Roman Empire

And you thought Greece had a problem?

Off the keyboard of Norrman Pagett

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Published on Collapse of Industrial Civilization on July 29, 2015

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Discuss this areticle at the Energy Table inside the Diner

End_of_MoreWhile we might think of money as supporting our economy, only energy can support the solvency of a nation, and only surplus energy can fulfill the aspirations of its rulers and the desires of its citizens. Until the advent of the industrial revolution, and in particular the universal availability of cheap oil, that energy could only come from territory that could produce sufficient food and other essentials for any level of civilized living. We might ‘demand’ that our leaders provide new hospitals, schools, roads and all the other things that make life comfortable, but without the necessary surplus energy to do it, it is impossible. No political posturing or promises or taxation can change that.

Most deny it, but we live in an energy economy, not a money economy. Without the continually increasing forward thrust of energy input, no economy can exist in the context that we have become used to.

Not just the Greeks, but those charged with governing every nation on Earth, have lost sight of the fundamental law of collective survival: if a nation doesn’t produce enough indigenous surplus energy to support the demands of its people, they must beg, buy, borrow or steal it from somewhere else, or face eventual collapse and starvation until their numbers reach a sustainable level.

Our lifestyle support system has been based on that premise since prehistory. Nomadic tribesmen, probably in the region of present day Iraq, had the bright idea of fixing borders around land, then growing their food supply instead of chasing after it. Fences and borders meant land could be owned and given value that could be measured in energy terms.

What we know as civilization is based on that simple concept. Land and its potential energy became capital, and our genetic forces ensured it was exploited to the full. Primitive farmers knew nothing of calorific values, or capitalism; only that too little food meant starvation, sufficient food averted famines, and surplus food offered prosperity. No one wanted to starve, few were content with sufficient, so the drive for surplus became relentless. It still is; only the scale has changed, it has become the profit motive in everything we do. Everybody wants a payrise, few refuse one. We are all capitalists, we differ only by a matter of scale.

Enclosed land needed strong control and the will to fight for it. Strength prevailed while weakness went under as resource competition ebbed and flowed across tribal territories. If land produced enough spare food and other necessary commodities, it was possible to equip and feed an army, and use it to occupy more territory. In that way collective energy could rapidly roll up small territories into a nation or an empire, create warlords and kings, and give credence to gods who were invariably on the winning side.


Possession of land and what it produces is the hidden support of what we now understand as our economy and the viability of our infrastructure. Conflict makes that economy even more profitable and one that is built on power and aggression provides the potential for endless resource warfare, whether bloody or political. In 1941 Germany invaded Greece using the bloody version. In 2015 Greece is experiencing the political version. As a small weak country Greece lacks the resource strength to resist.

The more land that could be held and ruled, the more food-energy could be produced. Surplus energy that came in the form of meat and grain and timber was too big to carry around, so tokens of gold and silver became an accepted measure of energy value.

Different civilisations arose and used different monetary systems, but all broadly followed the pattern we are locked into now: those who controlled the land controlled the energy that supported the prevalent economy, whether primitive or sophisticated, warlike or peaceful. With sufficient surplus and a big enough labour force held in some kind of serfdom or dependency, tokenized energy could be diverted to pay for the construction of cities, castles and cathedrals. While the labour of men to build them, the allegiance of soldiers to guard them, and the faith of priests to pray over them might be bought with gold and silver, the system depended on a supply of food and basic commodities well above subsistence level, ultimately provided by the heat of the sun. That’s why the great early civilisations and empires began in the warm tropical and sub tropical regions of the world. And why Eskimos did not field armies, build cities, or inflict the hysteria of mass religion on themselves; they didn’t get enough sunshine to provide the energy resources.

That gave rise to the factors we still live with today: warm productive stable land sustains a bigger healthier population. People eat and procreate, need more sustenance, and demand that their leaders provide it, so the thrust of constant expansion is inevitable in order to feed them. This was as true for small farming settlements between the Tigris and the Euphrates, as it was for the Roman Empire. It was the force that drove the European industrial powers outwards to carve up Africa, the Americas and the Far East to give a privileged section of humanity a prosperity that has been unique in our history. Those of us who enjoy those privileges have lost sight of where they came from, and how fragile they are.

Consequently we are still locked into the same energy-hungry capitalist dynamic, only now we believe that money has not only been substituted for the energy that created it, it has replaced it. In most people’s minds, the illusion of money has supplanted tangible, hard resources. Energy is no longer regarded as necessary to sustain prosperity; we can print it, or better still, make it appear electronically.


Who needs oil? Keynesian economics says that perpetual growth will come through passing bits of coloured paper or plastic from hand to hand at an ever-faster rate.

The leaders of every advanced industrial nation are driven to promise this kind of ‘growth’ to their people, for no better reason than because there has always been growth, so our future will be growth driven too; they and we know no other way. We believe the lie that money itself has taken on an intrinsic worth of its own.

The Greeks fiddled their accounts, joined the EU and accepted the common currency of the Euro and the collective certainty of the money-driven nature of growth, at a time when oil was $25 a barrel. With oil so cheap, any concern about indigenous energy sources was irrelevant. They had a world class (oil dependent) shipbuilding and sea transport industry, and (oil dependent) tourism was booming. In the late 90s, when oil had fallen to $18 a barrel, they borrowed $11 billion to buy still more energy to burn in order to stage the 2004 Olympic games. Greek prosperity depended on infinite supplies of hydrocarbon fuel, but they followed the common belief in infinite money.

When the price of oil peaked in 2008, the crash was inevitable. The certainty that money represented wealth was destroyed by the price of oil, but they borrowed billions more to try to prove it hadn’t. Any reason was better than reality: that you can’t run a cheap energy economy on expensive energy.

The latest clutch of Greek politicos got themselves voted into office because they told the Greek people what they wanted to hear: that prosperity could be voted into office, as if the availability of indigenous energy within their borders was a matter of political choice. Alexis Tsipras believed the Keynesian fantasy and convinced himself that borrowed money put into endless circulation will generate wealth and ‘growth’. $11 billion spent on the now derelict Olympic stadium should have served as a warning, but it didn’t.


More ‘bailouts’ have been agreed; the Greeks will now settle back into their soporific lifestyle and the headline writers will find something more newsworthy. But the hammer of reality has only been lifted temporarily from the anvil of their economy. In a year or so, when the Greeks have spent their latest loan, it will crash down again, harder.

The Greeks are not money-bankrupt, they are energy-bankrupt.

But so is every other nation, to a greater or lesser degree. Saudi Arabia is in a worse state of energy bankruptcy than the poverty stricken Greeks, they just don’t know it yet.

A century ago, Greece had a population of around 5 million, and had only partially freed itself from control by the Ottoman Empire. Despite wars, revolution, hyperinflation and foreign occupation during the 20th century, it remained poor but largely self sufficient as a pastoral country. During that period, the population doubled, due in a large extent to reclaiming Turkish held territories in the early 20th century. In a worst-case scenario, if Greece defaults on its debts, and drops out of the EU and the European currency, 11 million Greeks will be left to feed themselves at a very basic level. They will have no choice but to fall back on a more primitive lifestyle, forgo the luxuries bought by oil consumption and live on the energy sources within their own borders. When they do that, their energy bankruptcy will disappear.

