Why didn’t the Industrial Revolution start Earlier?

Have you ever wondered why the industrial and scientific revolution of the last two Centuries not start earlier. I mean.. it does not make much sense. Many civilizations approached the requisite level of technology, organization and size (in some cases more than once) to have started down that path. But in every case they simply stagnated at a level that was just on the doorstep of a true revolution of ideas and technology.

Why? What stopped them from going over that threshold?

Conventional answers to this question invoke bad luck, complacence, climate changes, social structure, race and pretty much everything else under the sun. While there is no denying that external factors and social structures were often major secondary factors, I believe that the primary reason is somewhat different and often overlooked. To understand what I am getting at, you will have to ask yourself a rather odd question.

What motivates most human beings to do anything?

The conventional answer goes something along the lines of satisfying needs and wants, impressing others, profiting from you work etc. But is that really true? Can you explain what we know about human history if you model human behavior as being rational? Remember that logical behavior is not necessarily rational. OK, here is another question. Why did the quality of life for the vast majority of people actually go down after civilization started? And why did it not start going up until we were halfway through the scientific and industrial revolution? If civilization was such a great thing, why did it cause so much deprivation, starvation, diseases, wars and other types of strife?

What did civilization do for bettering the life of the average person? Was a single new plant or animal domesticated after civilization started? Did putting so many people together create a true exchange of ideas or more strife? Do regions with thousands of years of continuous civilization like India, China or Levant have anything to show for it- other than old palaces, temples, some luxury artifacts and some doctored records of the deeds or misdeeds of rulers? Why are humans living in tribes without civilization more rational and humane than people who proudly proclaim their civilization superiority? How many of the so-called primitive people will kill you because of your disbelief in their god, holy men or mythology? Now they can be certainly violent when it comes to defending their own interests, but only because you are trying to steal something or harm them.

Most of these “primitive” people would consider those who fight and suffer for “their” country, religion or a similar abstract notion to be nuts. While they would certainly stand by those in their immediate group or those they knew for years- the idea of putting your own life at risk for a cause that is very unlikely to benefit them would be rightly dismissed as absurd. Now think of how many wars, strife and low-level conflict throughout history has occurred for abstract notions which bring no benefit to the vast majority of those who participate in them. Or consider things like public sanitation, effective medical treatment of diseases, equitable distribution of food etc. Why did all of the above also diminish during the development of civilizations?

Did you notice a pattern? Everything that actually benefited people or made their lives better went to shit during periods of civilization. How come? Isn’t civilization supposed to make things better for all or most of its participants?

Now let us consider another possibility. Maybe civilization is not about making things better for most people. Maybe it is about making things worse for most people. Maybe civilization is about impoverishing, killing, starving, abusing and torturing others. Maybe it is about depriving people of happiness and human decency. Maybe civilization, as we know it, is about a few getting lucky and screwing others just to feel a bit better about their own pathetic lives.

Maybe the industrial and scientific revolution occurred because those who were busy trying to keep others down lost control.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. hans
    May 6, 2012 at 12:54 am

    One word: Pussy

    The industrial revolution only really started when Watts improved the incredibly inefficient steam engine design of the time.
    Meanwhile he had to battle the establishment because of his missing “credentials” and economic poverty because he couldn´t keep his dick out of his cousin(wife) till she finally croaked after the umpteenth childbirth.

    Tesla on the other hand disregarded women and basically singlehandedly elevated humanity out of the steam-engine era. Though he did get screwed over after all, only mainly by Banksters and Edison.

  2. May 6, 2012 at 4:36 am

    Isn’t this “those who were busy trying to keep others down lost control” the same as this “social structure”?

    Briefly, what happened is that, as you say, the lords lost their power to the citizens/citoyens/cittadini/burger/bourgeois/burgesses who were mostly merchants and who found in the new inventions a better way to enrich themselves. Marx already said this.

    This revolution already started in Italy during the 15th century due to the rising power of the cittadini. Something similar also happened in the Netherlands where the burgers were the most powerful.

