Myths of the West 4
The 7 rules of European progress. In The Colonizer’s Model of the World and Eight Eurocentric Historians, geographer JM Blaut describes a European model of history in which, to use Blaut’s own words,
- Europe naturally progresses and modernizes.
- Non-Europe (Outside) naturally remains stagnant, unchanging, traditional, and backward.
- The basic cause of European progress is some intellectual or spiritual factor, something characteristic of the “European mind.”
- The reason for non-Europe’s nonprogress is a lack of this same intellectual or spiritual factor. This proposition asserts, in essence, that the landscape of the non-European world is empty, or partly so, of “rationality,” that is, of ideas and proper spiritual values.
- The normal, natural way that the non-European part of the world progresses, changes for the better, modernizes, and so on, if by the diffusion of innovative, progressive ideas from Europe.
- Compensating in part for the diffusion of civilizing ideas from Europe to non-Europe, is a counterdiffusion of material wealth from non-Europe to Europe.
- Since Europe is advanced and non-Europe is backward, any ideas that diffuse into Europe must be ancient, savage, atavistic, uncivilized, evil—black magic, vampires, plagues, “the bogeyman,” and the like. …[A]s we move farther and farther away from civilized Europe, we encounter people who, successively, reflect earlier and earlier epochs of history and culture. (From The Colonizer’s Model of the World, pp. 14-16.)
But how valid is this analysis? Is Blaut accurately describing the way Westerners conceive of history?
Well, either he is onto something or the writers of the television series Stargate SG1 stumbled onto Eurocentric thinking all on their own, which is probably unlikely.
Stargate and the 7 rules. The original “Stargate” movie was released in 1994 and became a television series in 1997. The original movie featured a group of Americans going through a space portal, the “stargate,” which brings them to a place (lets call it Egypt-world) inhabited by ancient Egyptians who were deposited on the world millennia ago by aliens posing as gods.
These Egyptians follow Blaut’s rule for non-Europeans—they didn’t progress. (Rule 2) But quickly, after being placed in contact with western rationality for the duration of the movie, they suddenly do progress, absorbing Western ideals of freedom and the questioning of arbitrary authority, an idea none of them had thought of for thousands of years as they existed evidently beyond the reach of Western rationality. (Rules 4 and 5)
One of the places the television series visits early on is Mongol-world. The series resident “scientist who knows everything” (just like the Professor on “Gilligan’s Island”) says, “It’s an incredible opportunity to study an ancient culture up close.” “A living example of a culture that’s been extinct for 900 years,” he says later. Despite being deposited on another world centuries before, he expects the Mongol culture to be precisely the same.
In the context of the story, he’s right, essentially. The Mongols of Mongol-world appear, if anything to have moved backwards, to have adopted views towards women echoing the views of traditional Moslems, face-veils and all. (This is to be expected from Rule 4, of course, the absence of rationality in non-Europe.)
However, rule five is also operative in Mongol-world. After a few days in contact with rational Europeans, some of the Mongol women are ready to become more Westernized. They all doff their face veils in unison as the Europeans depart.
However, on Mongol-world we have also had a chance to see what the non-European looks like before being civilized. Violent, irrational, misogynistic, atavistic and dangerous. (Rule 7.)
Back to back with Mongol-world, the Stargate series offered Minoan-world. Here the scientist, wishing to study the people encountered, sees an opportunity to “learn how they’ve evolved from Minoan culture.” With the Minoans, unlike the Mongols, there is no suggestion that they’ve remained unevolved. (Rule 1, Europeans progress.)
According to the story premise, the Minoans on Minoan-world are plagued by a disease that literally devolves them into premodern humans, brow ridges and all, a little like the transformation that overcomes Frederic March in 1931’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” This storyline allows the writers to speculate about the essence of primitivism: what does the savage look like?
In Minoan-world (in a part of it where, literally, the sun doesn’t shine) the primitive self is violent, overcome with sexual urges, mating by rape, lacking in language. And he dresses a lot like Fred Flintstone. Aside from the Fred Flintstone costume, the cave-man disease on Stargate produces a view of early humanity an awful lot like that presented in the very first Doctor Who serial, “An Unearthly Child.” Both stories premise that early societies were ruled by violence.
The Minoans of Minoan-world are peaceful, rational and egalitarian. The Mongols of Mongol-world are warlike, angry, self-centred and misogynist. If the Minoans represent the modern and the rational end of the human spectrum, and their diseased selves represent the opposite, it is clear where the Mongols of Mongol-world fit into the overall philosophic scheme. Not at the rational end.
Later on Stargate, we encounter Viking-world. Nothing much is said about the development of Viking culture in the hundreds of years since Viking-world is established, except when a woman says in passing that her husband had gone a-viking.
Mr. “scientist who know everything” explains to a colleague that “a-viking” means, “trading, fighting.”
The woman answers, “That was in the old days. Nowadays they go into towns to look for work.”
The “scientist who knows everything” had forgotten Rule 1: Europeans advance. They might have been violent in the past like Mongols were, but … The audience stands corrected.
Just to make the whole thing clear, in season two Stargate brings us to Salish-world.
At first, we imagine Salish-world is an exception. Our first encounter is with a super arrow shot through the Stargate, made of nifty new material capable of penetrating bullet-proof glass. Oh goody. Super Indians. Except it turns out the nifty new material is manufactured by aliens. The Salish of Salish-world are precisely the same developmentally as the Salish people of hundreds of years ago, except that now they build everything from the materials supplied to them by the aliens.
The aliens were familiar, evidently, with rule two, that non-Europe does not develop. And the writers of Stargate even suggest a reason why. Because what the Indians had was perfect, they didn’t need technology and they didn’t need to change.
The problems Aboriginal people face in the modern world is not the result of oppression, theft of lands and resources and marginalization, the implicit theory of the story goes, it was the result of modernization. All you had to do was allow Aboriginal people to continue in their innocent ways, and you had an Indigenous paradise.