100 years ago, Arabia had a population of 1.5 million, and was also a region of the Ottoman Empire. The term Saudi had not been prefixed to it and the Gulf States did not exist. Their people were basically nomadic, with no concept of national identity, or civilization approaching the Greek level. Though under nominal control of the Turks, they were effectively protected by their hostile desert. Living was primitive, but like the Greeks, self sufficient on their terms.

Then in 1938 oil was found in Arabia, now the population is over 30 million. The current excesses of Saudi Arabia are too familiar to need recounting here. We’ve all watched the Saudis use their oil to build unsustainable cities in deserts, where previously there had been none. They have used their oil to suck finite water out of aquifers and desalinate seawater to maintain the fantasy of endless prosperity. They buy in every conceivable luxury and try to outdo each other with meaningless towers of vanity that they see as expressions of wealth and status. They build because they can, believing the economic nonsense that spending energy-based tokens, i.e. money, creates profit and wealth. Just like the vanity of the Greek Olympic venues, the glittering towers of Riyadh and Mecca and Jeddah are seen as a source of commercial prosperity that will deliver and provide cashflow long after the oilflow has dried up.


As the Greeks discovered when the energy flow stopped going into their arenas, they began to disintegrate. Without constant energy input, money embedded in concrete, glass and steel can only show a return if more money (energy) is constantly added to resist the ultimate certainty of entropy. No one has pointed out that while Saudi towers may be designed to last 100 years, the oil-energy that supports them will run out in less than 30, maybe as few as 20 years. (It has been suggested that Saudi might become an oil importer by 2030, though exactly where the imported oil will come from, or how it might be paid for, is not clear). Then the towers will start to fall apart just as the Saudi economy will fall apart because the oil-energy they use to fuel such vanities is borrowed from their own future. And they will have no means of repaying it; their creditors are not foreign bankers, but their own young and dispossessed. They will violently reject the certainty of a life as goat herders and camel traders if only for the reason that they wouldn’t know how.

Just like the Greeks they will demand that the lifestyle they know carries on unimpeded by the reality of energy shortage. They will try to borrow money to maintain it, with the same result. Bankruptcy on the Saudi scale will make the Greek version look like a small bank overdraft. Unlike Greece, the desert is hostile to human life at the current Saudi density, and needs constant input of food, water and air conditioning to survive 50o C summer heat.

11 million Greeks can feed themselves from their own land. 30 or 40 million Saudis are going to have to face the brutal truth that they can’t. The Saudis currently produce about 10 million barrels of oil a day, and they have to use one third of that to keep themselves alive and in the luxury they think they need. They have created an artificial existence entirely dependent on trading oil for food, and face a future of actual starvation, because there will not be sufficient surplus food energy available anywhere in the world to prevent it once the oil has gone. At current rates of growth their population is projected to reach 60 million by 2050 so between now and then a sudden and catastrophic end to the oil-excess is certain. That life-subsidy of one barrel of oil in three will rapidly disappear, with Saudi using constantly depleting oil to buy food at constantly increasing prices in a race to stay alive. Unemployable young men face a non-future where their luxurious privileges are stripped away by forces beyond their control and understanding. With the oilwells sucked dry, the US fleet will sail away from Bahrain, and discontent will manifest itself into riot. In perhaps only 10 or 15 years, Saudi Arabia as a viable nation will not have sufficient indigenous energy to prevent collapse. There will be nowhere to buy, beg, borrow or steal it from, and no oil for export. Which is where Greece is right now.

Since the oilwealth kicked in and the population exploded, Saudi now has a youth bulge in their population. 37% are under 14, 51% are under 25. Already the unemployment rate in the 16 to 29 age range is reported as 29%, possibly much higher. Of those with graduate level jobs, most have been absorbed by the public sector, with Shias being actively discriminated against by the dominant Sunnis. Jobs requiring technical skills are filled by foreign workers. Effectively this means that virtually all wages and unemployment benefits are paid out of oil revenues. This is where violent unrest will come from when the oil flow begins to dry up. Already Saudi has paid out $billions in freebies to pacify their unemployable young men, while maintaining the unreality of gasoline at 16c a liter, effectively using oil to subsidise itself.

With its oil wealth diminishing, Saudi is a ticking time bomb, split by religious factions and sectarianism, confined by repression at a medieval level and surrounded by religious zealots who see infidel industry being supported by the holy oil that rightfully belongs in the land of the prophet. Compared to that, Greece is an oasis of tranquility.

Masked Sunni gunmen pose for a photo during a patrol outside the city of Falluja April 28, 2014. Iraqi soldiers say they have been trapped in and around the western city of Ramadi. They say they have run low on tank shells, lack aerial cover and armoured vehicles, and have been hit by high casualties and desertion rates. In March and April, ISIL seized a dam in Fallujah, flooded farmland on the outskirts of Baghdad in Abu Ghraib, and drained offshoots of the Euphrates river; the Iraqi government evacuated the main prison for Sunni detainees in Abu Ghraib because of the ongoing clashes; and militants, thought to be from ISIL, bombed the country's oil pipeline to Turkey.  REUTERS/Stringer (IRAQ - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS CONFLICT) - RTR3MZIX

For a different energy/economy collapse scenario, move on to China.

There, energy is being locked into unusable real estate on a truly colossal scale, concentrated on building cities in places where there are no people to live in them. City after city is being constructed right across the country, creating an illusion of ‘Gross Domestic Product’, where officials can only achieve recognition by the rate at which infrastructure is built. A building without people in it is disregarded as irrelevant. 6 million people enter the Chinese job market every year. Construction creates employment, GDP means everything and urbanization targets must be reached.

Employment is the biggest thing for well-being. The government must not slacken on this for one moment … For us, stable growth is mainly for the sake of maintaining employment. Prime Minister Li Keqiang, November 2013

If an apartment block or shopping mall costs $10 million to build, then that is the ‘value’ of the building on the ledger of national prosperity. If it stands empty for years, the ‘value’ is somehow retained. In China, the motivation is different to that in Saudi Arabia or Greece, but there is the same determination to spend money on projects that are intended to deliver infinite commercial prosperity based on the imagined value of the building itself.

They are building dozens of fully functioning cities on the assumption that workers will show up to fill them. But of course those workers will need food as well as ongoing and permanent employment, which isn’t going to be there, so the ghost cities will not have the means to exist. The cities are where people are supposed to live, the countryside is where food is supposed to be produced.


But both need vast quantities of oil to function. At the current rate of growth of around 8% a year, by 2035 China will (in theory) be using the same volume of oil currently consumed in the world now. That won’t happen of course, because the world oil supply is the same for China as it is for Saudi Arabia, twenty years, maybe much less, no matter how much they buy in and hoard. The Chinese desperation for oil will become critical, just as Saudi exports begin to become unavailable. As supply tightens, so conflict over it will increase, thus restricting supply still further until conflict brings oil production to a virtual standstill. But the Chinese ‘ghost cities’, just like Saudi towers, are intended to last a hundred years.

The figures don’t add up; it’s arithmetic too frightening for most to contemplate. China is dependent on its ever increasing production system to generate new jobs. That drives suicidal pollution and insatiable resource consumption because like capitalist governments everywhere, growth must be prioritized over the environment. Growth without oil is impossible so while the ghost cities of China have a value according to government statistics, they produce nothing; and until they do, will have no value at all. Even if some workers do manage to occupy parts of the ghost cities, without oil there won’t be sufficient power to keep them functioning. Under the inflexible second law of thermodynamics, without constant energy input, entropy takes over and buildings begin to deteriorate from the moment they are completed.

