Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Absurdities of Eurocentricism

I've been reading an interesting book titled ReOrient by Andre Gunder Frank, at a time when the Indian newspapers are bursting with reports of the latest Cricket fiasco.

The pathetic tweeter-tussle between Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi has only added to my disdain for the charade that is called the `national sport of India`. To me cricket represents the worst of all the colonial baggage that we carry in our minds - a lazy, elitist game that has sucked out the life-blood of all other forms of sport in India. It is also a fine example of the Eurocentrism which is fed to us from the day we start reciting English nursery rhymes in the kindergartens.

In ReOrient, Andre Gunder Frank takes a critical look at received historiography, social theory, and notions of the world according to Marx, Weber, and other European theorists, and finds serious flaws in their very foundations.

Frank was, of course, not the first one to say this. Braudel (1992) has shown how `Europe invented historians and then made good use of promote their own interests at home and elsewhere in the world`; Marshall Hodgson (1993) denounced maps based on Mercator Projection which gave the impression that countries close to the poles were larger than those near the equator; and Lewis & Wigen (1997) wryly pointed out in the `The Myth of Continents` how the Europeans called their peninsula a`continent` but preferred to name the Indian peninsula - larger and much more populous than Europe at all times - as a mere `sub-continent`!

Much of conventional theory is based on the works of Marx, Weber, Sombart and others who have alleged that before 1750AD, "Asian Mode of Production" was traditional, stationary, stagnant and generally uneconomic.  Max Weber tried to show that the Occident inherited a unique combination of rationality and activism (Hodgson 1993) and only after the Europeans traders stepped in did anything worthwhile start coming out of Asia.

In ReOrient, Frank`s focus is on international trade in the pre-colonial days. He starts with a simple, well-known fact -  when the first European traders (Portuguese, Spanish) reached Asia, they had nothing worthwhile to offer. Asians were not interested in buying their substandard wool and textiles. Thankfully for the new entrants, a New World had been discovered in the Americas which, turned out to be a goldmine. Or, more precisely, a massive silver-mine.

Silver was the ruling currency in the Asian markets and the Spanish & Portuguese used this to import all the goods they wanted in Asia. This spurred the envy of the other little countries of Europe and triggered not only state-sponsored piracy but also a severe competition for building faster, larger ships, and equipment -- a process that culminated in the ultimate game-changer, Industrial Revolution in England.

So, European states first used the silver extracted from the American colonies to buy entry into an expanding Asian market that already flourished in the global economy. They then resorted to import substitution and export promotion in the world market, and thus became Newly Industrializing Economies of the day and tipped the global economic balance to the West.

This is exactly what Asia is doing today - to recover its traditional dominance, which had been temporarily lost to the West.


* "The West first bought a third-class seat on the Asian economic train, then leased a whole railway carriage, and only in the 19th century managed to displace the Asians from the locomotive"

* "They (the West) are, in essense, captives of a peculiar arrogance of not knowing what they do not know, yet speak as if they know what all of us need to know" - Molefi Kete Asante (1987)

* "Europe did not pull itself up by its own ecnonomic bootstraps, and certainly not thanks to any kind of European "exceptionalism" of rationality, institutions, entrepreneurship, technology, geniality, or, in a word - of race."

* The Columbian Exchange: The really mind-boggling impact of the post-Columbus exchange of animals, plants, culture, communicable diseases, and ideas, between the "old" and the "new" world (Americas). The indegenous population (Aztec, Inca, Maya, etc.,) of about 100 million was reduced to just 5 million! (Livi-Bacci, 1992)

* In 1615 only 6% of value of all cargo exported by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was in goods, and 94% in bullion (mostly from mines in S. America). In the 60 years from 1660-1720 precious metals formed 87% of ov VOC imports to Asia!

* 133,000 tonnes of silver was extracted from America during the period 1545-1800 AD.

* For the British East India Company, intra-Asian "country-trade" was more profitable than Asia-Europe trade. This included the forcible cultivation of opium in North India for export to China. When the Chinese objected, the British invaded the country (Opium Wars) uunder the pretext of protecting "free-trade".

* The Westerners 'exported' over 12 million slaves from Africa, most of whom were traded not for gold or silver, but for cowrie shells sourced from the Maldives. A 12,000 weight of cowries was worth a 'cargo' of 500-600 slaves. Here is a PDF file on The Cowrie Shell as Money.

* A single slave was worth -- 12 guns /  5 rolls of Brazilian tobacco /  25 pieces of Silesian linen / 1 anker of French brandy / 15 pounds of gunpowder



* Said, Edward (1978) - ORIENTALISM
* Bernal, Martin (1987) - BLACK ATHENA
* Amin, Samir (1989) - EUROCENTRISM
* Wallerstein - Dependency Theory
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