Tuesday, April 16, 2013

here's why part 2

Why do westerners think and live the way they do?

[This is a sketchy opinion, not a PhD thesis. Hopefully there are no glaring errors of fact.]

Western culture emerged principally from the westerly areas on this map. Go figure.

1. The Industrial Revolution began in Britain

2. In Scotland, Adam Smith observed that “self-interest” is part of God’s wonderful system to ensure nobody goes hungry.

These two key events occurred 250 - 300 years ago.

The westerly part of this map also marks the birthplace of whitefellas’ most recent “ages of empire” from Holy Roman, to Latin American, to the rush to claim a bit of Africa right through to putting red bits on a map to boast about how big the British Empire was.


The other parts included in the map are not all whitefella parts, but they show where a lot of ideas originated that made the Industrial Revolution possible/likely.

Most of the northerly areas on the map have something in common – similar climates and resources.
Mountains and valleys, rivers and lakes, animals and plants, and four seasons.

For oodles of thousands of years,
  • Spring was the time when some plants started to bloom or fruit, and when seeds were deliberately sown.
  • Summer was a time for moving around, trading, collecting some food and firewood, making things, building and hunting.
  • Autumn was a time for harvesting, collecting more firewood, doing more hunting, and preserving food.
  • Winter was a time for huddling in shelters, burning firewood, and surviving only because of  what was saved when all that hunting and harvesting and preserving was going on.

The two key words in this simple outline are SURVIVED and SAVED.

If you lived in a temperate or arctic zone and you didn’t save, you didn’t survive. 

If you survived by saving, you were really just asking for trouble, though. Sooner or later someone else who hadn't done their own saving would come raiding and raping, pillaging and pilfering. This made it even more important to save even more. If you managed to save/steal enough, this gave you power and made you even safer [unless you were the sibling of some ambitious royal].

The more you save, the better off you are and the more secure your future. Stuff that can be stored or used for money and trading for profit make sense in this sort of world. Money is light to carry if you suddenly need to escape an invading horde.


Most of the countries across the north of this map are joined together. Allowing for a couple of big hills, it is possible to travel from one end to another, or travel partway and move goods and IDEAS as part of some giant relay. Some one or some thing or some idea could travel from one end of the known world and back again along trade routes.

China came up with a way of printing; the Germans perfected printing, and the British gave us the Financial Times. East or west, people traded ideas and then tinkered with them to make them even better.

Crappy weather and the opportunities for millions to exchange ideas created two of the conditions necessary for an industrial revolution. The third and only remaining condition necessary was resources. Fertile soil, water, plants that could be cropped, and animals that could be domesticated.


Savings is an idea so central to western culture that most countries have some sort of Little Red Hen Story, a story that's been used to justify both capitalism and soviet collectivisation.

The plot of the story is about co-operation. 

The moral of the story is that if people don't do their own share of the work, then no one else is likely to share their food. INDIVIDUALS are responsible for their own future.

The subtext of the story is this: You have to PLAN if you want to SAVE. You have to defer gratification, and not live "in the moment". You can't afford to live one day at a time. 


The southerly part of this map did not give rise to the Industrial Revolution, but it was the birthplace of a lot of IDEAS that had an enormous impact on the northerly bits.

  • Mathematics
  • Anatomy
  • Drama and Philosophy
  • Empire, and
  • The idea that knowledge could be collected and stored

The first Empires were built on theft. People, labour, goods, crops – there is no need to save if you can just take what you want. If you couldn’t save, then you had to help yourself. 

Empire after Empire came and went but in each of them there was a single idea that was not questioned. People are a commodity, and life is cheap.

Slavery is a time honoured tradition that still goes on today.

the floggings will continue until morale improves

Not all parts of the middle east are "Arable" [sorry, just had to say it] and some people relied on herding and a semi-nomadic life to survive. For them, animals were an investment, a means of production, a measure of wealth and a means of saving. But resources were limited. The usefulness of some other peoples' ideas was limited. Plans weren't changed and improved all the time because the most sensible thing to do was keep recycling the same ones: move yer goats and sheep around in search of feed.

The most useful thing about the Bible is that it is a great history book. The Middle East was the birthplace of Monotheism – the Jewish/Christian idea that there is only one god, that god is all powerful, and that we will be punished if we don’t do what he says.

And, as the king is appointed by god then by god you’d better obey the king.

The Bible reflects/approves of lots of western ideas, including:
  • Some people are more entitled to land than others
  • Some people are superior to others
  • War is okay
  • Slavery is okay
  • Saving is important
  • God takes sides
  • Agriculture is important
  • Men are more important than women
  • Whites are more important than blacks 
  • Be nice to each other.

On the plus side, the Bible gave us the Ten Commandments and some other rules to live by. On the not-so-plus side, these are open to interpretation. For example, does “an eye for an eye” mean the punishment must fit the crime, or does it mean revenge is vital?

Thankfully, organised religion exists to save us worrying about interpretation. Most of us need a messenger like Moses or a Pope to tell us what God really thinks. Not having to work out for myself what God really thinks helps me sleep at night.


When whites reached Australia – at least, those who didn’t take one look at the place, laugh hysterically and then sail off again – they brought with them a bunch of unquestioned assumptions about how the world should work.

Governor Davey’s Proclamation of 1816 sums it up nicely, I think:

The natives and the whiteman are equal before the law. If they act the same they will be treated the same.


  1. Damned lucky no one took much notice of Governor Davey. A good potted history though.

    1. Not sure if he managed to have the comic distributed through Gordon and Gotch, or if it was a limited edition.
      Or perhaps borrowed from the Frankston Library and never returned.

  2. Wow, indeed a lot here to digest. Unfortunately Governor Davey's proclamation was also open to interpretation just as we do the Bible...

    1. Thanks, MT, you made me put aside for a moment what teachers once told me the proclamation was supposed to mean, and take a fresh look at it. Yeah, it could mean any of a dozen things!

  3. A good read and lots of thinking done here.

    1. Thanks Diane. Not much that's original, but it took me quite a while before the pieces of the puzzle came together.

  4. It's clear this isn't a PhD thesis because a) it makes sense; b) it's a logical and reasoned piece of work and c) it serves a purpose other than to confer academic honour upon the writer!