Detroit has followed a different path to bankruptcy.

Detroit Ruins

Ruins at the abandoned Packard Automotive Plant (September 4, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan) serve as canvas for graffiti artists. 78,000 abandoned buildings are strewn across Detroit’s 142 square miles.

Whatever the causes of Detroit’s demise, and there can be said to be many, the overall picture is one of declining energy input. People moved out and no longer spent money on making the city a viable entity. The car plants closed, removing the need for people to be there, the loss of inhabitants removed their collective energy, and the city began to fall apart. The result is unequivocal: remove energy input, and any artifice declines, decays and collapses at an accelerating rate.

Detroit is a bankrupt microcosm of the USA: a nation of 330 million people built entirely on the capitalist system needing infinite expansion, drawing on finite energy borrowed from a future that is unsustainable.

America differs little from the disaster scenarios of Saudi Arabia and China. Finite water is being relentlessly pumped out of depleting aquifers, and finite hydrocarbon is being turned into fertilizer to produce food while cities are forced to grow in hostile deserts. The products of Detroit and cheap fuel allowed suburban sprawl to spread 50 miles out from city hubs across the nation because food and water could be delivered, sewage disposed of and climate altered to personal taste. Declining oil supply will render suburbia hostile to modern living as we know it; the local environment may look different, but the effect on human existence will be the same as the excesses of Saudi or China.

Saudi Arabia, China and America are examples of what our future is going to be. But every nation is promising itself a prosperous future while borrowing from it at an ever-increasing rate, making certain that it cannot exist.

The input of oil into national economics has not exempted humanity from the laws of physics. The trappings of civilization have not altered our fundamental rule of existence: whether your station in life is humble or exalted, if you don’t produce food from the earth on a personal basis, your life depends on someone, no matter how many stages removed, converting sunlight into food on your behalf. Not only that, it must be sold at a price you can afford within a stable environment. Essentially, civilization is just that. Remove it and most will starve while those with enough personal resilience will have no option but to revert to hunter gathering or even scavenging, because what we call civilization is as fragile as the oil it sits on. For the millions of homeless people living on the streets in our ‘civilised’ cities, civilization is over. For them there is little hope of a return to prosperity, with a good job, a warm home and security.

History shows that a radically destabilized environment results in war, famine, disease and death. Any one of those four can and will exacerbate the other three.

Our civilization is becoming increasingly unstable, and right now the four horsemen are getting restless.

In one hundred years time, would you prefer to be living in the United States, China, Saudi Arabia…..or Greece?

Death of Dreams, Death of Literature

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on January 16, 2015

Where have our dreams gone? The death of Western literature

The novel by Vladimir Dudintsev “Not by bread alone” was published in 1956 (*). It was a big hit in the Soviet Union with its criticism of the stagnating and inefficient Soviet ways. Together with other Russian authors, such as Vasily Grossman and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Dudintsev was part of a wave of novelists who tried to use literature to change the ways of society. That kind of approach seems to have withered out, both in the countries of the old Soviet Union and in the West.

Discuss this article at the Collapse Narratives Table inside the Diner

At some moment, between the second and the third century AD, the Latin literature died out in the Roman Empire. Not that people stopped writing; on the contrary, the late Western Roman Empire saw a minor revival of Latin Literature; it was just that they didn’t seem to have anything interesting to say any more.

If we consider the high times of the Empire, around the first century BC, it is likely that most of us would be able to come up with at least some names of literates of that time: poets such as Virgil and Horace, philosophers like Seneca, historians like Tacitus. But move to the late centuries of the Western Empire and chances are that you won’t be able to come up with any name, unless you read Gibbon and you remember that he cites the 4th century poet Ausonius to evidence the bad taste of those times. It seems that the Roman Empire had lost its soul much before having disappeared as a political organization.

Often, I have the impression that we are following the same path to collapse that the Roman Empire followed, but faster. Ask yourself this question: can you cite a recent (intended as less than – say – 10-20 years old) piece of literature that you think posterity will remember? (and not as an example of bad taste). Personally, I can’t. And I think that it could be said that literature in the Western world declined in the 1970s or so and that today is not a vital form of art any longer.

Of course, perceptions in these matters may be very different, but I can cite plenty of great novels published during the first half of the 20th century; novels that changed the way people looked at the world. Think of the great season of the American writers in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s; think of Hemingway, of Fitzgerald, of Gertrude Stein and many others. And of how American literature continued to produce masterpieces, from John Steinbeck to Jack Kerouac and others. Now, can you cite a later equivalent American writer? Think of a great writer such as John Gardner, who wrote in the 1970s and is today mostly forgotten. Something similar seems to have taken place on the other side of the Iron Curtain; where a number of gifted Soviet writers (Dudintsev, Grossman, Solzhenitsyn, and others) produced a literary corpus in the 1950s and 1960s that strongly challenged the Soviet orthodoxy and played a role in the fall of the Soviet Union. But there doesn’t seem to exist anything comparable any more in Eastern European countries that could compare with those novels.

It is not just a question of written literature; visual arts seem to have gone through the same withering process: think of Picasso’s Guernica (1937) as an example. Can you think of anything painted during the past few decades with an even remotely comparable impact? About movies, which ones were really original or changed our perception of the world? Maybe with movies we are doing better than with written literature; at least some movies didn’t go unnoticed, even though their literary merits are questionable. Think of  “The night of the living dead”, by George Romero, which goes back to1968 and has generated a tsunami of imitations. Think of “Star Wars” (1977), which shaped an entire strategic plan of the US military. But during the past decade or so, the film industry doesn’t seem to have been able to do better than hurling legions of zombies and assorted monsters to the spectators.

Not that we don’t have bestsellers any more, just as we have blockbuster movies. But can we produce anything original and relevant? It seems that we have gone the way the Roman Empire went: we cannot produce a Virgil any more, at best an equivalent of Ausonius.

And there is a reason for that. Literature, the great kind, is all about changing the reader’s view of the world. A great novel, a great poem, are not just about an interesting plot or beautiful images. Good literature brings forth a dream: the dream of a different world. And that dream changes the reader, makes her different. But, in order to perform this deed, the reader must be able to dream of a change. He must live in a society where it is possible, theoretically at least, to put dreams into practice. This is not always the case.

In the Roman Empire of the 4th and 5th century AD, the dream was gone. The Romans had retreated behind their fortifications and had sacrificed everything – including their freedom – in the name of their security. Poetry had become merely praising the rulers of the day, philosophy the compilation of previous works, and history a mere chronicle. Something like that is happening to us: where have our dreams gone?

But it is also  true that man doesn’t live by bread alone. We need dreams as much as we need food. And dreams are something that Art can bring to us, in the form of literature or other forms; it doesn’t matter. It is the power of dreams that can never disappear. If the Roman Literature had disappeared as an original source of dreams, it could still work as a vehicle for dreams coming from outside the empire. From the Eastern Border of the Empire, the cults of Mitrha and of Christ would make deep inroads into the Roman minds. In the early 5th century, in a southern provincial town besieged by barbarians, Augustine, the bishop of Hippo, completed his “The City of God”, a book that we still read today and that changed forever the concept of narrative, perhaps the first novel – in the modern sense – ever written. A few centuries later, when the Empire was nothing more than a ghostly memory, an unknown poet composed the Beowulf and, later still, the Nibelungenlied appeared. During this period, tales about a warlord of Britannia started to appear and would later coalesce into the Arthurian cycle, perhaps the core of our modern vision of epic literature.

