The Great Dividing Line in History

There once was a tweet that I have read, but I have since lost. It outlines a particular phenomenon that I want to elaborate on just a little bit.

It states, using approximately these words, that there is a line in history such that before that time, conquest, expansionism and exterminating others grants you the title "The Great"; after that time, it grants you the title of a genocidaire. The implication is that furthermore, everyone except Western and Central European civilisations have done all their conquest and expansion prior to that line and so can safely marked as blameless in all cases, leaving the so-named civilisation uniquely responsible to solemnly reflect on and correct their mistake.

This statement was made mainly to explain why several countries are allowed to keep their empires even up the modern day, up to the point where we struggle to call them empires. Principally, the targets are China and Russia. Indeed, these countries are old and established large countries that have cleverly decided to expand until the magical time limit, and then stop thereafter, but nevertheless have undeniably used (for the former) subterfuge and status and (for the latter) pure force and claims of needing security to gain lands far from their native borders, and the time that this happened essentially shields them from any restorative justice to be made. In some cases, the conquest is so long ago that the extermination has long since completed and there is nothing more to do now.

Having said that, it's not only China and Russia that gets this benefit. Japan is also an empire in the sense that it had and still does rule over areas once owned (in some sense of the word) by other tribes that have been there since before records began. To a lesser extent, this also extends some level of protection to the ancient empires destroyed by Western European expansion in the Americas – in particular the Aztec and Inca Empires – but this is less frequently seen as [a] the empires have been dismantled entirely already, so to some extent justice has been delivered to those vanquished by these empires; and [b] this kind of argument is primarily used to apportion blame, and blame cannot be given to destroyed empires analogous to how it seems somewhat crass to assign responsibilities to a corpse.

Of course, the line is only "a line" because we have inflated the one-dimensional time-LINE into a two-dimensional sheet of paper. More accurately, we speak of a point in time where such a transition happens, as the effects of relativity has negligible effect on the history of the world up to the present day (this may change in the future, but due to the nature of the argument and the present day it does not apply). The position of this point is undetermined and to some extent indeterminate, as it is primarily a rhetorical device, but based on which empires get a pass and which empires don't, we can estimate it as being shortly after the establishment of the Westphalian model of states and countries to shortly before Napoleon's wild ride to Russia, which at least in the big picture of human history is basically no time at all.

The fact that both the lower and upper limits of this period are based on events significant basically only in a Western European context is deliberate, as the entire point on this line is to point the finger of imperialism solely on them and them only.


As the OP of this particular Tweet has been lost into the archives, I cannot determine what his point was or to what end he was trying to make, but given the circle of individuals that he associates with, I can say with some certainty that he's very much a meta-level kind of guy with some level of aversion to descend to the object level, and he's the kind of guy that would say "meta level" and "object level" completely naturally in the same way that the average man on the street would say "in any case". In light of that, let me express a few observations about it.

I think it's fairly obvious that no one thinks of post-colonial where-do-we-go-from-here like that; at least, if someone does we'd call him a loony and not helpful to the discussion, and probably an agent provocateur meant to weaken some parties by making them look stupid. Nevertheless, I believe that a lot of people, if pressed to actually explain their fundamental values, will eventually resort to a line of reasoning like this, and it doesn't really have to be under duress – just letting them work their own logical paths through to the exact actions advocated for should reveal this preference. The fact that there is some kind of uniquely evil component in Western European imperialism, far more than anything seen before and (hopefully) since, is easily accepted as granted primarily on consequentialist grounds: wow, look at what state of the entire world is after these lads got their hands on them, it's worse than everything else, so they must be worse than everyone else.

Additionally, countries and civilisations that currently benefit from this arrangement – namely Russia and China – have absolutely nil incentive to change it, because they get to keep their own spoils while also gaining a valuable rhetorical and environmental advantage to their principal enemy. Concretely, the official rhetoric of China as displayed on Twitter is precisely as such: to see its own empire as being static, unchanging and fundamentally blameless "since ancient times", while America the upstart nation with more blood under its hands than a kleptomaniac prepper vampire running a donation drive is uniquely to blame for every mistake and problem ever seen in modern human history. (Parenthetically, Twitter is banned in China, but "official China" somehow has the permission to get on – this is one of those "I use your freedom to bind you" kind of trick that frequently works when you are not in the advantage.)

Finally, who makes this kind of argument holds a key part to why it is in the shape it is: primarily descendents of Western European civilisations make this argument, as well as the aforementioned Chinese rhetoric. We've discussed the Chinese argument previously, but the burgers also have good reason to make this argument. Put in a positive light, it highlights two facts: that one, as they have affiliation with Western Europeans, they (presumably) have the means to right these wrongs; and for two, there is nothing they can do about other empires so there can't possibly be any blame for them, and even if there is we can't do anything about it so we might as well just shoulder it all.


Now, personally…

Coming from my own background I find most of these arguments a little bit specious, because my experience with (in particular) British and Chinese "rule" (to put it lightly) does not really show anything above. But while I don't think I can whole-heartedly endorse any of these argument lines above, it highlights a particular conflict I have in my head a lot when trying to make a coherent worldview. I don't know how to answer this question of apportioning blame, and even if I can tell apart what is the reasoning and what is the consequence.

No one is really willing to engage on this from a fundamental principles kind of deal, because the object level has too much death material destruction to have people actually sit down and think things through. Indeed, it's at times explicitly discouraged to do so; it's all about the intuitive "justice must be served" attitude which must come first. That, at least, is something that I can understand, even if I can't make myself agree to it.


Over the next few articles I will explore more on this idea of conflicting ideals, thoughts and bring in a couple more political ideas to it. I hope I do not alienate too many of you potential readers, but I'm always a little clueless about this anyway and I think that trying to express this in writing is at least partially useful.

🗼 gemini://