June 21, 2009

A theory of historical cultural stagnation

One important finding in Charles Murray's 2003 book Human Accomplishment is that during the rise of the West from 1500 onward, most major civilizations outside the West were stagnating culturally -- even in categories where they only compete against themselves (e.g., Arabic Literature, Chinese Literature, Indian Literature, Chinese Painting, Indian Philosophy, and Chinese Philosophy).

Only the Japanese seemed to be making steady progress on broad fronts. Not as fast as Europe, but during their isolationist period from 1601-1853, the Japanese were developing many of the features of modern Japan (geisha culture, sumo wrestling, etc.) and continued to progress in the arts. This forward movement may explain why they responded more impressively to the Western challenge when it finally arrived in 1853.

I think there may be a general historical pattern in which a culture goes through a growth phase, classics emerge, and then subsequent generations settle down to memorizing the classic books, which slowly leaches the dynamism from a society.

For example, during the competition of the Warring States era, the Chinese developed lots of ideas about politics and behavior. Subsequent generations judged Confucius, reasonably enough, to be the most sensible of the early Chinese thinkers. They then erected a meritocratic system for choosing government officials based more or less on who can memorize the most Confucius. This worked pretty well for a long time, but by, say, 1800, the Chinese have coasted about as far as they can go on Confucius and aren't prepared for the modern world. (Substitute Mohamed, Plato and Aristotle, Buddha, Aquinas, etc. for other civilizations.)

The invention of the printing press in the 1450s liberated Europe from the tyranny of memorization by making books cheap.

Here's my question about Japan: What are the classics that have dominated Japanese thought? Do they have many? Did they just pay lip service to Confucius. Is this relative lack of classics a key to their continued progress? In Modern Times, Paul Johnson says, "In a sense, the Japanese had always been modern-minded people."

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

79 comments:

Baloo said...

Fascinating, appealing notion. I'm wondering now when the printing press started being used for Arabic. As for the Japanese, it's always interested me that they have to learn two syllabaries, one alphabet, and a slew of characters to become fully literate. To what extent does that retard their educational progress in other directions. Doesn't seem like much.

Anonymous said...

didn't the feudal system with lots of emphasis on combat check the growth of ivory tower elites in Japan? Who has time for book learning when combat skills must be learned?

rickj3 said...

Perhaps the advent of "progress" thinking was concurrent with a Western (Japanese?) shift from what Spengler called the "destiny idea" to the idea of FATE. Destiny is fixed, such as birth, growth, peak, decline and death. However, fate is indeterminate - how and when is open-ended.

If valid, then of course the question becomes what caused this shift in outlook?

Anonymous said...

One of the things that really distinguishes Japanese cultural history from its East Asian neighbors is the continual tension between Shinto and Buddhism--at some points in their history one is dominant and the other in eclipse, only to reverse positions over time. It is very much akin to the tension in the West between "Jerusalem" and "Athens", in fact almost mapping directly, with Buddhism as the former and Shinto as the latter. That tension in both the West and in Japan had a beneficial effect in terms of keeping minds supple.

dearieme said...

I was impressed once by reading that the early Portugese and later Dutch merchants who sailed to the Orient agreed on one thing - by far the most impressive people they'd met on their travels were the Japanese.

Dutch Boy said...

Aquinas' philosophy is in the great tradition of common sense passed from the ancient Greeks through him (with a Christian interpretation) to us today. It is the replacement of Thomism with modern anti-rational philosophies that is the source of our decline. The modern philosopher is hell-bent on the proposition that 2+2=5 or 4 or whatever you want it to equal.

Anonymous said...

It's a very Nietzschean type theory.

agnostic said...

It could be another case of "solidaristic border peoples conquer the decadent, in-fighting urban center."

Instead of physical space, you have some kind of cultural space. There is a border, a "meta-ethnic frontier" in Peter Turchin's terms, that encloses the mainstream culture.

Cultural producers just on the other side have a heightened sense of Us vs. Them, and this allows them to band together more strongly, invade the center, and overthrow the orthodoxy / mainstream culture.

But now that they occupy the center, their solidarity ebbs since they're no longer on that frontier that throws Us vs. Them into such high relief. They in-fight and become decadent in turn. And then they get invaded by the next group of cultural Young Turks.

I just checked out Turchin's *Historical Dynamics*, so I'll re-read the part where he models assabiya and all that, to see what parameters may have been different between Western Europe and East Asia.

Jeff Williams said...

A culture is a complex thing and the causes of dynamism or stagnation are multiple.

In your analysis, you should not exclude the "dead hand of government." In Renaissance Italy, governments of city-states were forced to open by by competitive pressure. In later Europe, Protestants, especially Calvinists, cut monarchical government down to size or instituted republican government.

Where the dead hand of government rules, you are bound to find a lot of behavior dictated by memorized rules rather than by intelligent reasoning.

Anonymous said...

Shakespeare lived in the middle of the English 'great vowel shift', which opened the language up to incorporate many new innovations foreign and domestic. Japanese has been undergoing a similar transition -- most Japanese are not able to read old literature because it generally doesn't use the simplified phonetic alphabets. Japanese is quickly filling up with borrowed works, to the point where it's unclear what many of them mean or their origins. Despite having invented the novel, there aren't really any texts in Japan with the kind of influence that Confucius had in China.

Dutch Boy, European philosophy was 'stuck' on Neo-Platonism for nearly a thousand years -- a less rational philosophy is difficult to imagine. The much more rational Stoic or Epirucurean philosophies didn't leave room for the Trinity so they were largely forgotten and texts un-copied (effectively destroyed) until they were rediscovered from other cultures during the Rennaisance. Christianity instead relied on Augustine's rationalization of the inherent contradictions in Christian doctrine: Aquinas continued this tradition and didn't really contribute anything new, which is why his philosophy is irrelevant to anyone except apologists.

testing99 said...

Steve -- Sorry you and Murray miss the obvious.

Creating new and innovative cultural and other achievements requires a mixture of stability (i.e. hard to achieve anything in chaos like the Thirty Years War) and mobilization of large portions of society. I.E. broad/deep pools of talent that can move upward.

Japan during the Edo period did not have the printing press, but did have stability (no more warlords wrecking half the nation regularly) AND a burgeoning middling class with time and energy and money to create tea ceremonies, etc.

Baloo -- the first printing press in Egypt followed Napoleon. The first among the Ottoman Empire was in the 1830's, soon wrecked by Islamist reactionaries. The first newspaper in Arabic was in Egypt in the 1890's. For whatever reason Muslim nations have not been adopters of Western ideas/books. More books were translated into Spanish by Spain in 2000 than had ever been translated into Arabic, ever, according to a UN report on the development of the Arab World.