So, the dream is not dead. Somewhere, at the edges of the empire, or perhaps outside of it, someone is dreaming a beautiful dream (**). Maybe she will write it down in a remote language, or maybe she will use the Imperial Language. Maybe he will use a different medium than the written word; we cannot say. What we can say is that, one day, this new dream will change the world.

(*) A brief comment on Dutintsev’s novel, which I bought and read in an English translation as a little exercise in cultural archeology. Read more than half a century after its release, it is difficult to see it as still “sensational” as it was described at that time in the Western press, which had clearly tried to cash an easy propaganda victory against the Soviet Union. As a novel, it is slow and overdrawn, although that may be a result of the Internet-caused attention deficit which affects most of us. In any case, the novel has defects. One is the protagonist, Dmitri Lopatkin, so heavily characterized as a perfect altruist to make him totally unbelievable as a real world person. But the book is still charming in its description of a Moscow, which is no more, but which remains perfectly recognizable, even though so much changed today. To see the characters of the book in action, you can watch the movie made in 2005. I already commented a short story by Dudintsev in this post.

 (**) From a group of remote islands known as Japan, a man has been producing one masterpiece movie after another; Hayao Miyazaki. To understand the decline of the Western forms of narrative, you have just to compare two animation movies which came out together in 2014: the nearly ignored  “The wind rises” by Miyazaki and the blockbuster “Frozen” by Walt Disney Studios. It is like comparing Augustine and Ausonius and the ongoing collapse of the Western Empire is all there. 


Off the keyboard of Jim Quinn

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Published on The Burning Platform on November 9, 2014

Discuss this article at the History Table inside the Diner

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


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


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“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.

The Emperor is Naked

Off the keyboard of RE

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on June 22, 2014


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Bonus Rant: IMF Hit Men

What passes for Geopolitical Policy in the FSoA has been pretty much the same ever since the Nixon Era, when folks like Henry Kissinger and Zbignew Bryzinsky first burst on the scene as the main mouthpieces of the Tri-Lateral commission charting out the future course of Empire for NATO in the post WWII period.  Basically everyone has always known this is a war for power and hegemony over Global Resources, primarily Oil, and the idea was to constrict the two other major powers Russia and China while monopolizing the resource base in the main area with the most Oil, the Middle East.

For a good long time since the 50s this WORKED too, puppet Goobermints were installed in places like Iraq and Iran, Syria and Egypt, and for so long as the energy came a bubblin’ up out of the ground as cheap and EZ as it did off Jed Clampett’s farm in Oklahoma over there in MENA.   Populations were mostly kept under control by the various Dictators and Strongmen propped up into power by NATO.

Things began going South with this plan with the overthrow of the Shah in the Islamic Revolution in 1979, but really picked up steam after Saddam Hussein got sent running when NATO dropped the Death From Above down on Iraq in Desert Storm.  Not coincidentally, Saddam took power in exactly the same year the Islamic Revolution took place in Iran, 1979.  At that time, Saddam was playing ball with NATO, and he served as a defense against Iraq walking down exactly the same Islamic path the Iranians took.

Things really began spinning out of control far as NATO was concerned when the Hoser Mubarak was overthrown as Dictator for Life in Egypt as a result of the Arab Spring protests and demonstrations that began in 2010.  He wasn’t the only one of course, the Wave of revolt spread all across MENA over the next few years.

By December 2013, rulers had been forced from power in Tunisia,[3] Egypt (twice),[4] Libya,[5] and Yemen;[6] civil uprisings had erupted in Bahrain[7] and Syria;[8] major protests had broken out in Algeria,[9] Iraq,[10] Jordan,[11] Kuwait,[12] Morocco,[13] and Sudan;[14] and minor protests had occurred in Mauritania,[15] Oman,[16] Saudi Arabia,[17] Djibouti,[18] Western Sahara,[19] and the Palestinian territories.

Why did all these places explode in violent revolution all around the same time?  The fuse was lit in Tunisia in 2010, by the self-immolation of a Tunisian Fruit Vendor.

The catalyst for the current escalation of protests was the self-immolation of Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi. Unable to find work and selling fruit at a roadside stand, on 17 December 2010, a municipal inspector confiscated his wares. An hour later he doused himself with gasoline and set himself afire. His death on 4 January 2011[61] brought together various groups dissatisfied with the existing system, including many unemployed, political and human rights activists, labor, trade unionists, students, professors, lawyers, and others to begin the Tunisian Revolution.[53]

Did the entire Region explode in Revolution all just because Mohamed Bouazizi torched himself?  Of course not, this just got the ball rolling, the problems in all these nations were systemic and were brought to the surface with the Financial Crisis of 2008 and subsequent crash in Oil Prices.

All of these countries in one way or the other are dependent on Oil Revenue, and with the cratering in the price of Oil that occurred at the end of 2008, money to run their Goobermints, import food and subsidize food prices, keep the Electricity on etc began to run thin.  On top of that, many of these places also were at the stage of becoming net Oil importers rather than Oil Exporters.

So the reason here for all the tumult becomes quite obvious, these Goobermints were simply out of money to keep their populations fed and comfortable, even if desperately poor in general.  Unlike here in the FSoA, these places do not have the ability to manufacture Credit in the form of FRNs to keep rolling a while longer; if they can’t earn the FOREX by selling Oil, they go broke.  Unless of course IMF Hit Men show up and offer up some loans for them to keep going, but why would they do that if they have no more resource left to exploit?

Which countries did NOT collapse into Failed State anarchy during this period?  Countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran which still DO have Oil left to export.

So what’s the problem here far as Happy Motoring in the FSoA is concerned?  Just forget these loser states that are outta gas and keep the Black Gold flowing from the ones left that still have some!  As you can see from the Kuwaiti and Iranian charts, there are a couple of problems with this idea.

First, the Desert Storm operation designed to KEEP the Oil flowing out of Kuwait took a HUGE hit during the operation itself, it is tough to keep Oil flowing out of a country that has Death From Above raining down on it every day.  This was however only a temporary problem at the time, and once NATO ejected Saddam from Kuwait and got him executed, the Kuwaities got right back to shipping Oil over here to the FSoA in return for Dollars from the perpetual credit laptop of then Fed Chairman Helicopter Ben Bernanke.

Second problem can be seen with the recent Sanctions against Iran, where the Mullahs and Ayatollahs who currently run that country have not been playing NATO ball for quite some time, but still have to an extent been doing BIZNESS with the Western Oil consuming countries selling their Oil to them in return for FRNs. Start dropping economic sanctions on them instead of dropping BOMBS, it has a similar effect which is to reduce the total amount of Oil coming into the pipeline for refinement into Gasoline for more Happy Motoring.

The Myth being promoted by Energy Shills here in the FSoA is that we can achieve Energy Independence by fracking the living shit out of formations like Bakken and Marcellus which have some “tight oil” left in them, along with still more Natural Gas.  This is Bullshit of Denali size proportions, if not K2 or Everest.  As you can see, the FSoA has a HUGE gap between how much it produces versus how much it consumes, and you’ll never frack up enough Oil to fill that gap.

