Sunday, April 21, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter Ten

“Conflicts of Manners of Life,” pages 83-88

New techniques, like agriculture once was, always come into conflict with traditional ways of life, with wars the likely result. The people of the old ways, the nomads or barbarians, frequently possess superior military prowess. As a ruling minority, however, they tend to become assimilated into the ways of civilization. “Kublai Khan, although his grandfather had been a ruffianly barbarian, was a man of the highest culture, quite capable of stately pleasure domes and the rest of it [p. 84].” Even if a new technique such as agriculture is militarily inferior, its economic efficiency causes it to spread, so conquest by nomads does not lead to a proliferation of nomads.

In the past, a major problem for civilized communities was to maintain the warlike resolution necessary to keep the invaders at bay. The military advantage recently has shifted away from the nomads, though, and perhaps an optimistic view would hold that the atomic bomb helps to secure the rich, civilized portions of the globe.

Seafaring and land-based cultures also have been historical military rivals. The seafarers, whether Norsemen, Venetian, or British, often have had the upper hand. They, too, tend to evolve from pirates into merchants, while seafaring in general has spread civilization. Seafaring exposes one to the ways of other cultures, promoting a cosmopolitanism that helps to combat bigotry. Traders rely on mutually advantageous exchange, and so they develop the habit of looking at situations from the point of view of others. This civilizing feature of maritime trade is countered by the close relationship between the merchant marine and piracy, which allows sea power to inculcate imperialism. Voluntary trade can become coerced trade, as the Opium War demonstrates.

Today’s clash of techniques is between industrial production and traditional agriculture. In geopolitical terms, the clash pits Europe and the US against a Russian-led Asia. The agricultural workers in Russia, India, and China are barely at subsistence. Those who succumb to the siren song of communism will soon find police and spies weighing them down, instead of gaining the freedom that they seek. “And if the Soviet system is neither softened nor overthrown, they may suffer centuries of impoverished serfdom [p. 88].” Agricultural societies will eventually give way to industrialized societies – even agriculture is industrial in developed countries. We can hope that the current clash of industry and agriculture will not involve the long periods of strife that characterized the conflicts between nomads and agriculturalists, and between land-based and seafaring societies.

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