Decline

BREAD, CIRCUSES & BOMBS – DECLINE OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE – PART TWO

Off the keyboard of Jim Quinn

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Published on The Burning Platform on November 9, 2014

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In Part One of this article I discussed the similarities between the Roman Empire and the American Empire at a high level. In this article I’ll delve into some specific similarities and rhymes between the fall of the Roman Empire and our modern day empire of debt, decay and decline. I’ll address our expansive level of bread and circuses and how defects in our human nature lead to people willingly sacrificing their liberty for promises of safety and security. All empires decline due to the same human failings and ours is no exception. If anything, ours will be far more spectacular and rapid due to our extreme level of hubris, arrogance, willful ignorance and warlike preference for dealing with foreign powers.

It seems there were a few visionary thinkers in the late 1950s who foresaw the dire course our former Republic was setting. Their writings were a prophecy and a warning. There was still time to change course and avoid the pitfalls that led to the Roman Empire collapse. In Brave New World Revisited, Aldous Huxley warned against allowing a few amoral men using propaganda, scientific advancements, technology, brainwashing, and economics to control and manipulate a willfully ignorant populace into a dystopian dictatorship. The Soviet and Chinese dictatorships of the late 1950s are long gone, but Huxley foresaw how modern propaganda techniques would be used by the state to drown the masses in a sea of triviality, irrelevance, and consumerism.

“In their propaganda today’s dictators rely for the most part on repetition, suppression and rationaliza­tion — the repetition of catchwords which they wish to be accepted as true, the suppression of facts which they wish to be ignored, the arousal and rationaliza­tion of passions which may be used in the interests of the Party or the State. As the art and science of manip­ulation come to be better understood, the dictators of the future will doubtless learn to combine these tech­niques with the non-stop distractions which, in the West, are now threatening to drown in a sea of irrele­vance the rational propaganda essential to the mainten­ance of individual liberty and the survival of demo­cratic institutions.”

Another man of vision was President Dwight D. Eisenhower. As someone who understood the military industrial complex and the world of politics and power, he knew the danger of allowing the arms industry to dictate the foreign policy of the country. Maintaining a military empire bankrupted Rome and it is bankrupting the American empire. Eisenhower’s warning was unheeded.

“We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations. This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.”

When I was researching the similarities between the fall of the Roman Empire and our American Empire fall in progress, I stumbled across an essay written in 1956 by Ben Moreell called Of Bread and Circuses  

Toxic Bread, iGadgets, Circuses, & Zoloft

“The evil was not in bread and circuses, per se, but in the willingness of the people to sell their rights as free men for full bellies and the excitement of the games which would serve to distract them from the other human hungers which bread and circuses can never appease. The moral decay of the people was not caused by the doles and the games. These merely provided a measure of their degradation. Things that were originally good had become perverted and, as Shakespeare reminds us, ‘Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.’”Ben Moreell – 1956 – Of Bread and Circuses

There is nothing inherently evil about food, iPhones, professional sports, television, computers, music or medicine. Human beings need food to sustain them, entertainment to provide relaxation and diversion from their daily labors, and medicine to alleviate illness and prolong their lives. Only when the people allow themselves to be lured into servitude by malevolent purveyors of bread and circuses does the perversion of seemingly harmless things begin to fester and overwhelm a nation with the fetid stench of decay and decadence. The moral degeneration of the American populace, like the Roman people before them, happened slowly over time as they sold their liberty, freedom, and self-respect for full bellies, an endless array of modern day distractions, and promises from their highly educated rulers they would be taken care of and protected from all threats to their well-being, whether foreign, domestic, physical, mental, or social.

It did not happen all at once. It happened gradually over time. We allowed the weaker facets of our human nature to succumb to the pleasurable promises of a minority of power seeking manipulative men who always attempt to control and influence the majority because they believe they are wiser and deserving of riches, glory and supremacy. The greediest, most arrogant, ambitious and well educated amongst us tend to rise to the top in all societies. As Ben Franklin stated, only a virtuous people can keep sociopaths from gaining control of our political, economic and financial systems and perverting a republic built upon a foundation of free markets, liberty, and self-sufficiency.

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”Benjamin Franklin

Historian Tacitus noted, as Rome became more and more corrupt, the number of laws grew rapidly. The Roman aristocracy, through corruption and thievery achieved lofty status in Roman society. Senators and wealthy knights engaged in extensive practices of conspicuous consumption, creating palatial town houses and monumental “art villas” to demonstrate their high rank in society. The peasants sank into poverty, while being satiated with bread and circuses. And it was all done legally, just as it is being done legally today by our beloved aristocracy and their minions.

