The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History

By: J.R. McNeill & William McNeill, read in 2003

4 The driver of history
5 The ultimate basis of social power
12 The crucial role of language in human development
17 The notion of a spirit world makes sense
18 The importance of Animism
61 3 most important society-sustaining instruments (2300-331 BCE)
78 2 advantages of Republican government
89 Muhammad's influence on the world
114 Good summary of social progress
123 Gov't officials in Song China chosen by written exams
141-2 Influence of plow teams on European attitudes
142 Why the West rose to prominence
144 The beginning of the Military-Industrial Complex
145 "Creeping digitalization"
145 Ancient vs. modern slavery
146 Beginnings of the academic search for truth
147 Guns + books - authority (political + religious) = power + knowledge
147 Plight of Europe's old people
147 Out-of-control change ==> Europe's success
149-50 Similarity of West & Far East in posturing for globalization
176 Short summary of the web at work
178 Comparison of European and Mongol conquest & expansion
178-9 Current historical trends
180 First women's magazine - 1693; First daily newspaper - 1702
197 The effects of the military revolution
199 The "last gasps" of nomadic tribal warfare
204 Sugar & tobacco: "addictive drugs that created their own markets"
205 Possibilities for rapid commercial gain: "In an afternoon, Pizarro acquired bullion equal to a half century of Europe's production."
205 Diminution & disappearance of aristocratic (knights, samurai, etc.) social position took until 1950.
206 Peak of world slavery: 1800 (2-5% of humanity)
222 "Demographic transition": typical period of rapid population increase
234 Why the industrial revolution started in England
247 Chinese civil war: same time as U.S.; 50 times worse
252 Early industrialization meant more slaves & serfs at the outset
253 Causes of the abolition of slavery
288 Underlying reason for WWI
298 Most WWII fighting and dying took place in China and USSR
299 Business begins playing the ancient role of religion wrt gov't
320 My disagreement with 2nd Law of Thermo: Is a horse "less structured, less usable" than hay? I think not. Less energetic, maybe in one sense only: less caloric potential. I say it is inappropriate to extend 2nd Law beyond heat to include order.
321 The power to communicate and cooperate is the key to human success and survival
321 Cultural evolution is Lamarckian, thus faster
322 Human history: simple sameness --> diversity --> complex sameness
322 Glib use of 'infinity'
323 Pessimistic projection. I say optimism because the problem of food production is solved
323 The central role of symbols
324 The selective process may not have been the same: In comparing and contrasting the evolution of the universe, life, and human history, I think the notion of purpose or intent must be included in order to complete the comparison:
Universe: no "internal" purpose or intent; "external"? who knows
Life: Strong internal purpose or intent to survive and reproduce; "external"?

Human history: conscious attempt to provide food & protect its supply; no noticeable component of external intent.
Suppose consciousness, thus conscious intent, is external. Then the unifying theme in all three is the conscious intent to arrange matter & energy so as to allow conscious intent to cause physical activity which increases the ability for consciousness to cause physical change. This is the manifest exercise of free will, or mind over matter.
327 William: Our survival hopes rest on "Luck, intelligence, and awkward toleration".
Me: Survival hope rests on the recognition, via intelligence, study of history, & global communication, that the problem of adequate food provision is solved, and that greed, hostility etc. are no longer necessary, so we can move on to helping others enjoy life and avoid suffering.

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©2005 Paul R. Martin, All rights reserved.