Tanto Magis Omnia

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Published on the Economic Undertow on January 30, 2017

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Why man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves

— William Shakespeare

The Colosseum in Rome was named for a gigantic portrait statue of Nero commissioned by the emperor in AD 64 to commemorate … himself. It stood within the Domus Aurea, a 300 acre complexes of palaces, gardens and pavilions Nero ordered built at public expense not far from the old Republican Forum, between the Palatine and Esquiline hills. The Domus’ occupied what was previously a residential district for Roman elites adjacent to a marshy lowland. The grounds can be compared to another marshy lowland favored of the elites, the National Mall in Washington, DC. At 309 acres, the two compounds are not entirely identical: one was intended to be as a tourist attraction, the other, a playground for a single person,.

As for the Domus …

… Its size and splendor will be sufficiently indicated by the following details. Its vestibule was large enough to contain a colossal statue of the emperor a hundred and twenty feet high; and it was so extensive that it had a triple colonnade a mile long. There was a pond too, like a sea, surrounded with buildings to represent cities, besides tracts of country, varied by tilled fields, vineyards, pastures and woods, with great numbers of wild and domestic animals. In the rest of the house all parts were overlaid with gold and adorned with gems and mother-of‑pearl. There were dining-rooms with fretted ceilings of ivory, whose panels could turn and shower down flowers and were fitted with pipes for sprinkling the guests with perfumes. The main banquet hall was circular and constantly revolved day and night, like the heavens. He had baths supplied with sea water and sulfur water. When the edifice was finished in this style and he dedicated it, he deigned to say nothing more in the way of approval than that he was at last beginning to be housed like a human being.





— Suetonius




The pond was supplied with water from an aqueduct built for the purpose and surrounded with its own colonnade. The rotating hall and other features were said to be powered by a water wheel. The 400 rooms were arranged on two floors as a kind of maze intended for banquets and entertainments, there are no signs of any sleeping quarters. Nero did not live there but in another palace on the Quirinal Hill.

Rooms were built with 30- foot vaulted ceilings, were lit with skylights and clerestories, decorated with frescoes, elaborate mosaics, fountains and grottoes. The complex was constructed largely of brick and Roman concrete then finished over with marble, alabaster and other colorful stones. Nero’s statue might have been the largest cast bronze artwork of ancient times, exceeding the by-then destroyed Colossus at Rhodes. By comparison, New York’s Statue of Liberty rises one hundred and fifty-one feet from her metal base to the torch. Lady Liberty was built like a car or a washing machine in a factory, assembled from hammered copper sheets riveted together onto an iron armature. Nero’s sculpture was cast in sections which were then braze-welded together and hoisted onto its base. It was a marvel of Roman artistry and craft; the techniques needed to make large castings were lost and forgotten for over 1,200 years until they were reinvented by Donatello in the early half of the fifteenth century.

Nero was a appealing public figure at the beginning of his reign, because of his youth and his informal demeanor. He was an entertainer who was obsessed with his own popularity

Not content with showing his proficiency in these arts at Rome, he went to Achaia, as I have said, influenced especially by the following consideration. The cities in which it was the custom to hold contests in music had adopted the rule of sending all the lyric prizes to him. These he received with the greatest delight, not only giving audience before all others to the envoys who brought them, but even inviting them to his private table. When some of them begged him to sing after dinner and greeted his performance with extravagant applause, he declared that “the Greeks were the only ones who had an ear for music and that they alone were worthy of his efforts.”





While he was singing no one was allowed to leave the theater even for the most urgent reasons. And so it is said that some women gave birth to children there, while many who were worn out with listening and applauding, secretly leaped from the wall since the gates at the entrance were barred, or they feigned death and were carried out as if for burial. The trepidation and anxiety with which he took part in the contests, his keen rivalry of his opponents and his awe of the judges, can hardly be credited. As if his rivals were of quite the same station as himself, he used to show respect to them and try to gain their favor, while he slandered them behind their backs, sometimes assailed them with abuse when he met them, and even bribed those who were especially proficient.

