Saturday, July 18, 2015

The West Rules - for now

Ian Morris developed an index to measure social development, defined as a measure of communities’ abilities to get things done in the world.  It is based on (a) energy capture, (b) social organization, (3) information technology, and (4) war-making capacity. 

His research showed that the West developed first, because the geography in region that we now call the Middle East favoured domestication of animals and plants starting around 14,000 BC. 

The West actually reached a high during the heydays of the Roman Empire around the time of Jesus Christ.  It then went into a long decline as the Roman Empire collapsed.  Around the same time, the East also reached a high during the Han Dynasty in China.  The Han high was lower than the Roman one.  But the subsequent post-Han decline was also not as deep, and the East recovered faster.  

Around 500 AD, the East surpassed the West in social development.  The East subsequently reached a high during the Sung Dynasty, which was as high as that achieved by the Romans. 

The West started to regain its lead when the Western Europeans discovered America, and particularly when the industrial revolution increased productivity tremendously.  The West pulled ahead dramatically in the 19th century.  

Now the East is catching up, while both are accelerating.  In fact, the East is growing faster and, at the present rate, is poised to overtake the West in the middle of the 21 century.  That is the optimistic view.  

There are a lot of wild cards, of course.  Environmental degradation, global warming,  the fight for oil, nuclear weapons, artificial intelligence, diseases, …, all add to the uncertainty.  There is no guarantee that we humans are capable of overcoming these challenges.  

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