“The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.” – Tacitus – The Annals of Imperial Rome

Has the proliferation of laws, rules, and regulations over the last century made us freer, safer and less corrupt?

The virtue of the American people has dissipated rapidly over the last century through their willful ignorance, laziness, apathy, vanity, greed and covetousness, while the true ruling power has consciously and intelligently manipulated the masses without them being aware they were being molded, controlled, dominated and influenced by Ivy League educated men of no conscious, empathy, or sense of decency. The paragraph below, written in 1928 by Edward Bernays, reveals the true nature of our “democracy” and our real masters:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.” – Edward Bernays – Propaganda

Bernays and his disciples believed the American citizenry nothing more than a herd of irrational animals that needed to be led by enlightened despots like him and other highly educated wealthy men who knew what was best in a democratic society. The term propaganda developed negative connotations after some Germans used it so effectively during the 1930s, so modern American despots changed the term to public relations. It’s all about the message. As media tools have become more technologically advanced and the study of human psychology perfected, the members of the invisible government have achieved their goal of governing, molding, and pulling the wires that control the public mind in a way that enriches them and their benefactors while satisfying the base needs of the masses and keeping them distracted with trivialities, technological wonders, and a myriad of bogeyman threats. These men have contempt for the common man. They have contempt for the U.S. Constitution. They have contempt for free markets. And they have control of our country.

Needs, Wants & Desires

The concept of bread and circuses ties closely to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory. The ruling class realizes the masses must be kept fed, clothed and housed or revolution would ensue. The human needs documented by Maslow were satisfied or not satisfied by humans prior to the 20th century. Once the ruling class gained control of the monetary system through their jurisdiction over the Federal Reserve and the fiscal system through their manipulation of taxes and spending, they were able to bribe the masses with their own money. The rise of the welfare state has not reduced poverty or boosted the standard of living of the poor. It has enslaved tens of millions at the basic human needs level. Once those in power had successfully bribed the masses with bread (SNAP), shelter (subsidized housing), subsistence (unemployment compensation & welfare), security (Social Security) and safety (Medicare, Medicaid), it was only necessary to keep them distracted with circuses to efficiently teach them to love their servitude.

“A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.” – Aldous Huxley – Brave New World

abraham-maslows-hierarchy-of-needs1.preview.jpg

The invisible governing authorities don’t want the masses to actually satisfy their psychological and self-fulfillment needs. The last thing they want is an educated, aware, critical thinking, independent, courageous, self-reliant, civic minded populace questioning the motivations of their keepers. This is where the corporate fascists who control the mass media propaganda machine and the sickcare industrial complex have combined forces to create a painless concentration camp of prisoners enjoying their servitude and happy to sacrifice their liberty for perceived safety. An uneducated, obese, sickly, depressed, overly-medicated populace is not a threat to the ruling class. They have been conditioned and pharmacologically sedated to such an extent the governing class feels indestructible, displaying arrogance and hubris in dangerous doses.

“There will be in the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them but will rather enjoy it.” – Aldous Huxley

The concept of voluntary servitude has been a constant theme across the ages as most people want to be led, told what to do, and will not question or contest those in authority. Liberty and freedom require effort, sacrifice, honor and a people with a strong moral character. The Roman people succumbed to tyranny by abandoning their liberty to despots for a full belly and grand spectacles. The American people have succumbed to modern day banker, billionaire and politician oligarchs for a belly full of toxic corporate processed food, cable HDTV with 600 stations, iGadgets, a never ending supply of cheap Chinese produced crap at big box retail stores, Facebook, Twitter, 24 hour drive thru Dunkin Donuts joints, and an endless array of professional sporting events, all paid for with an infinite supply of cheap consumer debt from the Wall Street fraud machine. We live in a warfare/welfare surveillance state built on a foundation of debt, consumerism, and delusion, with no tears. We’ve learned to love our servitude.

French philosopher Etienne de La Boetie captured the degradation of the once noble Roman people five centuries ago, and his words ring true today as the American people have foolishly relinquished their liberty to a corporate aristocracy that has bankrupted the nation, debased the currency, pillaged the middle class and set in motion an irreversible decline of the empire.

“Plays, farces, spectacles, gladiators, strange beasts, medals, pictures, and other such opiates, these were for ancient peoples the bait toward slavery, the price of their liberty, the instruments of tyranny. By these practices and enticements the ancient dictators so successfully lulled their subjects under the yoke, that the stupefied peoples, fascinated by the pastimes and vain pleasures flashed before their eyes, learned subservience as naively, but not so creditably, as little children learn to read by looking at bright picture books. Roman tyrants invented a further refinement. They often provided the city wards with feasts to cajole the rabble, always more readily tempted by the pleasure of eating than by anything else.

