October 27, 2014

Morris, I. (2013). The measure of civilization: How social development decides the fate of nations. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
“In the last thirty years, there have been fierce debates over how civilizations develop and why the West became so powerful. The Measure of Civilization presents a brand-new way of investigating these questions and provides new tools for assessing the long-term growth of societies. Using a groundbreaking numerical index of social development that compares societies in different times and places, award-winning author Ian Morris sets forth a sweeping examination of Eastern and Western development across 15,000 years since the end of the last ice age. He offers surprising conclusions about when and why the West came to dominate the world and fresh perspectives for thinking about the twenty-first century. Adapting the United Nations’ approach for measuring human development, Morris’s index breaks social development into four traits–energy capture per capita, organization, information technology, and war-making capacity–and he uses archaeological, historical, and current government data to quantify patterns. Morris reveals that for 90 percent of the time since the last ice age, the world’s most advanced region has been at the western end of Eurasia, but contrary to what many historians once believed, there were roughly 1,200 years–from about 550 to 1750 CE–when an East Asian region was more advanced. Only in the late eighteenth century CE, when northwest Europeans tapped into the energy trapped in fossil fuels, did the West leap ahead. Resolving some of the biggest debates in global history, The Measure of Civilization puts forth innovative tools for determining past, present, and future economic and social trends. Ian Morris is the Jean and Rebecca Willard Professor of Classics and professor of history at Stanford University. His most recent book is the award-winning Why the West Rules–for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal about the Future (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) which has been translated into eleven languages.”–Publisher’s website.

Morris, I. (2010). Why the West rules– for now: The patterns of history, and what they reveal about the future. London: Profile Books. (63 minutes)
Why did British boats shoot their way up the Yangzi in 1842, rather than Chinese ones up the Thames? Why do Easterners use English more than Europeans speak in Mandarin or Japanese? To put it bluntly, why does the West rule? There are two schools of thought: the ‘Long-Term Lock-In’ theory, suggesting some sort of inevitability, and the ‘Short-Term Accident’ theory. But both approaches have misunderstood the shape of history. Ian Morris presents a startling new theory, drawing on thousands of years of history and archaeology, and the methods of social science. He explains with flair and authority.

RSA Animate – The Secret Powers of Time https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3oIiH7BLmg
RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms

Step 3
e) Identify benchmark goals for 2050 in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development that are linked to your area of interest.
f) How might intermediate goals and roadblocks by decade affect the domain you are working on?

11 thoughts on “October 27, 2014

  1. 2 on the past and 2 on the future. Nostalgia. Record books. Some people focus on failtures, past positive. They live the pleasure and

    My life is fated by my religion and by my plan. We have learned to work and resist temptations. Life begins at the mortal body. If you make a decision you have to stick to it and follow through. If climate doesn’t change, then it gives a magic of sanity.

    It’s amazing how the sicilian dialect there is no future tense. Haha I’m actually sure that it’s true that in the sciilian community many people are present oriented as they sit and take time to do work. However, as Americans we are more future oriented and we have a divergent thinking while we consider different time zones. We really consider what time is expired and understand when we are bored and excited.

    It’s amazing how we can tell the person’s life culture as he sits int he cafe whether he is sitting there working or relaxing. Looking to those statistics, we can tell that those who are in the city will work more than general public.

    10,000 hours of video games and they live in a world they create such as mind craft that allows them to create and venture to through their own creativity. As a young society, we need to start creating and venturing into a more dynamic way teaching kids as we begin to venture into a different way of thinking with new technological advances.


  2. I really liked the video on changing educational paradigms. It’s very interesting to know about the author’s viewpoint of how the current or “traditional” educational system and its culture. It makes a lot of sense to see how our educational system has been influenced by the industrial era and how the culture of standardized tests, grouping people by age, distinguishing between “smart” and “non-smart” people has affected the way we think and perceive things. I think the model or the concept that he is trying to promote – divergent thinking is a very powerful one. In these times, where we are moving from the traditional industrial economy to a more creative economy, I can understand why it’s imperative to change the educational system in order to keep up with progress.


  3. Zimbardo’s Secret Powers of Time RSA video was very interesting. I eventually watched the full video here: http://www.thersa.org/events/video/archive/philip-zimbardo-the-secret-powers-of-time because I wanted to know more about his theory of time orientation. The RSA video implies you’re all one while the full lecture implies that different aspects of your personality can have different time-orientations. His work on time therapy for PTSD patients was very interesting and I wonder if there are broader implications for less serious mental illnesses or for addiction treatments. He mentions that most addictions stem from hedonistic personalities. But many people with addictions have past trauma cause them to use substances to find an escape. It would be interesting to see if they are more past-oriented or more hedonistic.

    I also wonder how expats feel when they move to a country with a mindset different from their own. Do they simply adjust to the mindset of their newfound home, or are they unhappy until they return to their country or a country/city that more closely matches their time-orientation?

    Zimbardo implies that school should be made more interesting for teenage boys who have re-wired their brains for higher stimulation. This discussion reminded me of the documentary Web Junkie, which focuses on rehabilitation camps for web-addicted youth in China. Although there are some camps for girls, most of the camps are for boys. This makes me wonder if there’s something in our gender socializations that are making boys more susceptible to present-oriented thinking or if there is a physical predisposition.

