A Shift in Hemispheres

19 January 2012

Thursday


Since I last wrote I have experienced a dramatic change in hemispheres, going from the snow of rural Oregon, pictured above from just a few days ago, to the overcast heat and humidity of Lima, Peru. The contrast would have been even more striking had it been as sunny as I expected the southern hemisphere to be in January, but it is still a dramatic hemispherical shift. There is a scene in Goethe’s Faust when Faust requests grapes (or some other fruit — I can’t precisely recall), and Mephistopheles disappears only to return momentarily with the grapes. Although the feat is magical, Faust does not ascribe it to magic, but furnishes the explanation to Faust that on the opposite side of the world it is summer even as it is winter in Faust’s Europe. This is how the man of the Northern Hemisphere views the exotic climes of the Southern Hemisphere.

Even while taking leave of the Northern Hemisphere I have remained within the Western Hemisphere, and I am very pleased to be back in Peru, since it has been almost twenty years since I was last here. Peru is the fons et origo of civilization in the Western Hemisphere. Like Anatolia and Mesopotamia, the history of civilization runs deep here. The succession of peoples and cultures has left stratified layers in time, and this stratigraphy of history gives a definite shape to the past.

The lights of Lima after midnight as seen from my hotel window.

There has also been a succession of empires through the ages. When I was last in Ecuador, at the Hacienda San Agustin — which in its earlier iterations was an Inca outpost on the periphery of empire — the Ecuadorians spoke of the Peruvians as warlike and given to quarrel. I do not know if this is true, but I do know that when they spoke, they spoke with the knowing look of a neighbor on their faces.

We should not be surprised at this. Civilization and war are born twins. Recently on Twitter I wrote that one could uncharitably say of civilization that is is merely epiphenomenal of war, or one could say more charitably that war is merely epiphenomenal of civilization. Perhaps each is epiphenomenal of the other, and there is no one, single foundation of organized human activity — it is simply that large-scale human activity sometimes manifests itself as civilization and sometimes manifests itself as war.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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