— Suetonius




As he grew into maturity, Nero was consumed by his insecurities, his crimes were many, there were no checks upon his viciousness and greed. The Domus was built in an area that had been ravaged the great fire of 64:

When someone in a general conversation said: “When I am dead, be earth consumed by fire;” Nero rejoined “Nay, rather while I live,” and his action was wholly in accord. For under cover of displeasure at the ugliness of the old buildings and the narrow, crooked streets, he set fire to the city so openly that several ex-consuls did not venture to lay hands on his chamberlains although they caught them on their estates with tow and fire-brands, while some granaries near the Golden House, whose room he particularly desired, were demolished by engines of war and then set on fire because their walls were of stone. For six days and seven nights destruction raged, while the people were driven for shelter to monuments and tombs. At that time, besides an immense number of dwellings, the houses of leaders of old were burned, still adorned with trophies of victory, and the temples of the gods vowed and dedicated by the kings and later in the Punic and Gallic wars, and whatever else interesting and noteworthy had survived from antiquity. Viewing the conflagration from the tower of Maecenas and exulting, as he said, in “the beauty of the flames,” he sang the whole of the “Sack of Ilium,” in his regular stage costume. Furthermore, to gain from this calamity too all the spoil and booty possible, while promising the removal of the debris and dead bodies free of cost he allowed no one to approach the ruins of their own properties; and from the contributions which he not only received, but even demanded, he nearly bankrupted the provinces and exhausted the resources of individuals.





— Suetonius




Nero was known to disguise himself then go out into the city at night and rob passersby, also break into houses and shops and steal the contents which he would later sell in the palace. These encounters were often violent so that soldiers were sent to follow behind at a discrete distance and rescue the emperor from those who fought back.

Then, it became notorious that the depredator was the Caesar; outrages on men and women of rank increased; others, availing themselves of the license once accorded, began with impunity, under the name of Nero, to perpetrate the same excesses with their own gangs; and night passed as it might in a captured town. Julius Montanus, a member of the senatorial order, though he had not yet held office, met the emperor casually in the dark, and, because he repelled his (Nero’s) offered violence with spirit then recognized his antagonist and asked for pardon, was forced to commit suicide, the apology being construed as a reproach.





— Tacitus




Nero was suspected of conspiring with his mother to murder by poison his step-father, the emperor Claudius. It is possible the youthful Nero was not involved directly, but he became emperor as a consequence and was thereby an accessory. He later grew weary of his mother’s interference and had her put to death after a brutal ordeal; he also murdered his half-brother, also the daughter of Claudius by his second wife (Claudius had four wives); Nero also killed his own two wives along with the husband of the first so as to gain access to her; also a man who was his mother’s lover; also his first cousin and maternal second cousin along with that individual’s widow, children and father-in-law. Nero did away with many servants including long-time tutors and advisors, Seneca, and possibly Sextus Burrus, his military aide. Due to his insatiable need for funds he used the plot of Gaius Calpurnius Piso as an opportunity to murder hundreds of distinguished Romans; their wives, children, even their servants in order to confiscate their properties, he also murdered ordinary citizens.

Nero needed the money because of his stupendous wastefulness …

Accordingly he made presents and wasted money without stint. On Tiridates though it would seem hardly within belief, he spent eight hundred thousand sesterces a day, and on his departure presented him with more than a hundred millions. He gave the lyre-player Menecrates and the gladiator Spiculus properties and residences equal to those of men who had celebrated triumphs. He enriched the monkey-faced usurer Paneros with estates in the country and in the city and had him buried with almost regal splendor. He never wore the same garment twice. He played at dice for four hundred thousand sesterces a point. He fished with a golden net drawn by cords woven of purple and scarlet threads. It is said that he never made a journey with less than a thousand carriages, his mules shod with silver and their drivers clad in wool of Canusium, attended by a train of Mazaces and couriers with bracelets and trappings.





— Suetonius




Nero gave himself over entirely to debauchery and vice.

Besides abusing freeborn boys and seducing married women, he debauched the vestal virgin Rubria. The freed-woman Acte he all but made his lawful wife, after bribing some ex-consuls to perjure themselves by swearing that she was of royal birth. He castrated the boy Sporus and actually tried to make a woman of him; and he married him with all the usual ceremonies, including a dowry and a bridal veil, took him to his house attended by a great throng, and treated him as his wife. And the witty jest that someone made is still current, that it would have been well for the world if Nero’s father Domitius had had that kind of wife.





— Suetonius




All of this and more were paid for out of the Treasury then extracted with increased violence by the tax collectors.

