Introducing Spiritus Mundi, a Novel by Robert Sheppard
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The following presents Several in-depth Discussions of World History, the History and Development of Civilization, and of its place in the Universe taken as Excerpts from the Novel, Spiritus Mundi, by Robert Sheppard —-Enjoy!
In Mexico City:
The next morning, after a quick drive-through look at some of the main sights of the city—the Paseo de la Reforma, Chapultepec Park, the Zocalo, or main square with the Presidential Palace and main Cathederal, the party arrived at the site of the ancient ruined complex of the City of Teotihuacan, an hour’s drive out of Mexico City, and entered along the West Avenue, passing the sites of the ceramic, shell and obsidian workshops, which Professor Rivera opened for their inspection, then guided them forward past the ruins of the Great Market Complex and into the Avenue of the Dead. Behind them lay the twin volcanic peaks of Ixtaccihuatl, the Sleeping Woman, and the peak of Popocatapetel, her firey warrior-lover, from which issued recurrent flashes of lightning and the occasional roll of thunder from the ring of dark cumulus surrounding it. In front of them lay the ruins of the Ciudadela, the administrative complex, and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. As they turned to the left down the main expanse of the Avenue of the Dead, they took in the spectacular vistaed expanse of the main axis of Teotihuacan, extending the entire length of the Avenue of the Dead, past the Avenue of the Dead Complex, to the Pyramid of the Sun on the right, the Palace of the Sun and the Plaza of the Moon to the further North, then successively to the House of Priests, the Court of Columns, the Quetzalpapalotl Palace, and finally culminating with, at the far end of the Avenue of the Dead, the Pyramid of the Moon.
Professor Rivera explained to Sartorius and Günter Gross that they were looking at the remains of a major urban and religious center that probably contained a population of about 200,000 inhabitants, sustained by the Valley of Mexico’s agricultural system from about 50 BC to about 750 AD, and which provided the cultural foundation for the subsequent Nahua, Toltec and Aztec civilizations of the region. The many and varied workshops excavated in recent years demonstrate that the city was a commercial and trading center, and not, as previously supposed, an isolated religious site. Teotihuacan might be thought of as the “Ancient History” of the Aztecs, much like Europe looked back to the Classical Age of the Romans and Greeks.
The name “Teotihuacan”, Professor Rivera continued, was a later Aztec term in their Nahuatl language, the meaning of which was “The Place of the Gods.” Of the original inhabitants we know little to nothing directly, since, unlike the Mayas and the Zapotecs, they left no written texts or glyphs, and it is unknown the language spoken, the history of the people or even the names of the rulers who created these vast ruins. Teotihuacan was the first urban state established in Central Mexico. At Teotihuacan a major religious theme was water and the life associated with it, embodied in the deity of Quetzalcoatl (The Plumed Serpent) the most pervasive cult in Mesoamerica. The cult of Quetzalcoatl was associated with the cultivation of maize corn, the vital staple crop of Mexico on which human life depended, and the maize god, a beautiful youth, provided food for human kind. When the seed was planted in the darkness of the earth, the struggle between the lords of darkness and the celestial twins began. The growth of the plant forced the lords of darkness to recognize the annual cycle and return it to the light of day, recognizing the annual cycle of life and death leading to recurrant and resurrected life. Here a clear connection existed in the minds of the people between cosmology and the mythical world and the natural world of vegegation upon which human life was dependent, as well as the order of human experience in society. Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent, represented the union of heavenly and earthly powers, the symbol of fertility and regeneration, and the duality of spirit and matter. This potency and fertility, along with its rootedness in the collective unconscious of the popular mind, and the cycles of nature was doubtless of key importance to D. H. Lawrence in his novel, The Plumed Serpent, in which he seemed to advocate the resurrection of a new mythology and religion to replace the seemingly dead and hollow Christianity he found lifeless and inadequate, Professor Rivera explained to his guests. It would have been of similar interest to Frazer, following his interest in fertility gods and rituals in The Golden Bough. According to the myth, Quetzalcoatl had been miraculously conceived during the Age of the Fourth Sun (the fourth cosmic age) by Chimalman without sexual contact with any male, according to one version, after she had swallowed a precious sacred stone and thereby conceived a deity as a son. The power of the virgin was underlined by the practice of throwing virgin girl sacrafices into the cenotes, or wells in time of drought, to release the blocked rain and fecundity of the god.
The party inspected the archeological sites, many of which were normally locked and closed to the public, but which Professor Rivera had special access to. And at the insistence of Sartorius and Günter Gross, they had to make the one-in-a-lifetime experience of climbing to the top of the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, which though smaller in scale than those of Egypt were still of stubstantial heighth and left them breathless by the time they mounted to the top and enjoyed the fabulous vista of the entire complex, looking downward along the Avenue of the Dead.
At the end of the morning the party rested and lunched in the tourist center on the site of Teotihuacan, and they then re-entered the caravan of cars awaiting them and returned the short distance to Mexico City proper and took in the National Museum of Anthropology and History, the immense and striking modernesque museum dating from the period of intense nationalism following the Mexican Revolution. As they approached the building Sartorius and Gross took in its magnificent Modernist lines, and oriented themselves by finding Popocatapetel, snowy-peaked on the far horizon. Professor Rivera was one of the board of directors of the Museum and he arranged many special views, exhibits and introductions by the staff. He pointed out how the National Museum is organized in a chronological reprise of all the Pre-Columbian cultures which lead up to that of Tenochtitlan, the Empire of the Aztecs, officially and nationalistically seen as the basis of the present state of Mexico, which in spirit was said to have resurrected it after revolution and expulsion of the Spanish rule of centuries. The Professor further related how this view was criticized by Octavio Paz, in his famous work The Labyrinth of Solitude, as perpetuating the autocratic tradition carried over into the tradition of the monopoly party of many years, PRI, and the cult of “El Presidente,” the overconcentration of power at the apex of a pyramid of authority. Paz called the Museum “not a museum but a mirror,” embodying the prevailing nationalistic ideology of its period of its origin, and, for him, also a symbol of an uncompleted revolution necessary to the future true liberation of the Mexican people from the cult of autocracy.
Finally, towards the end of the afternoon they were tired and hungry and Professor Rivera arranged a sumptuous meal at the dining hall of the Museum, a buffet of local delicacies and juices, and an ample supply of wine, liquor and Cuban cigars. When they had eaten and rested for an hour or more the party struck up a conversation over their reactions and musings over what they had seen.
Having eaten his fill and downed several glasses of fine Claret, Günter Gross put his feet up on the small Ottoman and leaned his head back against the top of the sofa, exhaling the smoke of a choice Cuban cigar in an artistic billow, and began to unfurl his chain of musings over the experiences of the day:
“For all we know, or suppose or pretend to know, human history remains a profound mystery to me. First of all there is the profound mystery that you and I are here at all talking to eachother over these Cuban cigars and Scotch whiskey. From what the best minds of our generation have been able to intuit or discover everything in the universe arose from an incomprehensible and inexplicable “Big Bang” some 13.7 billion years ago, spewing forth quarks, electrons, protons and neutrons into the ballooning unfathomability of a spacetime so immense ejaculating from an origin so infinitesimal as to boggle every feeble attempt to grasp its supposed reality. From thence, down to some five billion years ago this soup of proto-elements coalesced into billions of galaxies of billions of stars each, and such stars lived and died with such reiterated frequency, exploding into supernovae and black holes such as to produce the heavier elements such as iron and radioactive particles out of which our earth and solar system were so benignly and fortuitiously formed so as to inexplicably support our existence. Then some 4.6 billion years ago a nebulosity of whorling gases coalesced to form our solar system, 99% of which condensed into our life-giving sun and the other 1% of which was gratuitously left over to form the gaseous and rocky planets, of which our molten iron-cored earth was one—not to close and not too far from its sun to support the bubbling of the chemical soup cooked up from the remains of snowballed comets which obligingly careened into it depositing the waters of lakes and oceans upon its cooling and shifting tectonic crust.Then 3.85 billion years ago the miracle of life occurred—-a second “Big Bang” of creation—where a bag of inanimate chemicals twitched and figited themselves into life and then proceeded to cleave and reproduce themselves endlessly and unceasingly into the eons, undergoing a million metamorphoses and onward evolutions. Then minute anerobic bacteria and plant life began to emerge, polluting the atmosphere with sufficient “waste”—-oxygen—poisionous to our anerobic predecessors but life-giving to the unknowncoming species of aerobic life and animalcule creatures waiting on the wings of destiny to follow them. Then a riot of metamorphosis in the life-sustaining seas until some 400 million years ago our glorious ancestral fish gashed their bleeding fins on dry land and began a new episode, following the plants onto the continents and transforming themselves from fish and crustacean into reptiles, insects, dinosaurs, turtles, snakes, and finally, surviving the impacts of nemesis asteroids that blighted their predecessors, into mammals and finally glorious us!
Then you, my dear Professor Rivera, began your great odyssey to join me on this couch with our Jack Daniels—–you smoking your Montecristo Number Two and me my Montecristo Number Four. Trillions of drifting atoms had to somehow assemble in an intricate and obliging manner to create you, in an arrangement so specialized and particular that it has never been tried before and will exist but once, unless you stretch credulity with Nietzsche’s Eternal Return with a trillion trillion trillion monkeys typing out destinies until all possibilities are so exhausted as to require your repetition. So you started your journey here as some protoplasmal primordial atomic globule somehow surcharged with some inexplicable “elan vital” sufficient to cause it to overcome its environment to reproduce itself without end and begin the Darwinian dance of metamorphosis down to our today together with oneanother. So somehow over the last 3.8 billion years you have abhorred oxygen and then reveled in it, grown fins and limbs or flagellate tails, sprouted fins or sails, laid eggs, flicked the air with a forked tongue, been sleek and oily, been furry and fluffy, lived underground, lived in trees, been as big as a moose and as small as a doormouse, and a million things more. And, the tiniest deviation in these evolutionary imperatives and you might now be licking algae from sea-cave walls instead of licking-up the guacamole dip from those nachos! And of the billions and billions of species of living things which have existed on this planet since the dawn of terrestrial time, 99.99 percent are no longer around—extinct! To escape that fate you must have been prepared to change everything about yourself—shape, size, colour, species, affiliation—-everything, and to do so repeatedly and unceasingly. Consider the mystery!—-for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the earth’s existing mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your ancestral predecessors on both sides of your family tree must have been attractive enough without a single gap or missing interval to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by the fates and spared by the furies and hostile environmental circumstances beyond comprehension to live long enough to do so. Not one of your chain of ancestors was squashed, devoured, starved, enmired in tar pits, untimely wounded or bitten senseless or sexless by hostile predators, or otherwise diverted from its seemingly all-marshalling quest to deliver the tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment to perpetuate the only genetic sequence of DNA and RNA that could result, eventually, astoundingly, and all too evanescently in you!
