Saturday 19 January 2008

Why the West Siezed The World- And How

This post is the fourth part of the sequence of posts on the history of human systematic development. As with previous posts, the aim is analyse events candidly, and see them in overall terms of systematic development.

I have already redivided human history in to series of systems. I have replaced the Neolithic agricultural phase of development with a term 'Primitive system of the phase one type, and early civilisations of the Egyptian/Babylonian/Early Chinese/Central American/Andean type with the term 'Primitive systems of the phase two type.

I have lumped their period commencing with the knowledge interchange of 600-300 BC and ending with the political re-alignment and economic revolution that occurs between the Islamic conquests of 600- to the rise of the Carolingian dynasty in 750.

This we may call the Classical system.

I have then started the next historical period, which we might as well call the Medieval system, so as to use a term we are all familiar with.

Now I'm going to look at how and why that system declined and was replaced. I'm going at what it replaced it, and why.

Let's start by looking at the Medieval at it's peak.

And for that time, we are lucky.
It is encapsulated in literature.

Anyone who chooses to believe in the dark, uneducated misery of the middle ages, should read The Divine Comedy, by Dante Aligheri.

Not only is it one the finest literary creations of all time, being written when it was, it is the pinnacle of medieval theology (reading it tells you in theological terms EXACTLY HOW intelligent men and women of that time thought).

More people lived in greater prosperity in the continent of Europe than had ever lived there. It was already one of the closest populated regions of the globe. It's surface was the most HUMANIZED.

It had removed almost all it's dangerous animals, a huge portion of it's surface was cultivated, laws more clearly codified, it had a complex social system.

More knowledge was concentrated and understood in the continent of Europe of 1300, than had ever been concentrated and understood anywhere.
Admittedly, it was concentrated mainly in the church, but also increasingly in that class of leisure, the upper elites of the continent, who lived such a high quality of life, that they, and they alone of all the upper elites of the world, didn't ALL have to spend ALL their lives fighting and administering.

Basically, the amount of people FREE just to involve their lives in the pursuit of knowledge, was high.

This was, a more successful, more vigorous culture than the Roman Empire. It just didn't have a single SECULAR ruler. It's bonds, which could federate it against common foes as efficiently as an Emperor could, were religious.
The secular disunity belies the interconnected nature of the culture.

Rome had had no rivals as advanced as it.

But Christendom always did, and whilst it never overthrow it's ideological rival to the East, it did ultimately triumph over it, by giving birth to the system which laid claim to the globe.

It's worth having a quick look at the differences between Christendom and Islam.
Again, a notes to Muslim readers. I'm not alluding here to theological differences, but the actual systems used by the differing religious blocks, to explain the reasons behind historical events.

Islam certainly did not adopt primitive systems.
Islam was an advanced culture.
But it WAS one step behind.

And we need to look at what Islam WAS.

We acknowledge that Christianity was a religion of the Roman Empire.
But so was Islam.

Mohamed might have preached at Mecca and Medina, but within twenty years of his death, Islam had seized the Eastern and southern provinces of the Byzantine Empire.

Islam took over the administration and carried it on as normal.

Islam largely took over Roman ways of thought and doing things in what were to become the key provinces of Islam.

The System in operation in the Islamic world WAS one of the most efficient the world had seen. The Romans had proved that.

But it was no longer THE best.

And so Islam was a knowledge based system too. The Classical one.

And thus it was that when the Medieval system came upon Islamic improvements in Knowledge (that huge influx of words gained from Islamic knowledge (Al-chemy, Al-gebra, Al-gorithm, Al-cohol, Al-embic, Zenith), etc, it was better able to assimilate the knowledge of its rivals, than happened the other way.

But, like all systems, it became the victim of its own success.

By creating cultural advance, it became not advanced enough for the culture it had created.
This is of course, a fact inherent in all systems. A successful system will always make itself obsolete.

What happened was twofold.
Firstly, in political terms the central authority of the church had become highly politicised. With the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor in Open war, men had to choose between the right of spiritual and secular authority.

Kings and Princes had become rich. The material wealth of Europe, due to the efficiency of its agricultural and trade systems (production and distribution) had ensured that Kings and princes had strength.

The fourteenth century sees their power start to rise. The suppression of the Templars by Phillipe IV in 1304 is a sign of things to come.
The Great schism of 1378 to 1413, is a sign too, that the church is not the central authority it once was.

Secondly, a revolution has begun, in real terms.

Society has got too developed. Western maps show real journeys made by westerners to China, to India, to Zanzibar.
New inventions are coming, a technological revolution. The data banks of Christendom have done their job. Spectacles, cannons and the printing press are coming.