Nor will you be able to continue to import enough to maintain this level of consumption, not with one after another countries which still produce some oil getting sucked in to the ongoing firestorm in MENA.

For now, Puppet Regimes in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait still ship plenty of Oil over to the FSoA for Happy Motoring, but these countries are all declining in production and more than that are subject to the same forces that are bringing down all their surrounding neighbors not so fortunate as themselves to still have a decent amount of Oil left underground at a cheap price to extract out.

As anarchy and mayhem spread through the neighborhood, it becomes ever more difficult for these countries to maintain control over their populations, and “terrorists” have a tendency to migrate around from one country to the next, with the potential always for blowing pipelines and wells and restricting supply flow through such actions.

So, even though the Illuminati could give a shit about Syrians who have no more Oil left to ship out, if they wanna keep the Oil flowing out of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, they have to “contain” the problem.  How do you contain such a problem?

Traditional answer to this is simply to roll in the Military Machine, drop down Death From Above and once the population has been “cleansed” of “terrorists”, install a Puppet Goobermint to run the country for you.  If said country has exportable energy, this can pay for itself, but once said country is OUTTA GAS, it becomes a huge money sink.  All the current military operations being run to maintain control over Iraq and Afghanistan are enormous money sinks, and probably overall net EROEI Negative, in that it costs more energy to keep a military machine operational in those places than they can ship out.  As of right now, it doesn’t look like NATO has either the resources, will or political clout necessary to run another full scale Desert Storm style operation to try and take control back over places like Syria and Iraq, so inevitably the mayhem currently ongoing in those countries will spread to the still sorta under control places like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

If this was the only problem faced here on keeping this Geopolitical farce running, the Emperor would only be about half naked now from the Waist Up, but of course it is not the only problem.  A problem as big or bigger is the ongoing conflict between NATO and Russia, centered in Ukraine which represents the main border state between West and East in Europe, and serves as a transit point for Ruskie energy to flow through to European consumers of that energy, who themselves are basically tapped out as far as further credit is concerned, particularly in the southern PIIGS nations.

On the European side, if they can’t keep Ruskie Gas flowing through Ukraine, they’ll be shivering in winter and have a real hard time keeping the Lights On.  On the Ruskie side, if they can’t keep Western credit flowing in to Mother Russia for further investment into extracting more energy and building more pipelines, they also will run into problems.  Even if you do still have energy in the ground, if you don’t have customers who can afford to pay for it or a way to get it to them, it is pretty worthless stuff.

The problem here which EVERYBODY KNOWS  is that the worth of everything here is based on the worth of the Dollar, which essentially is quite worthless at this point, it is just an exponentially increasing mountain of irredeemable debt that will never get paid off; USTs are worthless toilet paper and the Ruskies and Chinese both know this by now.  Vlad the Impaler over in Mother Russia is tired of getting pushed around by the folks who control credit creation in Europe and the FSoA, and along with the rest of the BRICS Nations they keep floating the balloon they they will pitch the Dollar and go it alone with their own system of credit.  Sergei Glaznyev, one of Putin’s Econ Advisors pitched the idea of a “Anti-Dollar Alliance“:

As summarized by VoR, in his article, published by Argumenty Nedeli, Putin’s economic aide and the mastermind behind the Eurasian Economic Union, argues that Washington is trying to provoke a Russian military intervention in Ukraine, using the junta in Kiev as bait. If fulfilled, the plan will give Washington a number of important benefits. Firstly, it will allow the US to introduce new sanctions against Russia, writing off Moscow’s portfolio of US Treasury bills. More important is that a new wave of sanctions will create a situation in which Russian companies won’t be able to service their debts to European banks.

According to Glazyev, the so-called “third phase” of sanctions against Russia will be a tremendous cost for the European Union. The total estimated losses will be higher than 1 trillion euros. Such losses will severely hurt the European economy, making the US the sole “safe haven” in the world. Harsh sanctions against Russia will also displace Gazprom from the European energy market, leaving it wide open for the much more expensive LNG from the US.

How plausible is it for Russia & China, along with the rest of the lesser BRICS nations to abandon the Dollar and the Western Illuminati Credit system?  ALL of their currencies, the Rouble, the Yen, the Real etc all derive their own value by being valued against the Dollar to begin with.  They can settle up in their own currencies, but those currencies still only hold value relative to their value to the Dollar, they have no real independent valuation other than that.

Besides that, in both cases these countries hold large quantities of USTs, which currently represent savings accumulated from years of energy sales and in the case of China, years of Slave Labor.  Crash the dollar, all those savings become worthless, so what then are the Chinese worth?  The Ruskies may still have worth because of some energy still left underground there, the Chinese have ZERO worth because their whole economy is dependent on mercantilism and selling toys to Amerikans for…DOLLARS!  The Ruskies can’t pick up the slack here as consumers of Chinese toys, they are basically broke and have a declining population base.

It is not impossible for a independent valuation of the Rouble and Renminby, but it would be quite difficult to achieve here, and most certainly the folks who control the current Credit system centered at the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland will fight this every step of the way.  These folks have been building this system of Credit going back at least to the 1500’s in the Medici Era, possibly quite further back than that through the Holy Roman Empire.  They won’t simply roll over and die here without a fight.

The Battle Lines are being drawn, but this is a battle no side can win.  Just about every scenario you can work through ends with a collapse of the monetary system, without a viable replacement in a world in deficit.  Right now, small players from individuals to small nation states are collapsing under the weight of the debt they have accumulated here through the Age of Industrialization.  Soon enough, this Bankruptcy will migrate from the periphery to the CORE, the BIS.  There is nobody out there big enough and solvent enough to bail out the BIS.  When the observation is finally made that these folks are well and truly NAKED, the Debt they hold is all IRREDEEMABLE Debt, the “System of the World” will undergo an irrevocable change.  This cannot be stopped, it is inevitable.

How will this finally play out?  Nobody knows for sure here.  Ugo Bardi from Resource Limits, Gail Tverberg from Our Finite World and me did some speculation on it in the last Collapse Cafe, but really, NOBODY KNOWS how it will all play out in the end.


How to Destroy a Civilization

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on May 14, 2014


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This is the third post of comments on the “NASA-funded paper” (a term that went viral) on societal collapse by Motesharrei, Rivas and Kalnay (MRK). In my first post on the subject, I noted some qualitative features of the model. In the second post I commented on the debate. Here, I am going more in depth in the structure of the model and I think I can show that the results of the MRK model are very general as they can be reproduced with a simpler model. In the end it IS possible to destroy a civilization by spending too much on non-productive infrastructures – such as the Moai of Easter Island (image above from Wikimedia, creative commons license)

Mathematical models may be a lot of fun, but when you use them to project the future of our civilization the results may be a bit unpleasant, to say the least. That was the destiny of the first quantitative model which examined the future of the world system; the well known “The Limits to Growth” study, sponsored by the Club of Rome in 1972. This study showed that if the world’s economy was run in a “business as usual” mode, then the only possible result was collapse.

This kind of unpleasant results is a feature of most models which attempt to foresee the long term destiny of our civilization. Not that it should be surprising considering the speed at which we are wasting our natural resources. Nevertheless, whenever these studies are discussed, they generate a lot of criticism and opposition. It is the result, mainly, of emotional reactions: there is nothing to do about that, it is the way the human mind works.

