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Winter 1997
The Landscape of Destiny
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Thus, we can finally rephrase the question about the modern world's inequalities as follows: Why did human development proceed at such different rates on different continents? Those disparate rates constitute history's broadest pattern.

The answer lies not only in history and prehistory; this subject is not of just academic interest but also of overwhelming practical and political importance. The history of interactions among disparate peoples is what shaped the modern world through conquest, epidemics and genocide. Those collisions created reverberations that have still not died down after many centuries and that are actively continuing in some of the world's most troubled areas today.

For example, much of Africa is still struggling with its legacies from recent colonialism. In other regions -- including much of Central America, Mexico, Peru, New Caledonia, the former Soviet Union and parts of Indonesia -- civil unrest or guerrilla warfare pits still-numerous indigenous populations against governments dominated by descendants of invading conquerors. Many other indigenous populations -- such as native Hawaiians, Aboriginal Australians, native Siberians and Indians in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Chile -- became so reduced in number by genocide and disease that they are now greatly outnumbered by the descendants of invaders. Although incapable of mounting a civil war, they are nevertheless increasingly asserting their rights.

In addition to these current political and economic reverberations of past collisions among peoples, there are linguistic reverberations -- especially in the impending disappearance of most of the modern world's 6,000 surviving languages, becoming replaced by English, Chinese, Russian and a few other languages whose numbers of speakers have increased enormously in recent centuries. All these problems of the modern world result from the different historical trajectories implicit in Yali's question.

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