Knowledge has now left the data banks and is in the hands if the Italian nobility and their large retinues of paid intellectuals.

The Middle Ages do not end in 1492, or earlier, at the fall of Constantinople in 1451.

They end with the commencement of the renaissance, not a revival, but a leap forward.

When the merchants of the towns of Europe started to demand rights in return for their lavish contributions to royal treasuries.

When Kings blew down the cities walls of their enemies with projectiles.

And when European ships started sailing out a little further, to the Canaries and to Guinea.

Europe was getting wealthy and now it was finding ways to gain more materials to add to its infrastructure.

Kings and nobility have two balancing considerations to worry about.
The weakened church can not defend them against the anger of their own people if they fail to bring their own part of Europe an adequate share of this potential new prosperity.
Their wealth, their ability to pay for armies and cannons, depends on a wealthy merchant class, who increasingly demand royal protection.

Once it becomes possible to reach far off lands, the name of the game is getting control of these new economies.

When Pope Alexander VI handed the Americas to Spain, and the East to Portugal, he left no real reason for the other Kings Of Europe to see the Church as protecting their interests.

And the coming of the Church's critics in the sixteenth century provided a handy screen for the monarchs of Northern Europe to stick two fingers up to the central authority of the church.

The religious wars that resulted are important, in terms of understanding Seventeenth century mindsets, but we must remember neither side won. The winner was secularism and an increased distaste long term for all rigid, centralised systems of thought.

But short term, the winners were Princes.

The New Europe was united by loose Christianity, but more importantly by actually not needing any longer to unite against common foes. Charles V proved that one prince on his own could see the Turks off.

Europe was a new oligarchy, it's princes and nobility a highly educated elite.

Spain and Portugal became entirely dependant on their overseas possessions and the plunder ships that crossed the seas.

As did England and France too.
Dependant on plantations, on illicit piracy, on setting up simple production and distribution systems.

Merchants protected by the crown, bought slaves in Guinea, took them to the New World Plantations and sold them, buying the produce of the slaves, sugar, cotton, tobacco, and brought them home.

Religion was important to Kings, it gave them moral authority to govern, but in practical terms, their thrones depended on enriching the nobility and the merchant classes.

And of course, the weaknesses of this system are inherent within it. One can perhaps, look at this whole phase as being highly unstable, which indeed it was. It was a kind of adolescence in many ways. What emerges at the end, is no way evident from the beginning.
Because by the time it finally settles itself after it's revolutionary origins, once it has succeeded in bringing the New World into the Old World economy, once it has succeeded in bringing religious authority under secular authority, the very nature of secular authority is already the new topic of thought.

And thought is changing. New communication methods mean that now thinking is something ordinary people do. Merchants and Ploughmen read Bibles, but Milton too.

There is now at least consensus that there has to be some justification for telling people what to do.


Anonymous said...

A vital take on an old story that we should all understand. Too bad so many dislike history and are allowed to ignore it.

At one time it was important to have as many educated people as possible. Lately, sprawling educated classes are feared by those in a position to be voted out of power.

If there has been a recent dark age, we are entering it. But the light is still there, though it may for a time be hidden.

Sorry I haven't been around, I had to uproot recently and I'm on a crappy dial up connection that takes forever to load your page. Things will settle down, but lately they've been a mess.

Anonymous said...

I am enjoying your incredibly wellread and intelligent interpretation of history. But I am reluctant because I know that you are a Catholic. I eagerly await your interpretation of the rape of South America and the Inquisition. Was it a different church from the one to which you belong that invented the divine right of kings to take whatever they could steal for political advantage alone which is one of the greatest crimes of betrayal of the orginal message in human history? The heirachical power structure you otherwise rail against is embodied in the doctrine of the Catholic Church, in tenets with which you cannot disagree and remain a Catholic, for instance, that one man cannot have a direct relationship with God but must go thru his parish priest via the bishop to the pope who is the one and only infallible. Am I wrong, is it no longer necessary to believe these things and remain a Catholic? This is why your history is well informed but your central tenet, the reason for your history escapes me, you claim to be a revolutionary but you adhere to a religeon which abhors social and political change and which has conspired in the creation of the world as it is through the base manipulation of power. The central symbol of your religeon is an instrument of torture, political repression and death. Christianity was revolutionary until it became the Catholic Church.

Anonymous said...

Eric- The second point shows the systematc decline.

OK- here is the Crushed's First Law of Social Systems; The system always works best when the decusion making processes are undertaken by as large a number of people as the size of the system and the the state of infrastructural development (Transport, Distyribution, communication), will allow.

In other words, as society progresses, the number of people involved in its decision making processes, should increase.

