There’s a site called Strange Maps, which fascinates me. The owner is a person after my own heart, but more diligent; he(?) understands that mapping is an exercise not only in making sense out of the world, but in dominating the world. A map, like a book, is not a fact; it is an interpretation of a fact, a representation of what the minds understands to be reality. But that “reality” is shaped in the mind by all sorts of things, from the relatively harmless influence of the environment to more sinister influences, like the need to amass or maintain power over people’s minds and actions.
Let me explain what I mean by that. Take the following images, for example.
The first is the “normal” map of the world — the Mercator Projection, designed for sailors from Europe. If you believe what you see, you are left with the impression that Europe and Asia and North America are far bigger than they actually are — that the USA is as large as South America, and that Europe isn’t much smaller than Africa. But what you don’t think about is the fact that this map is in fact a distortion of reality. The world is a globe, not a flat piece of paper, and the lines of longitude are not parallel, which means that the distance between them at the equator is greater than the distance between them closer to the poles. These distances are not fixed, which means that Canada isn’t as long as it appears on a map.
The second is an adjusted map of the world, which attempts to present a more accurate view of the situation. In this map, the distortions err in a different way. Instead of imitating the actual shape of the continents, it attempts to draw them according to the actual sizes of the land masses See how the equatorial continents suddenly appear far larger than the northern ones? They are accurate in terms of size, not shape.
Then there are the maps that approach the world from different centres. In the one we’re most familiar with, the Atlantic Ocean is in the middle, which means that when readers of Roman letters look at it, the first thing they see are the Americas and the second thing they see are Europe. This is a EuroAmerican centric view of the world. In the this one, Japan is in the centre of the world. Quite a difference, huh?
And then there’s the map that places the South Pole at the top of the map rather than the North Pole. It appears upside down to us — but why should we imagine that North is up and South is down? If we’re from the southern Bahamian islands, it’s the other way round — and who’s to say we’re wrong?
But I say all that to say this. This is the map I wanted to share.
It’s from Strange Maps, and shows how big the continent of Africa really is in terms of the square footage of different dominant countries. In the case of the USA, the non-continental US states have been added to the total size of the country, so that the sizes of Alaska and Hawai’i have been calculated in. But what’s really illuminating about the whole image is the discussion that it spawned on the blog. If you read it, you will understand just how much influence what people want to believe — what they do believe according to their deepest prejudices — leads them to justify nonsense.
Something to think about, isn’t it? Something to talk about, too, I hope.