Middle East and North Africa: Technology

Figure 1.--This Keystone magic lantern glass slide shiws us the state of agricultural technology in Egypt at about the turn-of-the-20th century. The magic latern format helps to date it. We see a farmer threshing beans with an oxen powered device. Notice the little bow helping his father.

Technology, at least advanced technology, is a unique characteristic of the human species. And thus cultures and societies must be assessed in their ability to generate technology. This is a question many academics imbued with the cultural relativity mantra, do not want to subect cultures to objective tests. It was in the Middle East that the first major technological step out of the stone age was made--the agricultural revolution. The reason was geogeaphic, the location of river valleys, places where agriculture could be developed with the least technology. Through much of subsequent history, China was the engine for technological advance. But for not entirely understood reasons, China with all its technological advances never achieved modernity (science, democracy, and capitalism). Other major advances were made in India, but like China never achieved modernity. The Middle East is called the Middle East because it was before the European maritime outburst at the center of human civilization located between the East and West. The Middle East benefitted from dominating the trade routes between East and West. The wealth created in trade led to the Goldren Age of Islam--the Caliphate. The Caliphate's Translation Project was a major effort. Arab scholars mase important advances and were on the cusp of inventing the sientific method, but never made that all important leap. Much of the success was combining classical knowledge when Chinese and Indian technology. Actual creative work was more limited. Indian mathemactics came to be called Arabic numerals, becaue Western scholars learned of it through the Arabs. And then virtually suddently in historic terms with the Renaissance, it is the west that began to become an engine for technology. This leads the historian to several vital questions. Why did tevhnological inquiry suddenly disappear in the Middle East. Notably this began BEFORE the European maritime outreach began to change the economics of the Middle East. And then why when the west began to make technological advances was virtually none of it transferred to the Middle East? The lack of technology transfier to India and China can be explained by distance limiting contact. But the Middle East, especially the Ottomans and Arabs were in contact with the West. They even purchased Western technology. The Ottoman cannons that broke down the walls of Constantinople were forged by European (Hungarian) metalurchists. Here we need to consider not only why the Middle East not only can not only not create new technoloy, but even has trouble adapting already existing technology. The photography which appeared in the mid-19th century exposes a Middle East almost untouched by technology. We see imahes that could have been taken a millenia earlier, a region virtually untouched by time. Another important issue is not only the technological gap between the Middle East and West, but how did the Middle East compare to China, India, and other regions in terms of technology. And finally in our modern age of science. computers, the internet, and much more, why does not only thne Arab world, but the Middle East in general, continue to be a scientific and technologicl black hole. There is more science done in tiny Israel with no oil to finamce it than in all of the Middle East and North Africa combined. This is all the more starteling when one considers the vast wealth poured into the Middle East since World War II--the greatest transfer of wealth in all of history. In turned many Arab countries into exceptional CONSUMERS, but did not generatre any CREATORS of technology or productive activity.


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Created: 3:20 AM 1/21/2017
Last updated: 3:20 AM 1/21/2017