Sunday, October 17, 2021

The East Versus The West

“New Guineans… impressed me as being on the average more intelligent, more alert, more expressive, and more interested in things and people around them than the average European or American is. At some tasks that one might reasonably suppose to reflect aspects of brain function, such as the ability to form a mental map of unfamiliar surroundings, they appear considerably more adept than Westerners.” ~ Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs & Steel

Jared Diamond is not arguing for the genetic inferiority of the Western brain. His argument is that the quality of the human brain is not related to race. People of all races are equally capable of being intelligent and innovative. The political, militaristic, and scientific superiority that the West has achieved after the fifteenth century is due to natural and historical factors.

Europe is part of Asia—Eurasia is located along the east-west axis and it has very few geographic and ecological barriers. Goods, technologies, ideas, people, and militaries could move around with considerable ease. Consider this: from 10,000 BC to the rise of Greek civilization, between the fifth and seventh centuries BC, Europe was the most backward part of Eurasia.

If an anthropologist from an alien planet had landed in Europe in 1000 BC, he would have surmised that this area would never become developed. If he had continued his journey through the earth and travelled to North Africa, the Middle East, China, and India, he would have predicted that the people in these areas would become the masters of the world. The major scientific and intellectual innovations of Eurasia—domestication of animals, agriculture, writing, metallurgy, wheels, poetry, philosophical and religious theory—have happened in the Asian civilizations.

Even after the rise of the Greek civilization, the flow of science, technology, and intellectual ideas was from the East to the West. Till the end of the fifteenth century, science and technology flowed from the East to the West. Most of the technologies that the Spanish used for conquering the Americas came from the East: compass, gunpowder, paper, printing, cast iron, astrolabe, ships with lateen sails, and much else. Things changed in the sixteenth century—when for the first time science and technology started flowing from the West to the East.

Is Western dominance of the world permanent? Looking at the history of the last 12000 years, and considering the ultimate causes and not merely the proximate ones, I find it impossible to believe that the West can defend its pole position in the twenty-first century.

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