To produce innovation and even new achievement in any field is a simple matter of numbers. There must be a sufficient supply of people who are talented, have the ability to create, and a demand to create. Generally, a large population of consumers for the new achievement, and of potential producers, with as noted stable conditions to enable production and consumption. It's not complicated.

The cultural decline of Europe can be traced to two big Wars on it's Continent, and subsequent population decline. If Europeans (unlikely) suddenly started having kids again, they'd produce sooner or later assuming stability, new and exciting things in their culture. [The West 1500-1900 had mostly, most of the West, at any one time mostly peaceful, mostly expanding population, mostly stable conditions, even if parts of it were in turmoil, most was not. If Germany was in chaos 1618-1648, France and England were mostly stable.]

Peter A said...

That's a very simplified picture of China you present, Steve. If China was in decline, from 1650 AD on a big part of the explanation is that the country was actually under foreign rule. The Qing dynasty rulers were Manchurians not Chinese. You can blame Confucianism if you want, but also the stultifying effects of rule by an insecure foreign court which was afraid of any Chinese creativity or independence played a huge role in China's decline. Arguably the preceding Ming dynasty which lasted from about 1380 to 1650 was one of China's great periods of development, so I think Murray's timetable is a little off. It may not be an accident that China appears to regaining dynamism now that it is once again under Han Chinese leadership.

Anonymous said...

actually one can argue that the LACK of memorization skills is what's severely hurting our educational system to today and a lack of penship - and if you think i am joking around, read up neuroplasticity - some scientists have developed a technique for treating ADD that is more effective than drugs -using rote memory and penmanship

Anonymous said...

Based on living in and traveling around Asia for a long time, it seems the mean deviation in g is much lower in the Japanese than in other Asian nations -- except maybe Korea -- and that probably contributes to the Japanese perception that they are all middle class. That's a really obvious point when comparing to a nation like China which is actually an Empire made up of different ethnic groups (I like to compare it to Europe under the Holy Roman Empire), but generally there aren't that many intellectual 'stragglers' in Japan. Historically there was a low tolerance for failure so there may have been a cultural selection for competence at play.

Mark said...

Are the classic texts the cause or a symptom? My hypothesis is that cultures have life spans, like people, countries and institutions. You and Murray are looking for the details. Judaism Christianity, and the Catholic Church are the big exceptions. Islam, who knows? I have some very un-PC guesses about its future, see Revelations for details.
Japan, however appears to be dying. An ageing oliarchy, no young people, no innovation, a moribund economy. All that talent locked up in a sinking ship.

The Wobbly Guy said...

Maybe their combative samurai culture encouraged them to be more adaptive and forward-looking? I dunno, just a wild guess on my part. Musashi's Book of the Five Rings seems like a pretty useful philosophy to life in general.

rick said...

Hmm...I don't know if a lack of philosophical classics would help a culture. A lot of this could come down to very subtle--maybe profoundly unarticulatable--differences in culture/neurobiology. After all, you'd think the notable Japanese community and authority obsessions could precisely retard originality. But who knows, maybe the community/authority fixation, in the absence of rigid moral and philosophical doctrines was precisely what caused the Japanese to adapt most effectively to outside influence. Once they decided to adapt to outside influence.

Antoine Zhang said...

The Classics which dominated the culture of the Japanese intellectual elite were generally the same as those which dominated in China, as well as the rest of Confucian-influenced Eastern Asia - those of orthodox Confucianism.

It's often said that many aspects of Japanese culture are unsullied, perfectly-preserved imports of Tang Dynasty culture (7th to early 10th century), which remained unchanged within their new-found homeland. Examples of this include traditional Japanese garments, kendo (originally Tang Dynasty sports fencing), the consumption of raw fish, and also traditional Japanese music, which consists of Central Asian melodies played at a slower, stately pace (the Tang Dynasty was heavily influenced by the culture of the steepe - many statues and paintings from the era depict the quinessential Central Asian sport - polo, and the early Tang emperors had more Turkic blood than Chinese.)

This view is overstated, however, as Chinese influence, in spite of occasional gaps and discontinuities, remained very strong up until contact with the West.

The best example is the official ideology of the Tokugawa government (the Tokugawa period being the one which immediately preceded the Meiji restoration and large-scale contact with the West), which was the orthodox Neo-Confucianism that first developed in the Song Dynasty, and was further refined by the Ming Dynasty philosopher, Wang Yang-ming. If you look at a list of the seminal, foundational figures in the formation of Tokugawa ideology and thought - such as Hayashi Razan, Fujiwara No Seika - you'll find that they were all ardent adherents of Neo Confucianism.

Antoine Zhang said...

As regards tension between Shintoism and Buddhism - I'm no expert on Japanese history but that seems to me to be a huge overstatement. I an unaware of any major intellectual disputes or rivalries revolving around either of those two belief systems.

I think the enduring influence of Samurai culture and bushido upon Japan is also massively overstated - you have to remember that as a class, the Samurai were rendered obsolete by the Tokugawa period, since the country was unified, and there was no need for petty local warlords to maintain a retinue of devoted warriors. The Tokugawa rulers were pretty savvy, and immediately sought to render the Samurai effete and unwarlike by encouraging the pursuit of gentlemanly pastimes and arts, like painting and verse - a very Confucian thing to do as well.

Antoine Zhang said...

As regards Paul Johnson's comments about Japan being distinctly modern for a pre-Industrial society - I think Confucian cultures are that way generally. They're very unusual, and unusually modern, as far as traditional, agarian societies go. If you look at other pre-modern societies, they tend to be two things which Confucian societies are not - pious and ruled by warriors.

The first thing which is unusual is the fact that Confucianism is not a religion - it has no prescriptions on the issue of supernatural worship. It was cultural and political ideology at its inception, but then acquired the trappings of abtruse metaphysics with the advent of Neo-Confucianism.

For all the influence of China upon Japan, however, Japan remained highly distinct from China - and Confucian society in two very important regards.

Japan was ruled, during its feudal period, by warriors. Traditional Confucian culture considers military men lowly and unseemly, and they were accorded little prestige in imperial China.

The Japanese emperor is a divine ruler, who is officially the descendant of a kami (a Japanese spirit or divinity). Confucianism - being largely irreligious and sceptical - accorded no such status upon its emperors - whose lineages have changed so many times throughout history, and instead made their legitimacy dependent upon the notion of "the mandate of heaven", i.e. theoretically, the legitimacy of rulers was performance-based.

Anonymous said...

One part of Japan's success may be that they were hunter/gatherers for longer. The Yamato people only conquered the island relatively recently in comparison with Chinese civilization.

