THE ROBERT W. WHITAKER ARCHIVE

archives
articles

HOW TO LOOK AT HISTORY COGENTLY | 2001-12-14

Every few days another magazine article breathlessly reports that the Chinese had invented printing long before the West had it. Then someone else, for the thousandth time, informs us that China had explosive black powder long, long ago.

Apparently no matter how many times this is repeated it is big news.

Another piece of history which is at least not repeated so often that I cringe when I hear it is that the Incas did not have the wheel for their everyday life, but their children did have wheels on their toys.

All the stunning excitement that greets the zillionth repetition of these facts helps us to ignore the real point

So what?

Having the wheel is a big deal to us, but it obviously meant nothing to the Incas. The Koreans had a phonetic alphabet and moveable type long before we did, but again, so what? The invention of printing was a big deal in the West because the minute we got it we began a revolution with it. In Asia, it just laid there.

When the West got the printing press it made a revolution. When China got it they made some playing cards. That is the difference that matters.

We have recently found huge clockworks on sunken ships from the Mediterranean before the time of Christ, and we know the Greeks had a little steam engine. I just heard for the hundredth time that Babylonians probably had electroplating and maybe even ground a lens for a telescope.

All our pictures depicting the Cro-Magnon men who made the cave paintings 30,000 years ago in Europe show them in ragged caveman animal hides. It turns out they probably dressed very well and neatly. A form of textile weaving that was supposed to have been invented two thousand years ago was being worn by all the Caucasoid mummies found in China from over twice that long ago.

The vast slave empires of the Egyptians and the Chinese and other water empires built a lot of big stuff and we find things left behind in the rotted corpses those civilizations left behind that do not appear in living lands. So history long assumed that since the oldest wheels were in Egypt, the wheel must have been invented there. Now we know that Egypt got the wheel very late and built the pyramids without it.

Naturally we are going to find the oldest examples of many inventions in the ruins of dead slave empires. What is tragic about this is that it gives us the idea that slave empires are therefore the places where things are created.

Our accepted history literally thinks that the rotting-away process is the creative process.