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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Explaining the Rule of the West

Rationally Speaking | Official Podcast of New York City Skeptics - Current Episodes - RS138 - Ian Morris on, "Why the West rules -- for now":

"Since about 200 years ago, a pretty small group of nations around the shores of the North Atlantic started dominating the whole planet, in a way that nothing like that had ever really happened before...

"Oh, no, no. We live in a place where the climate is just perfect." This was a popular argument again in the 19th century.

There's a guy, a professor of geography at Yale University, who came to the conclusion in the 1890s that climate had made the West dominate the world. And he said the place with the perfect climate in the entire planet was England...

"Yes, of course culture plays a part in what happens." We're all just aware of this in our everyday lives if you travel at all, you're aware of the power of culture. The question, I think should always be, "Well, why do we get the cultural changes that we do get? Is culture this like totally independent force that acts on people, or is it something else driving the culture?" I think with the case of Chinese conservatism, you can see really clearly it's an example of a bigger pattern where larger forces drive conservatism in societies.

Something I think we see over and over again in history, is that when one society, one region has been doing really well, and then things go wrong, people often turn inward and start looking backward. In a sense, they become fundamentalist. They look back into their past and say, "Oh boy! What was it we were doing so well, back then, that we're now not doing? And how can we go back and recapture the excellence of the past and bring it forward into our modern world?"

I think China, like every part of the world, has had phases of being like this. One very big phase begins in China in the 13th and 14th centuries. They suffer a lot of defeats at the hands of these steppe nomads, the Mongols in particular, and Kublai Khan takes over the whole of China, and the Mongols rule China for awhile. Black Death ravages China. Just all kinds of stuff is going wrong.

People start saying, "What can we do?" The intellectual elite start saying, "What can we do to recapture the greatness of Confucianists, the way it used to be?" And they become very aggressively conservative, and very opposed to new ideas, at a very unfortunate time for this to happen. This is just the moment when the world is beginning to open up. This is a disaster for China in a lot of ways.

But it's not something that just pops out of nowhere. It's a reaction to a set of problems, these invasions from overseas that are ultimately driven by geographical forces. I think there are, like I said, lots of examples of this.

In some ways I would say that Islamist Fundamentalism is another great example of this"
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