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Currently reading Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire, which is a pretty straightforward, if at times darkly comical, description of how the Europeans were essentially socially- and geographically-ignorant thugs crashing into an enormously wealthy market that encompassed most of the world's wealth, with nothing to trade with except technically superior weaponry and ships (almost the only area of knowledge the West was at the forefront of, although that was about to change), and a vicious combination of commercial greed and aggressive religious fundamentalism that was quite beyond what the multi-ethnic, not tolerant by our standards but all in all generally more practiced at collaboration, societies of the area had been used to.

Barbarians, indeed. It wasn't the only thing they had going for them — once you start developing more efficient research processes and then come up with industrial methods, then societies without them pretty cannot compete regardless of their sophistication in other areas — but the existence, discovery, and exploitation of the Potosi silver mines is one of the great historical contingencies of the last few centuries; violence and American silver (extracted with violence, but from a much sparser and weaker population) where the only way Europeans could interface with the civilized core of the world.

Nobody with an empire is innocent in any sense, that's not what I'm saying, and if, say, American societies of the era were fucked up from 1492 on, the Ming and Quin Empires, the Tokugawa, or the Mughals, could have imported, over-developed, and exploited scientific and technical advances before European empires were comparatively powerful enough to block their attempts, or ahead enough to make the catch-up a long and fraught effort. Europeans were thugs with better weapons slightly before they were thugs with scientific-industrial complexes and much better weapons; you could tell quite an interesting story in a sci-fi-ish key about this event from the point of view of Indian Sea societies (the "violent and ignorant aliens with better weapons" is, after all, a trope), and maybe an AU outcome if you felt like.

Anyway, the original point of this post was the childish observation that the apparently the Arabs called these awful Frankish traders ferengi, and now I understand that The Next Generation reference (and a daring one indeed: making the Ferengi the series' philosophical counterpart of the Federation would have aligned the latter with the South Asian meta-society of XVIth century, not the European one) if only thirty years late.

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cass, can you not
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