Why the West Rules for Now

Book cover, as featured on Amazon.com

I’ve just finished reading a monster of a book – “Why the West Rules for Now – The Patterns of History and What They Reveal About the Future” by Ian Morris and I have to say, WHAT A BOOK!! It is an amazing perspective of our world, from the beginnings of humans settling down (around 12,000+BCE) to now, with some powerful thoughts on the future. I love history, so facing a big book like this is no big deal for me, however typically I take a couple of days to read a book, but this one took me a couple of weeks – but it was well worth it and I wish everyone read it. The best thing about this book is the way it’s written – Ian has a lovely, informal style, bringing in lots of references to popular culture, as well as humour, which makes it readable for everyone. I think this is very important as many of his contemporaries write too academically – which means it doesn’t appeal to a broader readership.

Looking at our entire social development, but focusing on four areas of measurement – energy capture per capita, organisation/urbanization, war making capabilities and information technology – Ian traces human social development back to when we first started jacking in the “hunter gatherer” lifestyle around 12,500BCE. Kicking off in a place known as the Hilly Flanks – later Ancient Mesopotamia, and today mostly in modern-day Iran – this is the earliest known evidence where humans settled, got organised, and from there, it all began. There is other evidence, such as pottery making in China in 16,000BCE and wall building in Peru in 11,000BCE, but this is where Ian begins and explains his case. It’s a fascinating journey.

Social development, as defined by Ian in the book is: “the bundle of technological, subsistence, organizational, and cultural accomplishments through which people feed, clothe, house, and reproduce themselves, explain the world around them, resolve disputes within their communities, extend their power at the expense of other communities, and defend themselves against others’ attempts to extend power. Social development, we might say, measures a community’s ability to get things done, which, in principle, can be compared across time and space.”

Based on the premise that the world has evolved until today with two cores – East and West – Ian compares social development of both cores, with both progressing in essentially the same way but not always at the same time, with the East sometimes overtaking the West, but it is the West that predominately leads the East, until a short time into the future when the East may again overtake the West – but that depends on the decisions we make today.

The book also tracks “The Five Horses of The Apocalypse” and the impact they had at the times they reared their ugly heads. The five horses are: climate change; famine; state failure; migration; and disease. Sound familiar? Scary stuff indeed, with many of these things already predicted.

There are a couple of conclusions Ian focuses on that stood out to me:
  • People – in large groups – are all pretty much the same
  • We always get the thoughts we need to deal with the time we are in – so for example, the religions humans developed and still follow make sense in the context of this argument, because they met a need at the time they were created, but maybe are not relevant for this new age?
  • People are essentially lazy, greedy and frightened, looking for easier, more profitable and safer ways to do things – that’s a continuing theme throughout the book
  • We’ve always had wars and migration, but when you read it in the context of our entire history, war no longer makes sense – in any way! Empires always fail, war costs money and destroy countries’ economies, and future wars have such potentially catastrophic consequences that it’s time to sort out this aspect of humanity. Our future is about being together as one whole, with one Core, and making it work for everyone or…
  • We need to let go of the nationalism and hatred tied up in history – especially towards current or former colonial powers. They did what was “needed” then and the whole world moved forward because of these actions. The reality is, most of the old world countries have had a go at it at some point, and the new world countries are following suit – but for the world to keep growing and prospering, the time to let go of hatred is upon us, or we will be no more. Hard to imagine when we can’t even watch international sport without kicking the shit out of each other and domestic violence increases too!
  • Migration is top of the pops for issues within Western countries around the world (as we see too often in the media), but the greatest social development occurred because of migrations – so perhaps it’s time to change this mindset?  The reality is we need to. It is expected that 200 million “Climate Migrants” are expected to be on the road by 2050 (five times as many as the world’s refugee population in 2008). Check out the below map from the book, featuring the “Arc of Instability,’ which is expected to face water scarcity issues by 2025. Rich countries can pipe water, poor countries cannot. Needless to say, in the not too distant future, there’s going to be a lot of thirsty and hungry people needing help and so what are we doing today to make sure we’re set? Then again, it’s not that we have a great track record of helping those starving… The threat of war around this issue is frightening as well…
The Arc of Instability page 602 “Why the West Rules for Now”
(sorry a bit wonky, as hard to scan a book page)

And then we go into the future, and reading the worst case scenario is not easy on the mind. He doesn’t leave us without hope though, and that’s why I think this book is REALLY important.

In the future, we have two scenarios – singularity and nightfall. Singularity is us all coming together, we are one Core, and we all work together to make the world work for everyone. We are more efficient at capturing energy and using less per capita, because if we keep increasing at the rate we’re going, we’re going to destroy our world anyway. The way we organize our world needs to be done on a global scale, with effective global governance of some description (something we don’t have too much faith in right now with the EU imploding), but this will be an important part of our future. Our war making capabilities will not go away, but as we have the ability to destroy our world 50 times over with nukes, we obviously need to get that aspect under control – state failure and rogue states is another massive threat as far as this is concerned. Then we have the fourth aspect – information technology – but who knows where that is going? We’re hardly even aware of many of the advances happening behind closed doors, but then again, what we do know is mind boggling enough. Making sure these advances are to the betterment of humanity is what is important now.

Or we have nightfall, the complete destruction of our world as we know it, where humans may or may not survive. If we survive, we’ll enter a dark age, but eventually we’ll come out of it and head back onto the same path, with either the West or the East harnessing the power of energy as they did in Britain in the Industrial revolution 200 years ago, and we’ll reach the same level of development we’re at today and perhaps again face the same issues moving forward? If we don’t get it right this time, maybe our ancestors 400-500 years down the track will?

I recently asked Steve “do you think a world without war is possible?” He said no, that’s how it’s always been and how it will always be. I’ve never been able to accept that. I think we can be better, a lot better. Then again, last night, when I was talking about this book – ‘cos it’s got my head in a tail spin – discussing singularity and nightfall as our two options, Steve said “I believe good will always prevail.” He has faith that the world’s leaders at some point will see a common good for all of us.

I really hope he’s right. I don’t care about me, because if some of this “stuff” comes to pass, I’ll be getting to the end of my life – if it ain’t already done – but my lads will be just cruising out into this big magnificent world. I hope they can enjoy a world of singularity. I don’t think we can ever get rid of all the shitty aspects of humanity, but if we really want the human race to continue and thrive, so our kids and grandkids can have a great life and thrive, well we need some new thoughts – thoughts that will be relevant to the time we are in to ensure we create an amazing world where humans evolve to a new and more peaceful level.

Maybe that’s what the Mayan 2012 predictions are all about, but many do believe that’s all  bullshit? But let’s say it’s true and tather than the “end” of the world (as many think it means), it could be that we are entering a new Axial Age with new thoughts for new times?

Let’s see what happens huh? But I am convinced of one thing – we have to stay positive. We cannot buy into fear. Fear has dominated our world for too long, and if we can let go of fear, I think we have a chance. But that’s just me.

As you can probably tell, I bloody loved this book and there’s so much more I could say, but I do believe it’s a must read for as many of us as possible. I think it’s a very VERY important book, which really crystallized things for me from a very big perspective. I am hopeful we can sort ourselves out. I have faith in humankind.

Has anyone else read it? What did you think?

Yours, without the bollocks

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