In point of extravagance and notoriety, the most celebrated of the feasts was that arranged by Tigellinus; which I shall describe as a type, instead of narrating time and again the monotonous tale of prodigality. He constructed, then, a raft on the Pool of Agrippa, and superimposed a banquet, to be set in motion by other craft acting as tugs. The vessels were gay with gold and ivory, and the oarsmen were catamites marshaled according to their ages and their libidinous attainments. He had collected birds and wild beasts from the ends of the earth, and marine animals from the ocean itself. On the quays of the lake stood brothels, filled with women of high rank; and, opposite, naked harlots met the view. First came obscene gestures and dances; then, as darkness advanced, the whole of the neighboring grove, together with the dwelling-houses around, began to echo with song and to glitter with lights. Nero himself, defiled by every natural and unnatural lust had left no abomination in reserve with which to crown his vicious existence; except that, a few days later, he became, with the full rites of legitimate marriage, the wife of one of that herd of degenerates who bore the name of Pythagoras. The veil was drawn over the imperial head, witnesses were dispatched to the scene; the dowry, the couch of wedded love, the nuptial torches, were there: everything, in fine, which night enshrouds even if a woman is the bride, was left open to the view.





— Tacitus




Nero was a coward, he never led an army in battle, nor was the Empire expanded during his rule. The Romans waged an on-again, off-again war against the Parthians in Armenia (eastern Turkey). An uprising by Boudica in Celtic Britain was triggered by oppressive taxation and cruel Roman administration

To all the disasters and abuses thus caused by the prince there were added certain accidents of fortune; a plague which in a single autumn entered thirty thousand deaths in the accounts of Libitina; a disaster in Britain, where two important towns were sacked and great numbers of citizens and allies were butchered; a shameful defeat in the Orient, in consequence of which the legions in Armenia were sent under the yoke and Syria was all but lost.





— Suetonius




The legions ultimately prevailed in both places, Boudica’s army was scattered and she committed suicide. The Parthians withdrew and Armenia remained a Roman client.

I may fairly include among his shows the entrance of Tiridates into the city. He was a king of Armenia, whom Nero induced by great promises to come to Rome; and since he was prevented by bad weather from exhibiting him to the people on the day appointed by proclamation, he produced him at the first favorable opportunity, with the praetorian cohorts drawn up in full armor about the temples in the Forum, while he himself sat in a curule chair on the rostra in the attire of a triumphing general, surrounded by military ensigns and standards. As the king approached along a sloping platform, the emperor at first let him fall at his feet, but raised him with his right hand and kissed him. Then, while the king made supplication, Nero took the turban from his head and replaced it with a diadem, while a man of praetorian rank translated the words of the suppliant and proclaimed them to the throng. From there the king was taken to the theater, and when he had again done obeisance, Nero gave him a seat at his right hand.





— Suetonius




Given a little time it is likely Nero would have put on the bridal veil and wed the king of Armenia, the dowry was already paid. And yet, the ordinary Romans were satisfied with their emperor, whose outrages were directed toward others, whose vices were to them only rumors. The plots against Nero rose from the elites, whom he prosecuted with increased ferocity until he was undone by bad luck: besides pestilence, there were damaging storms and food shortages. Rome was entirely dependent upon grain shipments from the provinces particularly Egypt. Interruptions for any reason held serious consequences. As belts were tightened, Nero’s popularity with the ordinary citizens evaporated:

When another rebellion arose in the western provinces he ignored the warnings, seeming at first not to take them seriously. After a delay of some days, during which he was abandoned by his courtiers and bodyguards, he fled to the house of a servant in a nearby suburb. Declared a public enemy by the Senate, he committed suicide to avoid being beaten to death in the Forum. He was 32.

Nero was in office for fourteen years, which seems to suggest his reign was successful; he was not deified afterward which suggests it was not. Leaving aside the epidemic and famine, it is likely the better classes of Rome had grown anxious of his vanity and licentiousness; the constant demands of the tax collectors; also the debasement of the currency and persecutions and murders. Nero’s follies did not bring the empire to a end or even lead to it; ironically his vast money-waste stimulated the Roman economy … there were no other places for the funds to go outside of the empire. Over the course of the following year, Nero was succeeded by three mediocrities; Galba, Otho and Vitellius; the fourth, Vespasian, was at least competent.

