Why didn’t the Native Americans ever advance technologically over thousands of years, while Europe and Asia advanced dramatically?

Excellent rejoinder on Quora to the question ""

Answer by Anonymous:

Quora seems to have a thing for these loaded cultural comparison questions, which is kind of unfortunate because they're really bad questions. I don't wish to assume evil motives on anybody's part: it's just that these  questions are never going to generate much more than dubious high school debating points. 

The inevitable implication – visible in many of these answers –  is that one society or another is 'better' than another, which begs  questions like  better for what, or better at what. It pretty much completely obscures any actual descriptive information that might let readers form more subtle judgements on their own.   

You can see this dynamic pretty clearly in this question. We start with an impossible premise: of course, indigenous Americans  progressed over time:  people everywhere learn how to solve the problems their environment hands them and build a little more than that as well.  Big,  prosperous cultures discover and invent things all the time (if they didn't they would be neither big nor prosperous).   If that's all you wanted to know, the simple answer is "Of course they advanced: look at Macchu Picchu or Cahokia or read up on Mayan astronomy — there were plenty of people pushing the limits of what they knew how to do and learning new ways of doing things."   You could supply lots of links on cool things done up and down the Americas.  Well and good.

The comparative part, however, turns reasonable questions bad.

It's one thing to ask "Did native americans have wheeled transportation?" and to answer "No, they never invented wheeled transportation because they didn't have domesticated draught animals" (cue the angry but they had wheeled toys! hence: transportation). Simple question, simple answer.  Once you convert it to the form "Did Native Americans Have Transportation As Advanced As Europeans?", though, you'll end up comparing five or six thousand years of continuous innovation, going back to Assyrian and Egyptian charioteers, to… well… nothing. Of course it makes the folks on the receiving end look bad.  The fact that Americans never invented the wheel is no more surprising than the fact that the Bedouins never invented the kayak. But, if you're some stuffy 19th century colonialist you can twist it around to  suggest "these people can't run their own affairs".

Which, of course, is going to bug the people on the receiving end. Inevitably,  we slide from technological suprematism right  over into defensive  nationalism, which involves flipping all the value judgments around so your side comes out on top. The ideas that living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle is more 'advanced' than being able to circumnavigate the globe by celestial navigation, or that Europe needs to take lessons in morality from, excuse me, the freaking Aztecs – a hateful conquest empire that practiced human sacrifice on an staggering scale,  boil down to "my side good, your side bad" with very little left over.  Add in some patriotic exaggerations and you've got  the dreary reality of nationalist arguments everywhere.  This is not a personal reflection on the posters: the whole suprematist/counter-suprematist discourse is just hopeless.

There are a lot of ways to explain the different evolution of the old and new worlds: from eco-determinism of the Guns, Germs and Steel variety, to techno-determinism of the "the modern world arises from these  4 key discoveries" ilk, to economics (no coinage !),  to information theory ( how many new memes reach a Patagonian vs a Parthian every year?), even philosophical explanations (it's all about Confucius, Buddha, Moses and Socrates).  They're all worth discussing, and any one could elicit lots of details that are valuable even if you don't buy the theory. But once the question turns to winners and losers, instead of interesting theories with supporting facts, we get back to comment-section sniping.  Personally, avoiding that sort of thing is what I like best about this site.

I apologize for the crankiness of the reply, but there have been a raft of these questions lately and I'm grouchy.

As a dead white male once said, all comparisons are odious.

Why didn't the Native Americans ever advance technologically over thousands of years, while Europe and Asia advanced dramatically?

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