East to surpass West, says historian

Feb. 17, 2012, 2:04 a.m.

The world at the end of the 21st century will differ more from today than how present day is currently compared to the world of cavemen, said Ian Morris, an archaeologist and historian in the Department of Classics, Thursday evening during a lecture in the Sloan Mathematics Corner.


The lecture, entitled, “Why the West Rules–For Now: The Silk Road, the Atlantic Economy and the Pacific Century,” was based off his 2010 award-winning book, “Why the West Rules–for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future.”


East to surpass West, says historian
Stanford historian, archaeologist and Classics professor Ian Morris addressed perceptions of historical dominance of the West over the East during a presentation Thursday evening. He projected that the East will overcome the West to control global politics and trade at the beginning of the 22nd century. (IAN GARCIA-DOTY/The Stanford Daily)

Morris said that geography is more important than culture in explaining patterns of the major power shifts and economic transitions throughout history, and argued that these patterns can predict the future direction of the world.


He also challenged the idea of Western and European superiority, which he said is a false perception.


Arguing that Europe’s rise was due to geographical factors, Morris said, “Europe had the benefit of the Atlantic slave trade, which incentivized a community of thinkers to ask questions that caused Europe to flourish intellectually.”


“Europe had access to the Americas before the East Asians did simply because it was easier to get there based on distance, not because they were smarter or more wicked,” Morris added.


Morris also drew a parallel between how the Atlantic trade helped to elevate the United States to its current position of prominence in the global economy, and how the Pacific trade is indicating the same trend with China.


Using a social development index he developed–which takes into account factors such as energy captured per person, organization, spread of information and war making–Morris mapped out the history of two civilizations since the last ice age that scored the highest on the index: East Asia and the West.


He pointed out that the shapes of the graphs were similar, which he said debunks the idea of Western superiority. Furthermore, Morris pointed out that from 550 CE to 1750 CE on the graph, the East was actually ahead of the West and produced crucial inventions such as ships that could sail the world.


Morris also highlighted the role the Silk Road and the peoples of the steppe region that lies between Western Europe and East Asia had in connecting the two regions and shaping their history in a way that is not often acknowledged.


Morris concluded with a graph based on his social development index, which projects a future in which the East will overtake the West in 2103.


“Western domination will evaporate,” he said. “This process is driven by geography and cannot be reversed.”


“The changes that will happen in the 21st century will be on a scale that will dwarf anything that has ever happened to human history,” Morris said.

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