Then you awaken as a newborn babe and learn a strange tongue at your mother’s breast that lets you discover that you belong to a people with a language and history and a culture and tradition that have traversed a similar and parallel evolutionary odyssey. ————-Before I came here to Mexico I read the account of the Conquest of Mexico by Bernal Diaz del Castillo, The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, recounting how Hernan Cortes set off with a rag-tag band of 600 Spaniards, burned their boats on the shores of Mexico, and blithely set off to conquer a region perhaps populated by 25 million people and ruled by a ruthless military hegemon, the Tenochtitlan of the Aztecs under Montezuma—-and beyond all belief and human credulity succeeded beyond their wildest imaginations! Even given their advantage in some technologies, such as gunpowder, a few horses, steel and body armour, their conquest is a case of reality beggaring fantasy and fiction in its capacity to amaze. The fact that Pizarro repeated the same feat with 168 Spaniards and one cannon, defeating an army of Incas in Peru under Atahualpa 500 times as large from an Empire of perhaps 12 millions a few years later makes it all the more incredible. Beyond all that, Professor Rivera, I am further mystified by the picture that modern anthropology paints, to the effect that all the modern peoples of the world emerged as small nomadic hunter-gather bands or tribes with the recession of the last Ice Age but some few 50,000 years ago, the so-called “Out of Africa Theory,” and made their way to Europe, Asia, Australia and New Guinea 40,000 years ago, and but 12,000 years ago the saga of straggling nomadic bands of settlers crossing the land and ice bridge from Eurasia and on into this Western Hemisphere of the Americas. Given the fact, or presumed fact, that we all originated or evolved from the animal world and thence to primitive hunter gatherer bands on a similar or relatively equal footing up to 5000-10,000 years ago, how can we possibly understand how some peoples remained at the most primitive levels and others rose to lead global empires, develop science and the atomic bomb, and constitute the nations and incredibly diverse fates, levels of development and conditions of the present world?” he mused aloud. “……..Why was it that Columbus discovered America rather than some Aztec discovering and colonizing Europe, or why didn’t the Chinese discover America, colonize it and proceed on to colonize Europe—(even though I hear some authors claiming that in fact they did!).
“Well Günter, I hope I may call you Günter—-and likewise feel free to call me Carlos, I can only second your feelings about the ultimate mysteriousness of it all, and reiterate the truism that the more we know, the more we realize that we do not know. The virture of intellectual modesty is still current and to be valued despite all the recent advances……..How shall I put it?……With regard to these questions there is inevitably the short answer and the long answer, and ultimately neither is sufficient or definitive. Let me just give you a brief outline of my approach after years of thinking these problems over, and I know its inadequacy full well—but it may be of some value to you nonetheless.
“For the short answer to the question—-how could Cortes with 600 rag-tag Spaniards overpower Mesoamerica with an probable population of 25 million and a military empire centered on Tenochtitlan, itself a city of perhaps 300,000, exceeding the population of Sevilla in Cortes’ contemporary Spain?—–We have to begin with some powerful advantages and of course an incredible amount of sheer luck! What were the major objective advantages? Of course you mentioned the obvious ones of military technology not possessed by the Aztecs—–Cortes had gunpowder and the associated weapons of rifles, pistols and cannon, though in modest numbers; he had a small troop of cavalry mounted on horses which the Aztecs had never seen before, but only 16 of them; his men had quality steel weapons, swords and body armour superior to the weapons of the Aztecs. All of these advantages were considerable on a small scale but could easily be overwhelmed by sheer numbers under the right conditions. Their guns were relatively primitive and at often unreliable, and their firepower limited.
These objective advantages were, however much magnified by the psychological effect which they produced amoung the Aztecs. Critical was the fact that Montezuma did not try to halt Cortes on the beaches with overwhelming force such as Rommel’s strategy against the D-Day invasion, but much the contrary, from his culture and beliefs and psychology, greeted Cortes peaceably, even fearfully, on whole, suspecting he might be a returning God according to a local legend, and inviting him, after a few attempts to turn him back, into his capital as a guest. The fact that the Aztecs had never seen horses, or mounted cavalry, reinforced the belief that they might be gods, as well as the psychological effects of gun and cannon fire, a form of killing at a distance with which they were not familiar and easily terrified by. All these factors are well known, though never by themselves would have proven decisive, as is shown by the considerable success the Aztecs achieved once they determined to put up a strong resistance, as when they initially drove the Spanish from the city.
Moreover, the Spanish advantages were further magnified by the Aztec weaknesses. It is undeniable that the Aztec empire and hegemony rested on brutal repression of subject peoples, much as the Roman empire did initially. The hatred of the Aztecs was further intensified by antipathy of subject peoples to their policy of “State and Divine Terrorism” including the practice of human sacrifice of captured war prisoners, the excision of their beating hearts and draining of their blood upon the idols of their gods, the cannibalism of their bodies and the enforced abasement of the survivors before the idols of the Aztec cult of their God of War, Huizilopochtli. Thus, when Cortes arrived he found numerous allies in the repressed, abused and resentful peoples ready to join any force capable of challenging their Aztec opressors. Thus Cortes’ 600 Spaniards immediately found support from thousands of rebellious auxiliaries from subject peoples. Additionally, Cortes was able to exploit this condition by the good fortune of having a functional translation service through ‘La Malinche’ a woman who served as his translator, via a shipwrecked Spaniard who had learned her native language along the coast of Mexico. And Cortes’ advantage in language extended to use of the written language by which he was able to inform his allies outside of Mexico of events and call in reinforcements (after they forgave him for undertaking the whole expedition without authorization).
But if we want the true key to the situation we have to look deeper than these obvious factors. One of the factors of critical importance is one you surely must be aware of Günter, since you were trained as a physician, and that is the power of disease to influence human history, and particularly the dramatic impact of infectious epidemic diseases and plagues on peoples who had no previous exposure and immunity to them. Cortes’ force was initially driven out of Tenochtitlan and then re-entered and conquered it after a considerable siege. Bernal Diaz reported how after the siege the streets were stacked with dead bodies when the Spanish re-entered—but the bodies were not dead from the effect of Spanish gunfire but rather from the ravages of a plague of smallpox and other diseases which overtook the Aztec people confined within the causeways in close and overcrowded quarters, exacerbated by physical weakness as a result of the cut-off of food and water supplies to the large population of the island capital. Though unintentional, the key to Cortes’ victory was the use of ‘biological warfare’ which decimated the defenders, dying by the tens of thousands from smallpox and other diseases to which they had no immunity but to which the Spanish were relatively immune. This observation is further reinforced by demographic studies which show that the Mesoamericans suffered what was literally “A Holocaust” by which within a single generation of the conquest, the population was reduced from perhaps 25 millions to perhaps 3 million, a death toll of up to 90% surpassing even the “Black Plauge” of Europe which took only 30-50 percent on whole. The key here was the separation of the American Indians from contact with Eurasia for some 12,000 years, those 12,000 years being precisely the era in which Eurasians developed plant and animal domestications, dense populations of both humans and domesticated animals, and urban conditions which supported the rise of epidemic diseases, to which they, after catastrophic plagues, gradually developed immunity but to which the American Indians, along with other isolated groups such as Oceania Islanders, Australian bushmen and other communities were left defenseless at the critical time of Eurasian incursion into their domains. Another later by-product of this holocaust was the need to import African slaves as labor in much of the Americas made necessary by the radical depopulation of the native populations after 1500. The case of Pizarro and Atahualpa in the Incan empire, is also similar. A big reason Pizarro was able to defeat Atahualpa was because Atahualpa was himself engaged in a civil war over his own succession to power and the Incan throne after the prior ruler had died of smallpox, a disease previously unknown in the Americas, which preceded the Spaniards even before they got to the Incas themselves in person. And disease was a big factor in Pizzaro’s ability to consolidate his opportune military victories occasioned by superior military technology such as gunpowder and steel weapons and horse cavalry.
That, you might take as a “Short Answer,” and some might be satisfied with stopping there. Yet the deeper questions, raised on the anthropological side of your question, like the simple question of the child “Why?” repeated over and over to each successive explanation, can still put the greatest genius or theory to rout. If you ask the deeper questions—–Why did Columbus discover America and the Spanish conquer Mesoamerica and South America instead of the Aztecs discovering Europe and conquering Spain?—-Why did the Spanish have steel, gunpowder, horses and domestic animals, the compass, written language, and ocean-going ships and the Aztecs none?—-Why didn’t the Spanish die of diseases from the Aztecs and Incas instead of perhaps 90% of the Mesoamericans dying from Eurasian diseases? —-then we have to dig deeper into the “Long Answer.”
“Don’t stop Carlos!” said Günter Gross as he got up, “We’re listing intently, be assured, and we are ready for the long answer…….just let me get us a couple of more bottles of brandy, tequila and rum and I’ll pour us some Rum-coco’s and I’ll get a couple more each of these wonderful Cuban cigars….all right now we’re all set—–go on with the ‘Long Answer,’—–we are ready, willing, and waiting!”
“All right then Günter—let’s see “The Long Answer” he laughed out loud. How should I put it and how shall I start? Let me see……………Well if we are looking for the Long Answer then we have to go back to the beginning, anthropologically speaking. According to the current wisdom and consensus, which is always tentative and subject to revision, we could say humans began to evolve as a separate species in Africa about seven million years ago, from Autralopithicacus africanus to Homo habilis to Homo erectus. Early movement out of Africa followed about a million years ago, across Asia, associated with “Java Man” and by 500,000 years ago you had Neanderthal man in Europe. These are what I might call “protohumans.”
