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Events of the late fifteenth century having to do with ships, navigation, seas, and maps are often used to mark the beginning of the "modern" world.  If "modern" is defined as "new,"  the world has always been modern, or it has never been modern (vanity of vanities).  Modern is often defined in terms of certain institutions, technologies, and attitudes.  If these are specific enough, then potentially the world can become "unmodern" again.  Attitudes are often used to mark modernity, and one of those attitudes was a belief in "progress."  Since my belief in progress was much stronger 60 years ago than it is today, I am less modern than I once was.  Maybe the current political and economic crises will have that same effect on so many people that there will be a "retreat from modernity.."  This may have happened to seventh century Mayan society and to tenth century Chinese society.  I find myself marking time more by the changing seasons and less by the passing years.  The coming of Summer is of far more consequence in this house than the coming of 2012.The modern world is a scientific, secular, industrial, information driven and information seeking world; it is a gesellscaft, a global world, a small world, a changing world.  But it was first of all and most of all, an European world..  The technology may have mostly come from elsewhere, but the people, the attitudes, the institutions, the germs, the "geographical orientation." and even the weeds* that came to dominate the world after 1500 were European either in origin or in character.  This conquest of the world by Europe has been told and retold and nuanced by revisionists,feminists, minorities and first peoples.  All have their statements about what happened and how it happened.  Left unexplored is why it happened.  Why is an old fashioned question, an unscientific question, a question, some would say, without meaning and without answers.

But why is a central question, because it is answered even when never asked.  Racism, paternalism, manifest destiny, worldviews, are all answers to the unspoken why.  Why were Europeans the dominant people of the sixteen through twentieth centuries?  There is an implied question with implied answers.  The Europeans were somehow willing and able while Africans, Asians, Americans, etc. etc were not.  We were capable, energized, poised in the right way at the right time.  China was modern 500 years before Europe, but that was not the right time to be modern.  Just as Sikorski's helicopter worked in the twentieth century while Da Vinci's could not have flown in the sixteenth, because it was not the right time for helicopters.  But the Chinese could have circumnavigated the globe in the fourteen century, and if they had done so world history would have been different.  The Chinese were able to restrain themselves in the fourteenth century, why could not the Spanish restrain themselves in the sixteenth.  Well, some say, Spain "needed" to reach India from the east in order to compete with the Portuguese who dominated the trade routes from the west.  But this is not really an answer.  Someone broke into my neighbor's house and stole from it.  I have lived next to him for years, and I never did that.  What the hell is wrong with me?!  I never took advantage of that opportunity.  Someone else, even though they had to travel farther and take greater risks, did.  They will make the history books ( or the police blotter, depending on who "wins"} I will not.  In the modern world we have nearly explored the limits of our arrogance and have almost discovered the extent of our greed.  What frontiers will we now conquer?
 

* Alfred W, Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe,900-1900. Cambridge University Press, 1986.

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bobby1933
bobby1933

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