Forerunners of Modern Globalisation

Monday, 3rd January 2011

Our species, homo sapiens sapiens, is now thought to have evolved at least 120,000 years ago with some recent finds in the Middle East dated to as long ago as 200,000 years ago. On that time scale, the Neolithic agrarian revolution, occurring in most parts of the more densely populated world between 15,000 and 5,000 years ago and only reaching some locales such as Australia, in the era of European colonisation. Prior to the agrarian revolution, communities had a much more direct relationship with their natural surroundings, were largely nomadic hunter-gatherers and so intensely involved in precuring food for their extended families that they lacked the technological means for more advanced forms of political organisation that could subdue other populations.

By and large human communities kept their distance limiting population growth and conflicts, but traded tools, artefacts and bounties. The earliest human settlers of Europe were not imperialists intent on dominating other peoples or seeking greater wealth for their rulers, but adventurers seeking greener pastures and often responding to regional climatic and environmental changes. Some anthropologists now consider the first waves of Indoeuropeans who expanded from Anatolia or the Crimean region around 7000 years ago to be the first imperialists, who set out to spread their culture on horseback through their mastery of animal husbandry and ability to generate food surpluses and this sustain larger communities. Pre-Indoeuropeans correctly designate the peoples who had colonised the Indo-european linguistic and cultural area before Indo-European expansion as opposed to later waves of migrants such as the Ural-Altaic who rode in from the east.  Recent genetic analysis of established communities across Europe has shown how significant proportion of the modern European genome can be traced to a handful of ice-age retreats. The modern linguistic landscape emerged from an interaction between these pioneer communities and subsequent colonisers, but as Stephen Oppenheimer’s research into origins of the British suggest, each new wave typically little more 5% to the existing ethnic mix. When pro-Globalists argue Britain has always been of nation of immigrants, they seem to overlook two critical factors, timescale, environmental sustainability and population density. Very early peoples could expand into new uninhabited regions without need for conflicts over economic resources with rival groups and even where other humans had settled in the vicinity, ample space allowed for some peaceful cohabitation and intermingling among groups with similar levels of technological advancement. Comparisons with the world's remaining pre-agrarian peoples may not prove very instructive as they tend to inhabit extreme environments as are usually surrounded by more technologically advanced communities eager to reassign their habitat to other more productive purposes.

Globalisation is simply imperialism on a planetary level, in which old nation states have become little more than regional councils implementing policies dictated by unaccountable supranational bodies. Imperialism means the subjugation of other communities to expand the military and commercial influence of a given ruling class. Historically speaking all nation states, which today form culturally distinct entities, grew out of generations of empire building.

Western European Timelines:
Approximate Years Before Present
20,000 to 11,500  Early Mesolithic with only a few communities in ice age retreats.
11,500 to 7,000  Post-glacial expansion to central and northern European mainly following coastal and river routes.
7,000 to 2000  Gradual expansion of agrarian civilisations and early empires.
2000 to 500  Imperial expansion, nation building, wars, spread of Christianity and Islam and introduction of the feudal system and mercantile networks.
500 to 250  European colonisation of the Americas with outposts in the Africa, Asia and Australasia
250 to 50  Industrial revolution and expansion of great European and North American empires. Consolidation of competing nation states with advanced social welfare structures.
50 to 20 Accelerated globalisation with domination of a US-centred business empire, supported by a huge military-industrial complex and limited national sovereignty, but kept in check by rival regional power centres and national welfare states.
20 to near future Rapid of growth of rival power blocks within the global system and huge expansion of consumption in the world's most populous countries, accelerated pace of migration, disappearance of national sovereignty, increased political instability, early signs of resource depletion.

In the beginning we had small communities around a limited number of extended families. It wasn't until the agrarian revolution that we could produce enough surplus food to enable the development of urban settlements and advanced political organisations. Some such civilisations may have existed as long as 15,000 years ago as evidenced by the archeological finds in South East Asian Malay archipelago, which during the last ice age formed a continuous landmass from modern Java to Cambodia, known as Sundaland. Archeologist Francis Pryor estimates Britain's neolithic population as little more than 100,000 in 4000 BC and Ireland's at around 40,000. In Roman times it barely rose to a staggering 3.5 million, out of an estimated 56 million in the whole Roman Empire, only to decline again to around 1.5 millions in the aftermath the pan-European Justinian Plague between 540 and 750 AD. For 700 years Britain's population fluctuated between around 2 and 8 million before the industrial revolution enabled a huge demographic boom and the excess population could easily emigrate to new colonies.

As recently as 1850 much of Africa's hinterland remained unchartered by European explorers, while to your European the world revolved around their region and nation state with merely tales of remote promised lands. To many French, German and Italian farmers English seemed about as relevant to their every day lives as Latin or Chinese. While the educated classes may have been aware of emerging empires abroad, most ordinary Europeans were only aware of foreign culture through tales from relatives who might have migrated. Indeed the great European exodus did not really get into full swing until the end of the 19th century. In 1850, shortly after the Mexican-American war with the acquisition of California and Texas, the US had just 23 million inhabitants. By 1900 this had soared to 76 million nearly doubling to 136 million in 1940 as Europe plunged into its second episode of mass slaughter of the last century, and most of the rise can be attributed to immigration. Now the US population stands at 320 million. The country may be large, but has ceased to be self-sufficient in non-renewable energy and a net exporter of food (see The Next Crisis Will Be Over Food). Worse still like the UK, the US outsources much of its heavy industry, so much pollution is generated elsewhere to satisfy consumer demand in the US. 

My thesis is simple. Nation-state imperialism with rival French, Spanish and British empires has morphed into multipolar globalisation, where US and European multinationals collaborate with Japanese, Chinese, Brazilian or Russian corporations. While the system thrives on consumption generated in Europe and North America, growing demand in India and China means as per capita resources become scarcer capitalists are likely to switch from the current hyper-consumption model, where indulgence is practically subsidised to boost the retail sector, to a more traditional survival of the fittest.

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