But the rise of modern man, associated with Homo sapiens seems to be a rather recent phenomenon, dating from probably 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, and what we think of as human history probably dates from the movement of these relatively advanced groups “Out of Africa” around 50,000 years ago, what I would call the “Great Leap Forward” to borrow a phrase from your Chairman Mao, Dr. Sartorius. The best conjecture is that around this time an evolutionary change occurred in the human voicebox and/or the nervous system’s wiring for speech which enabled the development of complex language, and with it greater efficiency in social organization for hunting and gathering, along with the cumulative evolution of culture, primitive tool technologies and orally transmitted knowledge. From that time bands of hunter-gatherer Homo sapiens, anatomically similar to modern humans began to extend the range of their habitation, little by little over thousands of years, occupying most of the habitable globe, until the next big change—–the onset of the Agricultural Revolution and the change from a nomadic to a sedentary settled lifestyle began to take root about 5000 to 10,000 years ago, especially with the recession of the last great Ice Age. This evidently provided the environmental window of opportunity for the development of agriculture—food production and dominion and control over a fixed sedentary environment—that shifted human subsistence from the hunter-gather model to the sedentary agricultural model and as a by-product made possible the development of cities and towns, vastly expanded populations and population densities, urban life, vocational specialization, division of labour, economies of scale and trade, large-scale political organization, and the development of technologies—all the marks of modern civilization.
So if we look at the evolution of human societies for simplicity’s sake as a kind of race in which all peoples started off relatively equally say 20,000 years ago as small bands of nomadic hunter-gatherers with no fixed settlements and adapting reactively to the natural environment—–and then we trace the progress of various peoples from that time down to the present when some nations and peoples have attained the most advanced industrial or post-industrial civilizations, a kind of Race to Modernity, then we can find many solid explanations for why some peoples made it to the finish line but others remained at the start line, why some made the cut to the Agricultural Revolution, and then made the next cut to the Industrial Revolution, while some peoples got stuck and never cleared one or more of these successive hurdles. Australian bushmen and forest peoples in Mexico, India, North and South America, and other primitive locales remained nomadic hunter-gatherers down to the present age, when they were overwhelmed by force by more advanced civilizations. Some peoples such as our Pre-Columbian Mesoamericans here in Mexico and the Incas made it to the Agricultural Revolution, yet were cut-short in their development and overwhelmed by more advanced civilizations before they could develop further autonomously, or enter the window of opportunity for the Industrial Revolution, and thus became appendages of global empires.
In all of this a key and critical point in the “race” was that of 5000-10000 years ago in which peoples made the leap from hunter-gather to agricultural civilization through organized sedentary food production. Why is this so important? Because it is the foundation on which all further progress and development rests. As Napoleon said ‘An Army marches on its stomach’ so we can also say on a wider scale that a people and a civilization develops and evolves ‘on its stomach.’ For millennia almost all human effort was directed at personal and small band survival and subsistence—simply fighting off the threat of starvation and death. All effort was necessary just to provide a minimum of food as a means of personal survival. With the development of the Agricultural Revolution everything changed. Suddenly productive farmers could provide not only enough food for their own survival but a Food Surplus which could be stored, controlled and transferred to support non-farmers who could specialize in trades and further develop productive technologies—-first artisans and craftsmen for fashioning useful tools, then professional soldiers and administrators of larger political entities—-tribes, towns and then nations—-further the rise of scribes, the learned professions and administrators who could devise written scripts and utilize the institution of written language. Moreover, with the improved productivity from specialization and trade, capital in various forms could be invested in the land and in the tools of the productive processes and in education to further expand the increase in productivity exponentially. All of this rested on the one irreplaceable foundation: “Farmer Power!” Unfortunately for the farmer, however, the benefit of their productivity was often forcibly appropriated by a kleptocratic elite of professional soldiers, landowners and nobility who took their surpluses without compensation, even reducing them to outright slavery or serfdom. Yet they and the food surplus they generated, remained the indispensible foundation for all the further development of urban civilization, division of labour, higher levels of social organization, the accumulation of knowledge and invention of tools and technologies and the rise of the modern state. It is this farmer generated food surplus that enabled the development of the larger, more complex and more specialized population that was later capable of evolving into an urban, industrial or even post-industrial society of the present age.
And as to armies and empires, we can say they were all created and maintained on the backs of the peasant or slave farmers who produced enough to feed and replenish themselves while producing a surplus that could be expropriated by and sustain the armies and administrators of empire. As we just noted Napoleon’s dictum that an army marches on its stomach made an agricultural base a necessary precondition for sustained warfare and empire. Sun Zi dedicated a good part of his Bin Fa, or Art of War to logistics and supply from the agricultural base. Hobbes described the state of nature as bellum omnes contra omnis, or a constant war of all against all until ordered by his famous Leviathian state. But the state itself made war no less common, though directed outward from the subdued agricultural baseland. I just completed a paper on the history of war: in the 5500 years of recorded history there are also recorded 14,530 wars, or about 2.6 wars per year. In the world there were only 350 years of peace during this period, with an estimated total number of deaths in war of over 400 million. So war is a rather constant human institution, not to mention the civil wars and class conflicts and insurrections noted by Marx’s class conflict theory. But I do suspect civilization brought much peace and stability to individual lives, even where wars occurred on the peripheries of nations. The Darwinian struggle continued by other means, but still on the backs of farmers until the Industrial Revolution replaced them with machines.
“So if we ask your question, Günter—-why didn’t the Aztecs discover Europe and colonize them instead of the other way round part of the answer is provided in the differences the two protocivilizations had in access to the pre-conditions for the first leap towards the Agricultural Revolution and the further development of their more and more complex societies. Bernal Diaz observed that the Aztecs were shocked to see horses and men riding horses—taking them for gods! Aside from the fact that this was tactically and psychologically helpful to Cortes, the more meaningful fact was that the Aztecs had virtually no domesticated animals to aid in their rise to an agricultural civilization—–no horses, cows, sheep, goats, pigs, donkeys or common farm animals of Eurasia. Notably they had no use of the wheel! Was this because they were intrinsically stupid and couldn’t invent the wheel? Not at all. In fact some Aztec toys preserved from the time show the use of the wheel in toys but it never became common in transportation. Why? Most likely because there were no large domesticated draft animals—horses, oxen, donkeys with which to exploit the invention. Using humans to pull wheeled vehicles over rough terrain would be only a marginal improvement over portage. The Incas did have the llama and alpaca, but they were never viable in Mesoamerica and had limited capacity, being a mountain animal. Similarly with domesticable grains and legumes. None of the domesticable grains of the world—wheat, rice, millet, sorghum, oats, or others were native to Mesoamerica, and therefore could not be domesticated and improved by selective breeding for agricultural productivity. In general the Aztecs and Mesoamericans were dependent on only three crops, maize corn, beans and squash. The Incas had potatos and manioc but there was little contact with Mesoamerica. Aside from dogs and turkey they had very little in the way of domestic animals to develop their agriculture to a higher stage. This is important in at least two ways that proved historically critical. First, they did not have the animal muscle to replace or supplement human muscle in work and transportation, slowing down their development. Likewise, they did not have cavalry for war. In short, the Aztec agricultural base was limited and weak and emerged thousands of years after the Eurasian agricultural base and as a result the cumulative growth of urban life, the useful trades and technologies was relatively and cumulatively weaker.
Another aspect is less obvious but proved fatally important. Eurasians developed into both herdsmen and fixed cultivators of the soil. They lived in close proximity with large numbers of sheep, goats, cattle, horses, pigs, chickens and other social animals. In Mexico recently we were accused of developing the “Swine Flu or H1N1” a potential global pandemic which allegedly emerged from viruses jumping species from pigs and chickens to humans and then mutating to become independently infectious and epidemic amoung humans. So now medical scientists are highly aware of how close proximity of large numbers of humans with large numbers of domesticated social animals breeds and precipitates the evolution of new epidemic strains, often by viruses or germs jumping species. Perhaps the number one reason for the failure of the Mesoamericans to mount any effective defense against the Europeans was the simple fact of the “Holocaust” in which up to ninety percent of them died within a generation of contact from smallpox, yellow fever, plague, malaria and a score of other diseases from the Old World from which they had no immunity. This immunity constituted a kind of biological capital which the Europeans had but the Indians lacked, alongside a lack of intellectual and technological capital vis-à-vis the Europeans. This lack of immunity stemmed from the lack of the wild species available for domestication, and the absence of domesticated herds from the farming environment in Mesoamerica, and the concomitant lack of a history of close proximity to large herds of domesticated animals.
Of course an additional negative was simply that humans had arrived in the Western Hemisphere much later than in Eurasia, and a fortiori Africa, and had become settled significantly later. Thus settled agriculture lagged Eurasian agriculture by some five thousand years,—perhaps beginning around 3500 BC compared to 7000-9000 BC for Eurasia. And once started, as in Mesoamerica and in Incan Peru it was slower to develop, and slower to support larger towns and urban congregations, which are the normal pre-conditions for the development of the arts and crafts, technologies, and the larger political organizations capable of resisting aggression or becoming profitably aggressive themselves.
