The worst political blunder in the history of civilization was probably the decision of the emperor of China in the year 1433 to stop exploring the oceans and to destroy the ships capable of exploration and the written records of their voyages... 

Freeman Dyson*

Isolation takes a terrible toll on humanity. 

Ancient China was every bit on par with the rest of the developed world in 1433. In fact, in some areas, such as sea navigation, the Chinese were more advanced than the Europeans of the same era. For instance, before 1433, the Chinese explored the unknown in a way similar to Columbus's voyages, but their travels were decades earlier, involved greater distances, and their ships were larger than the ones Columbus used. 

Then the self-imposed isolation began. 

China began a fall which would only be rectified six hundred years later. The technological and scientific advancements the Chinese had developed or discovered eventually became obsolete to the rest of the world. The developed world moved far ahead in science and technology.

Consider that Britain in 1433 was a back water land, made of mostly warring factions, and marked by very low quality of life. But a few hundred years later, by the eighteenth century, Britain had far surpassed China in most meaningful categories of advancement.

The difference wasn't the quality of the people or their ability to learn - the difference was access. Britain imported and exported technologies, and China closed itself off. 

China's self-imposed isolation made it much more susceptible to Western imperialism later due to wide and ever widening technology gap. It's only now that China has caught up.*

No civilization or culture - or individual for that matter - is immune to the negative impacts of isolation. The Chinese are not the only ones who decided to isolate themselves and paid the price. In the modern era, some Arab nations have made the same choice and they are falling behind to disastrous effect. What leads political leaders to make decisions like the one the emperor made? 

While there certainly are several reasons why any given nation might isolate itself, there is one common thread: resentment. 

Resentment is a powerful force; not for propelling a nation forward, but for keeping politicians in power. One subsection of a population starts doing well, and they are seen as threat economically, culturally, or both, to other groups in that population. Political and cultural leaders then use this disparity to cement their own standing and political power. When this sequence happens, it usually comes from zero-sum thinking.

Zero-sum thinking is the idea that if the person next to me has something, they probably took it from somebody, and that somebody is probably me. It's a view which does not account for growth or creativity -  it says all we have now is all there is. 

Scripture does not deal kindly with resentment and its close cousin envy. 

But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.

James 3: 14-16, NKJV

Resentment will never right wrongs, and envy does not produce the righteous of God. Someone else's success is not your failure. That is a devilish lie.

Further, as James writes quite clearly, resentment and envy only muddy the water of what to do next. They usher in confusion and poor judgement, and they make us think of ourselves as the center from which consequences should flow. Resentment looks inward and is self-seeking.

Whether on the level of a nation or in the heart of an individual, envy leads to isolation. Isolation, in turn, drags people down and stunts their growth and development. 

We should learn this lesson history has to teach us.

*See Wealth, Poverty, and Politics, by Thomas Sowell, pgs 125-126, 218