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Thread: Geography most important factor for growing societies?

  1. #1 Geography most important factor for growing societies? 
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    I found this BBC article very interesting and wondered what others thought?

    Geography determined how societies developed; but how societies developed simultaneously determined what geography meant.
    I have a few problems with the article, the biggest being the complete lack of control over it all. That the rise and fall of past societies was ineveitable, that there was nothing they themselves did to contribute to either the rise, or the fall. That is doesn't matter if a country was a democracy or a fascist state, a war mongerer or peaceful, that it worshipped sun gods or didn't beleive in anything. It was always going to happen merely because advances in technology altered what a desirable geographical feature was.

    But, I can see the logic of the argument. Britain prospered because it was an island, and islands need good navies, and good navies are vital for keeping hold of far off colonies. But the logic only works up to the creation of the British Empire, when it kind of falls apart. The idea that the US's rise and the rise of the East, is down to geography is not explained very well in the article.

    Can anyone expand on it?

    Airplanes and container ships can now cross the pacific I understand, but they can go anywhere, so whats the geographical reason has China grown and Africa not? It can't still be down to having the right climate for agriculture?


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  3. #2 Re: Geography most important factor for growing societies? 
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    Quote Originally Posted by SE15

    But, I can see the logic of the argument. Britain prospered because it was an island, and islands need good navies, and good navies are vital for keeping hold of far off colonies. But the logic only works up to the creation of the British Empire, when it kind of falls apart. The idea that the US's rise and the rise of the East, is down to geography is not explained very well in the article.

    Can anyone expand on it?

    Airplanes and container ships can now cross the pacific I understand, but they can go anywhere, so whats the geographical reason has China grown and Africa not? It can't still be down to having the right climate for agriculture?
    Living on an island means you have access to all resources from everywhere, because every point on your map is near a port. The USA's biggest natural resource is arable land. Much like OPEC controls the flow of oil, the USA and its allies control the flow of food, and which resource do you think is more vital?

    As for Africa and South America, I think their problem is too many people still living in isolated tribal societies. I don't know if that's a "geographic" problem or not. It might be a consequence of over colonization, with people feeling safest from oppression when they live far away from the cities, rather than wanting to join in and urbanize. Low commerce causes poor exchange of ideas, which causes nothing ever moving forward.


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  4. #3 Re: Geography most important factor for growing societies? 
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    Quote Originally Posted by SE15
    I found this BBC article very interesting and wondered what others thought?

    Geography determined how societies developed; but how societies developed simultaneously determined what geography meant.
    I have a few problems with the article, the biggest being the complete lack of control over it all. That the rise and fall of past societies was ineveitable, that there was nothing they themselves did to contribute to either the rise, or the fall. That is doesn't matter if a country was a democracy or a fascist state, a war mongerer or peaceful, that it worshipped sun gods or didn't beleive in anything. It was always going to happen merely because advances in technology altered what a desirable geographical feature was.
    I think what the article is leaving out is that inventive societies naturally focus their inventions on things that suit their own terrain. If they lived on different terrain, we would have gotten different inventions from them, and they would still appear to be very lucky for living where they lived.

    The only exception is when your terrain facilitates invention itself. The Mediterranean Ocean made trade/interaction easy between a lot of cultures, who traded and shared ideas. You can see how some cultures located near major overland trade routes (like Constantinople) or near a land bottleneck (like Egypt) would also have an edge.
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  5. #4  
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    Can anyone expand on it?
    Jared Diamond expanded on it brilliantly in Guns, Germs and Steel about 13 years ago.
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  6. #5  
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    Some of this parallels Jared Diamond's writings which suggest circumstances and resources available have at least as much to do with supremacy as the type of culture.

