December 01, 2007

Fluctuations and Invariants II

It's curious, one might say, how, ever since there's a been a global economic system, the people who are supposedly just too dumb for civilization are the ones on its periphery, even as that periphery keeps moving. Thus wrote ibn Khaldûn (1377):

We have explained that the cultivated region of that part of the earth which is not covered by water has its center toward the north, because of the excessive heat in the south and the excessive cold in the north. The north and the south represent opposite extremes of cold and heat. It necessarily follows that there must be a gradual decrease from the extremes toward the center, which, thus, is moderate. The fourth zone is the most temperate cultivated region.

The bordering third and fifth zones are rather close to being temperate. The sixth and second zones which are adjacent to them are far from temperate, and the first and seventh zones still less so. Therefore, the sciences, the crafts, the buildings, the clothing, the foodstuffs, the fruits, even the animals, and everything that comes into being in the three middle zones are distinguished by their temperate (well-proportioned character). The human inhabitants of these zones are more temperate (well-proportioned) in their bodies, color, character qualities, and (general) conditions. They are found to be extremely moderate in their dwellings, clothing, food stuffs, and crafts. They use houses that are well constructed of stone and embellished by craftsmanship. They rival each other in production of the very best tools and implements. Among them, one finds the natural minerals, such as gold, silver, iron, copper, lead, and tin. In their business dealings they use the two precious metals (gold and silver). They avoid intemperance quite generally in all their conditions. Such are the inhabitants of the Maghrib, of Syria, the two 'Iraqs, Western India (as-Sind), and China, as well as of Spain; also the European Christians nearby, the Galicians, and all those who live together with these peoples or near them in the three temperate zones. The 'Iraq and Syria are directly in the middle and therefore are the most temperate of all these countries.

The inhabitants of the zones that are far from temperate, such as the first, second, sixth, and seventh zones, are also farther removed from being temperate in all their conditions. Their buildings are of clay and reeds. Their foodstuffs are durra and herbs. Their clothing is the leaves of trees, which they sew together to cover themselves, or animal skins. Most of them go naked. The fruits and seasonings of their countries are strange and inclined to be intemperate. In their business dealings, they do not use the two noble metals, but copper, iron, or skins, upon which they set a value for the purpose of business dealings. Their qualities of character, moreover, are close to those of dumb animals. It has even been reported that most of the Negroes of the first zone dwell in caves and thickets, eat herbs, live in savage isolation and do not congregate, and eat each other. The same applies to the Slavs. The reason for this is that their remoteness from being temperate produces in them a disposition and character similar to those of the dumb animals, and they become correspondingly remote from humanity. The same also applies to their religious conditions. They are ignorant of prophecy and do not have a religious law, except for the small minority that lives near the temperate regions. (This minority includes,) for instance, the Abyssinians, who are neighbors of the Yemenites and have been Christians from pre-Islamic and Islamic times down to the present; and the Mali, the Gawgaw, and the Takrur who live close to the Maghrib and, at this time, are Muslims. They are said to have adopted Islam in the seventh [thirteenth] century. Or, in the north, there are those Slav, European Christian, and Turkish nations that have adopted Christianity. All the other inhabitants of the intemperate zones in the south and in the north are ignorant of all religion. (Religious) scholarship is lacking among them. All their conditions are remote from those of human beings and close to those of wild animals. "And He creates what you do not know."

Of course, ibn Khalduûn remains a great scholar and pioneer of social science for other reasons. (For example, he goes on in that chapter to rebuke the hereditarians for their scientific ignorance.)

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Posted at December 01, 2007 19:15 | permanent link

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