But let’s try to put aside emotions and examine a recent study by by Motesharrei, Rivas and Kalnay (MRK) on the destiny of human society that became known as the “NASA funded model” after a note by Nafeez Ahmed. The model has attracted much criticism (as usual) but it is worth looking at it with some attention because it highlights some features of our world which we should try to understand if we still think we can avoid collapsing (or at least mitigate it).

The MRK model has this specific feature: it divides humankind in two categories, “commoners” and “elites”, assuming that the first category produces wealth while the second doesn’t. In some assumptions, it turns out that the elite can completely drain all the resources available and bring society to an irreversible collapse, even though the resources are renewable and can reform the initial stock.

I think this is a very fundamental point that describes events which have happened in the past. As I noted in a previous post, it may describe how the Roman Empire destroyed itself by excessive military expenses (we may be doing exactly the same). Or, it may describe the collapse of the society of Easter Island, with a lot of natural capital squandered in building useless stone statues while putting a high strain on the available resources (the story may be more complex than this, but its main elements remain the same)

So, it looks like elites (better defined as “non productive elites”) may play a fundamental role in the collapse of societies. But how exactly can this be modeled? The MRK model does that using an approach that, as I noted earlier on, is typical of system dynamics, (even though they do not use the term in their paper). Not only that, but it is clearly a model in the style of those “mind sized” models which I had proposed in a paper of mine. The idea of mind sized models is to avoid a bane of most models – of all kinds – that of “creeping overparametrization”. Since, as a modeler, you are always accused that your model is too simple, then you tend to add parameters over parameters. The result is not necessarily more realistic, but surely you add more and more uncertainty to your model. Hence, the need for “mind-sized” models (a term that I attribute to Seymour Papert)

So, let me try to rework the MRK model; simplifying it a little and making it more streamlined. Instead of speaking of “elites” and “commoners”, let us speak of two different kinds of capital. One kind we call “productive”, the other “non productive”. Capital is the result of the exploitation of natural resources. “Productive” capital is the kind that leads to further exploitation and growth of the economy; the other kind is capital which is simply wasted.

Let me explain what I mean with the example of Easter Island’s economy, productive capital is the agricultural structure, while non-productive capital is the Moai building structure. Agriculture sustains people who cultivate more land. Moai building doesn’t do anything like that – it is a pure waste of resources and human labor. In our times, we can say that the productive capital is everything that exploits the available resources, from refineries to fishing boats. The non-productive capital is everything else, from private yachts to battle tanks.

So, can we build a model that includes these elements? Surely we can; here is a version of the model in the style of “mind sized” models. (done using the “Vensim” software).

The model is a streamlined version of the MRK model, where I added a “pollution” stock (missing in the MRK model) and where I simplified the productive cascade structure. It would take some time to explain the model in detail and there is not enough space here. If you want to go more in depth in this subject you can read my paper on “Sustainability” or this post of mine with the rather ambitious title of “peak oil, entropy, and stoic philosophy.” But, please, understand that the model, though very simplified, has a logic; what it does is to describe the degradation of the thermodynamic potential of the starting resources (the first box, up left) into a series of capital reservoirs which, eventually, dissipate it in the form of pollution. The “Ks” are constants which determine how fast capital flows from one stock to another. The arrows indicate feedback: we assume here, for instance, that the production of industrial capital is proportional to the size of both the resources and capital stocks.

Now, let’s go to the results obtained with some values of the parameters. Let’s take r1=0.25, k1=0.03, k2=0.075, k3=0.075, k4=0.05. The initial values of the stocks are, from top to bottom, 5, 0.1, 0.1, 0.01 – you may think of the stock as measured in energy units and the constants in energy/time units. With these assumptions, the model produces the same phenomenon that MRK had observed with their model. That is, you observe the irreversible collapse of the system, even though the natural resources reform, becoming abundant as at the beginning of the cycle.

You see? Producing and non-producing capital (which MRK calls “commoners” and “elites”) both go to zero and disappear. But note how the natural resources reform and return to their former value (actually higher than at the beginning!). This civilization had destroyed everything and won’t restart to accumulate capital again for a long, long time. Note also how these results depend on the assumption that non-producing capital cannot be turned into producing capital. It is maybe a drastic simplification, but it is also true that turning swords into plowshares is a nice metaphor, but not something easily done.

At this point, let me say that this post is just a sketch. I can tell you that it took me about 15 minutes to write the model; a few hours to test it, and about one hour to write this post. So, these considerations have no pretense to be anything definitive: the model needs to be studied much more in detail. When I have time (and as soon as I can fix my cloning machine) I would like to write a full paper on this subject (anyone among the readers would like to give me a hand? Maybe someone with a better cloning machine than mine?).

Nevertheless, even though these results are only preliminary, I think that the fact that the MRK results are so easily reproducible indicate that there is something there. They seem to have identified a feature that, so far, most models had neglected. Although you can always accumulate capital by exploiting natural resources, the final outcome depends a lot on how you spend it. The model tells us, for instance, that a popular recipe to “save the economy” by “stimulating consumption” may actually destroy it faster.

So, are we destroying ourselves because we are wasting our natural capital in useless tasks, from battle tanks to SUVs? (and lots of bureaucracy and an overblown financial system, too). Are we destroying our civilization by building these useless structures just as the Eastern Islanders destroyed themselves by building Moai statues? It is something we should think about.

Note 1: I think this model has a lot to do with Tainter’s idea of the “declining returns of complexity, if we take “complexity” to mean that lots of resources are used to build something that produces nothing. I already tried to model Tainter’s idea with a mind-sized model in a previous post of mine and I am sorry to see that Tainter didn’t like so much the MRK model. But I think it is mostly a question of different languages being used. If we work on communication, I think it is possible to find a lot of points of contact in the different approaches of modelers and historians.

Note 2. Doesn’t this model contradict the conclusions of my book “Extracted“, that is that our society is collapsing as a result of the depletion of mineral resources? No, it doesn’t. The parameters I used for the run shown here are chosen to reproduce the results of the MRK paper, which assumes that resources are fully renewable. You can run this model in the hypothesis that resources are NOT renewable, which is an assumption closer to our situation. In this case, the model will tell you that the system will collapse leaving unused a large fraction of these theoretically exploitable resources; the larger the more overblown the non-productive capital stock will turn out to be. This is something that I think is very relevant to our situation: we saw it happening with the financial crisis of 2008 and the next financial crisis, I believe, will generate again this effect. (h/t Tatiana Yugay)  

