A Topsy-Turvy World

Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the pur­pose of th­ese ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

Iwas speak­ing to a Min­is­ter of gov­ern­ment the other day and I said, “If we don’t get this done a.s.a.p. the whole deal will go south,” when it struck me, “Why south?” In­deed, why should south have neg­a­tive as­so­ci­a­tions? So I started to cog­i­tate and this is what I came up with.

The et­y­mol­ogy of "go­ing south" ap­pears to be con­nected to the fi­nan­cial in­dus­try. If prices go down, they can be de­picted with an ar­row point­ing down­ward or “go­ing south”, just as the ar­row points south on a com­pass. Ac­cord­ing to the Ox­ford English Dic­tio­nary, the ear­li­est ci­ta­tion of “go­ing south” re­fer­ring to a de­crease in prices dates to 1920 from a news­pa­per ar­ti­cle in the El­gin Dairy Re­porter about fall­ing meat and grain prices. Af­ter that, there are al­most no ci­ta­tions un­til the 1970s when “go south, turn south, dip south” and other sim­i­lar terms ap­peared in publi­ca­tions like Busi­ness Week and The Fi­nan­cial Times, re­fer­ring to fall­ing prices and any time some­thing ends up in a worse con­di­tion than it was be­fore.

North is above south, right? De­spite al­most ev­ery­body ac­cept­ing that the world is this way up, there is no good rea­son for think­ing that north is at the top of the world and south is at the bot­tom. Even NASA flips its pho­tos from outer space so that the world ap­pears as we be­lieve it to be and not as it is when filmed from space.

We hu­mans have a long his­tory of draw­ing maps on cave walls, on stone tablets, on pa­pyrus, pa­per and com­puter screens, but it is only within the last few hun­dred years that north has been con­sis­tently at the top. Early Chi­nese com­passes were ac­tu­ally ori­ented to point south. But on Chi­nese maps the Em­peror, who lived in the north of the coun­try, was al­ways put at the top of the map so his loyal sub­jects were look­ing up to­wards him while he was look­ing down on them. In Chi­nese cul­ture the Em­peror looks south be­cause it’s where the winds come from; it’s a good di­rec­tion. North is not very good but if you are in a po­si­tion of sub­jec­tion to the em­peror, you look up to him by look­ing north.

Given that each cul­ture has a very dif­fer­ent idea of who, or what, they should look up to it’s per­haps not sur­pris­ing that there is very lit­tle con­sis­tency in which way early maps pointed. In an­cient Egypt the top of the world was east, the po­si­tion of sun­rise. Early Is­lamic maps favoured south at the top be­cause most of the early Mus­lim cul­tures were north of Mecca, so they imag­ined look­ing down or south, to­wards it. A very early Chris­tian map called Mappa Mundi put east at the top be­cause that was where the Gar­den of Eden was to be found, with Jerusalem in the cen­tre.

Euro­pean ex­plor­ers like Christo­pher Colum­bus, who was born in Italy, and Mag­el­lan, who was born in Por­tu­gal, sailed un­der the Span­ish flag and nav­i­gated by the North Star. Colum­bus is cred­ited with be­ing the first to dis­cover Amer­ica, but he wasn’t, and Mag­el­lan, though he died on the way, with be­ing the first to cir­cum­nav­i­gate the world. In this age of GPS we must, how­ever, re­mem­ber that at the time no one knew what they were do­ing and where they were go­ing.

Mer­ca­tor’s 1569 world map was a defin­ing mo­ment in north-up map-mak­ing. He fa­mously took into ac­count the cur­va­ture of the Earth, so that sailors could cross long dis­tances with­out over­shoot­ing the mark. What­ever the rea­sons, north-up is an idea that seems to have stuck. Mer­ca­tor, by the way, was born in Flan­ders, to­day’s Bel­gium, but the Dutch like to claim him as one of their own.

Then there is the so­cio-eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal North–South Di­vide. The global North in­cludes the USA, Canada and Western Europe, and parts of Asia, as well as Aus­tralia and New Zealand, which are not lo­cated in the north­ern hemi­sphere but share sim­i­lar eco­nomic and cul­tural char­ac­ter­is­tics as other north­ern coun­tries. The global South com­prises the rest. The North is home to all the mem­bers of the G8 and to four of the five per­ma­nent mem­bers of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

The North may be de­fined as the richer, more de­vel­oped re­gion and the South as the poorer, less de­vel­oped re­gion. 95% of the North has enough food, shel­ter and func­tion­ing ed­u­ca­tional sys­tems. In the South only 5% of the pop­u­la­tion has enough food and shel­ter. The South lacks ap­pro­pri­ate tech­nol­ogy, has lit­tle or no po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity, and poor economies.

In eco­nomic terms the North, with one quar­ter of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, con­trols four-fifths of the world’s in­come and owns 90% of the world’s man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­tries. The South, with three quar­ters of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, has ac­cess to 20% of the world’s in­come. As na­tions de­velop they may be­come part of the North, re­gard­less of ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion; sim­i­larly, any na­tions that do not qual­ify for de­vel­oped sta­tus are, in ef­fect, doomed to be part of the South in this Top­sy­Turvy World.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Saint Lucia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.