Lopsided Progress

Harari writes on the fundamental linking of science, empire, and capitalism that has fueled the past 500 years of human history. New scientific discoveries enable nations to acquire intellectual and global territory. Larger empires create trading space and resources for emerging capitalism. And resources lead to more funding for scientific discovery (Harari, 250). This cycle is a sustained trademark of the modern world. The Middle East and China may have had supreme technology centuries earlier, but they never linked science to social politics. Europe however, married science and empire thereby propelling its nations to world imperialistic domination. An example of successful scientific and political interplay happened in 1768 when James Cook led an expedition to witness the transit of Venus in Tahiti (Harari, 276). The crew of scientists, accompanied by the protection of military men, proved very successful for the fiscal interests of the British Empire. The expedition produced a scurvy treatment as well as astronomical, geographical, and anthropological information that allowed the English to conquer Australia and the Southwest Pacific (Harari, 277).

According to Harari, after the scientific revolution a newfound idea of “progress” drove nations toward social improvement. Before science, any attempt to better society would have gone against established religions and institutions. Doing so would have been hubris (Harari, 264). Luckily for Europe, its nations admitted ignorance and sought knowledge. It’s easy to say that this quest for “progress” improved the lives of millions and paved the way for the modern world, but that doesn’t elaborate on progress’s double-edged nature. An appetite for improvement in Europe, meant that other populations would be on the menu. Not many would consider European imperialism progress for Native Americans, Indigenous Africans, or Australian Aborigines. In the early age of scientific imperialism whoever achieved progress ensured regress for their competitors. Perhaps the most important question about new science is what it means for those who don’t have it.