What’s your world view? I don’t mean your philosophical or political view, but literally: When you consider our world, what lies at its center?
Before Copernicus, human beings and their governments and religions were convinced that the Earth was the center of the universe. We Americans of course consider ourselves the center of the socio-politico-economic universe. After all, we’re the most powerful, richest nation in the world, right?
My late mother liked to tell a story about me, who as a child (six, seven, eight years old?) was obsessed with a map of the world that hung on my bedroom wall. Apparently I would ask my parents, while looking at all the different nations on the map, “Is this country our friend? Is this country our enemy?”
It was the height of the Cold War when I was asking those questions, so it wouldn’t be surprising if I were troubled by the fact that the USSR looked really big on that map. Perhaps I was consoled, however, by the fact that the United States — well, at least North and South America — was at the center of my map of the world.
Maps of the world are always skewed one way or the other, since we are placing on a flat plane a reality that is a sphere. Just as histories of wars are written by the victors of those wars, maps of the world differ based on where the cartographer is and what he or she wants to emphasize. Yes, the world confirmed in 1884 at an international conference in Washington that an imaginary line running through Greenwich, England, would be the prime meridian dividing the Eastern and Western hemispheres of the world, the longitude by which all other places in the world would be measured. It was not a coincidence that England was the greatest economic power of the time, owing in large measure to its economic and military seapower.