The Domus was a public reminder of Nero’s excesses, within a decade it was stripped of its decorations and partly abandoned to the bats and wild dogs. Parts of the building were used as storerooms or as stables. The pond was drained to allow for the foundations of the enormous amphitheater built in its place. Other parts of the palace were built over or became dumping grounds for garbage and rubble left over from earthquakes and building demolition. It was this accretion of structures and material that preserved the remains of the Domus that can be seen today …

Vespasian removed Nero’s likeness from the Colossus and fitted it a new head representing the Roman sun god; later Hadrian moved the statue to allow construction of the new temple of Venus and Rome on the original site. The triumphal arch of Titus and the Bath of Trajan were built nearby along with warehouses, bakeries and apartments. Note: the temples of ancient Rome were not houses of prayerful worship and propaganda like churches today; the priests acted as notaries, mediators, fiduciaries, keepers of vital records and contracts; temples functioned as banks, law offices and trading rooms as these things did not exist as such during that time. The last mention of Nero’s statue was in a description of the city in a manuscript published 354 AD. It was likely broken up, perhaps toppled by an earthquake, with the remains sold off as scrap: Sic Semper Tyrannis.

– C. Suetonius Tranquilis, ‘The Lives of the Twelve Caesars’

– Publius Cornelius Tacitus, ‘The Annals’

– Furius Dionysius Filocalus / Unknown author ‘The Chronography of 354’

Was the Collapse of the Roman Empire caused by Climate Change?

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on February 8, 2016


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The collapse of the Western Roman Empire: was it caused by climate change?







Image from the recent paper by Buentgen et al., published on "Nature Geoscience" on February 8, 2016. The red curves are temperature changes reconstructed from tree rings in the Russian Altai (upper curve) and the European Alps (lower curve). Note the remarkable dip in temperatures that took place starting with the 6th century AD. But, by then, the Western Roman Empire was past and gone. Its collapse was NOT caused by climate change. 

The relationship of climate and civilization collapse is a much debated subject. From the recent collapse of the Syrian state to the much older one of the Bronze Age civilization, climate changes have been seen as the culprit of various disasters befalling on human societies. However, an alternative view of societal collapse sees it as the natural ("systemic") result of the declining returns that a society obtains from the resources it exploits. It is the concept termed "diminishing returns of complexity" by Joseph A. Tainter.

On this point, we may say that there may well exist several causes for societal collapse. Either climate change or resource depletion may sufficiently weaken the control structures of any civilization to cause it to fold over and disappear. In the case of the Western Roman Empire, however, the data published by Buentgen et al. completely vindicate Tainter's interpretation of the collapse of the Roman Empire: it was a systemic collapse, it was NOT caused by climate changea. 

We can see that there was a cooling episode that probably affected the whole of Eurasia and that started with the beginning of the 6th century AD.  This period is called LALIA (Late Antiquity Little Ice Age) and it seems to have been stronger than the better known LIA (Little Ice Age) that took place during the 18th and 19th centuries. Apparently, the LALIA was mainly caused by a series of volcanic eruptions that injected large amounts of particulate in the atmosphere; cooling it by reflecting sunlight. Overall, temperatures went down by a couple of degrees in comparison to the time that we call the "Roman Warm Period."

A truly brutal cooling, yes, and it surely had effects on human life, as discussed at length in the paper by Buentgen et al. But it had nothing to do with the fall of the Western Roman Empire whose decline had started at least two centuries before. The Empire started its final disintegration phase with the beginning of the 5th century; when it ceased to be able to garrison the fortifications at the borders. Then, Rome was sacked one first time in 410 AD; and finally destroyed by the Vandals in 455 AD. That was the true end of the Western Empire, even though, for some decades, there were still individuals who claimed the title of Emperors. But all that took place in a period of relatively stable climate, at least from what we can say about the available data. So, the collapse was systemic, related to factors other than climate and, in my opinion, mainly related to the collapse of the Roman financial system, in turn caused by mineral depletion.