The most intelligent and understanding amongst them would not have quit his soup bowl to recover the liberty of the Republic of Plato. Tyrants would distribute largess, a bushel of wheat, a gallon of wine, and a sesterce: and then everybody would shamelessly cry, ‘Long live the King!’ The fools did not realize that they were merely recovering a portion of their own property, and that their ruler could not have given them what they were receiving without having first taken it from them.” – Etienne de La Boétie – Discourse on Voluntary Servitude – 1548

We are fools to not realize the governing authorities who benevolently distribute bread and entitlements to the masses have already taken the money at gunpoint from the people, while syphoning off their cut, favoring their courtesans and taking away our liberties and freedoms. H.L. Mencken, who could match de La Boetie in contempt for the ignorant masses and corrupt politicians, understood our democracy was destined for the trash heap of history.

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.” – H.L. Mencken – Notes on Democracy

In Part Three of this article I will address how the creation of the Federal Reserve has led to a century of currency debasement, mindless consumption and endless warfare, while impoverishing the masses and setting in motion the dynamics of empire collapse.

Bread, Circuses & Bombs

Off the keyboard of Jim Quinn

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Published on The Burning Platform on September 22, 2014

fall-of-rome

Discuss this article at the Geopolitics Table inside the Diner

BREAD, CIRCUSES & BOMBS – DECLINE OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE

“Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: Bread and Circuses.”

Juvenal – Satire (100 A.D.)

 

Roman satirist and poet Juvenal was displaying contempt for a degraded Roman citizenry that had shunned civic responsibility, shirked their duties of citizenship within a republic, and had chosen to sell their votes to feckless politicians for assurances of bread and circuses. Rather than govern according to noble principles based upon reason, striving for public policies that led to long term sustainability and benefitting the majority of citizens, politicians chose superficial displays and appeasing the masses utilizing the lowest common denominator of “free” food and bountiful spectacles, pageants, and ceremonies in order to retain power.

The Roman Empire’s decline stretched across centuries as the gradual loss of civic virtue among its citizenry allowed demagogues to gain power and barbarians to eventually overrun the weakened empire. While the peasants were distracted with shallow exhibitions of palliative pleasures, those in power were debasing the currency, enriching themselves, and living pampered lives of luxury. The Roman leaders bought public approval and support, not through exemplary public service, but through diversion, distraction, and the satisfaction of base immediate needs and desires of the populace. Satisfying the crude motivations of the ignorant peasants (cheap food and entertainment) is how Roman politicians bought votes and retained power. Free wheat, circus games, and feeding Christians to lions kept the commoners from focusing on politicians pillaging and wasting the empire’s wealth.

History may not repeat exactly because technology, resource discoveries, and political dynamics change the nature of society, but it does rhyme because the human foibles of greed, lust for power, arrogance, and desire for conquest do not vary across the ages. The corruption, arrogance, hubris, currency debasement, materialism, imperialism, and civic decay that led to the ultimate downfall of the Roman Empire is being repeated on an even far greater scale today as the American Empire flames out after only two centuries. The pillars of western society are crumbling under the sustained pressure of an immense mountain of debt, created by crooked bankers and utilized by corrupt politicians to sustain and expand their welfare/warfare state. Recklessness, myopia, greed, willful ignorance, and selfish disregard for unborn generations are the earmarks of decline in this modern day empire of debt, delusion and decay.

“Armaments, universal debt, and planned obsolescence – those are the three pillars of Western prosperity. If war, waste, and moneylenders were abolished, you’d collapse. And while you people are over-consuming the rest of the world sinks more and more deeply into chronic disaster.”Aldous Huxley – Island

Rome was eight and a half centuries old when Juvenal scornfully described the degenerative spiral of the Roman populace. Still, the Western Empire lasted another three centuries before finally succumbing to the Visigoths and Vandals. The far slower pace of history and lack of other equally matched competing nation states allowed Rome to exist for centuries beyond its Pax Romana period of unprecedented political stability and prosperity, which lasted for two centuries. Prior to becoming an empire, the Roman Republic was a network of towns left to rule themselves with varying degrees of independence from the Roman Senate and provinces administered by military commanders. It was ruled, not by Emperors, but by annually elected magistrates known as Roman Consuls. The Roman citizens were a proud people who had a strong sense of civic duty and made government work for the people.

