Geography and Ideology, We are what we believe
Prisoners of Geography Book Review
I have always known that the geography that I had learned in middle school was deficient. However, until I read Prisoners of Geography, I never realized that what I learned then were merely many pages of flashcards that I managed to memorize, listing certain facts and elements in fragments, like scattered puzzle pieces lacking an actual picture.
Tim Marshall has one center theme: geography binds people and countries tremendously. My observation from the book is that people and countries are so much shaped by geography that it is almost comparable to how much a person is shaped by genetic predispositions. The mountains, rivers, sea shores and sizes of a country are essential to its safety, nourishment and prosperity, just like physical build, intelligence and mindset shapes individuals. This is true for large countries like U.S. and Russia who are like princes and princesses born to kings and queens. On the opposite end, eastern African countries are like children of the poor and homeless. By international public law, each country is equal, but it’s purely on paper-theoretical. Today, the doctrine of equality and humanity is tested at a depth never before in history, because the direct interactions and conflicts of different cultures and ideas have been grown exponentially. In this way, geography is no longer a flat concept, but weaving like a thread with other threads such as history, economy, politics, ideology, culture, and ethnology.
The excellence of the book lies not in the answer, but in the questions that the book presents. Tim Marshall believes that geography shapes most of the history and politics, which provides the following meaningful questions: what are the most important factor(s) that shape a civilization, a country, and its people as it is/they are? Just as eventually, we all need to answer the fundamental question as to what are the most important to shape a person as an individual, be it intelligence, physical build and appearance, character, fortune, talents, ideas, or faith. There are probably no right or wrong answers, but Tim Marshall’s answer is a perfect brick thrown out to attract jades.
What impressed me in Prisoners of Geography that it correlates to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Conrad describes in this book that westerners, claiming to bring Christianity and civilization to Africa, actually brought ugliness, hatred, inhumanity, corruption and emptiness to this previous land of blankness, unnoticed by westerners. Based on Conrad and Marshall, now I believe the term westerners should be loosely expanded to represent the developed human race in general, possessing more resources, powers and more splendid civilizations. We all know that natural boundaries always follow mountains and rivers. Ironically, such splendid civilizations left the criminal or at least immoral evidence of their arrogance and arbitrariness in the direct lines as boundaries between countries in Africa and middle-east as well as Central America. The contrast between such splendid civilizations and the darkness it brought about is just huge and devastating.
Other than such direct boundaries, there are those strategies deliberately used to separate and weaken the already traumatized countries. The westerns uses “Divide and Rule” strategy to further their aims so that the tensions of leaders from minority rule majority may build up, such as Syria and Lebanon. No wonder groups such as ISIS thrive on psychological space, nourishing the dark side of humanity- brutality, sex, and deadly games. The barbarousness of the ISIS is the darkest flower grown out of the splendid civilization, and we, citizens in developed countries who enjoy the fruits of our civilized ancestors, are not totally innocent of this guilty burden.
One paragraph strikes me. “When al-Qaradawi returned from exile in Qatar, at least a million people came out to greet him, but few in the Western media called this the ‘voice of the people’. The liberals never had a chance. The ominous statement that the liberals never had a chance is about middle-east, but it could also refer to other countries in ideological conflicts that have strong totalitarian leaders. It pierces our conscience when we sit comfortably in a safe home using Alexa and I-Robot, thinking of ordering the next generation driverless car, which determines that most likely the world is not what we perceive. Many never had a chance, and may never will.
However, while it seems that Marshall believes that geography trumps ideology, I believe we are what we believe. The native-Indians, the original owners of the North America, doesn’t have a single national boundary or country in existence. Geography is one important factor that shapes the world politics, but obviously not the only one. We think, we learn, our beliefs change, and we evolve.
August 21, 2017