But could it be that, after all, there is a correlation between the Roman collapse and climate change? Just it would be the reverse of what it had been sometimes proposed: could the Roman collapse have caused the LALIA cooling (or, at least, contributed to it)? The idea is not farfetched: the population collapse that took place with the fall of the Empire could have led to a considerable level of reforestation of Western Europe, and that would have absorbed CO2 from the atmosphere. That would have been an added factor to volcanic cooling. It is an idea already expressed some time ago by William Ruddiman. It seems to be out of fashion, nowadays, but I think that it should be explored more.

In the end, this story can teach us a lot: first of all, how fragile climate is. In the interpretation by Buentgen et al., just three volcanic eruptions – relatively large ones, but not truly gigantic – were sufficient to cause a two-degree cooling extending all over Eurasia. Think of what could be the effect if something similar were to happen in our times! Then, it shows also how the situation, today, has completely changed. Temperatures have taken a completely different trend with the start of large scale emissions of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Incidentally, these data also confirm the "Hockey Stick" data by Michael Mann and others. Global warming is real, the earth's climate is fragile, and we are in big troubles.

Additional note: The data published in "Nature" generated a truly awful article in the "Daily Express" titled "Mini-ice age 1,500 years ago contributed to fall of Roman Empire". There, they generate an incredible mishmash of the Western and Eastern Empires, showing for instance gladiator games that had ceased to exist at least one century before the LALIA. Then, they say that the 6th century cooling "contributed to the collapse of the Eastern Roman Empire." Which is an interesting extrapolation, since the Eastern Empire didn't collapse until about a thousand years after the LALIA!!  At least, they should go back to junior high school but, on the other hand, think of how they report about climate change: what would you expect from them when they discuss about the Roman Empire?

(h/t Graham Readfearn)









































































The Empire of Lies

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on February 8, 2016

The Trajan Column was built in order to celebrate the victories of the Roman Armies in the conquest of Dacia, during the 2nd century AD. It shows that the Romans knew and used propaganda, although in forms that for us look primitive. In those times, just as in ours, a dying empire could be kept together for a while by lies, but not forever.  

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At the beginning of the 5th century AD, Augustine, bishop of Hippo, wrote his "De Mendacio" ("On Lying"). Reading it today, we may be surprised at how rigid and strict Augustine was in his conclusions. A Christian, according to him, could not lie in any circumstances whatsoever; not even to save lives or to avoid suffering for someone. The suffering of the material body, said Augustine, is nothing; what's important is one's immortal soul. Later theologians substantially softened these requirements, but there was a logic in Augustine's stance if we consider his times: the last century of the Western Roman Empire.

By the time of Augustine, the Roman Empire had become an Empire of lies. It still pretended to uphold the rule of law, to protect the people from the Barbarian invaders, to maintain the social order. But all that had become a bad joke for the citizens of an empire by then reduced to nothing more than a giant military machine dedicated to oppressing the poor in order to maintain the privilege of the few. The Empire itself had become a lie: that it existed because of the favor of the Gods who rewarded the Romans because of their moral virtues. Nobody could believe in that anymore: it was the breakdown of the very fabric of society; the loss of what the ancient called the auctoritas, the trust that citizens had toward their leaders and the institutions of their state.

Auguistine was reacting to all this. He was trying to rebuild the "auctoritas", not in the form of mere authoritarianism of an oppressive government, but in the form of trust. So, he was appealing to the highest authority of all, God himself. He was also building his argument on the prestige that the Christians had gained at a very high price with their martyrs. And not just that. In his texts, and in particular in his "Confessions" Augustine was opening himself completely to his readers; telling them all of his thoughts and his sins in minute details. It was, again, a way to rebuild trust by showing that one had no hidden motives. And he had to be strict in his conclusions. He couldn't leave any openings that would permit the Empire of Lies to return.

Augustine and other early Christian fathers were engaged, first of all, in an epistemological revolution. Paulus of Tarsus had already understood this point when he had written: "now we see as in a mirror, darkly, then we'll see face to face." It was the problem of truth; how to see it? How to determine it? In the traditional view, truth was reported by a witness who could be trusted. The Christian epistemology started from that, to build up the concept of truth as the result divine revelation. The Christians were calling God himself as witness. It was a spiritual and philosophical vision, but also a very down-to-earth one. Today, we would say that the Christians of late Roman times were engaged in "relocalization", abandoning the expensive and undefendable structures of the old Empire to rebuild a society based on local resources and local governance. The age that followed, the Middle Ages, can be seen as a time of decline but it was, rather, a necessary adaptation to the changed economic conditions of the late Empire. Eventually, all societies must come to terms with Truth. The Western Roman Empires as a political and military structure could not do that, It had to disappear, as it was unavoidable.

