is irrelevant; people everywhere behave in much the same way. Sociology (group behaviour) explains how development occurred.

Further, similar things happened to both East and West; and in the same order. But the West had a 2,000 year advantage. Where was this West? West Asia, not Europe (the latter presumably recovering from the residual effects of the last ice age). Perhaps, the Universal Flood (mentioned in about 70 and more cultural histories) of about 13,000 to 15,000 years ago, had a role in enabling the lands east of the Mediterranean Sea to create what is known as the first post-Deluge civilisations.

In this context, Oppenheimer speculates that the escapees from Sundaland, not only went north to seed the cultures of Vietnam, China and neighbouring terrain, but also went west; having become skilled in managing water (rising seas), they may have been the ‘dark-headed people from the East’ to control the Tigris and Euphrates. Like so much of early history, that is mere speculation.

Morris identifies the geography of the Hilly Flanks (the re-named Fertile Crescent of yore) as the original site of energy capture. He describes this area as Western Eurasia. How so? One would expect Western Eurasia to fringe the Atlantic coast, not the Mediterranean.

However, leaving aside the challenging terminology, how credible is Morris? Refer Part 2.