Over here, responsibility is not just from inferior to superior. Superiors also have responsibility towards those who follow them, which is a reason that Japanese troops during the Sino-Japanse war had boots while Chinese troops had straw sandals and wooden rifles. I see this every day in my company's Hong Kong and Tokyo offices: the Chinese way is to accuse underlings and generally treat them poorly, whereas in Japan that does not happen.

Anonymous said...

To produce innovation and even new achievement in any field is a simple matter of numbers. There must be a sufficient supply of people who are talented, have the ability to create, and a demand to create. Generally, a large population of consumers for the new achievement, and of potential producers, with as noted stable conditions to enable production and consumption. It's not complicated.




Ah, come on. Archimedes, Newton, and Einstein come to mind as three notable discoverers who were not motivated in the least by a "demand" to create. You seem to have been suckered by Julian Simon.

There is not even much evidence that a "large population" increases the supply of inventive people. India was vastly more populated than Britian all through history but never invented much.

It's quality, not quantity. You'd think people here would get that.

Bill said...

If you want a really stark contrast, compare the Japanese to the Koreans. Although ethnically similar and technologically close to equal in the 16th century, Japan was far better prepared for the modern world in the 19th century.

I'd have to say that Japan's advantage was its insularity. Korea and China were subjected to repeated invasions from the north, and a severe cultural orthodoxy was necessary for cultural survival.

In fact, northern China has been overrun so many times that it is not as culturally Chinese as the south in many respects. Korea and the hilly regions of southern China maintained their identity through adherence to a radical form of Confucianism known as "neo-Confucianism," which became the predominant school - in Korea in particular - by the 17th century.

In Korea the orthodoxy was so rigorously enforced that the revolutionary Hangul alphabet was suppressed for hundreds of years. Japan, which was never conquered by the Yuan or subjected to tributary status by the Qing, didn't face the same threat, and was free to develop in a more liberal manner throughout the crucial couple of centuries prior to Western dominance in the region.

Antoine Zhang said...

"Korea and the hilly regions of southern China maintained their identity through adherence to a radical form of Confucianism known as "neo-Confucianism," which became the predominant school - in Korea in particular - by the 17th century.

In Korea the orthodoxy was so rigorously enforced that the revolutionary Hangul alphabet was suppressed for hundreds of years. Japan, which was never conquered by the Yuan or subjected to tributary status by the Qing, didn't face the same threat, and was free to develop in a more liberal manner throughout the crucial couple of centuries prior to Western dominance in the region."

I wouldn't refer to Neo-Confucianism as "radical", I'd say it's more just original, pre-Qin Confucianism plus a load of abtruse metaphysics and cosmological speculation. It's also became the orthodox variety of Confucianism everywhere in Eastern Asia.

As stated before - Tokugawa Japan's official ideology was Neo-Confucianism, and if anything they adhered to it even more strictly and thoroughly than the Chinese. In the Qing Dynasty, Neo-Confucianism was opposed by scholars who wanted to revive pure, unsullied Han Dynasty Confucianism (which itself contained considerable accretions.)

Antoine Zhang said...

If you want to know what is the most likely reason for Japan's successful early modernization, I think it's this - lack of civilization hubris and willingness to adapt - traits that even the foreign Qing rulers lacked.

During the Tokugawa period, Japan had an easily feeling about its own cultural roots, since they were actually derived from elsewhere. You put Shinto aside, and just about everything in Japanese culture - high culture espeecially, is of Chinese origin.

This ambivalence, or perhaps even resentment, towards the foreign roots of their own culture manifested itself in things like "kokugaku", or "national stdies" during the Tokugawa period - the study of the own culture of the Japanese.

Once a foreign culture with superior technology and economic prowess came along then, it was no problem for the Japanese to abandon their traditional culture, since many already felt that this traditional culture wasn't entirely their own. They completely lacked the ingrained sense of civilization hubris that impeded modernization by the Chinese during the same period - even though China's rulers at the time were nominal foreigners.

Anonymous said...

Although Confucianism had a profound effect on Japanese culture, there weren't any particular texts that had the quite same totemic status that the Analects had in China. But the Japanese educational system does consist almost entirely of memorization and regurgitation.

Baloo said...
As for the Japanese, it's always interested me that they have to learn two syllabaries, one alphabet, and a slew of characters to become fully literate. To what extent does that retard their educational progress in other directions. Doesn't seem like much.


Because the Japanese writing system is so unwieldy (even more unwieldy than Chinese kanji), the bulk of Japanese education consists simply of making every Japanese functionally literate. They manage to do this, but just barely. There's a popular Japanese TV show that's sort of like Jay Leno's Jaywalking segments, consisting of the show's hosts stopping ordinary Japanese on the street and asking them to read words or phrases in kanji. The results are as amusing and appalling as those Jaywalking segments.

Anonymous said...
One of the things that really distinguishes Japanese cultural history from its East Asian neighbors is the continual tension between Shinto and Buddhism


I'm not so sure of this. Zen, the distinctly Japanese version of Buddhism, accommodated itself very well to Japan's authoritarian society and its culture of ancestor worship. Most Japanese today make no distinction between Shintoism and Buddhism.

Sid said...

I don't know how much more I have to add here, but from everything I read from the pivotal era of the 1500's, almost every culture at this point felt that it was self-sufficient, and were thus self-satisfied. The Chinese and Muslims believed they had nothing more to learn, certainly not from anywhere else, nor even from their young generations, whom were deemed inferior in mental quality to the past generations. Most cultures believe that the world gradually decays and degenerates with time. Homer thought Achilles and Ajax were superior warriors to the bard's contemporaries, and Confucius himself averred his ancestors as a model of everything that should proceed.

Except the West, who were deeply ashamed of how they saw their medieval culture as being extremely inferior to Greece's and Rome's. They naturally had the inclination to explore the whole world for ideas and answers.

Sid said...

Two more things:

1. I don't have anything to mention about Japan, except that Edwin O. Reischauer deemed the Japanese to be in stagnancy and lethargy when the Americans arrived in the mid 1800's when compared to the start of the Tokugawa Shogunate. They may have been less sluggish than their continental neighbors, but they certainly wanted to stay as they were and not learn from other cultures, and detested the emergence of Christianity.

2. The reason why the Classics of antiquity were a revitalizing force was that, even though the Catholic Church by Dante's time highly esteemed them, they were still countercultural to the Christian hegemony. Once the Westerners believed that their own tradition of Scholasticism was inferior to what was spread in antiquity, they sought to remove their old culture and were willing to learn from others, and believed that the new generations could revitalize their culture.

The Reformation was similar, too, for Luther and Calvin abhorred the Catholic traditions, and paradoxically by seeking to imitate the far off past, created a new order altogether.

bjdouble said...