    I don't really buy the China versus European argument though. My understanding is Chinese had chosen not to be a major sea power and didn't even exploit the riches within their range nor with the rich areas to the West. Also noteworthy is Portugal and other Europeans had a vigorous trade with China based on European ships and navigation well before North American became hugely profitable.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lynx_Fox

    I don't really buy the China versus European argument though. My understanding is Chinese had chosen not to be a major sea power and didn't even exploit the riches within their range nor with the rich areas to the West. Also noteworthy is Portugal and other Europeans had a vigorous trade with China based on European ships and navigation well before North American became hugely profitable.
    It's kind of complicated because of the rise of Qing dynasty coincided with the destruction of the Chinese navy shortly before the huge rise in European naval supremacy.

    Even with that though, the 18th century saw high levels of prosperity in China. The Chinese Empire only begins to go into decline in the mid 19th century because of multiple external and internal pressures, the opium wars with the British Empire being the major one because it began the slow bleeding process of losing their trade ports to European powers (the opium trade itself was bleeding China dry of silver).

    In reality though, I think China has been an economic and military power house for a long time, they just had a 200 year slump in recent history.
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  8. #7  
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    Dr. Joseph Needham also implied that climate is also part of reasons "how societies developed".

    Both are right to some degree.

    How could USA be so powerful now if she has any direct land connections with Europe?
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  9. #8  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lynx_Fox

    I don't really buy the China versus European argument though. My understanding is Chinese had chosen not to be a major sea power and didn't even exploit the riches within their range nor with the rich areas to the West. Also noteworthy is Portugal and other Europeans had a vigorous trade with China based on European ships and navigation well before North American became hugely profitable.
    I'm thinking the Chinese didn't have the spice trade incentive like Europe did.

    From Europe's side, you're sending a ship with gold and tradeable items out, and coming back with spice, then selling it and making a fortune -- a fortune you intend to spend in Europe. From China's end, you'd be sending a ship full of spice out, then selling it for a lot of money, but then what do you do with all the gold? Try and ship it all back home? Europe doesn't have any nifty items China wants.
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  10. #9  
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    Between 1500 and 1525 China banned and than burned most of their larger ships to the ground. Prior to that they'd had the largest ships in the world. It was stupid decisions by eccentric and short sighted leadership that more than anything allowed the West to pass them in Navy technology and use that technology to build (and exploit) wealth from around the world.
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  11. #10  
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    I think the size of the land mass would play a huge part. The example of Africa was used. It's massive and technological advances that allow for a more globalized society are fairly recent in the grand scheme of things. Take an area like Japan where information and discoveries travel fast in such a compact with a like-mindedness that advances can be produced faster.
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  12. #11  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Miller30
    I think the size of the land mass would play a huge part. The example of Africa was used. It's massive and technological advances that allow for a more globalized society are fairly recent in the grand scheme of things. Take an area like Japan where information and discoveries travel fast in such a compact with a like-mindedness that advances can be produced faster.
    Yeah, I agree. I think sea faring is the #1 factor in deciding what cultures are going to advance the fastest. It's no coincidence that the middle east and Mediterranean areas, with their incredibly favorable ratio of coastal terrain to inland terrain, would have been the ones to invent civilization as we know it. Ideas get exchanged really fast when people from diverse regions are traveling large distances and meeting with each other to trade.

    This would also explain why Eastern Europe advanced so much slower than Western Europe, as most Western European countries have access to the ocean.



    Quote Originally Posted by Lynx_Fox
    Between 1500 and 1525 China banned and than burned most of their larger ships to the ground. Prior to that they'd had the largest ships in the world. It was stupid decisions by eccentric and short sighted leadership that more than anything allowed the West to pass them in Navy technology and use that technology to build (and exploit) wealth from around the world.
    China has a long, ancient, history of taking measures to suppress the spread of ideas in order to strengthen the rule of whatever emperor holds power, going all the way back to Qin Shi Huang, who's ministers went on a huge book burning binge to try and give him control over how the people would think.

    The last thing a ruling party like that would want is new ideas getting brought in from overseas.
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