1dalm ,
@1dalm@deacon.social avatar

In an alternate history timeline, do you think the industrial revolution happens without the Protestant movement?

seanbala ,
@seanbala@mas.to avatar

@1dalm One of the more thought provoking books I have read over the past few years is "The Years of Rice and Salt" by Kim Stanley Robinson. Its central premise is that if Europe was wiped out by the Black Death, history would have unfolded roughly in the same manner but in different places. So the Renaissance happened in Samarkand and the Industrial Revolution took place in South India in Travancore. So yes, I think it would have happened.

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seanbala ,
@seanbala@mas.to avatar

@1dalm In a non-fiction example, in Amitav Ghosh's "The Great Derangement" the author points out that many of the compontents of fossil fuel consumption like the use of oil and coal are actually much older than we think and were used heavily in places like Burma and China. So the point is that things could have gone differently with different circumstances.

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@bookstodon

1dalm OP ,
@1dalm@deacon.social avatar

@seanbala

At the risk of being eurocentrist, I think there is one very convincing reason why the industrial/scientific revolution and the "enlightenment" (as we call them in the West) probably wouldn't have been replicated anywhere else: the movable type printing press.

The moveable type printing press dramatically decreased the cost of sharing information. Before the printing press, mass sharing information was prohibitively expensive, after it's cost drops to nearly nothing.

No other culture could have created a moveable type printing press because their writing system simply don't allow for it. To create a moveable type printing press in Chinese would require a warehouse of symbols for the press. Functionally it would have been easier for printers to just carve out their stamps one at a time -which is exactly what they did. Similarly, just looking at Arabic script and it's obvious why movable type printing press were never developed for Arabic, it just doesn't work. You can't do it.

Without the printing press you don't have the cheap mass sharing of information and you don't have an industrial revolution. (You also don't have a Protestant reformation, or an Atlantic slave trade, or an "age of discovery".)

seanbala ,
@seanbala@mas.to avatar

@1dalm I can see what you are saying about Chinese printing. But movable type could have come out of India, where the letters for most of the alphabets are phonetic. And there have been constant religious reform movements in India. For example you would have the Bhakti movement in 15th / 16th century India, along with Sikhism. And there were plenty of philosophical movements within Indian philosophy that could have led to an Enlightenment-like movement.

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seanbala ,
@seanbala@mas.to avatar

@1dalm I do get that the printing press and mass media did take place in a centuries long process of societal breakdown partially brought about by the Black Death, the rise of a middle class, and by the Age of Discovery. And in many ways, India and China had social problems that would have made social mobility very difficult. But there are other factors. For example, India was akin to Renaissance Italy - lots of small states in constant low-level warfare.

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seanbala ,
@seanbala@mas.to avatar

@1dalm So, it might not have happened. But it might have happened in a different way. And that is the premise that Robinson explores in "The Years of Rice and Salt."

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1dalm OP ,
@1dalm@deacon.social avatar

@seanbala

Of course we are in the realm of "alt history" so everything here is speculative and ahistorical by default. But it can still be fun!

That said, I don't know anything about Indian writing, and so my only evidence that I have to present that moveable type printing presses could not have been developed for the language is simply that if it could have been it would have been. They certainly had the technological capability to do it, but they didn't. I suspect that, just like other languages, there is something about the writing system that makes it much more difficult than it was for Latin derived languages.

Ironically, I would argue that it was technical limitations in the European scripts that allowed for the invention of the printing press. While cultures across the Arabic world were going wild experimenting with all forms of artistic calligraphy, the Europeans were basically stuck with simple block letters originally designed for chisels.

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1dalm OP ,
@1dalm@deacon.social avatar

@seanbala

But that's a tangent from my original question. Given the invention of the printing press, and the discovery of the Americas happened, would the Industrial Revolution have happened in the absence of reforms in religious teaching that moved the central focus of the religion from a sacramental/sacred focus to a focus on improvements of ordinary/secular life?

seanbala ,
@seanbala@mas.to avatar

@1dalm You are right - this is the original question! The interesting thing about "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" is the question of whether its religious foundation is essential. On one hand, capitalism has started in Europe but on the other hand, it has taken root everywhere with or without a foundation of Protestantism. Is it a general social mechanism that could have arisen without a specific religious context?

@religion @philosophy

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seanbala ,
@seanbala@mas.to avatar

@1dalm @religion @philosophy My feeling is that it could have arisen. But I am curious to think about it a bit more.

Thanks for a nice, thought provoking conversation. Infinitely more interesting than work today.

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