    In researching animated type, I came across this beautiful typographical argument for changing the education system from Britain:


  4. Ian Morris’s talk brought me back to my freshman global history course where I realized how big a role luck played in the rapid industrialization of England. During the time of Columbus as Ian also highlights, Asian civilization was much more advanced than European civilization. It was the fact that Europeans did not have access to the mediterranean trade route because of the lack of goods they possessed to trade with China and India, that drove Columbus to find an alternative route to India. It was also during that time that China, the world’s most advance civilization, was dealing with a currency problem at home and thus withdrew their naval fleet. However, if it had not been for domestic problems, China was on pace to be the first to circle Africa. England also happened to be sitting on top of a large source of accessible coal that only further expedited the industrialization process. All great civilizations of the past have eventually crumbled and I think it is idiotic to believe that the United States will reign supreme forever.


  5. Huh! I liked Ian Morris’s talk a lot more than I expected. One point that struck me was about the power of numerical indices. If he can make his amazing Social Development Index, and draw a graph of how it will look in the future, then we can say “ok, if SDI is at 5000, then 1000 of that is from big cities, and 1000 is from information technology” etc, and if our big-city points are 200 now and they’ll be 1000, maybe that implies our cities will be 5x as big. Or something. I mean, maybe not; maybe the growth there slows but the growth somewhere else gets faster. But it gives you somewhere to start from.

    But this is his field, projecting things into the future, not ours as designers. But it starts to give you an idea of what it might be like.

    Also, what happened to the Indus, Peru, New Guinea, etc civilizations? How did geography change during their development, and why do they not rule the world now?


  6. Ian Morris’s talk on his book “Why the West Rules – For Now” gives a great snapshot of the world’s history (dating back to the end of the ice age), and then he provided future projections based on that history. I am amazed Morris was able to trace so much history just based on one key force of change: geography!

    During the end of his talk, Ian Morris said there would be tension between a massive “transformation” and a potentially massive “collapse” – this is very similar to Dator’s (2009) “collapsed” and “transformational” worlds (p. 9-10), and Morris vividly shows how these worlds could feasibly arise.


  7. Ian Morris’ talk on why geography has influenced major social dynamics in the world was very informative, as well as made complete sense. I’d like to believe that all cultures would grow and develop given the opportunity. But when you have to fight the environment for basic necessities like food and shelter, there’s no time leftover to figure out anything that doesn’t provide immediate sustenance. I’m very interested to see how the environmental dynamic affects future east-west power relationships. The idea of using technology to transcend environmental difficulties sounds like a dream, but I’m not sure if we would ever truly be able to control the environment.


  8. In Ian Morris’ talk I found interesting his discussion of the five factors that result in dark ages, which are mass migrations, epidemic diseases, state failure, famine and climate change. It was also unsettling how he predicted a potential dark age for our future and how it would be confounded with the addition of nuclear weapons. For these reasons it’s key that as the designers of the future we tackle these issues, in order to find ourselves in a progress future. I also enjoyed his more positive view of our society regarding war. While it seems like we are constantly at war and there is always violence occurring Morris argues that we have less people dying violent deaths today than ever before. What if as a society we continue our efforts for a more peaceful world, what would our world look like?


  9. RSA’s Talk about changing education paradigms was very informative. I found that agree with a lot of the points that were made in the video. Sadly, I am not sure if we can change as much about education as we should. For instance, having kids go through school based on age groups is something that is just easier to enforce. Another system to replace that would be to have children take a standardized test to see if they are ready to go to school, however standardized tests cannot measure everything. In addition, kids who may have needed to wait longer to enter school, may surpass their year later on and prove to be a moot point in the end. I think what might be better is to keep the set ages to enter school but give children the option to pursue numerous subjects at a younger age. I know STEAM is starting to do this but I think it needs to be introduced on a larger scale. The real issue will be funding this however it will probably be better for the economy in the long run and give college graduates more options.


  10. The video on education was really interesting and did a great job highlighting some of the hypocrisies of the education system. I think this is a problem everybody is aware of on some level yet so little has been done to change it. It reminds me of how we were talking in studio once about videos that imagine really innovative futures but the representation of education and school in the video is still the same, and how school model has not changed at all since it was first established. Still one teacher at the head of the classroom while the rest of the kids sit at their desks and listen to lecture.

    I also liked how the time video makes connections between cultural conceptions of time and technology as well as education. It also reminded me about this John Green quote: “Did you know that for pretty much the entire history of the human species, the average life span was less than thirty years? You could count on ten years or so of real adulthood, right? There was no planning for retirement, There was no planning for a career. There was no planning. No time for planning. No time for a future. But then the life spans started getting longer, and people started having more and more future. And now life has become the future. Every moment of your life is lived for the future–you go to high school so you can go to college so you can get a good job so you can get a nice house so you can afford to send your kids to college so they can get a good job so they can get a nice house so they can afford to send their kids to college.”
    The thing that struck me about that quote was how cyclical the nature of being future-orientated seemed. In that context it really doesn’t seem like a desirable future or mindset, but many people (myself included) don’t really know another way to live. It is interesting that being past or present orientated isn’t viewed positively in American culture which says something about us as a society, I think.


  11. I thought that the RSA video was very interesting in how it talked about the education systems potential for growth and change. I see that there are many improvements and advancements in technology that are already influencing the way students interact with each other and the ability to access different databases to in effect obtain more knowledge and success. The standardized testing process will be more open ended and will test skills in other departments and evaluate creativity. Also an interview will be needed in the process to properly assess skills of the individual. This will ultimately help fairly assess the skills of students and see whether they are fit to advance in the system and help guide students on the right path. This is definitely going to take some time but trends in schools today reflect positively. Using interactive gaming/creative methods to explore topics already exists and will definitely advance in the future.


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