"Dutch Boy, European philosophy was 'stuck' on Neo-Platonism for nearly a thousand years -- a less rational philosophy is difficult to imagine. The much more rational Stoic or Epirucurean philosophies didn't leave room for the Trinity so they were largely forgotten"

Most of the early modern scientists were neo-Platonists. The most famous example is of course Kepler, who held the mystical conviction that the five Platonic solids held the key to the mysteries of the universe. The neo-Platonic tradition was closely connected with Euclid and the tradition of Geometry. Descartes took advantage of much of that tradition (of Proclus, the neo-Platonist and commentator on Euclid) when creating modern algebraic geometry, see a recent book by Dmitri Nikulin. Philoponus, a neo-Platonic Christian, was the first to conduct the falling bodies experiment, 1000 years before Galileo.

Steve is wrong that focus on old books is stagnifying. Depends on what the books are. If it's Euclid or Plato and Aristotle, then no. The vitality of the West is related to the fact that the Romans and Europeans did not speak Greek, whereas the Chinese speak Chinese.

Bill said...

Antoine Zhang said...

I wouldn't refer to Neo-Confucianism as "radical", I'd say it's more just original, pre-Qin Confucianism plus a load of abtruse metaphysics and cosmological speculation. It's also became the orthodox variety of Confucianism everywhere in Eastern Asia.


Well, I am thinking mainly of Korea here. If I remember correctly, Neo-Confucian scholars in Korea, following the Japanese invasion of the late 16th century, established control over the country's schools, thereby formulating policy that led to war with the Qing (Koreans lost), who were considered barbarians due to Neo-Confucian doctrine. I would call these guys "radicals."

As stated before - Tokugawa Japan's official ideology was Neo-Confucianism, and if anything they adhered to it even more strictly and thoroughly than the Chinese. In the Qing Dynasty, Neo-Confucianism was opposed by scholars who wanted to revive pure, unsullied Han Dynasty Confucianism (which itself contained considerable accretions.)

Yes, you're right -- neo-Confucianism was already kind of passe in China by the Qing. But Confucianism still dominated the schools and bureaucracies, which exerted far more influence in China than Japan due to Japan's more strictly hereditary concept of rule.

So, in a way, one could say that China's meritocracy actually hindered development, because it was based on the merit of the man rather than the merit of the idea. Kind of an interesting way to think of it, no?

Bill said...

Antoine Zhang said...

If you want to know what is the most likely reason for Japan's successful early modernization, I think it's this - lack of civilization hubris and willingness to adapt - traits that even the foreign Qing rulers lacked.

During the Tokugawa period, Japan had an easily feeling about its own cultural roots, since they were actually derived from elsewhere. You put Shinto aside, and just about everything in Japanese culture - high culture espeecially, is of Chinese origin.


Again, I'd ask:

Why not Korea too?

Antoine Zhang said...

"Again, I'd ask:

Why not Korea too?"

My guess for why Japan modernized while Korea, so similar ethnically and culturally, did not, would be because of geographic position, and greater exposure to modernized Western nations. So rather than insularity - I think Japan, Korea and Japan were all quite insular in the 19th century, it would be Japan's greater exposure to the industrialized West, and its willingness to adapt. The Portuguese and the Dutch visited Japan on numerous occasions. My knowledge of Korean history is limited, but I would assume that they were frequented by foreign merchant vessels far less.

Conversely, China was impeded by civilization hubris - China saw demonstrations of overwhelming Western superiority in military technology as early as 1839, with the First Opium War - a good three decades prior to the Meiji Restoration. Yet it failed to adapt for the reasons of insular arrogance - within the space of a generation between the Opium War and the Meiji Restoration China could have achieved immense progress in terms of industrialization - especially at such an early stage of the modern era.

"Yes, you're right -- neo-Confucianism was already kind of passe in China by the Qing. But Confucianism still dominated the schools and bureaucracies, which exerted far more influence in China than Japan due to Japan's more strictly hereditary concept of rule.

So, in a way, one could say that China's meritocracy actually hindered development, because it was based on the merit of the man rather than the merit of the idea. Kind of an interesting way to think of it, no?"

I wouldn't say that it was meritocracy specifically - I can't see how meritocracy in and of itself is bad, as much as what the meritocracy revolved around.

Confucianism is inimical to modernization because it places so much emphasis on cultural learning (i.e. knowledge of classical literature, painting, connosieurship, ability to compose verse etc.) by social elites. This is at its very core. For a nation to modernize, it has to take its smartest guys and train them up to be engineers and captains of industry, abandoning all those other effete and useless indulgences that Confucians consider so essential to being a civilized and virtuous human being.

Antoine Zhang said...

By the way, on the issue of Japanese classical texts - in the Tokugawa period they would have accorded as much veneration to the core Neo-Confucian canon as any other Far Eastern state.

So that would include at its core:

1. The Analects of Confucius.
2. Mencius.
3. The Great Learning.
4. The Doctrine of the Mean.

Of the two other main belief systems in Japan at the time - Shintoism is notorious its lack of scriptures or revealed texts, or theological elaboration of any kind at all.

Mahayana Buddhism has a huge, absolute huge, body of written literature, but as stated before, it was Neo-Confucianism that became the exclusive, official ideology of the Tokugawa government.

Paleo said...

"India was vastly more populated than Britian all through history but never invented much."

Neither did Britain thru most of its history. The British were only creative for about 3 centuries, from roughly 1600-1900.
India just happened to have its creative period a lot earlier.

And India did invent decimal numbers, without which a whole lot of other inventions would not have been possible.

In fact, the European scientific/technological revolutions did not begin until after the decimal concept made its way from India to Europe via the Arabs (which is why they are called "Arabic" numerals).

Silver said...

This theory seems too simplistic. Any age can be expected to have brilliant, innovative people. What their effect is on other people (the broader culture) can depend on any number of factors, many of which could probably be attributed to simple randomness.

SFG said...

Neither did Britain thru most of its history. The British were only creative for about 3 centuries, from roughly 1600-1900.
India just happened to have its creative period a lot earlier.

I've never heard this theory, and it's the sort of random thing that professors hate to admit, which is why I like it. :) Maybe the English just got lucky with when they happened to have their boom?

Anonymous said...

"...also the stultifying effects of rule by an insecure foreign court which was afraid of any Chinese creativity or independence played a huge role in China's decline."

This is an apt description of a place I think we're all familiar with.

Mr. Anon said...

"testing99 said...

If Germany was in chaos 1618-1648, France and England were mostly stable.]"

Yeah, England was stable. Other than a civil war, a regicide, and the institution of a dictatorship. Stable. Testing's knowledge of history is no more reliable than his knowledge of current affairs.

Anonymous said...