If we play the role of the child with his infernal “Why” to the next stage of explanation, then we would ask further, well why didn’t they have such domesticable plants and animals, or if they didn’t have them on their own home turf, why didn’t they get them through trade from other places and peoples, just as the Europeans after Columbus integrated the new American crops of maize corn, potatoes, tomatos, tobacco and others from across the globe into their own agricultural mix. Here, my colleagues often criticize me in calling me a “Geographical Determinist,” meaning I am over-simplifying the complexity of history to some simple facts of geography. Yet I think I rebut their criticism, at least as relates to the critical time of the shift from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to settled agricultural lifestyles. At that time, some 10,000 years ago, humans, like all animals were totally dependent on their natural environment and had little power to control or change it. Nowadays we have science and technology to transform nature, but then the power to transform nature largely had to be found in nature itself first, then slowly and gradually adapted to human control. So often the presence or absence of a “Founder Crop” or “Founder domesticable species” was critical in making the next “leap forward” possible at all. In short, Eurasia geographically had a great advantage in being the largest land mass on earth in which both plant and animal species could evolve and develop, and its 9000 miles of East-to-West expanse within a single climate zone provided the best environment in the world for the spread of domesticable plant and animal species, should any develop at any point within it. North and South America and Africa, on the other hand were arrayed on a North-to-South axis, and their climate zones varied radically as one drew closer and away from the equator. Thus plant or animal species that could survive at one latitude had little chance to develop or spread north or south, since their biological cycles would be inappropriate to the latitude zone. Eurasian species and crop domestications could spread from Spain to China within a single latitude and climatic zone to which their plants’ and animals’ biological clocks were appropriate or adaptable.
In Eurasia or North Africa the lack of a crop or animal species could often be corrected by importing species from other regions. Thus, Egypt was able to import non-native wheat and grain species along with cattle from Mesopotamia. But, in general we can say that isolation of a civilization often proves fatal in the long run—we might even hypothesize a Fatal Law of Isolation. Where budding civilizations are in contact with other and competing civilizations they often learn and borrow from another—in the positive sense, or they fail to do so and are conquered by those who do innovate to their advantage—in the negative sense. In either case, in Eurasia the competing civilizations of Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, Persia, China, Europe, and Egypt were in constant, if distant communication, sometimes in peace and sometimes in war, and ideas, crop and animal species, technologies and innovations such as writing, art and religions passed between them and strengthened them. Even ironically to sardonically we might say they even strengthened themselves with their diseases and epidemic plagues, increasing their longer-term immunities and biological capital. Mesoamerica, however was isolated—-it is even believed that the Incas and the Aztecs had no knowledge of each other since they had little in seaworthy craft, and trade and communications through the rainforests and impassible terrain across the isthmus of Panama was highly restricted and often indirect. Or perhaps this is another chicken and the egg argument—the reason for their failure to develop sea navigation arising perhaps from the apparent absence of another well-developed civilization worth engaging in large-scale trade with—and a fortiori, their failure to discover and conquer the Europeans or Asians. They were of course isolated by the vastness of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans from the other hemisphere. They had little opportunity to learn or adopt innovations from other civilizations or even the negative impulse to resist their aggression. Europe, and in particular Spain had had the advantage of multiple innovations from other civilizations that made possible their rapid conquest of Mesoamerica—-they had sailing craft utilizing the sternpost rudder and compass, gunpowder, and paper from China, writing, steel and military and political organization from Rome and the Middle East, Arabic navigational techniques and the benefit of Arabic transmission of innovations from China and the East, the horse from the Eurasian steppes and all of the domestic animals and crops of Eurasia as well as immunities to Eurasian diseases. Evidently the only disease of American origin to become epidemic in Eurasia was that of syphylis, which might more appropriately be termed a truer “Montezuma’s Revenge” than the attacks of spastic colon tourists are liable to in Mexico. Similar fates awaited the isolated populations of Australia and Oceania when thrown into the global world. It would seem that China and Japan have oscillated from openness to the outside world to an isolationism of closing themselves off to the outside world and their concomitant self-strangling their own progress and competitiveness; and that when they have chosen voluntary isolation, they often succeed for a time in their internal development and the preservation of their controlling elites, as in the case of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in China and the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan, but in the long run awoke to discover that the Fatal Law of Isolation indeed proved fatal to them—the strategy of the ostrich being a dubious one for dealing with a hostile or competitive world—-most recently shown by the Cultural Revolution prior to the Kai Fang Opening Up policy of recent years. Europe, in contrast, in Modern Times has risen to pre-eminence precisely because of its fragmentation and the ferment of competition and innovation which excluded the temptation of the Fatal Law of Isolation as a viable option. For them for geographical reasons the siren song of isolation and self-reliance was out of the question to begin with.“
“Well I can see the logic of your argument regarding Eurasia and the Americas—the Americas having started the agricultural revolution five thousand years later and being relatively isolated and hence their progress relatively retarded,” broke in Günter, “…..but I don’t see why Africa, supposedly the original point of development of the Homo sapiens, should have failed to develop large scale agricultural, urban and then industrial civilizations. After all under the “Out of Africa Theory” as the point of earliest origin of modern humans they should have had the greatest head start of all, yet aside from Egypt, which as you say imported its domesticated plants and animals largely from Mesopotamia, why did Africa fail to take advantage of its head start and lead the way to agricultural and advanced civilizations?”
“An excellent question, Günter—-and a logical one.—Aside from Egypt, we find the African answer to the ‘Hamletian’ question “To Farm or Not to Farm” was towards the negative. Of course we need not take the racialist rationalizations for Africa’s lack of development too seriously, though they often resurface in times of stress. On an objective basis we could say that each people which made the leap and transition from the nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle to that of the settled agricultural food production lifestyle had to arrive at a “Viable Package”—that is to say a workable mix of domesticable crops and animals which would sustain settled life in preference to the earlier nomadic to semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle which they were to give up. Of course there might be a mixed phase of mixing the two lifestyles for a term as well. Once again in Africa we are confronted with the geographical and climatic barriers to the transition to fixed agriculture, particularly before pre-domesticated crops and animals of outside origin were imported. I have been to Africa many times with anthropological expeditions and have some knowledge of the terrain and difficulties. First of all, as we all know, a large part of Africa is unsuitable for agriculture as a result of the desert condition of the Sahara and other arid areas, which has been exacerbated by further desertification from overgrazing and other causes over the centuries. Another African environment hostile to agriculture is the Rain Forest zone, which presents a barrier and thin infertile soils. The Nile river is a special case, since a normally arid and infertile land is made rich and arable through the annual inundations and depositions of rich washed soil by the Nile’s flooding. Nonetheless, none of the principal grain crops, wheat, sorghum, oats, rice, millet or others were native to Africa and available for native domestication. In Tropical West Africa there were African yams and palm for palm oil, in Ethiopia there was coffee and teff, in the Sahel there was some grain—African rice and sorghum but on a limited basis. Also, perhaps surprisingly, since we think of Africa as a continent teeming in big game—zebra, lion, gazelle and the like, there seem to have been no native available domesticable animal species—later imports came from abroad—-no cow, goat, pig, donkey, horse or common farm animals—perhaps only the guinea fowl in the Sahel was domesticated. Even modern science with genetic engineering has never succeeded in the domestication of Africa’s wild game species, or of any significant indigenous crop species. Animals could be individually tamed, as in zoos and circuses, but the species could not be bred and selectively cultivated in captivity. Even much later attempts to import horses and other domesticated animals by the later Arab and European colonists were often unsuccessful since such animals could not survive in the malarial, tse tse fly infected areas of tropical rain forest and quickly died off—Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman may reflect the limits of the penetration of the horse from the Islamic realm of the north to the tropical south of Nigeria—perhaps only a King had the rare horses and they died away quickly amoung the tse tse flies and mosquitos. If we look at Africa on a globe it looks big, but aside from the arid Sahara across its wide part the Sub-Saharan part of Africa is quite narrow and worse yet straddles the Equator so that it is divided into rapidly changing climatic and geographical zones from North-to-South which inhibits the movement of species from zone to zone, mismatching their biological clocks. This probably explains the original paucity of domesticable species and the barriers to their spreading if domesticated. In any case we can trace the process by which Africa became black back to the Bantu Expansion which was linked to the development of African agriculture based on wet weather crops and summer rains, unlike the winter rain grain crops of Eurasia. Thus the Bantu-speaking peoples, whom we normally associate with the notion of “black” peoples began to develop a “Viable Package” suitable to their environment perhaps around the same late time as the Mesoamericans, that is 2000 to 3000 BC in their homeland around the Camaroons and began to expand their agricultural domain Eastwards and then Southwards, displacing the original non-black Africans, the Khoisan and the Pygmies, who never made the leap from hunter-gatherers to settled agriculture. This was based on yam cultivation, suitable for wet climates, sorghum and African rice, and some cattle. In a few centuries the Bantu blacks had pushed out and completely replaced the original non-black Pygmy and Khoisan hunter-gatherers along a domain of 2000 miles, first East and then South. This is a key to answering the question of How Africa became Black, at least Sub-Saharan Africa lets say. They were stopped at the Cape in South Africa since their summer rain and wetland crops of their agricultural “Package” were unsuitable for the Mediterranian and winter rain conditions of the Cape—and thus fatefully the Dutch arrived in the Cape and started their agricultural civilization with the Eurasian package in the 1600’s before the blacks—Xoxha and Bantu speakers—ever arrived!
This also represents another apparent and perhaps unfortunate Darwinian law of Development—-that successful agricultural peoples and civilizations will push out, replace, evict, assimilate or exterminate less successful hunter-gatherer societies which fail to make the leap to the Agricultural Revolution, just as modern global empires demonstrate that the Industrialized nations inevitably have taken dominion over any agricultural or pre-agricultural peoples who failed to make the leap from Agricultural Nations to Industrial Nations. Professor Sartorius—–you undoubtedly observed this in China’s 56 national minorities, such as the Miao, Yao and others—–If we ask the question parallel to the one of how Africa became Black, and ask how did China become Chinese, that answer is provided in tracing the history of the dominant Han people who developed a “Viable Agricultural Package” based on millet and rice, pig, chicken and bean cultivation who then expanded southard over the “Southern Frontier” from their origins on the Yellow River following a “Chinese Southern Manifest Destiny”, just like the Americans’ Westward “Manifest Destiny” expansion across their Western Frontier, first populating the Yangze basis and driving their peoples further south, then continuing and pushing out the minorities peoples, Thai-Kadai, Austroasiatic, Dai, Miao, Yao and others into marginal mountain and undesirable terrain, and pushing the Vietnamese, Burmese, Thai, Khmer-Cambodian and other peoples from their original habitations within present China to the north being thus driven southwards into their present national locations. All this represents the indirect results of “Farmer Power” translated into immense populations, supporting immense armies and division of labour and urban development leading to trade and powerful technologies. Occasionally we find the backwash of large aggregations of herdsmen forming mounted cavalry armies and overwhelming the farming populations, most often then becoming the next ruling class of the farming societies, but essentially becoming assimilated to them in that new role, as in the case of the Mongol empire, the conquest of Ming China by the Manchus, who then went on to become the next Qing Dynasty and arguably the conquers of the Ummayad and Abbasid Caliphates of Islam.
