On my way to work this morning, I was thinking about the fact that most technological innovations have names that are in English, and wondering what it is about England and America that makes us such a hotbed of innovation. I think I figured it out.
I believe it’s mostly one thing – the cultural melting pot. We have been willing to accept just about anything and anyone. Different people with different ways of doing things all come together, and then compare notes. Each can see improvements in the other guy’s way of doing things, and deficits in their own way, so everyone benefits from coming up with a whole new way. Innovation has also tended to follow the frontier, because a frontier situation requires a constant influx of people and ideas.
There is very little frontier left, because pretty much all the earth is mapped and owned by somebody. The only real frontiers left to us are the other bits of rock in our solar system. Isaac Asimov has said that unless we manage to beat the speed of light, we cannot have a galactic empire. The time lag involved in communication just to the nearest star makes central governance impossible.
I’d bet that if you went back and looked at how all the super-successful civilizations in history got their start, you’d find that there was a coming together of many different cultures. I’d also be willing to bet that if you looked at the downfall of those civilizations, you’ll find that most of them coincided with cultural inflexibility, a relative unwillingness to accept anything from outside themselves. I’ve heard it said that America cannot afford to withdraw from worldwide affairs. It seems this is an accurate statement.
I believe that if our world’s large oil resources were in a different place, Islam would be a very different religion than it is today. The only reason they have been able to be as exclusionary as they are for this long is because they have what everyone else wants – they can afford the price of not changing.
I don’t know enough about Nazi Germany to comment very far, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that their purist stance had a lot to do with them resorting to war for success.
If you look at places in America where one culture rules and excludes others, like Chinatown, the barrio, etc., you’ll find that they tend to be less affluent and anachronistic. The other side of the coin, yuppie suburbia, is also fairly monocultural, but like Islam, this uniformity is supported by external financial means.
Japan is financially successful and very modern, but there’s not really any Japanese words in the technological lexicon. They are not inflexible within themselves, which is why they are successful, but very little real innovation happens there because they are socially monocultural and resistant to immigration.
It will be very interesting to see where things go in the future. China shows no signs that they are willing to integrate with the rest of the world. If that continues, they will find themselves in a bad situation as their economy grows. Most (or all) wars are economic in nature, so if the oil crisis doesn’t get us there first, the next world war may be in China.