Held Hostage by Progress

Off the keyboard of John Michael Greer

Published on The Archdruid Report on July 17, 2013


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The continual recycling of repeatedly failed predictions in the peak oil community, the theme of last week’s post here, is anything but unique these days. Open a copy of today’s newspaper (or the online equivalent), and it’s a safe bet that you’ll find at least one op-ed piece calling enthusiastically for the adoption of some political, military, or economic policy that’s failed every single time it’s been tried. It’s hard, in fact, to think of any broadly accepted policy in any dimension of public life today that can’t be accurately described in those terms.
Arnold Toynbee, whose sprawling study of historical cycles is among the constellations by which this blog navigates, pointed out quite some time ago that this process of self-inflicted failure is one of the standard ways that civilizations write their own obituaries. In his formulation, societies thrive so long as the creative minority that leads them can keep on coming up with new responses to the challenges the world throws their way—a process that normally requires the regular replacement of the society’s leadership from below, so that new leaders with new ideas can rise to the top.
When that process of replacement breaks down, and the few people who still rise into the ruling class from lower down the pyramid are selected for their willingness to go along with the status quo rather than for their commitment to new ideas that work, what was once a creative minority degenerates into a dominant minority, which rules by coercion because it can no longer inspire by example. You can tell that this has happened to your society when every crisis gets met with the same stereotyped set of responses, even when those responses clearly don’t work. That happens because dominant minorities identify themselves with certain policies, and with the social roles and narratives that go with those policies, and it takes much more than mere failure to shake those obsessions loose.
The resulting one-track thinking can go very far indeed.  The ideology of the Roman Empire, for example, copied the theological vision of Roman Pagan religion and projected it onto the world of politics. Roman Pagans saw the universe as a place of chaotic powers that had to be subjected to the benevolent rule of a cosmic paterfamilias by way of Jove’s thunderbolts. Roman social thought understood history in the same way, as a process by which an original state of chaos was bashed into obedience by Rome’s legions and subjected to the benevolent rule of the emperor.  For much of Rome’s imperial history, that model even made a certain amount of sense, as substantial parts of the Mediterranean world that had been repeatedly ravaged by wars beforehand experienced an age of relative peace and prosperity under Roman rule.
The problem was simply that this way of dealing with problems had little relevance to the pressures that gutted the Roman Empire in its final years, and trying to apply it anyway very quickly turned into a massive source of problems in its own right. The endless expansion of the Roman military required by increasingly drastic attempts to hammer the world into obedience imposed crippling tax burdens across Roman society, driving whole economic sectors into bankruptcy, and the government responded to this by passing laws requiring every man to practice the same profession as his father, whether he could afford to do so or not. Across the dying empire, whenever one extension of centralized imperial authority turned into a costly flop, some even more drastic act of centralization was the only thinkable option, until finally the whole system fell to pieces.
Modern industrial civilization, especially but not only in its American expression, is well on its way to this same destination by a slightly different road. Across the board, in politics, in economics, in energy policy, in any other field you care to name, the enthusiastic pursuit of repeatedly failed policies has become one of the leitmotifs of contemporary life.  I’d like to focus on one of those briefly, partly because it’s a classic example of the kind, partly because it shows with rare clarity the thinking that underlies the whole phenomenon. The example I have in mind is the ongoing quest for fusion power.
Scientists in the US and something like a dozen other countries have been busy at that quest since the 1950s. In the process, they’ve discovered something well worth knowing about fusion power:  if it can be done at all, on any scale smaller than a star—and the jury’s still out on that one—it can’t be done at a price that any nation on Earth can possibly afford.  The dream of limitless cheap fusion power that filled the pages of gosh-wow newspaper articles and science fiction stories in the 1950s and 1960s is thus as dead as a sack full of doornails. Has this stopped the continuing flow of trillions of dollars of grant money into round after futile round of gargantuan fusion-power projects? Surely you jest.
Thus fusion researchers are stuck in the same self-defeating loop as those peak oil mavens who repeat the same failed prediction for the umpteenth time in a row, in the serene conviction that this time it’ll come true.  They’re approaching the situation in a way that prevents them from learning from their mistakes, no matter how many times the baseball bat of failure whacks them upside the head. In the case of the fusion scientists, what drives that loop is evident enough:  the civil religion of progress and, in particular, the historical mythology at the core of that religion.
Fusion researchers by and large see themselves as figures standing at the cutting edge of one important branch of techological progress. Given their training, their history, and the cultural pressures that surround them and define their work, it’s all but impossible for them to do anything else. That’s what has them boxed into a dead end with no easy exits, because the way progress is conceptualized in contemporary culture is fatally out of step with the facts on the ground.
Progress, as the word literally means, is continued forward motion in one direction. To believers in the civil religion of progress, that’s the shape of history:  whatever it is that matters—moral improvement, technological prowess, economic expansion, or what have you—marches invincibly onward over time, and any setbacks in the present will inevitably be overcome in the future, just as equivalent setbacks in the past were overcome by later generations.  To join the marching legions of progress, according to the myth, is to enlist on the side of history’s winners and to help the inevitable victory come about just that little bit sooner, just as to oppose progress is to fight valiantly in a misguided cause and lose.
That’s the myth that guides contemporary industrial society, just as the myth of Jupiter clobbering the Titans and imposing the rule of law on a fractious cosmos was the myth that guided Roman society. In the broadest sense, whether any given change is “progressive” or “regressive” has to be settled by good old-fashioned politics, since changes don’t arrive with these labels branded on their backsides. Once a group of people have committed themselves to the claim that a change they’re trying to bring about is progressive, though, they’re trapped; no matter what happens, the only action the myth allows them to consider is that of slogging gamely onwards under the conviction that the obstacles will inevitably give way if they just keep at it. Thus the fusion research community is stuck perpetually pushing on a door marked PULL and wondering why it won’t open.
Of course fusion researchers also have deeply pragmatic reasons for their refusal to learn the lessons of repeated failure. Careers, reputations, and multimillion-dollar grants depend on keeping up the pretense that further investment in fusion research has any chance of producing something more than a collection of vastly overpriced laboratory curiosities, and the field of physics is so specialized these days that shutting down fusion research programs would leave most fusion researchers with few marketable job skills relevant to anything this side of flipping burgers. Thus the charade goes on, funded by granting agencies just as committed to that particular corner of the myth of progress as the researchers whose salaries they pay, and continuing to swallow vast amounts of money, resources, and intellectual talent that might accomplish quite a bit if they could be applied to some less futile task.
The fusion research community, in effect, is being held hostage by the myth of progress. I’ve come to think that a great deal of contemporary science is caught in the same bind.  By and large, the research programs that get funding and prestige are those that carry forward existing agendas, and the law of diminishing returns—which applies to scientific research as it does to all other human activities—means that the longer an existing agenda has been pursued, the fewer useful discoveries are likely to be made by pursuing it further.  Yet the myth of progress has no place for the law of diminishing returns; in terms of the myth, every step along the forward march of progress must lead to another step, and that to another still.  This is why, to glance briefly at another example, efforts to craft a unified field theory out of Einsteinian relativity and quantum physics still get ample funding today, despite a century of total failure, while scores of research projects that might actually yield results go unfunded.
It does no good to science, in other words, to be imprisoned within the myth of endless linear progress. I’ve wondered more than once what modern science would look like if some philosophical equivalent of a SWAT team were to kick down the doors of the temple of Progress and liberate the hostages held inside. My best guess is that, freed from the myth, science would look like a tree, rather than a road leading into infinite distance:  rooted in mathematics and logic, supported by the strong trunk of the scientific method, extending branches, twigs and leaves in all directions, some of which would thrive while others would inevitably fail. Its leaves would spread out to catch as many of the rays of the light of truth as the finite nature of the tree allowed, but if one branch—the one called “fusion research,” let’s say—strayed into a lightless zone, the tree of science would direct its resources elsewhere and let that branch turn into a dry stick.
Eventually, the whole tree would reach its maximum growth, and after a lifespan of some centuries or millennia more, it would weaken, fail, and die, leaving its remains as a nurse log to nurture a new generation of intellectual saplings. That’s the way that Greek logic unfolded over time, and modern science started out its existence as one of the saplings nurtured on classical logic’s vast fallen trunk. More generally, that’s history’s way with human intellectual, cultural, and artistic systems of all kinds, and only the blinders imposed by the myth of progress make it impossible for most people in today’s industrial world to see science in the same terms.
That same logic is not restricted to science, either.  If some force of philosophers packing high-caliber syllogisms and fallacy-piercing ammunition ever does go charging through the door of the temple of Progress, quite a few people may be startled by the identity of some of the hostages who are led out blinking into light and freedom. It’s not just the sciences that are tied up and blindfolded there; nearly all the Western world’s religions share the same fate.
It’s important here to recognize that the myth of progress provides two potential roles for those who buy into its preconceptions. As noted earlier in this post, they can join the winning side and enlist in the marching legions of progress, or they can join the losing side, struggle against progress, and heroically fail. Both those roles are necessary for the enactment of the myth, and the raw power of popular culture can be measured in the ease with which nearly every religious tradition in the Western world, including those whose traditions are radically opposed to either one, have been pushed into one role or the other. The major division is of course that between liberal and conservative denominations; the former have by and large been reduced to the role of cheerleaders for progress, while the latter have by and large been assigned the corresponding role as cannon fodder for the side that’s destined to lose.
The interplay between the two sides of the religious spectrum has been made rather more complex by the spectacularly self-defeating behavior of most North American denominations following the Second World War. In those years, a series of wildly popular books—John A.T. Robinson’s Honest to God, Pierre Berton’s The Comfortable Pew, and others of the same kind—argued in effect that, in order to be properly progressive, Christian churches ought to surrender their historic beliefs, practices, and commitments, and accept whatever diminished role they might be permitted by the mainstream of liberal secular society.  Some of these books, such as Robinson’s, were written by churchmen; others, such as Berton’s, were not, but all of them were eagerly received by liberal churches across the English-speaking world.
The case of The Comfortable Pew is particularly intriguing, as the Anglican Church of Canada hired a well-known Canadian atheist to write a book about what was wrong with their church and what they should do about it, and then gamely took his advice.  Other denominations were not quite so forthright in expressing a death wish, but the results were broadly similar.  Across the board, liberal churches reworked seminary programs to imitate secular liberal arts degrees, abandoned instruction in religious practice, took up the most radical forms of scriptural criticism, and redefined their clergy as amateur social service providers and progressive activists with a sideline in rites of passage. Since most people who go to churches or synagogues are there to practice their religion, not to provide their clergy with an admiring audience for political monologues and lessons in fashionable agnosticism, this shift was promptly followed a steep plunge in the number of people who attended services in all the liberal denominations. Here again, the logic of progress made it all but impossible for church leaders to learn the lesson taught by failure, and most liberal denominations have remained in a death spiral ever since.
Meanwhile, conservative denominations were busy demonstrating that the opposite of one bad idea is usually another bad idea. Panicked by the global expansion of Communism—you rarely heard that latter word in American public discourse in the 1950s and 1960s without the adjective “godless” tacked on its front end—and the sweeping social changes triggered by postwar prosperity, the leaders of the conservative denominations moved as eagerly as their liberal counterparts to embrace the role that the myth of progress offered them. Along with William F. Buckley and the other architects of postwar American pseudoconservatism, they redefined themselves in opposition to the progressive agenda of their time, and never seemed to notice that they were so busy standing against this, that, and the other that most of them forgot to stand for anything at all.
The social pressure to conform to stereotypes and resist progress in every sense drove the weirdest dimension of late 20th century American Christian pseudoconservatism, the holy war against Darwinian evolution. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that the luminous poetry of the first chapter of Genesis must be treated as a geology textbook, nor is a literal reading of Genesis mandated by any of the historic creeds of the Christian churches. Nonetheless “Thou shalt not evolve” got turned into an ersatz Eleventh Commandment, and devout Christians exercised their ingenuity to the utmost to find ways to ignore the immense and steadily expanding body of evidence from geology, molecular biology, paleontology, and genetics that backed Darwin’s great synthesis. That and such sideshows as the effort to insist on the historical reality of the Noah’s ark story, despite conclusive geological evidence disproving it, crippled the efforts of conservative Christians to reach outside their existing audience.
The conservative denominations never quite managed to discard their historic beliefs, practices and commitments with the same enthusiasm shown by their liberal counterparts, preferring to maintain them in mummified form while political activism took center stage; still, the result was much the same.  Today, the spokespersons for conservative religious denominations in America speak and act as though reinstating the mores and politics that America had in the late 1940s has become the be-all and end-all of their religion. In response, a growing number of former parishioners of conservative denominations have withdrawn into the rapidly growing Home Church movement, in which families meet in living rooms with their neighbors to pray and study the Bible together. If that trend accelerates, as it appears to be doing, today’s conservative megachurches may soon turn into cavernous spaces visited once a week by a handful of retirees, just like the once-bustling liberal churches across the road.