Now, let's move forward to our times and we have reached our empire of lies. On the current situation, I don't think I have to tell you anything that you don't already know. During the past few decades, the mountain of lies tossed at us by governments has been perfectly matched by the disastrous loss of trust in our leaders on the part of citizens. When the Soviets launched their first orbiting satellite, the Sputnik, in 1957, nobody doubted that it was for real and the reaction in the West was to launch their own satellites. Today, plenty of people even deny that the US sent men to the moon in the 1960s. They may be ridiculed, they may be branded as conspiracy theorists, sure, but they are there. Perhaps the watershed of this collapse of trust was with the story of the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" that we were told were hidden in Iraq. It was not their first, nor it will be their last, lie. But how can you ever trust an institution that lied to you so brazenly? (and that continue to do so?)

Today, every statement from a government, or from an even remotely "official" source, seems to generate a parallel and opposite statement of denial. Unfortunately, the opposite of a lie is not necessarily the truth, and that has originated baroque castles of lies, counter-lies, and counter-counter lies. Think of the story of the 9/11 attacks in New York. Somewhere, hidden below the mass of legends and myths that have piled up on this story, there has to be the truth; some kind of truth. But how to find it when you can't trust anything you read on the Web? Or think of peak oil. At the simplest level of conspiratorial interpretation, peak oil can be seen as a reaction to the lies of oil companies that hide the depletion of their resources. But you may also see peak oil as a scam created by oil companies that try to hide the fact that their resources are actually abundant – even infinite in the diffuse legend of "abiotic oil". But, for others, the idea that peak oil is a scam created in order to hide abundance may be a higher order scam created in order to hide scarcity. Eve higher order conspiracy theories are possible. It is a fractal universe of lies, where you have no reference point to tell you where you are.

Eventually, it is a problem of epistemology. The same that goes back to Pontius Pilate's statement "what is truth?" Where are we supposed to find truth in our world? Perhaps in science? But science is rapidly becoming a marginal sect of people who mumble of catastrophes to come, People whom nobody believes any longer after they failed to deliver their promises of energy too cheap to meter, space travel, and flying cars. Then, we tend to seek it in such things as "democracy" and to believe that a voting majority somehow defines "truth". But democracy has become a ghost of itself: how can citizens make an informed choice after that we discovered the concept that we call "perception management" (earlier on called "propaganda")?

Going along a trajectory parallel to that of the ancient Romans, we haven't yet arrived at having a semi-divine emperor residing in Washington D.C., considered by law to be the repository of divine truth. And we aren't seeing yet a new religion taking over and expelling the old ones. At present, the reaction against the official lies takes mostly the form of what we call "conspiratorial attitude." Although widely despised, conspirationism is not necessarily wrong; conspiracies do exist and much of the misinformation that spreads over the web must be created by someone who is conspiring against us. The problem is that conspirationism is not a form of epistemology. Once you have decided that everything you read is part of the great conspiracy, then you have locked yourself in an epistemological box and thrown away the key. And, like Pilate, you can only ask "what is truth?", but you will never find it.

Is it possible to think of an "epistemology 2.0" that would allow us to regain trust on the institutions and on our fellow human beings? Possibly, yes but, right now, we are seeing as in a mirror, darkly. Something is surely stirring, out there; but it has not yet taken a recognizable shape. Maybe it will be a new ideal, maybe a revisitation of an old religion, maybe a new religion, maybe a new way of seeing the world. We cannot say which form the new truth will take, but we can say that nothing new can be born without the death of something. And that all births are painful but necessary.






Tertullian was a conspiracy theorist

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Published on Resource Crisis on October 26, 2015

The Romans knew well the dark art that we call "propaganda" today. As an example, this image, from the Trajan column in Rome, shows Dacian women torturing naked Roman prisoners; it was part of the demonization of the enemy during the Dacian campaign of the early 2nd century AD. However, with the gradual decline of the Empire, its propaganda was becoming more and more shrill and unrealistic. Christian thinkers such as Tertullian were reacting against the absurdity of the official propaganda by contrasting it with ideas that at the time were regarded as even more absurd.