During the 1st century B.C. Rome suffered a long series of internal conflicts, conspiracies and civil wars, while greatly extending their imperial power beyond Italy through military conquest. After the assassination of Julius Caesar and the ascension of Augustus to emperor in 27 BC, after a century of civil wars, Rome experienced an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity. During this era, the solidity of the Empire was furthered by a degree of societal stability and economic prosperity. But it didn’t last. The successors to Augustus contributed to the progressive ruination of the empire. The repugnant reigns of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero reflected the true nature of the Roman people, who had relinquished their sovereignty to government administrators to whom they had granted absolute powers, in return for food and entertainment. It was the beginning of the end.

The American Republic began as a loose confederation of states who ruled themselves, with little or no direction from a central authority. The Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1781 by all 13 States, limited the powers of the central government. The Confederation Congress could make decisions, but lacked enforcement powers. Implementation of most decisions, including modifications to the Articles, required unanimous approval of all thirteen state legislatures. After winning the war for independence from England, the U.S. Constitution, which shifted power to a central authority, was ratified in 1789. The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, was passed in 1791 with the purpose of protecting individual liberties and insuring justice for all. Their function was to safeguard the citizens from an authoritarian federal government. These imperfect documents would benefit and protect the rights of the American people only if applied by moral, just, incorruptible, noble, honorable leaders and enforced by an educated, concerned, vigilant citizenry.

As with the Roman Empire, the quality of leadership has rapidly deteriorated over the last two centuries and now wallows at disgustingly low levels. These leaders are a reflection of a people who have abandoned their desire for knowledge, responsibility for their lives, work ethic, belief in freedom and the U.S. Constitution. The Juvenal of our times was H.L. Mencken who aptly and scornfully described the citizenry in 1920 as an ignorant mob who would eventually elect a downright moron to the presidency. He was right.

“The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre—the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” H.L. Mencken

A Republic was formed 225 years ago, as opposed to a monarchy, by men of good intentions. They weren’t perfect, but their goals for the new nation were honorable and decent. Ben Franklin had his doubts regarding whether we could keep a republic. He had good reason to doubt the long-term sustainability of this experiment. Freedom is not something bestowed on us by men of higher caste. We are born into this world free, with the liberty to live our lives as we see fit, the opportunity to educate oneself and the freedom to succeed as far as our capabilities and efforts allow. Only a self-reliant, virtuous, moral, civic minded people are capable of enjoying the fruits of freedom. Once corruption, self-interest, greed, and dependency upon government bureaucrats for sustenance become prevalent, the populace seeks masters who promise safety and security in return for sacrificing essential liberty and basic freedoms.

The country has defeated foreign invaders, withstood financial calamities, endured a bloody civil war, benefitted immensely from the discovery of oil under its soil, became an industrial power, fought on the winning side of two world wars, and since 1946 has become the greatest imperial empire since Rome fell to the barbarians. Over the course of our 225 year journey there has been a gradual relinquishment of the citizens’ sovereignty and autonomy to an ever more overbearing central government. Lincoln’s unprecedented expansion of Federal government authority during the Civil War marked a turning point, as state and local rights became subservient to an all-powerful central authority. Individual liberty has been surrendered and freedoms forfeited over a decades long insidious regression of a once courageous, independent, self-sufficient citizenry into a mob of cowering, willfully ignorant dependents of the deep state.

From the inception of the country there has been a constant battle between the banking interests and the common people. Bankers have used fraudulent fractional reserve banking to speculate for their own benefit, made risky loans, and created every financial crisis in the country’s history. The profits from excessive risk taking are retained by the bankers. The inevitable losses are borne by taxpayers with the excuse that the financial system must be saved and preserved. The storyline never changes. The beginning of the end of the American Empire can be pinpointed to the year 1913, only 124 years after its inception. Private banking interests captured the monetary system of the empire with the secretive creation of the Federal Reserve. The power of the central state was solidified with the implementation of the personal income tax, allowing politicians to bribe their constituents with modern day “bread and circuses”, paid for with money taken at gunpoint from them by the central state. We are now nothing but the hollowed out shell of a once noble Republic.

A century of central banking and heavy taxation of the people by bought off politician puppets has coincided with a century of war, depressions, currency debasement, overconsumption, obscene levels of consumer debt, trillions of excessive debt financed government spending, hundreds of trillions in unfunded entitlement liabilities, and a persistent decline in standard of living for the masses due to Federal Reserve manufactured inflation. We have failed to heed the lessons of history. We have repeated the blunders committed by the Romans.