Well, getting back to Africa, we can say, perhaps contrary to expectation given Homo sapiens presumed origin in Africa, that it was not particularly suitable ground for the development of domesticable plant and animal species, and that the indigenous agricultural development that did occur came late and on a limited basis, the special case of Egypt excluded, and therefore Africa did not support large scale agricultural civilizations which in turn could have supported massively expanded populations, thence further urbanized and industrialized through indigenous development. That is not to say they never would have developed if left to their own, but probably much more slowly and later, which luxury was not in the offing as they were overwhelmed by outside forces before they had the chance. The effects of European and Islamic slavery cannot be ignored as a retarding force. It is estimated that Islamic slavery across the Sahara and up the East African coast from Swahili speaking slaving centers such as Zanzibar, resulted in the seizure and transportation of up to 30 million slaves to the Islamic world from the time of the first Caliphate down to modern times. That is significantly more than the 20 million estimated to have suffered the “Middle Passage” to the New World, 80% of whom went to Latin America and 20% to Anglo-North America, under the European powers. The working population of cities such as Basra under the Caliphate was largely composed of black African slaves and notable slave revolts were recorded of which contemporary Arab poets and writers wrote with great resentment, supporting their suppression. The combined total of 50 million African slaves, 30 millions drained to the Islamic empires and nations and 20 million to the European American empires, mostly captured by other African tribes or by Arab slaving parties and sold onto the market, to which must be sur-added the millions of slaves retained by the capturing slaveholding African tribes in Africa and not sold on to outsiders, must undoubtedly have retarded agricultural and economic development in Africa prior to colonization by the Europeans, and subsequent European colonial development was undoubtedly directed more to the well-being of the Europeans than their African subjects.
“I have just come from the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. I wonder how your theory of “Farmer Power” being the key to development relates to the areas of Oceania, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.” introjected Sartorius, already “three sheets to the wind” from his fourth Tequila Sunrise on top of the dinner wine.
“The Australian case is an interesting one, but it points up and confirms much of the main argument. The bushmen or aboriginal peoples made their way there fairly early, about 40,000 years ago, at which time during the Ice Age Australia and New Guinea were united into one land mass which itself was very close to the Eurasian landmass, in consequence of the much lower sea levels caused by the locking up of much of the sea water in glacial ice. Thus the aboriginals were able to reach Australia over only a few kilometers of sea, by adventure or possibly by accident. In the next millennia they evidently hunted the megafauna of Australia into extinction and continued a hunter-gatherer existence in a relatively hostile arid environment. There were no significant candidates for “Founder Crops” for devising a “viable package” of staples to support sedentary agriculture and little in the way of domesticable herd animals. Hence the Australian aboriginals largely remained as they began, hunter-gatherers in a hostile environment up until the time of the English incursion. They were quickly overwhelmed by epidemic disease or deliberate pressure and extermination by the English settlers, and driven to the less desirable areas similar to the fate of the American Indians, African Koisan and Pygmies and the smaller Chinese minorities. As the sea rose with the melting of the glacial ice at the end of the last ice age, however, New Guinea became separated from Australia by seas, and around 7000 BC agriculture began there with the domestication of the banana and sugar cane, taro and yams, but the areas suitable for agriculture were the mountainous highlands with more abundant rainfall and plant species and space was limited and quickly overpopulated. Though partially making the leap forward into agriculture, nonetheless the highland New Guinea agricultural revolution remained a weak one and was deficient in sources of protein, including domesticated animals. Quite possibly this endemic protein deficiency resulted in the widespread practice of cannibalism and internecine warfare.
Other Polynesian islands were evidently populated by peoples originating in Taiwan of non-Han origin who were reduced to a small vestigial minority on their Taiwan homeland. These peoples arrived at a significant breakthrough in seaworthy craft and navigational techniques, probably linked to the outrigger and catamaran canoes and boats, and were then able to island-hop across the pacific over a period from about 3000 BC to about 1000 AD. The Maori’s only reached New Zealand after 1000 AD, but a very few hundred years before the arrival of the Europeans. In different environments they adopted different strategies, sometimes reverting to hunter-gathering lifestyles, and sometimes, as in New Zealand and Hawaii, developing more intensive agriculture and complex social structures. Remarkably, so formidable were their seafaring abilities that Austronesian/Indonesians even became the first group to settle Madagascar on the African coast, reaching it by sea before the much closer Africans. In general these societies, even if they attained agriculture, were late in getting started, greatly limited in scale, available area and available species, and did not develop compex urban and technological centers capable of resisting the economic and military power of the Western powers who eventually took control of them.
By this time, cogent and exciting as Professor Rivera’s discourse was, Sartorius and Günter were beginning to feel the effects of the long day, a lingering jet-lag and incomplete adjustment of biological clocks, the mounting of the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, and the effects of three bottles of dinner wine, half a dozen cocktails of rum and tequila each, and several wonderful Cuban cigars. Professor Rivera was enough of a man of the world to know the appropriate time to cut short his lecture with a smile, even though he had devoted twenty years to publishing 27 books on the subjects of his discourse and was not a little ‘pen-proud’ of his theories. He therefore invited some of the young professors, scholars, students and staff in attendance at the dinner party to strike up some music and share some of their favourite songs in Spanish, then later nudged some of the good looking women amoung them to invite the guests to dance and join in the singing. Sartorius continued his practical introduction into the art of drinking Tequila, managing lemon wedges, salt, peppers, red shrimps—camorones—which to the delight of the company and under the influence of his imperfect Spanish and the effects of alcohol—he pronounced cabrones, and other requisite paraphanalia of the alcoholic ritual, downing several more to perfect his technique, while Günter Gross stuck to his Rum-cocos. By the end of the evening, as Professor Rivera began to marshall them towards the waiting cars to return to the Hotel Marco Polo, Günter Gross, normally one to hold his liquor heroically, was showing signs of vulnerability, and Sartorius, giving himself up with enthusiasm to a new oneness with the spirit of Mexico, was— !perfectamente borracho!
In Beijing, China:
It was a hard and fast rule of Chinese official hospitality, sometimes welcome and sometimes unwelcome, that after any major conference, event or program the participants, especially international visitors, would be invited to an ample banquet dinner, invariably accompanied by multiple toasts of baijiu liquor, wine, beer and other beverages, and followed late into the night by a session of Karaoke singing, usually excruciatingly off-key and mostly incomprehensible to foreign guests poor in Chinese language skills. After Sartorius and the Committee members completed their program and presentations a makeshift convoy of official and private cars and minibuses formed up to transit to Tsinghua University’s best dining hall to partake of a plentiful and generous banquet. Premiere Wen Jia Bao had stopped by for a half-hour during the program and shook hands, but was unable to stay for the dinner, but left several of his staff to fly the flag for him at the banquet. Since high government and party officials were present the offerings were on the generous to lavish side, and the colleagues, already loosened up from their long lunch were in good humour.
The many guests were seated as ever at many very large round tables with rotary serving trays at the center, from which each guest in turn took, buffet-style, whatever they pleased with long chopsticks. A constant stream of waiters and waitresses in uniform liberally replenished their glasses of wine, beer, strong baijiu distilled liquor and assorted delicacies. Following protocol the hosts would offer toasts to the guests, which after a spell of conversation would be reciprocated by the guests offering toasts back to the hosts.
“Wo Jing ni yi bei!” chanted out Sartorius in Mandarin Chinese considered good for a foreigner, offering the President of Tsinghua University a glass of Maotai baijiu in return for one received ten minutes earlier.
Seated at the head circular table for the guests of honor were the foreign guests from the Committee—-Sartorius, Andreas, Pari, Muhammad, Mustafa and Yoriko—-along with Professor Zhou Tieya, and several of the university staff, and several members and staff of the Guo Wu Yuan, or Chinese national Cabinet. As host, according to protocol, the President of the University was seated at the notional ‘head’ of the table, with a special place setting to indicate this place of honor, and the guests arranged at increasing distances from the host according to their relative prestige or place in the notional pecking order of the moment. The foreign guests were given pride of place on one side and government officials and staff along the other., with some alternation and special consideration so as to place those competent in either English or Chinese next to each other so as to carry on conversation, and not isolate those without a common language between them. Thus protocol somewhat impeded any tendency of the round tables to serve the function mythically associated with the Arthurian round table, to make all equal and remove barriers and distinctions. Sartorius found himself seated next his good friend Professor Zhou Tieya. After an interval Professor Zhou was greeted by an old friend and classmate of his who had arrived with the party from the State Council and whom he had not seen for several years but who had arranged to meet him for a reunion at the dinner. He was imposingly impressive at six foot six inches, handsomely faced and with a lithe and athletically muscular body he seemed ten years younger than his true age—-the very antithesis of the image Sartorious would conjour up of a Chinese high Party official. Professor Zhou introduced his old friend as Luo Chunwang, an old classmate from his student days at Peking University, whom Zhou had known as a fellow member of the Chinese delegation to the United Nations in New York, who had risen subsequently to head the Second Bureau of the Guo An Bu, or Ministry of State Security, the Chinese intelligence service, and under the present President was elevated to the post of Minister-without-Portfolio and alternate member status in the ruling Politburo but still with oversight over the intelligence services,—–who then greeted the guests cordially in near perfect English and the air of a cultivated man of the world, shaking hands all round as a place was made for him between Sartorius and Mustafa bin-Sali.
After the obligatory set speeches expressing thanks and appreciation for the guests and appreciation for their program and work, following protocol the hosts would offer toasts to the guests, which after a spell of conversation would be reciprocated by the guests offering toasts back to the hosts, and then a spate of similar offerings of a toast to those one was seated alongside at table.