The British were only creative for about 3 centuries, from roughly 1600-1900.



Yeah, apart from those three hundred years, plus the hundred years which followed them, little Britian never invented much.


And India did invent decimal numbers



A rather poor return from the worlds second most populous civilization.

Anonymous said...

As for the Japanese, it's always interested me that they have to learn two syllabaries, one alphabet, and a slew of characters to become fully literate. To what extent does that retard their educational progress in other directions.

In my opinion the Japanese writing system is almost ideal for learning. Children first learn the hiragana syllabary which represents all the sounds of the Japanese language in a relatively small number of characters (less than 60).

With that, children can read or WRITE any word they can say, unlike English. (Children's books either don't contain kanji or the kanji is "annotated" with hiragana (called furigana). After they master the skill of reading and writing they gradually transition to Kanji. This is a long and arduous process with differing levels of success, but in general people do fairly well.

One advantage to the kanji is that technical or medical words are usually made from two or three kanji that make their meaning fairly transparent even to a "civilian." Here in Japan, my doctor will sometimes translate a Japanese term into English for me, but the term will be some horrible Greek-based mishmash that only med students understand so it doesn't help me at all. That doesn't happen usually in Japanese (if you know the language). Words like momentum, mass, or diabetes are understandable in Japanese just by looking at them.

Ibn Khaldun said...

Don't forget about the Mongols. The Mongols hit the China and the Middle East really hard, and the Eastern Orthodox countries hard. They didn't touch the West (the Khan died just when the invasion was underway) or Japan (due to a typhoon). While they never got to India, alot of Turkish refugees from the Mongols did, and anyway India wound up stagnating much less than other non-Western cultures.

In China particularly, the experience of Mongol rule seemed to spur a "we will set the clock back to 750 and keep it there" mentality. Even several of the Song innovations were abandoned. It didn't help that administratively, the Ming were actually pretty successful in restoring the China of 750.

I just finished "The Years of Rice and Salt", which is about a world where the Black Death kills literally everyone in Europe, not just one third of the population or even the nine tenths at the high end for estimates of the percentage of Western Hemisphere peoples killed by smallpox. I think Kim Stanley Robinson seems to have underestimated how much non-Western cultures stagnated after the 14th century. Still, he has the Muslims taking two hundred years to bother colonizing an empty Western Europe, and the Muslims and Chinese waiting centuries after discovering the New World to bother trying to colonize it, so maybe he did have some understanding of this. And the industrial revolution starts in India, which also fits in with what we know of the relevant openness of non-Western cultures to innovation.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

Perhaps the simplest and most important point that is missing in your original post is that China was conquered by Mongols (Manchurians) in the 1600s. This had drastic effects, of course. (Imagine what Europe would have been like if the Khan's armies had not been withdrawn due to his death.) The Qing dynasty didn't end until 1912.

When Lord McCartney was sent by the British to meet the Chinese emperor he was meeting with a Mongol, not a Han. The detailed reports from the British mission emphasize the cultural distinctions between the Mongol rulers and the Han people and bureaucracy. In fact the British referred to the rulers of China at the time as "Tartars"! Japan was not conquered by the Mongols, which obviously had a big effect on its development during the same period.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongol_Empire#Europe

"The advance into Europe continued with Mongol invasions of Poland, Hungary and Transylvania. When the western flank of the Mongols plundered Polish cities, a European alliance consisting of the Poles, the Moravians, the Hospitallers, Teutonic Knights and the Templars assembled a sufficient army to halt their advance at Liegnica. The Mongols destroyed their foes. The Hungarian army and their allies the Croatians and the Templar Knights were beaten at the banks of Sajo River on April 11, 1241. After their stunning victories over European Knights at Liegnica and Muhi, Mongol armies quickly checked the forces of Bohemia, Serbia, Babenberg Austria and the Holy Roman Empire.[39][40] When Batu’s forces reached the gate of Vienna and north Albania, he received news of Ogedei’s death in December, 1241.[41][42] As was customary in Mongol military tradition, all Genghisid princes had to attend the kurultai to elect a successor. The western Mongol army withdrew from Central Europe the next year."

Dutch Boy said...

bjdouble: Aquinas was an Aristotelian and thus opposed to neo-Platonic mumbo-jumbo/mysticism.

James Kabala said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

according to keving macdonald, jews effectively eliminated the middle/bougeous classes in east europe - whom they saw as a competative threat - thus, east europe had peasants, nobles, and jews - no middle class where most of the innovation came from in the west.

in fact i would say that jews as a competative strategy, seek to stagnate the societies they are in by penalizing gentiles and making financial speculation and money lending the most profitible enterprises.

tommy said...

I think Steve is probably confusing cause and effect. Retiring to the classics is a sign of a culture lacking dynamism rather than a cause of stagnation.

James Kabala said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrea Freiboden said...

Why Japan leapt ahead of other Asian nations.

1. China was too big, thus was busy maintaining order in its vast territory to focus on progress. Also, Chinese were always under the threat of Mongols and Manchus(to whom they lost in the 17th century). Manchus who ruled China were too occupied with holding power to allow change. Change could mean rise of Chinese nationalism fall of Manchu order. That may explain why China, under Manchus rule in the 19th century, was so slow to change. The manchus properly understood that change meant fall of the Manchus.

2. Japan was ruled by the military class. Military class, unlike intellectual or spiritual class, is not big on ideas and tends to be more tolerant of various sectors in society if only out of pragmatism. If China & Korea were dominated by the scholar-intellectual class that disdained the business(or merchant)class, the samurai class depended on the merchant class as middlemen between themselves and the lowly peasants(much less morally respected in the Japanese system). So, the business class had greater leeway and freedom in China. Similarly, South Korea and Chile progressed much more under military rule than North Korea and Communist Cuba did. Military leaders care about power, not about ideas. So, they'll use any idea that works. Communism, like Confucianism, is based on a moral/intellectual idea--one that happens to be anti-business--, and therefore, economic growth was curtailed in those commie countries.

3. Unlike nations like Vietnam and Korea which were attached to China and looked upon the Middle Kingdom as the source of all wisdom and culture(despite many wars and tensions with it), Japan's geography allowed it to develop greater confidence in its uniqueness and not merely be slavish to Chinese norms. Also, because Japan was an island nation standing out in the Pacific, it had greater contact with Portuguese and Dutch ships in the 16th and 17th century and adopted many Western ideas before shutting its borders again.

4. Because Japan was ruled by samurai class than moral-intellectual class, cultural expression enjoyed greater leeway and came under less censorship under moral puritans.
Because of samurai rule, no single philosophical or spiritual school of thought could dominate totally. Therefore, there was greater religious/moral-spiritual pluralism--shintoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and other strands of thoughts contending or co-existing side by side.

