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Did Socrates say "Know Thyself", or was he misunderstood, as all are. Show Thyself is all we can do. The knowing is unknowable.  

I am filled with joy.  It can't be helped.  

Became a Farmer, Builder, Musician, Tank Commander, Librarian, Lawyer and Minister. I have failed at many things. And now retired.  Filled, just filled, with Joy. 

Monday, January 11, 2010

Geodeterminism

It is a curse, not to forget history, but to remember it.

Geographically, the north American continent is uniquely "bountiful" in terms of resources that human culture requires. The Mississippi-Missouri delta is a many-fingered palm of waterways going all the directions you want to go in a Temperate Zone bread-basket. The mineral wealth comprehensively covers the chart of elements, wanting for nothing. The plagues of locusts in the Great Plains mysteriously disappeared with the feral Bison. Colonies of idiots and convicted felons could come to the region and thrive. Natural population expansion results in larger numbers of descendants of the emigrants in America than in many of their "home countries". More present-day Americans have German ancestry than in Germany, the largest population of Europe. The largest Norwegian country is Minnesota-Wisconsin. We could go on. The 2d largest Polish city in the world is Chicago, etc.

Nothing political in the world is going to change this unique geophysical configuration of rivers and mountains and plains in a Temperate Zone. All the rivers of Russia flow North, where you do not want to go, except for the Volga which flows into a landlocked body of water, the Caspian Sea. Africa has a mighty and a storied river, the Nile, and many fertile places which enable mankind to thrive. But it shares, with South America, a Tropical curse. It is a petri dish for disease, torpor, and excess humidity. It shares with Australia, a plague of insects that distract human culture and compete for food.

It is true that the Middle East began the most successful human cultures in its fertile crescents. However, the soils of the region are exhausted, and the subsoil is cursed with an abundance of Oil controlled by inbred clans. The Egyptians destroyed the Nile with a dam, Saddam Hussein channelized and desertified the Tigris-Euphrates delta, and beyond Israel, the soils of the Levant and much of Persia are exhausted. Israel alone has flushed the salinity and replenishes its soil. Arabia sits on the largest fresh-water aquifer in the world, but ignores it for the oil.

It is true that the sub-continent of China has long supported human needs. The Yangtze flows east-west in a Temperate Zone. The People, the most successful on the planet in terms of numbers, also have the prescience to celebrate that achievement with steps to rein in any further increase. Many observers also take notice of the decision of the Government of China to permit economic freedom, and the participation of China in globalization. However, China destroyed the fisheries of its rivers with power dams and mining, and now has 18 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world.

It is true that geophysical features alone do not exlain all risings and fallings. Japan has few resources and constant earthquaking, and yet they have projected power, doing some of the worst and some of the best things. The centrality of Italy in the Mediterranean does not explain why a minor village formed at a fjord in the Tiber River valley, a cross-roads, would become the Rome that all roads led to. Or why a sinking city in a marsh of 117 islands would survive frequent irruptions to become Venice, a major maritime power during the Middle Ages through its Settecento (17-18th century).

Steven Solomon has recently lent his beltway journalist scholarship to the pride of place historicity of Water issues, in his comprehensive work, WATER the Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization (2010). Noting that civilization itself (a mixed blessing) has been mid-wifed by agricultural irrigation, hag-ridden by scarcity, and left to collapse upon indiscretions over water, Solomon updates us all. The recurring patterns of geophysical preeminence are made visible. There is an enduring tension between two forms of political/economic organization which are themselves formed by water usage. The "hydraulic states" (Egypt, Sparta, Soviet) which focused on irrigation and canals run by centralized (authoritarian) governance, and the "sea-faring cultures" (Athens, United Kingdom) which were decidedly more difused and democratic. (We perpetually fight the Peloponnesian War.)

The key fact here is not which form of government is "better", by any measure. But WHAT sources for potable water are available?

We are, as always, facing the hydrological time bomb -- we, the beneficiaries of the immediately previous demographic bomb, enabled by the availability of exploitable Water.
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