  3. webe
    May 6, 2012 at 11:36 am

    Well, it is clear that civilization is about accumulation and concentration of power, which generally correlates with control over others. Any good that accrues to civilized society is largely in spite of the underlying dynamics. The industrial revolution certainly didn’t mark a change in these dynamics, and if it eventually brought a more comfortable existence (ignoring colonial and global exploitation of wealth from abroad), that was not thanks to deliberate purpose.
    Why it happened when and where it did is a very complex question, since most of the key ingredients can be found in other places. I have never seen a convincing explanation on what baked the cake. I suspect the technological imperative drove scientific progress and scholarship rather than vice versa. The technological imperative is related to a non-cyclical idea of history and historical progress, and of nature as a body/matter whose soul is outside it, and thus a legitimate object of rational exploitation. But it is hard to formulate exactly how incremental technological progress morphed into the conscious enterprise of subjecting nature through a peculiar combination of abstract human reason and efficacious practical ingenuity.

  4. Ray Manta
    May 7, 2012 at 8:03 am

    Have you ever wondered why the industrial and scientific revolution of the last two Centuries not start earlier.

    Gregory Clark covered this subject in his book A Farewell To Alms. Before the Industrial Revolution, technological progress simply enabled higher populations to exist without moving living standards beyond Hunter-Gatherer levels. In fact, in most (not all) cases, living standards were below Hunter-Gatherers. Clark’s conclusions were that the Industrial Revolution was the result of the natural selection for highly disciplined, relatively peaceful individuals. My guess is that scientific and technological progress also reaching a tipping point.

    What did civilization do for bettering the life of the average person?

    It’s benefit for the individual was the greatly reduced risk of homicide. But yes, quality of life otherwise went down, not up.

    consider things like public sanitation, effective medical treatment of diseases, equitable distribution of food etc

    According to Clark, before the IR, these would simply cause living standards to decline because they would simply enable higher populations which would be driven to the subsistence level. He points to the failure of foreign aid (medicine, food, etc) to give any long-term benefit to most of Africa as an example.

    Making up bullshit and pathological lying is an anglo-saxon tratit. I do not take any “history” written by them seriously.

  5. hoipolloi
    May 7, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    One word: Pyramid

    Society perennially organizes itself in a pyramid in its power structure. It is the trickledown effect that creates some wellbeing to the middle and lower class. The lowest 30% in the U.S. and a third world country like India are in the same predicament. Just the crumbs falling at the table are more in one place than the other, but crumbs nevertheless.

  6. Ray Manta
    May 8, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Making up bullshit and pathological lying is an anglo-saxon tratit.

    An anglo-saxon trait that seems to be shared by the rest of the human race. If you don’t buy Clark’s arguments, fine, but please state the reasons why instead of just spouting ad-hominems. His statements about Malthusian economies where technological progress do not improve living standards make a lot of sense to me. They also neatly explain why foreign aid has been so ineffective in uplifting poor countries.

    I do not take any “history” written by them seriously.

    So, where did the Industrial Revolution start? In the Congo?

  7. May 13, 2012 at 4:58 am

    Many of these comment neglect the role of the church in keeping intellectual effort down. The timing of the industrial revolution after the reformation is not coincidental.

  8. Tommy Rivas
    July 8, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    To Paul Murray: That’s true but, why didn’t the industrial revolution take off in the 1600s or 1700s, the Catholic Church had much less power than before.
    To all: My theory is that not all of the conditions necessary for an industrial revolution not only to spark but also be maintained were together in the same place and time until 19th century Britain. Sure there were places that had a vibrant middle class, and a very wealthy empire, like the Republic of Venice. They even had the industrial revolution sparks going; they were the wealthiest city in the world in the 1400s, 1500s, and in the top spots in the 1600s and 1700s. They had the huge Venetian Arsenal which built 1 huge ship a day, with almost assembly line production.
    My theory was that only thing they were lacking was the Suez Canal. If that canal was built 200 or 300 years ago, Northern Italy would have started the Industrial Revolution, and be a crossroads to world trade. Imagine if they invented steamboats 200 years earlier, that would have been great!

  1. May 13, 2012 at 1:01 am
  2. December 20, 2012 at 10:32 pm
  3. November 10, 2013 at 10:12 pm
  4. August 13, 2014 at 4:18 pm

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