The American Empire will not be murdered by an external force because it is too busy committing suicide. The moneyed interests, corporate oligarchs and their hand-picked politician front men see themselves as conquering heroes. Their colossal hubris and arrogance is only matched by the ignorance, gullibility, quivering fear of bogeymen, and susceptibility to propaganda of the general populace. The Wall Street bankers and feckless politicians are not gods, they are only men. Death is the great equalizer for emperors and peasants alike. The only thing that remains is your legacy and whether you positively impacted the world. It can be unequivocally stated that those in power today are leaving a legacy of despair, destruction, and debt.

Empires are born and empires die. The American Empire will not be sustained for eight centuries, as the swiftness of modern civilization, nuclear proliferation, religious zealotry, and sociopathic leadership ensures we will flame out in a blaze of glory before reaching our third century. The spirit of independence, idealism, self-reliance, entrepreneurship, knowledge seeking, advancement, and goodwill towards our fellow citizens that marked the height of our fledgling country has succumbed to a malaise of government dependency, cynicism, living on the dole, financial Ponzi schemes, willful ignorance, materialism, delusion, and myopic self-interest. The moral decline of the American populace has been reflected in the deteriorating quality of leaders we have chosen over the last century. Prosperity was taken for granted and no longer earned. We abdicated our civic responsibility to corrupt financiers and power seeking politicians. As time has passed, the ruling elite have grown ever more powerful and wealthy, at the expense of the peasantry. These sociopaths see themselves as god-like emperors, on par with the vilest of the Roman emperors.

Historians will mark 1980 as another turning point, when the nation capitulated to the financiers and ceded control of our destiny to Wall Street bankers, the military industrial complex, and globalist billionaires. The final deformation from a productive society built upon savings, capital investment, and goods production to a borrowing, gambling, and consumption society built upon debt and profiteering by powerful corporate and banking interests had commenced. The peak of this warfare/welfare state insanity was reached in 2000 and the road to decline and decay is now littered with the figurative corpses of a gutted middle class and the literal corpses of men, women and children across the globe, killed during our never ending imperial conquests. The ruling elite sense the futility and foolishness of their folly, but their insatiable appetite for wealth, power, triumph and glory blind them to the destructive consequences of their actions upon the nation and their fellow man. Power and dominion over others is a powerful aphrodisiac for our current day emperors and self-preservation at all costs is their mantra.

While they bask in their perceived triumph and glory, achieved through rigging the financial and political systems in their favor, they should heed the faint whisper in their ear that all glory is fleeting.

“For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.” George S. Patton, Jr.

The decline of the Roman Empire can be attributed to a number of supportable hypotheses, which have been documented by historians over time. They include:

  • Perpetual warfare depleted the treasury and wasted the manhood of the empire. The use of mercenary armies eventually led to the sacking of Rome by the very armies they had employed.
  • Military overexpansion and spending resulted in resources being diverted from technological advancement, maintenance of the civil infrastructure, and worthwhile investments to support economic growth.
  • Excessive welfare spending, oppressive taxation and currency debasement widened the gap between rich and poor, resulting in discontent, mistrust and rebellion.
  • The emergence of an all-powerful centralized authoritarian government ruling by mandate, racked by corruption, and kept in power by bribing its subjects with promises of bread and circuses.
  • Emperors and Senators became oligarchs and their conspicuous consumption provided proof of their corruption and decadence. The widespread corruption and incompetence of its leadership led to a waning in civic pride among the citizens.
  • The decline in productive commercial and agricultural industries due to high taxes on producers, used to support the military empire, contributed to the circumstances that allowed barbarian invasions to succeed.
  • The moral decay of the people was caused by the influx of slave labor from conquered territories, resulting in a decline in middle class work ethic, and the subsequent rise in the level of citizens on the dole. An economy based upon slave labor precluded a middle class with buying power.

In Part Two of this tale of two empires, I’ll document the parallels between mistakes made, eternal human foibles, military misfortunes, financial misconduct, and moral decay, that denote the decline of the Roman and American Empires.

Looking at the Crystal Ball

Off the keyboard of Monsta666

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One of the most common discussions that I see cropping up in the doomer blogosphere is the speed of collapse. Quite often there are two camps in this debate with one camp strenuously believing that a fast collapse is inevitable while another bunch will insist that a more measured slow collapse or even decline is the most likely outcome. What is most striking, at least to me, is the degree of certainty that some people have in these debates. In fact in many cases people can be so confident in their beliefs that quite often you can almost sense a sense of disdain to people holding an opposing opinion. I suppose this is only human nature but as I have often said before: the nature of complex systems is they are inherently unpredictable. You can only really predict a general trajectory and perhaps with enough knowledge assign probabilities to possible outcomes but anything more and it just amounts to a lot of guesswork. If anyone makes a long-term prediction with a strong degree of confidence then you can be sure the person either has a blind-spot or worse doesn’t have a clue or maybe pushing an agenda or all of the above.

