There are two advanced civilizations extant on Earth – East and West.
The West has its origins in ancient Greece and Rome, and has spread through the British Empire to North America and Australasia, together with trace amounts in southern Africa. While Hungary and New Zealand are obviously quite different, there is a common current running through them.
The first Western country I ever visited aside from my birthplace was
Italy. A supposedly foreign country, I found everything there far more familiar than the countries geographically closest to my own (Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and East Timor). Italy felt more familiar to me than even highly Westernized, largely English-speaking places like Singapore. It was a strange homecoming to a distant land that I really had no personal connection to at all. In time, too, Italy is distant – the Romans have not colonized my long-suffering ancestors for about fifteen hundred years. And my Irish ancestors, they never did.
From what I’ve read, the genetic impact of the Roman occupation of Britain is fairly limited. Our DNA branched far earlier than that, in prehistoric times.
The world’s other great civilization has its roots in ancient China but presently finds its peak in Japan and is more highly advanced in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea than on the mainland. While Japan and China are quite different, Japan’s cultural roots were transported from the other only a thousand-odd years ago and so it is fair to categorize them in this way. This Oriental civilization is mostly confined to North Asia plus minority diaspora communities elsewhere.
I call these the ‘two civilizations’ because they are currently the most advanced cultural groupings in the world. They have the gleamingest cities, the most impressive art (including music, films, literature etc.), the highest living standards (yes, China will continue to be an exception throughout this article), the best manners (there, didn’t I tell you!), the most developed infrastructure, medical care, transport, education systems and industry. Here and there we find other reasonably advanced places: Uruguay, Dubai, perhaps others, but each of these will have an asterisk next to its name for one reason or another.
In earlier times, other civilizations flourished. Rome once recognized Parthia as a legitimate civilization and therefore (at several times) considered that frontier a suitable border for their empire. Over that side there also rose and fell Sumer (in Iraq!), the Babylonians, and of course the Persians. During the Middle Ages the Arabs pulled ahead of the West in many fields, including science and religious tolerance.
India was once less famous for shitting on the street and more famous for its mathematics. The concept of ‘zero’ originates in Bengal.
Outside Eurasia I think it’s fair to give an honourable mention to pre-colonial cities in the Americas. After all, they had to do it without old-world perks such as horses.
Around modern-day Ethiopia there was once the Axum Empire which got rich trading with Rome and the Far East. They wrote with the Geez alphabet that is still in use in several languages today
As for why the East and West predominate in the present century, I do not intend to address that here.
Rather, let’s look at the similar problems that these civilizations are facing. While they have mostly solved hunger, ameliorated the risks posed by natural disasters, are mostly safe from war, and contain little real poverty, they now experience other issues.
Some of these are straightforward consequences of plenty – obesity, heart disease, cancer, dementia and so on. You have to have money or live long enough to suffer these.
Others, such as stress and related mental problems, might simply be picked up by increased diagnosis now that we have the leisure to consider such things.
What I find most interesting are the parallel cultural changes taking place at both ends of the world. The result of these is identical: a birth rate that is below replacement level.
In East and West we see a breakdown of traditional sexual constraints, lower marriage rates, higher divorce rates, more use of contraceptives, more pre-marital sex, and more children born out of wedlock.
Roissy has already explained the underlying causes of these changes – the Pill, independent incomes for women, cultural change and antibiotics.
What I also notice is a schism between men and women – a skepticism about marriage; distrust, disdain. Contempt. And I see this in both sexes. Women treat their husbands with scorn and are never satisfied with their efforts. Unmarried men treat marriage as though it is an untreatable disease, like AIDS, and take measures to avoid it.
I do not see this in the more fecund cultures of Africa and the Middle East. Here, sex roles are clear, strict, and anyone will think that you’re nuts for not wanting to get married and have children, or for only wanting to have one or two. There’s no underlying argument. That’s just how it is – you live to breed. If you have no money to feed the little ones or if they will have no futures prospects in your country, you breed anyway. Whatever happens to them once they’re adults is their problem. R-selection, in other words.
Many around this side of the web talk about the western Decline
, but few mention, or notice, that the same is happening in the East. Sure, there are 1.4 billion Chinese, but their number one problem might end up being their rapidly aging population. They recently scrapped the One Child Policy but it looks like making no difference due to those cultural changes mentioned above. A lot of young Chinese don’t really want to marry and only do so to placate their parents. Their less traditional cousins elsewhere in the region have lower birthrates still.
I do not here pontificate, merely notice: the world’s two greatest civilizations are both in decline, and may be gone in a few centuries. The societies that will rise in their place will be completely different. That’s just how it is, if present trends continue.
If this prediction is correct I guess Fermi’s Paradox is very nearly solved.