6. There was an interesting creative tension between surviving elements of Heian Japan and spartan Samurai order. Just as paganism and Christianity had a strangely fruitful relationship in the Renaissance. Most creativity and progress derive from conflict and tension, and Japanese society, though oppressive and rigid--and racially homogeneous--was remarkably pluralistic and tension-filled in terms of many cultural, spiritual, and philosophical ideas. Also, as Japan had a more of a feudal than a centralized system--even under the long Tokugawa rule--, the tensios between the center and the periphery also led to fireworks that proved to be creative. Consider that the challenge to the Old Order that gave rise to the Meiji Reform came from the vassal states at the periphery safely distanced from Edo.

Anonymous said...

Warning: B.P.H.A.V.A.I.P.T.E. ahead

Big Picture Historical Analysis Via Autobiographically-Influenced Pet Theory Extrapolation -

abandon all hope of certainty and clean data, all ye who enter here.

Oh, me so clever, me subtly one-up other poster base on epistemological constraints [admires self in mirror]
then me make meta-comment about doing this [gives self hi-five in mirror]
so annoying, yet so special. Must signify something.

Anonymous said...

Warning: B.P.H.A.V.A.I.P.T.E. ahead


LOL.

Matt Parrott said...

One of the things that we're learning with the latest wave of genetic research is that human evolution has been more rapid and fluid than most had imagined. The Chinese, like Jews and Brahmans, have been selected for managerial excellence, focus, and memorizing things.

Whites and Japs are relatively new to the level of civilization at which management takes precedence over leadership. As such, their genomes have not been reshuffled in a "priestly" manner. They're more creative, more innovative, and more entrepreneurial but they lack the organizational skills and attention to detail that invasive priestly castes are glad to do for them.

Prediction: Chinese will gradually take on a role in Japan similar to the role that Jews have in the West. Japan and the West are all prince and no priest.

fsmrert said...

Judging by this thread, it seems that more than quite a few commenters here believe that having an interest in Asian porn, or a stint teaching English in Asia, makes them experts on theorizing about the last thousand years or so of Asian history.

Chief Seattle said...

Competition between autonomous regions is the key to a vital society. Greece had it enforced via its many islands. Europe had it via its mountain ranges. For much of its history China didn't have it due to its broad river valleys. Nor did Egypt, where the river made central control easy. The most explosive progress ever seen happened after the new world was civilized, but before it was centrally controlled.

The Founding Fathers knew this fairly well. The ever increasing power of the Federal government, and the corresponding destruction of the "laboratories of democracy", the states, would have disturbed them more than anything else going on today.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Paleo The British were only creative for about 3 centuries, from roughly 1600-1900.

Yeah, we'll all just agree to overlook that little incident in 1215 AD.

Or anything in the 20th Century involving this guy or this guy or this guy or this guy or this guy or this guy or this guy or this guy or this guy or this guy or this guy or this guy or this guy or this guy...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Warning: B.P.H.A.V.A.I.P.T.E. ahead
Big Picture Historical Analysis Via Autobiographically-Influenced Pet Theory Extrapolation

fsmrert said...
Judging by this thread, it seems that more than quite a few commenters here believe that having an interest in Asian porn, or a stint teaching English in Asia, makes them experts on theorizing about the last thousand years or so of Asian history.


C'mon, dudes, that's how the game is played around here on isteve: We take a small sample of biased data and use it to construct vast, overarching Theories of Everything. If you don't want to play, fine. But don't spoil everyone else's fun.

(And for what it's worth, I never taught English, nor do I have any particular interest in Asian porn. Really, I swear.)

westinghouse said...

Matt Parrott,

Your thoughts on this are terribly confused.

"The Chinese, like Jews and Brahmans, have been selected for managerial excellence, focus, and memorizing things."

Managerial excellence, focus, and memorizing things are the first things that come to mind when discussing Japanese industry and business.

"Whites and Japs are relatively new to the level of civilization at which management takes precedence over leadership. As such, their genomes have not been reshuffled in a "priestly" manner."

The Japanese are renowned for their heavily bureaucratic, entrenched, consensus driven management, and for their lack of "leadership." They are infamous for lacking the kind of charismatic, dynamic "leadership" that the West seems to enjoy or obsess about so much.

"They're more creative, more innovative, and more entrepreneurial but they lack the organizational skills and attention to detail that invasive priestly castes are glad to do for them."

Wait a minute....the Japanese are the ones that are supposed to be uncreative, lack innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, but make up for it through organizational skills and attention to detail. The Japanese adopted everything the supposedly less creative Chinese developed, before adopting everything from the West.

"Prediction: Chinese will gradually take on a role in Japan similar to the role that Jews have in the West."

This sentence is enough to inform the reader that he or she can ignore everything you wrote before it. It reveals a complete ignorance of Japanese ethnocentrism and culture.

Incidentally, I found that Koreans, whom I find to be closer to the Japanese than Chinese while of course independent from both in many ways, are proud that the Chinese have never been able to establish a large, flourishing, durable Chinatown within Korea. When I was in Korea and the topic of Chinese and Chinatowns came up, the Koreans would proudly exclaim that Korea was one of the few places in Asia in which the Chinese did not establish lasting Chinatowns with commercial power. They would point to countries in SE Asia, and the US even, and say how the Chinese were able to set up Chinatowns, flourish, and even dominate commerce, but not so in Korea. They considered this to be an achievement, and I suppose it kind of it is.

Anyhow, your "theory" is rather comical and deeply flawed. It can be summed up as "Whites&Japs are Knights&Samurais (warriors) while Jews&Chinese are priests." This is the kind of analysis you get from kids who play World of Warcraft or some other computer game involving warriors, priests, wizards, etc., too much.

Bill said...

fsmrert said...

Judging by this thread, it seems that more than quite a few commenters here believe that having an interest in Asian porn, or a stint teaching English in Asia, makes them experts on theorizing about the last thousand years or so of Asian history.


And this is what you have to offer?

Sit back and ponder your own special garbage. Nobody has offered less than you.

Matt Parrott said...

Westinghouse,

This was a blog post and not a scholarly research article, so I left out several points between A and Z. Is it really so absurd to propose that millennia of militarism affected one society one way while millennia of mandarin mnemonic management affected one society another way? The methods of achieving status, resources, and mates were divergent for the two populations.

The reason that my proposal appears ignorant of popular Western conceptions about Asian populations is that those conceptions are largely erroneous. I was working largely from Human Accomplishment and not pop culture stereotypes in my research.

I hope you'll consider suffering us fools more gladly in the future, as there are a lot of us out here and we really can't help being stupid.

Edward said...

