I’ve been reading about the history of technology, and noticed some confirmations of a point made by Jared Diamond.  He was trying to explain why Europe rather than China took over the world, despite the early technological lead held by the Chinese; one of his ideas was that since China was normally unified, if an idea got stopped, it was stopped for good.  E.g. when a faction at court put an end to Zheng He’s impressive expeditions, the Chinese exploration of the world simply ended.

By contrast, when Columbus didn’t get support from his native Genoa, he turned to Anjou, then Portugal, then to the duke of Medina-Celi, and finally to the Spanish, who agreed to support him.  Similarly, when Tycho Brahe lost the funding of the Danish king for his observations (key to establishing heliocentrism), he moved to the court of the Holy Roman Emperor.  When the Catholic Church shut down Galileo and the possibility of discussing heliocentrism in Italy, discussion moved to freer areas in the Protestant north. 

Another example: the mill revolution in Europe in the Middle Ages.  There was an explosion of mill building– there were areas that went from having 4 mills to 200 in a couple of centuries.  The largest estates were the slowest to adopt the new techniques.  Their income was already good, and their peasants weren’t going to walk miles to find a mill outside the estate.  It was the smaller estates and the towns that built the most mills; these felt competition very strongly and needed all the income and technological advances they could get.

Of course, division is a mixed bag: Chinese unity probably allowed it to largely resist being colonized, and of course European disunity culminated in the World Wars that ended Europe’s control of the world. 

I think everybody knows that new ideas are sometimes blocked by opponents.  But I think it’d be more accurate to say that they are almost always blocked.   But ideally there are other institutions or countries where the idea can be pursued.  A unipolar world will eventually stagnate.

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