“Wo Jing ni yi bei!” chanted out Sartorius in Mandarin Chinese considered good for a foreigner, offering Minister Luo Chunwang a glass of Maotai baijiu in return for one received ten minutes earlier.
“Cheers” reciprocated Luo Chunwang in an excellent English tinged with a mild British accent suggesting the Oxford English of his three-year sojourn at the London School of Economics thirty years before, “I understand you and Teddy worked together on the administrative staff of the United Nations some years ago?”
“Yes, we were together there for several years and now we are teaching together at your old alma mater, Bei Da.” responded Sartorius.
“Teddy and I go back a long way together, first as students at Peking University, then we were part of the first government sponsored group to enroll at the London School of Economics after Kai Fang, the opening up policy under Deng Xiaoping, and then we served some time together as part of the Chinese delegation to the United Nations in New York and at the US Embassies in Washington and in London.
“So, Mustafa” said Luo Chunwang, “ Is this your first time to Beijing?…..I would like to get your first impressions……”
“Yes, sir………….I can tell you I am very impressed both with China’s and Beijing’s great past and with its rapid transformation and promise for the future…….For instance this morning we just visited the Forbidden City which was constructed around 1421, just about the time that the famous Chinese admiral Zheng He was making his fantastic journeys in the magnificent Treasure Fleet, from China to India and on to the Arabic lands and even Africa. You know Zheng He is a hero to both the Chinese and to the Muslim world—-he is known in Arabic as Hajji Mahmud Shams, the title Hajji indicating that like his father and grandfather he made the pilgrimage to Mecca. Zheng He was born to the Hui minority in Yunnan Province of China and like most Hui he was a Muslim. He was a sixth-generation descendant of Sayyid Ajjal Shams al-Din Omar, a famous Khwarezmian Yuan governor of Yunnan Province, originally from Bukhara in modern day Uzbekistan. His original name was Mǎ Sānbǎo, and I am sure you know how many Chinese Muslims are named Ma, after Muhammad.
We know how much the Westerners talk about the voyages of Columbus and Magellan, but Columbus sailed in three insignificant vesssels—the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria—whereas Zheng He sailed in more than 200 ships with over 28,000 crewmen. Emperor Yongle sent them to establish a Chinese presence, impose imperial control over trade, and impress foreign peoples in the Indian Ocean basin. He also might have wanted to extend the tributary system. Just like today’s Chinese operations in Somalia Zheng He’s navy ruthlessly suppressed the pirates plaguing the Indian Ocean trade.
Coming to Beijing for the first time foremost in my mind is the greatness of Asian civilizations, particularly through the ‘Medieval’ period of the rise of Islam from 600 AD and the rise of the Tang Dynasty, the period of China’s great flourishing during the same time as the great rise of the Abyssid Caliphate. The two great cities of the world were Baghdad and Changan and the British may have then still been painting themselves blue in the forests! Just look at this magnificant Imperial Palace dating from 1421 that dwarfed anything in the West at that time and continued to do so for centuries. I think the Westerners have suffered a bit much from their amour propre and an exaggerated sense of themselves, dating from really a brief moment in history, their world empires rising and falling within a couple of hundred years for the most part, only a bit longer with the Spanish in the New World. What we see today, especially with the latest world financial crisis is the rise of Asia to its former greatness and a decline of the West. I think from now on we shall not see history made in Western Europe and the rest of the world a minor footnote to that story. If you think about it historically, the era of Western domination was only a flash in the pan!
“Haha, Ha-ha!” guffawed Professor Zhou Tieya, “well maybe there is a grain of truth to what you say, but I think we need to be a bit guarded against our own wishful thinking before we come to such sweeping conclusions!………But it is a quite interesting question…….there is no doubt as you say that China was great from the Sui and Tang dynasties forward alongside the Abyssid Caliphate—also great from the Medieval to the Renaissance periods using the Western frame of history —though both were somewhat disrupted by the Mongol conquest in the 13th century, probably significantly greater than their contemporary rivals in the west…..though if you go back further to Classical times, say the time of the Greek and Roman Empires under Alexander the Great and then in Rome under the Republic and the Caesars then there was a rough equality with China under the Qin and Han dynasties……Alexander and then Rome uniting the West into a quasi-universal empire for a spell and Qin Shi Huangdi and later the Hans uniting China into an apparent universal regional empire……But I guess we’ve seen rises and falls and cycles everywhere……But the deeper and more interesting question is why did the West spurt so dramatically ahead and attain world dominance from the time of the Renaissance to our own time, given the prior greatness and advanced development of the Asian empires and civilizations? There is even the paradoxical origin of many of the technological drivers of Western Modernity in an Asia which itself failed to modernize until overwhelmed by the West—-I mean the four Chinese great inventions we so pride ourselves on—gunpowder, paper, printing, the compass, plus Indian inventions such as the Zero in mathematics and the so-called Arabic numerals for mathematics which are probably of Indian origin—known as the ‘Hindsi’ or Indian numerals in Arabic, just as they are known as the ‘Arabic’ numerals in the West—and many Arabic advances such as alchemy giving rise to chemistry, Algebra, algorithms—foundations of modern science and medicine—the very etymology of the words with ‘al’ including our good friend alchohol here (sipping his glass of wine) testifying to their Arabic origins—not to mention the debt of the West through St. Thomas Aquinas for the transmission of many of Western classics recovered in the Renaissance——–preserved in Arabic translation and transmitted through Ibn Sina and Ibn Rush—Averroes and Avicenna———————Why were such seeds of the modern world stillborn and stifled in Asia while they flourished in and propelled the West to global dominance in the modern era?—— And concomitantly what has Asia now learned and assimilated of that Western model and modern advantage such as to return permanently to a position of at least parity and as the jargon goes “multi-polarity” in a rebalanced world?……..What would you say Robert?………….If Changan and Baghdad were in fact ascendant in the Medieval times down to the pre-Renaissance why then did the West attain the amazing success that it did…or put the other way—what caused Asia, Islam and the former non-Western civilizations to fall so miserably behind when they themselves had originated many of the precursor factors of the West’s subsequent success in its drive towards modernity, industrialization and global dominance?………..and will the West’s dominance continue in another form or will it end?……what do you say?……..Haw-haha!….I’m giving you the big impossible questions but lets see how well you can do with it anyway!……….
“Well Teddy, that is a pretty big order—-you want me to give you the ‘Passe-portout and Abracadabra” to all of the locked doors and puzzles of world history——-of course it is impossible to generalize so broadly very accurately—-but to give it a try just to set our thinking in the right direction—–what I would say would be that the dominance of the West that we take for granted as an innate characteristic of the world order is itself the paradoxical product of what I would call a ‘Triple Paradox’——-Let me explain what I mean—— the First Paradox is as you mentioned that many of the precursor seeds of Western modernity and success were paradoxically partially of Asian origin but themselves failed to germinate or arrived stillborn in Asia—-gunpowder, printing, paper, the compass, higher mathematics, advanced shipbuilding etc—to which we might include also that the monotheistic Christian religion of individual salvation propagated globally by the West has itself its origin in the Asian East; the Second Paradox was that the Chinese empires such as the Chinese Tang succeeded in achieving a local unification of political regimes and unified empires, and even the Mongols came close to unifying Asia as a whole, yet Asia failed to become the driver that unified the world as a whole; the Third Paradox of course being that concomitantly the West failed to re-unify itself into an integrated and unifed empire in the sense of reconstituting the Roman Empire across Europe in the same way the Tang Dynasty reconsituted the classical Han Chinese Empire yet as a by-product became the driver of the unification of the world as a whole into an integrated economic, technological and political whole—first through global empires and then through the modern condition of the community of nation-states loosely integrated within a capitalist trading system and international organizations such as the UN. Thus we have the meta-paradox of the West succeeding through its failure and the East failing through its success!…………
“In terms of religion we have the inverse paradox, that of the dominant religions of the world being universally of Asian origin—Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism—–and having become so in the wake of and at least partially by means of their germination and propagation by the global empires of the ‘West! Thus failure contains the seeds of success and success the seeds of failure—–in Greek we call this ‘The Enantiodromia’ the tendency of all things to become their opposites, and of course a propos to our host city here, in Chinese we call this the process of the Dao or Tao….sometimes translated as ‘the Way’ or ‘the Cosmic Process,’ the endless interpenetration and interchange and reversal of energies of the Yin and Yang!…………………….
“Well, to be a bit less cryptic about this so-called ‘Triple Paradox of World Modernity’—— what I would say in broad brush-strokes—–and of course they can never be completely and invariably true yet can be quite useful if preponderantly more true than false——-would be this: What were the key forces which drove the West ahead into a position of dominance and cultural hegemony? In shorthand, we might say that the West surged ahead when it systematically mobilized, perhaps for the first time in history following the Renaissance, the creative force of the individual mind—we might call it ‘the rise of the individual’—albeit also referring to the rise of those individuals in their millions—— liberated in both the marketplace of ideas and scientific invention—-attaining unparalleled control over the forces of nature——-uncontrolled by any effective universal censor, and in the realm of productive economic energies, of those individuals in their millions integrated into a relatively free market of exchange and specialization in which each enterprise secured its own profit, reward and reinvestment in its own productive enterprise rather than having such surplus creamed off by an unproductive feudal exploitative elite—-or true at least more or less in relative terms……………..
Why did the West succeed where the East failed in its advance into Modernity?——Roughly speaking we can see that there were many creative individuals and critical inventions in the East—gunpowder, the compass, printing, Arabic/Indian numerals, algebra, paper etc.—yet if the child of future promise may have in some instances been born in Asia, it was strangled to death in its own cradle—–like the monstrous Chronos devouring his own children to prevent them from destroying him in the future—–by an entrenched and reactionary conservative Imperial or feudal elite which aborted in their own lands the seeds of that threatening future, which seeds would nevertheless yet errantly germinate in more fruitful soil in the West and indirectly bring about the death and destruction of that same Imperial or feudal elite………The West, because it failed in attaining effective political or totalitarian unity became an environment of openness and competition in both ideas and in techniques of economic enterprise. If innovation and new ideas and lifestyles were suppressed in one location in the West they would ‘vote with their feet’ and find other nations or principalities to host and sponsor such innovation, and when the competitive advantage of such changes became evident, each state would by necessity adopt and adapt to survive. In the east Imperial monopoly or despotism would preclude such competitive alternatives and evolutionary process………The West’s imperial or political failure and fragmentation led to its economic, intellectual and technological success…..as predicted by Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations…………..