Making predictions and the questions of timing have always been the most difficult questions to answer in the collapse blogosphere. Despite much analysis of information from various sources we are humbled time and time again when it comes to making predictions. Don’t believe me? Just check out the predictions of what pundits said five years ago and look at ALL their dialogues in the past. The pundit is sure to trumpet their successes but normally there is a heap of false predictions they will quietly brush under the carpet and not state. Making any prediction is always difficult especially if it is about the future. In fact one of the few things I can say with any confidence is that when all is said and done that there will be many twists and turns that will surprise everyone, collapse stars included.

The changes in the 20th century were great and totally unexpected but the changes in the 21st century, if you think about it, will have an even larger, more profound and lasting impact on humanity. Furthermore because of the drastic nature of these changes that will likely change human behaviour irrevocably and kill our religious type belief in infinite growth and cornucopian technological worship I expect these changes will surprise people to an even greater degree. It will have to be a bigger surprise because as we see today it will truly take a hammer blow of gargantuan proportions to prize these ideas out of our collective consciousness.

When we see the future in those lenses and anticipate the big changes that will come – that will have to come – to alter our minds so drastically you come to realise just how difficult predicting the future will be. The issue I see here is when change becomes so dramatic it can be hard to grasp the full magnitude of the situation; we cannot appreciate the weight of the words we speak. The discussion almost takes on an unreal element; like we are talking and describing a dream and not reality. In these cases though, it is always helpful to look back on history to gain a good perspective on matters. When we look back consider what people in 1910 thought the year 2000 would be like. Much of the dialogue there would be way off and likely much of the thinking, conventional thinking at least would have seen people imagine that the year 2000 would look a lot like the year 1910 with a few additions added here and there. As you can see this is normalcy bias at work.

Granted in today’s world it can be argued that communications is far superior and our means of acquiring and analysing data is far better today than it was in 1910 so people can make much better predictions. But has that really been the case? I would say the normalcy bias is as strong as ever and if anything it has grown more entrenched. Our belief in progress, technology and infinite growth have only solidified during this time while older or opposing belief systems to counter this culture or belief structure have been systemically eliminated during this time. So in light of that we must always be aware of not only this normalcy bias but also the cultural bias that we are exposed to.

It is also very prudent to remember that because our industrialised society is so truly unsustainable on so many levels that very dramatic changes must happen for society to regain a balance with nature. And these changes must be sufficient to not just alter the way our relationships with one another but our views on nature must change dramatically as we must finally confront the issues we have been trying to hide in the past few centuries namely that humans are not gods and are actually bound by the laws of nature and do have a finite capacity for ingenuity (only gods have infinite ingenuity). We will have to realise our well-being is dependent on the state of our ecosystem and we cannot detach our economies from the resources of the planet (as much as economists will try and convince you otherwise). Our Earth has a finite amount of resources, our society is dependent on energy (and not technology) and the Earth has a limited capacity to handle the pollution from our daily activities. All these ideas, as basic as they may seem, must be grasped by our collective minds and for that to happen we need some major change for people to alter their behaviour in such a drastic matter. In fact at this point I can only see a hammer blow working in waking zombies people from their collective slumber.

We must also note that these profound changes will be so big they will affect mankind for a very long time. This is especially true if you are to believe that these changes will result in a mass die-off. If the die-off is more than 50% of the population then there has been no historical precedent to this and so the changes will truly be unprecedented (at least in absolute terms thus excluding the Toba event). Therefore if the changes you are projecting will result in unprecedented outcomes it stands to reason that the unprecedented changes that will need to occur to reach the final state will become very difficult to predict as we have no historical measuring stick to base our analysis upon. By its very definition it is guesswork, educated guesswork perhaps but guesswork all the same.

This means that a drastic turning point, of some shape or form must occur. Since turning points are so notorious hard to predict (various experts, in various fields have a very bad record of predicting changes in trends) it is curious how people can say with such confidence what the year 2100 or even 2050 will be like when we consider how much the future will have to change to fit in with reality. We were never good in the past in predicting the future so when we make predictions we must be aware of this and aware of the bias that work against us. When looking at such deep matters it pays to reflect for a moment and stick our heads out to gain a greater perspective when making these debates.

