The Looking Glass

Let’s take a look at the world, and its ‘recent’ history.  It is a history of European aggression: of armies from a powerful continent raping and pillaging lands and peoples in pursuit of ever more power and wealth. In the modern world, this cadre of ‘western’ countries monopolizes the weath, inflicts its morality and worldview on everyone else and uses force to get what it wants from oppressed and beaten down third world countries. These westerners pollute and waste the world they tyrannize, all while poor people in Bangladeshi die in workplace accidents and Arabs in Egypt starve. It is all from the injustice of the west dominating everyone else, like petty emperors.

That, at least, is the worldview that is implicitly and explicitly taught in schools and texts and believed by many people running the country today.  However, let’s go through the looking glass and try to see this recent history through other, alien eyes. Let’s follow the little white rabbit of demographics first. I saw this the other day. Not sure exactly if it is true, but China (1,349,585,838 people), India (1,220,800,359 people), Indonesia (251,160,124 people) Bangladesh (163,654,860) are all inside the highlighted circle as are Japan, the Philippines and probably Pakistan too. (Numbers are from CIA world factbook)

circle

I think the people who had posted that (wherever I saw it I don’t know… it just shows up in places.) Were making an argument that other places should be less important. Why, for instance, does Canada have more ‘importance’ than Laos? Surely it must be the bigotry and xenophobia of the ruling western cadre. However, the looking glass looks back at us, and everything is flipped around and we must be left to wonder why most of the world’s population lives in a dirt poor country without much influence outside its own borders? North Korea has to threaten nuclear war to get attention, whereas Canada probably would only have to politely clear its throat. The answer of the bigotry of western countries is a hollow answer, since that would imply countries cooperating in their own marginalization.

Aha! You say, aha, the West has dominated them and forced them into cooperating with military power. The looking glass looks at you, and the real question comes up. If they are forced to comply with western bigotry, the question is: How? This population disparity is not new.

Think back to  ancient history. This is the Roman Empire.

Roman_Empire_Trajan_117AD

What you may not realize is that what is today France, Spain, and England were the frontier of the Empire. The cities and the wealth were all Rome and east, which is why the capitol was moved to Constantinople, and probably part of the reason why the eastern empire lived on longer than the western empire.

So we get to the real point, at roughly the time of the fall of Rome (and the emergence of Byzantium in the east) the people that have dominated the world for the last few centuries were tribal barbarians with a thin (oh so thin) veneer of Roman civilization and organization on them. At the same point in time, China in 609 is supposed to have had 46,019,956 people in:

Cheui_Dynasty_581_CE

The Merovingians (Early France) were at about the same time, but I cannot find a population estimate. However their successors (with a double sized empire, 1-200 years later) were supposedly 10-20 million people.

Frankish_Empire_481_to_814-en.svg

Basically, for all of recorded history of the peoples that dominated the world from the 17th century through today, the vast majority of people have NOT been these people. As opposed to the Mongols who brought armies larger than most Europeans could imagine these people were relatively few in number, and just ever so little past tribalism. Why, then, did not China dominate the world? Why did not India?

This is where we fall into wonderland, and as Alice, we wander around in stupid amazement. What if the summary of these past centuries actually goes more like this:

The globally disadvantaged minority in terms of population, organization, and land area suddenly, somehow, dominate. Though they fight each other and slaughter each other for very little reason, though their cultural roots only run back a few generations to wild war-cult pagans, though their armies are numbered in tens of thousands whereas Chinese armies were in the hundreds of thousands, they somehow conquered effectively the entire world. They also manage to dominate for hundreds of years.  That would be this:

Europe_orthographic_Caucasus_Urals_boundary.svg

Conquering this:

800px-European_Empires.svg

(Color code and each separate empire cataloged at Wiki)

You may make the argument (and you may have good arguments too) that this conquest of the world was wrong, but you cannot deny that it was spectacularly improbable. By any rubric of population and organization, the maps should be of worldwide empires should have been Chinese and Indian. You also cannot claim with much credibility that only westerners are power hungry enough for world empires. That kind of racism so strange it is funny, as if genetics have anything to do with it.

There is an explanation for this, but you will have to read Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power by Victor Davis Hanson.

He explores this looking-glass world for what unique attributes this rag-tag group of countries had that made this even possible. He explores the western culture by analyzing the western way of war, for his contention is that cultures cannot hide their true natures in battles (and he is a war historian). It is an excellent book.

My short answer is that innovation and liberty and property rights breed cultural power. Whereas despotism and tyrants breed insecurity. An example from Carnage and Culture given by VDH is from the battle of Lepanto. Ali Pasha (the commander of the Ottoman fleet) had almost his entire net personal wealth on board his galley, whereas the Christian leaders fought penniless. Ali Pasha was afraid that the Sultan, in a fit of displeasure,  would take his stuff while he was gone, while the wealthy leaders of the Christian fleet knew that their belongings, their money and property were almsot certainly protected.

Another sign is that in the cases where non-western armies slaughter western ones, the non-westerns loot the weapons from the western bodies. This never seems to happen in reverse. It is like today, China does a vast amount of cyber war and intellectual property theft. We don’t steal their intellectual property or military technology, probably because the only things they have worth stealing, they stole from us. No matter how well educated a population is, no matter how large it is, unless its people are free to innovate, and free to keep and use the fruit of their labor,  un-free societies will always be behind the free ones. In fact, I think it is entirely possible that in an oppressive society a large population is a problem while in a free society, a large population is undoubtedly an asset.

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One response to “The Looking Glass

  1. Rodney Stark in The Triumph of Reason makes similar arguments to western supremacy, but he claims that the reason Europe led the world in freedom and technology is due to Christianity. It makes for a very interesting read.

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