Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Asian Resistance

JZ argues…

Students of European history always argue that the values and technology of Europe are far superior to any other civilization. Thus, Europe dominated against other civilizations and spread its culture. However, this leaves out a key part of European attempts to colonize the Asian areas and their failure in trying to do so. This leads to the question of why the Asian countries were the one region that remained closed off to European military domination. It was the highly structured and organized Asian culture and political systems that defended themselves against the European global system.

First, remember that the Asian countries were actually the first to develop the main technologies that Europeans would eventually capitalize upon. Marco Polo, in his adventures through the Mongol Empire, would discover the navigational technologies and gunpowder that Europeans would eventually use in colonizing Latin America and Africa. In fact, the Chinese were first major explorers and reached all the way to Eastern and possibly Western Africa under Admiral Zenghe. Europeans only followed in the technological advances of the Chinese and Japanese empires.

Asian empires were highly structured and organized around central divine figures. Each Asian country had a different religious or spiritual system to justify their organizations. However, all of the countries had a central semi or fully divine leader with local warlords who ruled over families and kinship groups. The families were organized in a hierarchical way that resembled the overall structure of the empire. The general ideology of citizenship and organization was based upon the analogy of a chain in which each member was a rung that was connected to the next. This belief created a system of national loyalties and duties. While the Europeans were trying to create nation states, the Asian empires had already created a sense of individual loyalty to the good of the empire and its advancement through the acknowledgement of the emperor as their leader.

This allowed the Asian countries to oppose European domination. Portugal would be the first to try to dominate in Southeast Asia, China, and Japan. The Asian leaders only allowed for limited trading posts. This would continue all the way until the mid-1800s when the US would push an opening to Japanese isolation.

We prize individualism and rights as the European tradition. However, this creates a system of fragmentation that lacks cohesion and organization. Often this creates a sense of confusion that lacks proper investment for future technological advancements. The Asian systems developed an organized national economy and political system. This allowed them to create new forms of military and navigational technologies. Also, it create a sense of clear duties and responsibilities for the individual citizen to both family and empire.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

European Colonization

JZ argues…

European colonization has typically been described in historical textbooks as a heroic effort by the different explorers to bring the values of progress, individualism, and freedom to the “New World”. Most people have argued against the heroism of the explorers by saying that they were not really the first ones to discover the Western Hemisphere. However, this is not the point. The real issue is whether or not the exploration of the New World brought a new and greater cultural revolution to the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

The European viewpoint on exploration, represented in traditional historical opinions, is that the tribal regions of Africa, the Americas and Latin America, were barbaric and in need of enlightenment. However, these civilizations were actually highly advanced. The Aztecs and Incas of South America were large empires built very similar to the European kingdoms. They had highly centralized kingdoms with a priestly caste that was organized around a religious system of rituals, complex ideas, and authority. Their beliefs were based upon a polytheistic religious system that included numerous animal and nature spirits. They had a professional army that had conquered numerous smaller tribal regions and had brought them into an empire system. These structures were similar to the ones in the European monarchies and the Hindu kingdoms in India.

Another charge often brought up against the tribal systems of Africa and Latin America was that they were barbaric and violent. For example, the Aztecs were known for widespread use of human sacrifice to appease their pantheon of gods. However, this assumes that all tribal and kingdom systems in Africa and Latin America were the same. Rather, many of the tribal groups were known for being incredibly peaceful and tolerant of differences. For example, Christopher Columbus first discovered the Arawak Indian tribes on the island of Hispanola. He described these inhabitants as incredibly peaceful and not knowledgeable about war or the elements of war. Native tribes in Africa and Latin America tended to form consensus forms of political decision-making. In this form of governance, the tribal elders would meet with a chief. But, the chief was more of a facilitator of a discussion. He would not make the decision for the group. Rather, the group would come to a decision that would incorporate the best elements of all of the individual members.

Another argument often used is that the tribal systems were not economically sustainable. Rather, as it is argued, tribes barely survived due to their dependence on agriculture and nomadic patterns of movement. But, actually, most native tribes found areas in their local environment that would support their needs for food, shelter, and family growth. They made sure to take from their local environment the proportionate amount needed in order to sustain their community’s development. They would then share their resources communally to ensure the survival of the community as well as the individual. It was true that some tribes eventually went extinct due to their inability to survive in certain geographies. An example was the Anasazi tribes in the Southwest of America. They eventually went extinct due to the droughts and lack of food and water in the deserts of the Southwest. However, these were exceptions. Also, you would need to compare this with the European death rates due to plagues, lack of hygiene, and lack of understanding of their local environments. Widespread European deaths were far greater at that time than with the Native tribes.

The Europeans did not bring individualism and progress to the “New World”. Rather, they brought disease that wiped out Native cultures. They destroyed local Native cultures by setting up systems of slavery. And, they used the local cultures as a tool for European fights between their empires.