And if you really think about it, it is still early days in terms of collapse. The century is still young so I do feel it is premature to make such strong bets that we can predict what will happen in the coming decades. To me it would be a bit like betting on a football game and me predicting that the score would finish 3-0 to the home team. Then after only 15 minutes in, when the score line still says 0-0, we get some people coming out and saying my prediction are wrong because there has been no sign of a goal nevermind a collapse from the away team. We got to wait a decent amount of time before we can really say with any confidence whether the predictions made by you or I are anywhere near right. I think most collapsers (Greer included) foresee a die-off of some sort by 2100 or even 2050. The question is whether this collapse will be slow, fast or step-wise. Can’t say which path will be right with any certainty until at least 2025 IMHO and we probably need even longer than that. I suspect there will be various twists that take Greer and others by surprise because there are simply no historical precedents to the globalised economy we see today. The Roman Empire or any other empire for that matter cannot sufficiently cover all the difficulties modern society faces.

At the minimum what I think we need to be aware of is how the financial system will handle a scenario when global crude oil production leaves the plateau and begins declining year after year. Even more significant turning points would be when total gross energy of ALL fossil fuels reaches a peak and begins declining. In my Energy part II article I had a graph were this point would be reached sometime around 2025. At that point the amount of total possible wealth in the economy will peak and the claims to wealth that money/credit represent will become fundamentally broken. It will become much harder to continue playing the shell games that is QE or massaging various economic statistics to cover up the fundamental mismatch between claims and actual wealth.

Also as the system continues to deteriorate and get even more stressed you increase the probability of the system reaching a tipping point. It is this tipping point that creates the fast collapse scenarios, this happens because the system will leave its island of stability that is its dynamic equilibrium and system behaviour will suddenly change quite radically. You see this in the Arab springs where the economic, political and social systems were under stress for a prolonged period of time (decades) and all it took was a trigger and poof you got massive cascading failures in successive governments. The spark or trigger was quite small but since the system was already under severe strain that this was all it took to break the camel’s back. You see a similar phenomenon occurring in biological systems when the body fails in cascade fashion when certain the parameters leave a certain threshold. Indeed the definition of a tipping point is the disproportionate reaction of a system to a particular stressor and it is this particular behaviour of systems that is the trigger of fast collapses.

As always it is most difficult to determine precisely when this tipping point occurs or when the parameters become too extreme to push the system out of its dynamic equilibrium but most systems have them. I don’t think we can dismiss them and we certainly cannot dismiss tipping points with any degree of confidence until we have experienced periods of sustained declines in either crude oil production or more important total energy production. It is because of this why I feel Greer’s confidence in slow collapse is unwarranted. I am not saying he is wrong but he should exercise more caution and not be dismissive of these notions after all one of the main points about complex systems is they are inherently unpredictable.

The other complication that trips a lot of people up is the fact that most systems have delayed responses to signals. This issue of a delayed response was most notably seen when production of crude oil began to plateau in 2005. As production plateaued, the price of oil increased from around $50 to $148 a barrel and it is only when oil prices reached the upper threshold did the general economy react in a profound manner. It can be noted this response to a plateau in oil production took three years before the effects truly manifested. This delayed response is a common feature of many complex systems and the nature and responses to these delays in signals is dependent on how efficient or resilient and healthy a system is. A more resilient system will have more redundant sub-systems or buffers in place to handle potential shocks. For example a factory with a large well stocked warehouse is more capable of handling a surprise influx of extra orders from customers before needing to restock (which again restocking is a delayed response to a stimuli) than a factory that operates with a small warehouse which operates a more just-in-time regime.

It is these delayed response to signals that give rise to issues such as population overshoot in the first place as temporarily resources can be consumed at a faster rate than the Earth can replenish resources because it takes time for the negative feedback loops to gain sufficient strength to overcome the momentum of the system which is to grow. And just think, this momentum of growth has got a number of centuries under its belt so it will take some time before the negative feedback loops gain sufficient strength to overcome this forward momentum of the overall system again this is a delayed response. We cannot expect immediate responses even if we believe so on an intuitive level.

In fact when it comes to delayed responses there are two types of delay: the first is perception delay and this is the time it takes before it can be observed there is a change in a system. To offer an example of a perception delay let us consider a bacterial infection. It takes a certain amount of time for the person to exhibit symptoms after contracting the bacteria infection and this incubation time can last anything between a few hours or years depending on the particular bacteria. In system dynamics this would be the perception delay. The second form of delay is response delay and this delay is the time taken between when an action is initiated and the time it can deliver a response. Applying the same example of the bacteria it takes a certain amount of time to for the medication (the action or external agent) to take effect and reduce the symptoms from the disease. The elapsed time to take effect is the response delay.