The hijacking of religious institutions by the competing civil religion of progress has thus turned out to be a disaster on both sides of the political divide.  The distortions imposed on religion, once it was taken hostage by the myth of progress, thus correspond closely to the distortions imposed on science during its own imprisonment by the same myth. As the civil religion of progress begins to lose its grip on the collective imagination of our time, in turn, both science and religion thus will have to undergo a difficult process of reappraisal, in which many of the mistaken commitments of recent decades will need to be renegotiated or simply abandoned. Harrowing as that process may be, it may just have an unexpected benefit—a negotiated truce in the pointless struggle between science and religion, or even a creative rapprochement between these two distinct and complementary ways of relating to the universe. I’ll discuss these possibilities in next week’s post.

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My new book, Abolish Oil Now, will talk about why the climate movement has failed and what we can do [...]

A new climate protest movement out of the UK has taken Europe by storm and made governments sit down [...]

The success of Apollo 11 flipped the American public from skeptics to fans. The climate movement nee [...]

Today's movement to abolish fossil fuels can learn from two different paths that the British an [...]

Top Commentariats

  • Our Finite World
  • Economic Undertow

THANK YOU Ed, Gail and Xabier for your well wishes I really appreciated them I now have had the test [...]

In reply to Tim Groves. but okay, we all filter information through our minds in imperfect ways, so [...]

In reply to Lidia17. These teachers may be protesting themselves out of a future career. Remember Ro [...]

In reply to Robert Firth. Anne of Cleves may have been a bloke, Robert. Henry and Anne never consumm [...]

In reply to Tim Groves. new PC... cool. it must be... bAU tonight, baby! [...]

Steve seeing as how this is reante's fourth in a row, lemme know if I'm posting up too muc [...]

Hey Steve what do you think if the idea that the 1K/mo digital UBI for US citizens 18 and older (plu [...]

Who was it who used to argue here years ago about how much fat could be cut from the system? Was it [...]

Independent to me means non-commercial. They may sell half or full beefs and five or ten ton of hay [...]

Independent producers? Capitalism will make short work of them just as they did of all of the family [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

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Simplifying the Final Countdown

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Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

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Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

Discuss this article @ the ECONOMICS TABLE inside the...

Singularity of the Dollar

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Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

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Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

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Merry Doomy Christmas

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Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

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Collapse Fiction

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Technical Journals

This study was designed to identify trends in maximum, minimum, and average air temperatures in the [...]

Cultural sites are particularly important to Indigenous peoples, their identity, cosmology and socio [...]

Globally, subtropical circulation in the lower troposphere is characterized by anticyclones over the [...]

Numerical models are being used for the simulation of recent climate conditions as well as future pr [...]