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Propaganda & Irrationalism in Roman times and Ours

Quintus Septimius Tertullianus (anglicized as "Tertullian", ca. 150 – ca. 230) was one of the early fathers of Christianity. Of his numerous works, we often remember a sentence that reads "Credo quia absurdum." (I believe it, because it is absurd). This exact phrase doesn't exist in Tertullian's works, but it describes well the essence of his way of thinking. He and the other Christians of that time were proposing something truly absurd: that a virgin had given birth to the son of God, that God was at the same time one and three, and that the son of a Jewish carpenter who had been executed as a common criminal was, actually, one of the three! 

Almost two thousand years of diffusion of these concepts made them familiar to us and we don't see them as absurd any more. But think of how they would be perceived in Roman times: they were the very essence of absurdity. Nevertheless, there is a logic even in absurdity and, in upholding these concepts, Tertullian was reacting to an even greater absurdity: the very existence of the Roman Empire.
The official truth of the Roman propaganda was that the prosperity of the empire was the result of the favor of the Gods, who rewarded the Romans for their moral virtues, their courage, and their performing the proper rituals. But all that was clearly becoming more and more in contrast with reality; at the time of Tertullian, the Roman Empire was not anymore the glorious war machine it had been in earlier times. Now, it was more like a zombie; a monstrous creature stumbling onward while desperately trying to hold itself in one piece against the attacks coming from the Barbarians outside and from rebellions inside. The official truth about the favor of the Gods had become a joke; a silly and cruel joke that nobody found funny any longer.






Tertullian died before the start of the third century crisis that saw the empire nearly disintegrating in a series of military defeats, civil wars, economic collapse, and currency devaluation. But, surely, the symptoms were all there much before and Tertullian could not miss that there was something rotten in the Roman Empire of his time. Indeed, he was possibly the first writer in history to identify what we call today "overpopulation," when he wrote in his "Apology" that 

our numbers are burdensome to the world, which can hardly supply us from its natural elements; our wants grow more and more keen, and our complaints more bitter in all mouths, whilst Nature fails in affording us her usual sustenance. In very deed, pestilence, and famine, and wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy for nations, as the means of pruning the luxuriance of the human race.

It was not just Tertullian perceiving the problem and, as a result, the Empire was being swept by a wave of new religious creeds, all of them reacting against the official Pagan religion. Christianity was seen as an especially virulent sect, and it was the object of a strong repression on the part of the authorities. If Tertullian had been living today, he would be called a terrorist. But he, like many others, as just reacting to the increasing shrill and absurd official propaganda of his times. 

Now, let's fast forward to our times. What does our Imperial propaganda tell us about our prosperity? It is not any more attributed to the favor of the Pagan Gods, but to a deity we call "Science," often endowed with attributes termed "progress" and "innovation". Our Imperial armies don't give thanks any more to the Pagan Gods for their victories, but rather attribute them to semi-divine spirits that we call "smart weapons" and which are bestowed on us by the main deity, Science. And our prosperity is attributed to the ability of science to provide better and slicker tools for us. It is scientific progress that allows us to attain the eternal bliss of economic growth.

But all this is showing evident signs of fatigue, to say the least. The prosperity of the empire we call "Globalization" is rapidly disappearing and the dark menaces of climate change and resource depletion is upon us. Now, we are told that we did everything wrong and we are told that by those same people, the scientists, who have taken us to where we are.  We are told that our smart phones, our shiny cars, our wonder drones can't save us; that our economic growth can't last forever, that the years of prosperity are getting to an end. How can that be? What kind of cruel joke is being played on us?

The result is a rabid reaction that takes different forms, but that normally takes as its main target science, or what's sometimes called "official science". Science, some seem to conclude, must be betraying us and the scientists must be traitors. It can't be that crude oil is running out; it must really be abundant, being continuously recreated in the entrails of the earth by mysterious abiotic processes. And it can't be that we are destroying ourselves by burning fossil fuels; no, climate science can only be a hoax played on us by evil scientists seeking fat research grants for themselves. And how can it be that the same people who can make a smartphone can't make a fusion reactor work? No, that can't be: they are hiding from us the fact that nuclear fusion can easily be obtained inside a huffing and puffing desktop device that looks like a water boiler.