These delayed responses can also be observed in the price of goods and services because the price of goods will not reflect the true scarcity of resources as it takes time for these price signals to filter through the economy. These distortions are only made worse when we introduce various subsidies such as tax breaks, subsidies or do not pay for the full environmental costs of various activities as all these activities serve to mask the market signals that permeates through the system.

How a system handles these responses is, as stated earlier, dependent on how healthy and resilient it is and the length of delay in responding to various signals. If a system is less resilient and the responses are more delayed then the eventual counter-response is likely to be greater. To go back to the economy if there was another financial crisis similar to the one observed in 2008 then the economy would be in a less healthy state plus it would be less resilient. This means any shock coming from a delayed response (say the plateau of global crude production is left) then it would be less able to handle this shock and therefore the probability of a tipping point being initiated will be that bit higher since the stresses being placed on the system are greater.

On the note if global crude oil production it can be noted that more and more experts seem to believe that we will leave the plateau sometime this decade and the period of terminal declines in production will begin. What percentage these declines will take is difficult to say and there is some source of controversy on the magnitude of these declines but most seem to agree on the time-frames. A notable poster called Ron Patterson (also known as Darwinian in The Oil Drum) has followed crude oil numbers like a hawk for various years and has predicted a decline occurring sometime around the year 2015 give or take one or two years (to follow his analysis please follow his blog that is Peak Oil Barrel). If this really materialises then we can say that if the reaction time is similar to the one before to crude oil production plateauing then we could expect a reaction to this decline in oil production sometime in 2018. Again though, this is merely speculation so it must be taken with a grain of salt. What should be noted in this is that we must look out for changes in trends AND then factor in the amount of time needed for the market to respond to these trends for the reaction is not going to be immediate especially if there are distortions in the pricing mechanisms of the commodity in question.  Plus as alluded to earlier the most important variable would be the turning points in total gross energy or better yet gross net energy which is likely to occur shortly after one another as demonstrated in the graph below:

As to zombies, resources wars etc. if there is a major die-off it seems to me there is a good probability those events will transpire in some shape or form. I can’t see how half the world’s population (or more) will die-off without some of them putting some kind of fight so I think if you believe in a die-off, be it fast or slow, then you need to believe the probability of war and zombies is highly likely. I don’t think it is really possible to have one without the other. If you think the two events are not mutually exclusive then you need to lay out how the die-off will occur in such a way those zombies or wars won’t occur. For such a die-off to go unnoticed it must be really slow. The only way I can see it going silently is if people slowly starve to death and die from the various diseases that come from chronic malnutrition. This chronic malnutrition could also act as a means of preventing people from rebelling and thus starting wars because they don’t have the energy to do so. It is not the scenario that is most likely to happen in my opinion but you are welcome to postulate alternate scenarios were people can slowly die. I will say mass die-offs that involve acute starvation of vast chunks of the population or death through wars would tend to suggest more mad Max type collapse scenarios. The other final possibility is you have a hybrid where certain sections of the world have slow collapses while others have fast collapses or flash crashes. If you think about it, everything is up in the air because it is still early days. We are only in the second decade of the 21st century. The Limits to Growth book still said the world economy would still be growing at this point in their standard run so really it would be a surprise to see fireworks just yet, but just because there are no fireworks does not mean there will be none.

To summarise, we cannot know for sure what will happen and we must recognise the fact that predicting the future especially the distant future is largely a fool’s game. Most people who engage in star seeing will look like fools. Remember that. The main things one can do is appreciate the uncertainty that is life and learn to live with it. It is this feeling of wishing for certainty, wishing for absolute control that contributed to some of the problems to begin with. All we can do is be humble, be honest about our shortcomings and observe the patterns that occur in nature closely and most important of all respect the laws of nature. If we observe the phenomenon that occur in nature we can build models that can give us a better understanding of the world around us which can be enough to offer a general idea of what to expect. However all models are flawed and do have their shortcomings so we must know acknowledge their weaknesses. As Ugo Bardi likes to say all models are wrong. I wouldn’t quite go as far to say that but I do like to use the analogy of a torch. Models are like torches they shed some light to the path ahead of us and make navigation somewhat easier. Some torches especially well built torches are better than others but ultimately no torch can show you the whole picture and most of your environment will still be shrouded in darkness. After all torches are no real substitutes for natural sunlight so the best we can do is acknowledge their shortcomings but use their small benefits to maximum use.

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