Japanese weren't river basin book-keepers like the Chinese, Indians and Arabs.

They didn't have an army of bureaucrats and priests playing mind games for the same agricultural surplus.

They just got down to fighting. Like Europe, Japan was a coast and mountain society. So they had much more time for ideas, like different ways to slaughter people from weird angles.

westinghouse said...

Matt Parrott,

"The reason that my proposal appears ignorant of popular Western conceptions about Asian populations is that those conceptions are largely erroneous. I was working largely from Human Accomplishment and not pop culture stereotypes in my research."

Your proposal does not appear ignorant of popular Western conceptions about Asian populations at all. You just employ a different set of popular Western conceptions and cultural stereotypes to make a different claim.

That was part of the point of my initial post. All of your claims are actually based on plausible stereotypes and conceptions, and can be met with contradictory claims based on another set of plausible stereotypes and conceptions.

"I hope you'll consider suffering us fools more gladly in the future, as there are a lot of us out here and we really can't help being stupid."

I never suggested that you were foolish or stupid. I said that excessively playing fantasy, rpg games like Warcraft and Age of Empires does not make someone an expert in medieval culture and society.

fsmrert said...

Bill,

"And this is what you have to offer?

Sit back and ponder your own special garbage. Nobody has offered less than you."

Yes. I can't and won't waste my time speculating about several thousand years of Asian cultural history and evolution.

I will, however, gladly speculate about the people on this thread theorizing out of their behinds on this topic.

And judging from at least one overly defensive response to my initial comment, I seem to have hit a nerve and this leads me to believe that my initial comment is probably right for at least one commenter on this thread, and probably more.

Matt Parrott said...

Westinghouse,

I would really enjoy having a dialogue on this subject and I'm ready to move past the presumptions. I'm not a gamer. I know what you're getting at, but that is really not where my imagination is at. I have never even played World of Warcraft.

I'm neither Asian nor am I attempting to draw any conclusions from superficial examinations of Asians I know or Asian stuff I've heard about. I'm doing it on geography.

I believe that Edward pulled the thought right out of my mind and would be interested in learning where he derived his ideas from. They're very convergent with my own independent research. I believe that the Yellow River, Indo-Gangetic, Tigris-Euphrates, and Nile River basins resulted in a transition from militaristic selection to "brahmanic/priestly/mandarin" selection.

nerdy white manga addict said...

fsmrert said...
I can't and won't waste my time speculating about several thousand years of Asian cultural history and evolution.


But that's the whole freakin' point of this thread. Shit or get off the pot, fizzmert.

Anonymous said...

Matt Parrott

There is scant evidence that Chinese, Jews etc are natural genetically bred managers.
If you want to make such pop cultural comparisions, they might be likened to the Ferengi.

If there is one thing I don't want to see it is American business, and America itself, being "managed" by such people.

westinghouse said...

Matt Parrott,

Fair enough.

As far as this fascinating topic goes, at this point without any quantities or measurements to work with, anyone trying to theorize about this is ultimately going to be working with some kind of superficial conception or other.

In your initial post you posited that Jews and Chinese, due to similar priestly/mandarin selection pressures, share many similarities. Now the similarities between Jews and Chinese have often been noticed. Amy Chua's "World on Fire", which discusses various "middle man minority" groups such as Jews and overseas Chinese, comes to mind. But these comparisons often specifically point out the similar commercial proclivities and skills shared by Jews & Chinese. And these commercially skillful Chinese aren't the Chinese that were selected for under the Confucian Mandarin system. Confucianism placed commerce at the lowest level in its social heirarchy. Commerce was a vulgar, base activity below farming, artisans, and way below the summit of bureaucratic scholar mandarins.

It seems to me that people are too quick to determine that holding the most prestigious positions/highest status in society automatically translates to so much reproductive success that successive generations are made up of increasing proportions of the offspring of the high status holders. I think we can all agree that this isn't happening now, after all it is the elite in this country with the highest prestige and status in society whose offspring will make up an ever decreasing proportion of the population in the future. So I'm not sure why we have to automatically presume that this it was the case in the past.

The agricultural surplus that supported the parasitic mandarin bureaucratic class is also the same agricultural surplus that enabled the steady, stable, and massive population growth of China. It's hard to believe that the mandarin class drove this population growth through their reproductive success, or even managed to keep up proportionally with this growth.

Also, where does Chinese warlordism fit into this picture? It didn't seem to ever go away during all those centuries of centralized mandarin bureaucratic rule and control. They were always around in the provinces, fighting when they could and always quick to take advantage of any power vacuums. They were extant in the 20th century. I believe Mao was the one to finally get rid of them.

Anonymous wrote:

"There is scant evidence that Chinese, Jews etc are natural genetically bred managers.
If you want to make such pop cultural comparisions, they might be likened to the Ferengi."

That's a good point, and it's related to the point I'm trying to make. There is a significant strain among the Chinese, or at least among a significant subset of the Chinese, that consists of commercial proclivities and skills that can be likened to those of the Ferengi. And these are precisely the things that would not have been selected for in a system favoring mandarin scholar bureaucrats.

Matt Parrott said...

Anonymous,

What did I do to get continuously accused of relying on narrow pop culture snippets and video games to arrive at my thoughts on the subject?

I think there's pragmatic value in striving for objective disinterest in studying these matters. I'm open to the idea that we Westerners suffer from a relative defect that renders us vulnerable to invasive managerial elites. Imagine a fusion of Gottfried, MacDonald, and Cochran.

If I implied at some point that America or the West should be "managed" by invasive elites, then I retract and apologize for that remark.

Svigor said...

the samurai class depended on the merchant class as middlemen between themselves and the lowly peasants(much less morally respected in the Japanese system).

I thought that, like much of the upper class of Feudal Europe, the Samurai held the peasantry in higher esteem than urban types?

(if the urban types disappear, inconvenience; if the peasant types disappear, disaster)

Svigor said...

And for what it's worth, I never taught English, nor do I have any particular interest in Asian porn. Really, I swear.

What is "Asian porn," anyway? I've heard of Japanese porn, but this "Asian porn" is a new one.

Svigor said...

1241

The next couple centuries saw rapid development of military technology in Europe, especially west and central Europe. It was so rapid that technology was becoming widely adopted and then discarded in cycles better measured in decades than centuries.

Who knows how the Mongols would've fared against western Europe (which could have easily mustered another 100k men-at-arms against the Mongols) with their supply lines drastically extended, on varied terrain, vs. massed longbows?

The sissies turned and ran, making excuses about how grandma was calling them, so we'll never know. :P

Truth said...

I'm not so sure of this. Zen, the distinctly Japanese version of Buddhism, accommodated itself very well to Japan's authoritarian society and its culture of ancestor worship. Most Japanese today make no distinction between Shintoism and Buddhism."

