Random Thoughts

How the West Won and Wins

 Plato averred that it is not worth living an unexamined life. Many Westerners have castigated the sordid story of its atrocities, genocide and colonization committed under the guise of trade, civilizing the heathens and spreading the gospel. Susan Sontag has called the Europeans, a cancer of humanity. Jared Diamond in his Pulitzer Prize winning book 'Guns, Germs and Steel' has given geography, zoology and invention as the prime reasons, while conveniently omitting evil intent. He feels that mountains and rivers running from north to south in America and lack of native animals, which can be domesticated, prevented advance civilizations from developing. His reasons for the same in Africa are once again lack of navigable rivers and paucity of animals amenable to domestication. The lack of immunity of native populations to smallpox, measles and other germs, to which the urbanized masses of Europeans had developed immunity over time by prior scourges, is the second cause of success.

They are politically correct reasons, and thus much applauded, but conveniently omit that the amoral strategy of distributing infected blankets to the Native Indians and its acceptance without remorse by the Pilgrims was the proximate etiology. It reminds me of Reagan's brand of mea culpa, when he acknowledged the Iran Contra scandal by the ('Nolo Contendre' consent decree) remark, 'Mistakes were made'. Jared Diamond includes the Fertile Crescent as a favorable milieu for flourishing of the growth of civilization and gives short shrift to Egypt, India and China. While he gives due credit to guns and steel, he fails to explain why the Chinese who invented gunpowder did not colonize the West.

I do not mean to belittle the germ factors, geography or the native fauna, but the real truth is the technological superiority and a ruthless will to exercise power unrestrained by scruples, morals or conscience. That alone explains why the Indian, Chinese and Islamic Empires, which were more advanced civilizations succumbed to the European conquest.

The takeoff of Western hegemony began around 1500 onwards. The overland and Mediterranean trade of spices was a critical element for European survival in the pre- refrigeration era. Less than fresh meat becomes more edible with pepper. Other spices add to the flavor of cooked meat. The Turkish conquest of Constantinople severed the trade routes and the enormous profits to be made spurred the search for an alternate way to the Indies and means to navigate. This is why Vasco de Gama came to India and Columbus mistakenly named the American natives Indians.

It is noteworthy that earlier the Chinese had invented the compass, but their arrogant introversion and the fear of knowledge of strange customs by the Emperor made him scuttle his fleet. The British monarch offered a rich prize for the invention of a reliable mechanical clock to keep time as it would help determine longitude by the time difference between a mechanical clock and noon locally when the sun was exactly

It was not the lack of spice in the life of Europeans per se but the greed and desire of worldly wealth that fostered inventions. It was the same that allowed them to forget the tenets of Christianity and the golden rule of 'Do unto others as you would have others do unto you'. Even more importantly religion was a matter of optional convenience, something that is still prevalent in America, becoming so in India, but quite the opposite in Islamic nations. The latter misguidedly believe that failure of adherence is the cause of their inferior status, while the true cause is failure to innovate and modernize.



More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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