It is a sign of systematric failure, a sign the system is drawing to a close, when the decision making processes start to retract and become exclusive, rather than expanding and becoming inclusive.

This is a key part of tthe theory of systematic development that I am advancing here.

Paul- Ah, you need to look at the link in the chain.

In some ways, to judge the morals of a previous age is like judging reptiles for eating their children from time to time.
Was it an improvement?
Yes, i think life was nicer and more relaxed for people generally during the HEYDAY of Catholic rule.

That was long over by the conquistadors.
The Inquisition was founded in about 1420, I think, after the Great Schism.

The decline of Catholicism, in administrative, authoratitive, and shall we say, systematic terms after 1300 is marked.

The Catholic church of the reformation is a diffeent beast, it lostits ideological way, due to having torn apart by temporal politics and is now a negotiator betwen kings, rather than a UN type authority.

Henry VIII didn't get his divorce from Catherine of Aragon for political reasons: Charles V's armies were outside Rome. Catherine of aragon was his maternal Aunt; It would insult the Great House of Habsburg.

To understand the Conquistadors, one needs to understand Spain.

Remember, the Moors ruled most of spain for a long time. The Christian kingdoms of Castile, Aragon and Portugal had reconquered it, but ethinally (and religiously), were a minority people. To protect their power they gave Muslims a Choice, convert or leave the Kingdom.

Many converted, but the Kings didn't trust them. The Inquisition became an insrtument for assuaging the fears of Spanish Kings as to their suspect people.

Thus, when the Spanish discovered a new world, they took their attitudes, and their Inquisition, with them.

The Spanish Inquisition- and Spanish Catholicism developed in a curios way, a semi-autonomous military body, protected by the Monarch the Pope defpened on.

One might as well call it the Church of Spain, and cocede it was almost as independant as Henry VIII's Church.

Because Charles V told Popes to do, not the other way round.

But, back to my main point, these werem't a time when you could rule completely without violence. But it's a progression. It's a lot, lot better than the way people lived before. It is a lot worse than they lived afterwards.

But it's place in history was, in it's heyday, to improve quality life in real terms, and establish the foundations for a technology based system in the long term.

It really is true that if wasn't for Catholicsm and those monastaries, we wouldn't live as well as we do today.

Of course huge parts of it became obsolete.The technology and the systematic development of society by 1400 simply meant that universal papal primacy had become obsolete. Rich Monarchies were the new power.

The system was the right one for a certain period of history, the right one to bring about progress.

And of course, it was replaced by one better suited.

History really does follow evolutionary laws.

Anonymous said...

There is now at least consensus that there has to be some justification for telling people what to do.

Yes you have to be able to convince us that we should do what you say because we are getting uppity with all this new knowledge. Of course you still control our physical lives so we are under your thumb, but grumbling now.

Anonymous said...

How can you not get gooey at that doggy's face ?

Great post and responses, Ingsoc. Immensely enjoyable.

Don't EVER delete and if you intend to give me warning so that I can copy first.

Anonymous said...

"Yes, i think life was nicer and more relaxed for people generally during the HEYDAY of Catholic rule."
Given the patchiness of the historical record from this era and the fact that it is patchy almost to nonexistance as one moves down the socialoeconomic ladder, this sentence can only be conjecture and since it accords with your personal ideology doesn't belong in a scholarly dissertation.
"In some ways, to judge the morals of a previous age is like judging reptiles for eating their children from time to time."
But as a Christian don't you believe in universal fundamental moral laws that should govern the behaviour of everyone in all times, like thou shalt not kill for personal gain, rather than this kind of base relativism?
Just a couple of notes. Not arguing you understand just trying to help you keep it clean and tidy.

Anonymous said...

jmb- You seem to understand the basics.
It's conditioning.
It's done by control of the means to distribute pleasure or pain.

E-K- When I read your comments first, they aren't sitting here, so it was only when I came to answer the comment and saw jmb's comment, I got your meaning.

I won't delete it, ever. It will, I'm sure, always be my extra special little baby. It's probably the only constructive thing I'll ever get round to doing.

Paul- I'm very much a moral relativist, actually. Different moral codes suit different times.

Look at sexual codes. What it is necessary to probit in one era, become posirtively wrong to prohibit in another.

Killing is an example where you can reasonably argue that it is become MORE wrong over the years.

At one time, killing dangerous people was the only way to deal with them. That isn't true now.

'Thou shalt not kill', now means what it says, and not with the long list of opt outs provided by Leviticus.

Moral codes are there to ensure society runs efficiently and smoothly.

Things can, and do, change their level of rightness or wrongness.