Technically, Zen is not distinctly Japanese (nor, Daniel-san is anything distinctly anyone's). Zen is an imperfect analgam of Indian Buddhism and Chinese Daosim. The antecedent to Zen was called Ch'an in China.

Confucionist influence and Shinto were actually much more conducive to an authoritarian society and a culture of ancestor worship then is Zen; Zen worship was always confined to a small, and later romanticized, yet relatively irrelevant portion of Japanese society. Imagine a religion here specifically followed by the police and you get the idea.

As someone else here said, Japan was never anymore than nominally a "Zen nation", not anymore than the old west was an never ending series of gunfights and Indian scalpings.

Anonymous said...

Svigor said...
What is "Asian porn," anyway? I've heard of Japanese porn, but this "Asian porn" is a new one.


Yeah, I was kind of wondering about that myself. From what I've heard, Jap porn is all about S&M bondage and cartoon schoolgirls being ravished by a space octopus. I'm not aware of China or Korea producing any kind of porn at all. But perhaps fsmrert knows something we don't.

Anonymous said...

Nice cribbing from Wikipedia there, Truth.

Everything has antecedents. So what? That doesn't mean that Zen Buddhism as we know it today wasn't given its own special flavor by centuries of Japanese development. And yes, Zen was practiced by only a small minority--mainly by the Samurai caste. Since a fair number of Zen monks were former Samurai themselves (it was the only honorable alternative for a Samurai who wanted to retire), it's not surprising that Zen doctrines weren't exactly antithetical to Japan's authoritarian culture. During WWII, Japan's military dictatorship tried to suppress most forms of Buddhism and promote Shintoism, but they left the Zen sect alone, since they correctly regarded it as more or less conducive to their purposes. In any event, most Japanese today could no more explain the difference between Shintoism and Buddhism than the average modern American could explain the doctrinal differences between Pentecostals and Evangelicals. To them it's all just a bunch ill-understood rituals they consider part of their collective ethno-religious heritage.

Anonymous said...

Svigor said...
I thought that, like much of the upper class of Feudal Europe, the Samurai held the peasantry in higher esteem than urban types?


Just remember the mnemonic acronym SPAM:

Samurai

Peasants

Artisans

Merchants

That was roughly the caste ranking.

Anonymous said...

"One part of Japan's success may be that they were hunter/gatherers for longer."

I don't understand this line of reasoning, but it sounds interesting. Could you explain it some more, or provide references?

Templar said...

Who knows how the Mongols would've fared against western Europe (which could have easily mustered another 100k men-at-arms against the Mongols) with their supply lines drastically extended, on varied terrain, vs. massed longbows?

Well, they apparently proved entirely incapable of capturing European castles, and were terrified of crossbows. Further, the few areas in Western Europe where a horse army like the Mongols could find adequate fodder for their mounts happened to be the most heavily populated and thus heavily castled regions.

At least, that's what I've read, anyway.

The sissies turned and ran, making excuses about how grandma was calling them.

That seems to be more or less the right of it. Their supply lines were heavily over-extended and there was no shortage of Europeans ready to fight them (while Mongol casualties could not be easily replaced), so they retreated. A later invasion of Hungary around 1285 by the Mongols was crushed rather handily by the Hungarians under Ladislaus IV, apparently in great part due to military reforms iniatiated to implement what had been learned from previous Mongol invasions, such as building more castles.

Anonymous said...

"What did I do to get continuously accused of relying on narrow pop culture snippets and video games to arrive at my thoughts on the subject?"

It's probably because your photo makes you look like a massive nerd...

Delta said...

"What did I do to get continuously accused of relying on narrow pop culture snippets and video games to arrive at my thoughts on the subject?"

Certain segments of the HBD and/or Kev MacD sphere seem to endorse this. There's an article over at The Occidental Quarterly Online titled "Digitally Dueling with Chaos:
The Educational Value of Role-Playing Games."

http://www.toqonline.com/2009/06/digitally-dueling-with-chaos/

Doesn't seem like that much of a stretch to think that this kind of stuff might influence and shape one's views.

Svigor said...

Well, they apparently proved entirely incapable of capturing European castles, and were terrified of crossbows.

They would've hated western Europe then; eastern Europe never did match western Europes development of castles, not even close. The closest they got was Teutonic Knights building castles to protect conquered territory in the Baltic region (13th-14th). Russia with a few exceptions pretty much transitioned right from wooden castles to the big earthwork-type fortifications that arose with the dominance of cannon and firearms.

AFAIK the Mongols did eventually catch on to siege warfare, but the Chinese (and maybe the Muslims?) bore the brunt of it.

Wikipedia says the crossbow mostly replaced the bow in "many" European armies in the 12th (I know the Italians were renowned for their mercenaries throughout the period, who were in turn were renowned for their love of crossbows), so yeah the Mongols would've been unhappy if your sources are correct.

A later invasion of Hungary around 1285 by the Mongols was crushed rather handily by the Hungarians under Ladislaus IV, apparently in great part due to military reforms iniatiated to implement what had been learned from previous Mongol invasions, such as building more castles.

Fascinating, I'd never heard of it. (Obviously my knowledge of the period is spotty and strictly for fun) I'll have to look that up, because I was asking myself just that question in pondering the fight that never was: how quickly would the Europeans have adapted? Obviously they'd have caught on eventually, but the Mongols had a tendency to be running one's country by the time "eventually" came around. And knights are known, perhaps unfairly, as stubborn, proud, etc. It may be an exaggeration, but I have seen this kind of stupidity in specific historical examples (the patchwork of European ethnies and cultures might've made an excellent vector for this kind of blindness; "so they beat some Slavs, we'll crush them" etc.).

Anonymous said...

There's also the Malthusian / economic explanation. Japan's real trick for economic take-off was having agricultural productivity grow significantly faster than food production, the same as in Europe. This was in part due to Daimyos (local feudal leaders) levying unusually high taxes on their tenants. In China, on the other hand, local control was weaker and a tradition of public service, leading to sympathy for the average farmer, meant that taxes were far lower, so population grew at a faster rate.

Athens' cultural efflorescence was in part due to its ability to exploit the Delian league to reroute the resources of other states. By creating surplus wealth, it could invest it into intellectual activities.

It's really quite similar to high tech R&D. The reason the Chinese do horribly at high-tech R&D is because their fields are rampant with piracy and companies have a highly competitive mindset. This drives profit margins down, so businesses cannot invest their profits back into R&D for more competitive products.

You can also see this in the West, the most innovative companies typically have the highest profit margins. This allows them to slough profits back into R&D, which allows them to produce more innovative products to sell at high profit margins.