“Wherein lay the difference in the two destinies, East and West?—as we say in the paradox that in the East the repressive and rebarbative forces of Imperial or feudal conservatism and exploitation were more efficient and able to succeed in repressing the creative intellectual and economic energies of their creative classes and economically innovative and productive individuals, whereas in the West those same reactionary forces failed in their own very strenuous attempt to do exactly the same thing. Why did they fail?—–in large part because the West failed in its many conservative or reactionary attempts to impose a unified, coherent and effective system of political, police and intellectual control—neither could the ‘Holy Roman Empire’ nor the ‘Concert of Europe’ effectively impose a universal reactionary system of political and police control; nor could the Catholic Church, through the Inquisition or otherwise, effectively do the same at level of the intellectual and of moral authority within the society. The West succeeded paradoxically through its political disunity and fragmentation into a puzzle-board of nation-states, and a fracturing of authority between church and state——enabling the releasing of the competitive creative and productive energies of their peoples, whereas the East failed through its success in reimposing several incarnations of a local effective universal empire with policed control and exploitation of the bodies, minds and economic energies of its own peoples………
“Take the examples we have been discussing today while visiting the Forbidden City——founded in 1421——-the same period as the travels of Zheng He, the great Chinese ‘Admiral of the Western Ocean.’——-Zheng He is an admirable example since his achievements prove that educated men in Asia were theoretically capable of the feats of Columbus and Magellan—discovering the New World and circumnavigating and integrating the globe——-we even have the notable ‘1421 Hypothesis” of Gavin Menzies that in fact Zheng He did beat Columbus to the new world—-which though almost surely is false as I argued with him face-to-face at the booksigning he gave at The Bookworm, our local Beijing expatriate literary center and watering-hole—-it would prove my point a fortiori—–Zheng He’s achievement as a Chinese Muslim reflected the skill, science and culture and potential capabilities of both the Muslim world and the Chinese world of the late Medieval period in Asia——yet what a difference in the social result of the voyages of Zheng He and Columbus!——-
Columbus’s voyage itself was a product of the disunity of the West—–Columbus himself was of Italian origin—Genoese—-and he proposed his project of a voyage Westward to get to the East—-China and India—to the Portugese court, which turned him down—–twice—-Portugese experts arguing quite correctly that the curvature of the round earth would make the westward distance to China far too large to make the transit possible or profitable—–he then went to the Genoese and Venetians, who rejected him, and later sent his brother to Henry VII of England, who accepted his proposal but too late after Columbus himself had already signed a contract with Ferdinand and Isabella of the newly united and liberated Spain. Thus, an ‘entrepreneur’ such as Columbus had multiple constituencies to appeal to and a ‘no’ from one was never a final no. Columbus was a dreamer and an entrepreneurial promoter driven by a personal vision, such vision founded on several mistakes of fact, such as an inaccurate view of the size of the globe and a false assessment of the newly discovered lands as being India or the Indies/Indonesia, but still a powerful dream and vision. He received half his capital from the Spanish crown and half from Italian investors, and his personal reward would be appointment as “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” and appointment Governor of any new lands discovered, plus a right to 10% or possibly one-eighth of any profits from the enterprise. Ferdinand and Isabella’s motivation in backing Columbus was to gain some trade advantage and profit over their national trade competitors from Venice, Genoa, Portugul and others after the disruption of the Asian Silk Road trade by the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman turks in 1453. The legacy of Columbus’ voyage of discovery of course was also a reflection of the disunity of the West—–a scramble for colonies and competition for trading routes and rights.
“What, comparatively speaking, was the analagous case of Zheng He?” Sartorius continued, the guests at table having asked a large question, they granted him the patience to hear him out and receptively sipped their drinks as he unfolded his thoughts, “In 1381, following the defeat of the Northern Yuan, a Ming army was dispatched to Yunnan to put down the Mongol rebel Basalawarmi. Ma Sanbao, soon to be renamed Zheng He, then only eleven years old, was captured and made a eunuch. He was sent to the Imperial court, where he eventually became a trusted adviser of the Yongle Emperor, assisting him in deposing his predecessor, the Jianwen Emperor. Notably, his access to patronage and authority in the Ming court required the sacrafice of his very manhood, the ultimate subordination of the interests of the individual to those of the state or ruler, a fate shared with many ill-fated men of extraordinary ability in the imperial East, such as in the castration inflicted on the great Chinese historian Si Ma Qian. In return for meritorious service, the eunuch received the name Zheng He from the Yongle Emperor. He studied at Nanjing Taixue (the Imperial Central College) and travelled to Mecca. Between 1405 and 1433, the Ming government sponsored a series of seven naval expeditions. Emperor Yongle designed them to establish a Chinese presence, impose imperial control over trade, and impress foreign peoples in the Indian Ocean basin. He also might have wanted to extend the Chinese tributary system. Whatever his precise motives, they were calculated on the basis of the personal or dynastic interests of the Imperial court rather than those of the Chinese people as a whole beyond the court. In 1424, the Yongle Emperor died. His successor, the Hongxi Emperor (reigned 1424–1425), decided to curb the influence of Zheng He and the Treasure Fleet at court. Zheng He made one more voyage under the Xuande Emperor (reigned 1426–1435), but after that Chinese treasure ship fleets ended. The treasure fleet was then terminated, along with all the sea communications network established by Zheng He because of intrigues in the Imperial court and the fact that it was not immediately profitable to the Imperial court, which also imposed a monopoly control excluding all other segments of society. What was the long term legacy and result?——-even more disastrous—–naval exploration and communications were seen by the Ming court not as a glorious opportunity, neither of a base materialistic nor culturally noble character as in Columbus’ Spain and Europe, but as a threat to their entrenched imperial and feudal power rooted in agricultural land ownership. And Wittvogel’s hypothesis in his Oriental Despositsm that oriental authoritarian systems were rooted in and preserved by their control of irrigation networks in arid areas where great rivers brought life giving water controllable by a small elite, though incomplete is still powerful as an explanation. How did the Imperial court react to the opportunities brought to their attention by Zheng He?—– Under the Ming Dynasty, the Hongwu Emperor was the first to propose the policy to ban all maritime shipping and after Zheng He that system continued under the Hai Jin, or “Sea Ban” policy. The only way that foreigners might visit Ming China was via the tribute system. The Sea Ban Policy also required coastal residents to move inland 30–50 li (est. 15 to 25 kilometers) from the sea. All private boats and ships were burned and even small rafts were not allowed at sea, continuing until the time of Kangxi in 1684. Thus the voyages of Columbus revealed a world of opportunity to the disunited and competing states and individuals of the West but revealed but a threat to the deadening absolute control and security interests of the Ming court. We see similar policies echoed in the closing of Japan and Korea to outside communications as “Hermit Kingdoms” in protecting the narrow interests of the ruling elite in preservation of the status quo……Once again paradoxically the Chinese were doomed by their own partial success…..this is what the historians call the ‘High Level Trap” phenomenon—-the Chinese were able to eke out fairly desirable levels of development from the traditional system—profitable at least for the elite if not over time for the people as a whole—-thus encouraging them not to change it—-as long as they could muddle through and limp along with the old repressive system with moderate success preserving the prerogatives of the elite, that was more desirable than taking any risk of systemic innovation and change—–When you are the Emperor or the imperial elite already on top of the world you have a lot more to risk and possibly lose from any substantive change and a lot less to potentially gain!—-so the easy conclusion of standing pat and repressing any change is natural………..until you wake up one morning….too late!…. and discover that the evolution of the outside world has left you and your people fatally behind!………….Over and over again the peoples of Asia have discovered, as have peoples everywhere, that their principal enemies and exploiters were their own elites and rulers whose narrow selfish interests in blocking change and innovation weakened their countries as a whole in the longer run…………..
“Thus, the West succeeded paradoxically through its political disunity and fragmentation into a jig-saw puzzle-board of nation-states that made such attempts to wall out historical change and challenges impossible whereas the East failed through its success in reimposing an effective universal local empire and elite-policed control and exploitation of the bodies, minds and economic energies of its own peoples………Why was this so?—–we can read the tea leaves of Western history—-(the tea presumably also from China but containing a Western destiny!)—-what were the critical breaks that propelled the West to global dominance—-the “Revolutions” within it which changed the world?—-we begin with the “Gutenberg Revolution”—the revolution in human thought and communications accompanying the introduction of the printing press and movable type into Western Europe after 1450 or so—paradoxically again a Western revolution with an Eastern origin in the Chinese inventions of paper and printing—a socially-disruptive Revolution echoed in the modern phenomenon of the Internet or Digital Revolutions of today——this ‘Gutenberg Revolution” would also become “the revolution of the individual mind” as books and periodicals in the vernacular liberated the creative thoughts and energies of individuals newly empowered through literacy and education with the cultural heritage of a civilization heretofore the exclusive preserve of the noble elite—and for the first time mobilized the potential intellectual and economic energies first of the urban middle-classes and later the masses…the Gutenberg Revolution also aided the impact of the Renaissance itself—-the recovery and intensification of the rationalistic heritage of the Hellenic and Roman cultures fortified by the new creativity of the Renaissance individual mind……What was the difference between the West and East?—— or more accurately the ‘non-West’ if you will—-surely the East-West dichotomy and opposition is but a fictitious but neverthless useful oversimplification—–the repression of the individual by the Eastern imperial elites also is a shorthand for the repressive tendencies with regard to the individual in other contexts such as those of the tribe or clan in Africa and much of the world?…..We can see the East could produce through gifted individuals the technology of printing, but it could not socially produce the Gutenberg Revolution, it could produce the seeds but it could not cultivate the crop and harvest…..its potential Gutenberg Revolution was aborted by the effectiveness of its own repressive elites……………….Ultimately it has been the a collective genius of the West to unleash the intellectual and economic productive and creative energies of the individual—-multiplied through their millions in their collective masses—-such that a nation of fifty million could out-produce and overpower a stagnant nation of five-hundred million unproductive and unmobilized individual minds held in check by a repressive elite exploiting an illiberal tradition…………….
“The Gutenberg Revolution is also associated with the “Vernacular Revolution” which sees the development of mass literacy in the spoken language of the people—–culminating and coming to fruition in the movements of nationalism and “Nationalist Revolutions” which are also in part the motor drivers of nationalist-based global empires enabled by mass-educated armies and national free market economies of scale……..Once again the vernacular revolution in China had to wait until the fall of the feudal elite and empire with the Revolution of 1911 and the following May 4 Movement led by Hu Shi and Lu Xun introducing Bai Hua vernacular literature as the language of the people.
“Next we had the ‘Scientific Revolution,’ alongside the Reformation which translated the immense potential creative energies of the individual mind in its millions into an effective and unparalleled control over the forces of nature—and of course this grows out of the preceding Gutenberg Revolution. Here we see the critical difference between the West and the East—-the West succeeds, in relative terms of course, in scientifically controlling Nature, whereas the East succeeds in controlling Man—that is in the conservative elite controlling and repressing human society for its own ends—-and when we get down to the final historical calculus it is that Nature is far more powerful than Man and that whoever can control the forces of nature will overwhelm those who may only control the forces of Man………………..(though we are only invoking and speaking in an illustrative false exclusivity between them to make a rhetorical point!)…………………….the final lesson being whoever can control the creative forces of the individual mind and thereby the power of Nature will control history despite the sucesses of the repressive elites in controlling the collectivities of men……but control in either case is unlikely to be exclusive or unconflicted……………we could even imagine the limiting case through the present climate change debate regarding the relative balance of power between man and nature in which human control over nature through technology becomes so overwhelming that nature itself is so subordinated to institutionalized human contol that a repressive elite’s control over man might constitute an effective control over a nature so subordinated as to fail to yield the power to overthrow that elite……
“At the next stage of the ‘Rise of the West” we then have the “Industrial Revolution” following 1750 or so, which in various degrees according to historical circumstance results in the application of the technology enabled by the Scientific Revolution to be applied to the economic sphere through the development of modern capitalist enterprise and the global marketplace—-with the by-product of replacing the power of human and animal muscle with that of steam, coal, electricity and the otherwise harnessed forces of nature at the command of man. The bourgeois capitalist revolutions liberated the self-interest driven energies of individuals in their millions in the economic sphere, also stimulating sustained investment and technological innovation.——all of this powers the industrial and technological advantage of the West which quickly translates into military, marketplace and imperial dominance by the Western powers down to the present time——–insofar as China and the East has ‘learned from the West’ or ‘caught up with the West’ it is almost exclusively by emulating them—–thus we have ‘A New Deal” in the inclusion of more players in the game of ‘Western’ modernizing success but so far the ‘Rise of China’ or the ‘Rise of Asia’ is concerned they have not been based on changing the game the West invented as much as redistributing the cards…………..we would have a hard time finding anything particularly ‘Chinese’ about the ‘rise’ of China—based on introduction under ‘Kai Fang’ of a market economy integrated through the WTO into the world market economy, and Westernized education—–except perhaps the traditions of work, education and social responsibility associated with Confucian culture—-which Confucian culture in and of itself failed to bring about the heralded modernization until transformed and adapted to models of ‘modernization and development’ based on models of the West—and even Communism is a product of the West itself insofar as its socialist tendencies modify the operation of Western liberal capitalism…………..But perhaps we should not ignore the contradictions and weaknesses of the West itself and be too complacent, particularly in the excesses of the marketplace reflected in the Great Depression as well as the present world financial crisis…………….
“Yes, Professor Sartorius…..” interjected Luo Chunwang, “……what you say sounds broadly plausible, but with the world financial crisis and with the levers of the West’s power, the control of nature through scientific technology limited and blunted by the impending crises of climate change and “Peak Asian Oil” and in other resources, “many voices are predicting the ‘Decline of the West” to use Oswald Spengler’s phrase, and the concomitant rise of of the East. What is your prognostication for the future then?”
“Well Minister…….” said Sartorius, “…….there is an old saying that it is always dangerous to make predictions……………especially about the future!……..None of us have an infalliable crystal ball….but I would think that in general the position of the United States as the so-called “sole Superpower” of the world can only be a tentative result of the misfortune of other nations and not a natural inevitability or an unchangeable condition. America has only five percent of the world’s people, one fourth of China’s population, yet has produced one fourth of the industrial product of the earth. This has been the result of both its own success and good luck and of the underdevelopment of many of the more populous counties and the impact of wars and misfortunes, such as WWI and WWII or the collapse of the Soviet Union……it would hardly be reasonably expected that the rest of the world would be permanently incapacitated……….the European Union now has 27 nations with a GDP larger than that of the USA and population of 500 million compared to America’s 300 million…..in the long term if it can advance to greater cohesion, one would expect a more equalized sharing of power between the EU and the US in the Western Alliance, and the industrialization and development of Russia, China, Brazil and India must in the long-run cause some increasing counterbalancing tendency in terms of comprehensive geo-political power.
There are three distinct China’s in existence side by side today— the old, which has not wholly died out, the new, hardly yet born except in spirit, and the transition, passing now through its most critical throes. People are sometimes worried about the ‘rise of China’ and of course Napoleon is famous for saying ‘let China sleep, for when she stands up the world will tremble’ which is inevitable when you are talking about 1.3 billion people, but I think we can’t ignore that China is not the only country rising—–its rise is balanced by the rise of India, the rise of the EU, re-emergence of a new Russia, and an expected counter-resurgence of Japan, as well as the balance of the status quo powers including the United States—and the better hope is that China will find a productive place within the community of nations and within a sustainable balance of power globally and within Eurasia and become a responsible stakeholder in the international concert of nations as its relative capacities improve. And if this kind of a rise is accompanied by a rise of many others, like the rising tide lifting all boats, then we don’t need to go in fear and dread and exaggerate things in our minds. But I don’t think this means a ‘decline’ of the US in absolute terms, nor of the West in absolute terms, though it may dilute their influence in relative terms……But so far it doesn’t look like being a revolutionary overturning of the status quo—–most ascendant countries including probably China just want a ‘New Deal’ in the old game, a better and more equitable hand to play with without kicking the game table over, and most likely they will become responsible stakeholders in the commonly shared system…….or at least we may hope so!”
“Well then we shall see!……” ventured the Minister “……..as the saying goes we have been cursed to be born in ‘interesting times!’—–well, our party will have to be going—-you know how hectic our schedules in the government are and we have to drop in on a couple more official gatherings before the night is out—– but I hope we will have the opportunity to meet again soon……..I will offer you all one last toast……..’To a better future!——-Jing nimen tsai yi bei!’”
A man is movement, motion, a continuum. There is no beginning and no end to his voyage. He runs through his ancestors, and the only beginning is the primal beginning of the single cell in the slime.
The essential connections of man and his universe are not subject to the verbal abstractions of the intellect. If we insist on confining knowing to rational knowledge then we can know nothing beyond our own powers to create; and man has created neither himself or his universe, neither his reason nor his “little man inside,” the ego, or the voice of intuition in the service of his unconscious. If we reason about our place in linear time and learn to intuit with the unconscious our more fundamental place in primordial time, then we have the possibility of both maintaining and nurturing the individual living self, while harnessing the generative power of our archetypal selves.
The proper study of mankind is man, but man is an endless curve on the eternal graph paper, and who can see the curve in its wholeness?
The Voices of the Sirens
What could protect the hearer from from self-destruction having once put their ear to the heart of the universal will, and felt the raging desire for existence pour fourth into all the arteries of the world? What protects the hearer from this self-destruction is the interposition of the narrative of intrinsic beauty and of the tragic myth and the figure of the tragic hero—of Odysseus straining at his bonds. They are the forms that shield the partaker from the collapse of all form, even the illusory form of the fragile vial of his own fragile self, releasing him into an ecstatic union with the primal oneness behind all appearances. Self-abandon restores the almost shattered individual with the illusion of transcendent beauty, the Apollinian arising from the convulsion of the Dionysian, rescued by the healing balm of illusion and blissful deception. The Dionysian threatens to destroy the individual. The Apollinian wrenches man out of his orgiastic self-destruction.
The world is full of mysteries that only the dead can answer. We partake in the mysteries like Acoetes, the humble ship’s pilot voyaging out of Homer and Pound’s Cantos who found on his boat as unexpected passenger the god Dionysos, first disguised as a young boy, loggy with vine must, then as the boat is hijacked by thugs, eager to sell the boy into slavery, revealed in his living divine power in dazzling metamorphoses, summoning from thin air the Bacchic totems, then transforming the thugs into monsters, the ship into a tangle of living vines afloat on a wine-dark sea. We are all sailors on this primordial and undying sea. And our voyage is both an enchantment and a disenchantment. A disenchantment, in that metamorphosis leads ugly things to distend their ugliness and in their ugliness dismember and drag us downwards towards death. An enchantment, in that metamorphosis is the controlling force of human evolution. Let us suppose the onward evolution of the human species. Let us suppose the evolution of new organs of a deeper life exteriorizing from the living roots of the human organism—a horn, a halo, an Eye of Horus…. Given a brain of man’s power, the question arises, what organ, and to what purpose? But man goes on making, drawing out of his roots, organs and onward trajectories, new faculties, new forms of genius—-from the faculty of hearing the simultaneous counterpoint of of the weave of voices of the musical fugue or canon—–the counter-melody of the Four Quartets, punctus contra punctum———-to the nose for money………
Fare thee not well but fare forward then, O Brothers and Sisters! ….Our voyaging eyes thusly forever transfixed upon the floating horizons, the great horizons of human life and of human existence, that our voyage might hasten the morphing evolution of a newer human race—–a race that sprouted horns, occult eyes for newer and finer wavelengths, transcendent whiskers for brushes with the unseen, antennae sensitive to the divine trembling in the aether, so that…………………………
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