Many people seem to be starting to see science not just as a hoax, but as something truly evil, as when the ancient Christians had turned the Pagan Gods into devils and evil spirits. And so we see the spreading of conspiracy theories: from the idea that the water vapor emitted from airplane engines is in reality a deadly cocktail of poisons designed to kill us, to the attempt to demonstrate that no human astronaut ever walked on the Moon. It is the rise of the "New Irrationalism,"  a movement of thought still officially ignored, but growing.

Perhaps, had Tertullian lived in our times, he, too, would maintain that the lunar landing had been a hoax and we would call him a conspiracy theorist. But his ideas gained ground within a dying empire. About one one century after Tertullian, Emperor Constantine ordered the Christian symbol, a cross, to be painted on the flags of his army that was preparing for battle. He was hoping that the new Christian God would play the role of the old Pagan Gods; a new daimon that would grant him victory. Constantine won his battle, but that changed little to the destiny of the Empire. When Rome fell to the Visigoths, in 410 A.D., it was left to another Christian thinker, Augustine of Hippo, to explain in his "De Civitate Dei" (The City of God) that the purpose of Christianity never was that of saving a rotten empire.

In the end, empires are just constructions of the human mind; structures that persist for times long enough that some people tend to endow them with the virtue of eternal life: Rome was said to be the "eternal city" and our empire seems to be based on the idea that economic growth can last forever. But empires come and go in cycles, they are as impermanent as the morning dew; they just last a little longer. So, we are going to follow the example of the Roman Empire in its descent toward disappearance. And it may well be that, up to the last moment, we'll hope that some scientific miracle will save us. Then, it will be the task of someone, in the future, to explain that the purpose of Science never was that of saving a rotten empire.

A Distant Mirror

fall-of-romegc2smOff the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on October 4, 2015

(Image: a battle scene showing Roman troops fighting Barbarians. This relief is much later than the times discussed in this post, but it gives some idea of how these battles were seen in Roman times: "Grande Ludovisi Altemps Inv8574" by Unknown – Jastrow (2006). Licensed under Public Domain via Commons)

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Bimillenary of Germanicus' campaigns in Germania

Success, sometimes, shows one's limits more than defeat. That's a lesson that the Romans had to learn the hard way when they tried to subdue the Germanic tribes east of the Rhine, between the first century BC and the first century AD. The attempt involved a long series of campaigns and, perhaps, the climax came exactly two thousand years ago, from 14 to 16 AD, when the Romans invaded Germania with no less than eight legions under the command of Tiberius Claudius Nero, known as Germanicus (at right), grandson of Augustus and the adopted son of Emperor Tiberius. The total number of the troops employed could have been at least 80 thousand men, perhaps close to a hundred thousand; about a third of the whole Roman army. Using a modern term, we could say that the Romans were trying to steamroll their enemies.
In this case, the concept of "steamrolling" can perhaps be intended in an almost literal sense. Tacitus makes it clear for us in his "Annals" that the Romans were going into Germania with in mind something much different than "bringing civilization" to those primitive peoples. No, no such silly idea; the Romans were there to teach those Barbarians a lesson. For this, they were burning villages, slaughtering everyone, or taking as slaves, as Tacitus says, even "the helpless from age or sex." Germanicus' name, evidently, didn't imply that he loved Germanic people. Again, using a modern term, we could say that the Romans were practicing a scorched earth campaign, if not an outright war of extermination.

And yet, all these efforts achieved little. Over three years of campaigns, Germanicus' troops won all the battles they fought; but they couldn't break the Germanic tribes. And the cost of keeping so many men in the field was becoming unbearable even for the mighty Roman Empire. In 16 AD, Emperor Tiberius recalled Germanicus to Rome. He also ordered the legions to abandon the territories they had conquered and to retire behind the fortifications along the Rhine, from where they had started their campaigns. Germanicus was given a big triumph in Rome, but, a few years later, in 19 AD, he died, possibly poisoned by Tiberius himself who feared the competition of a popular general.

So, Germanicus' campaigns had shown the might of the Empire, bit also its limits: there were some things that the legions just couldn't do. That was a lesson that Emperors understood well and, indeed, the Romans never tried again to attack the Germanic territory. Two thousand years afterward, we see in these remote events a distant mirror of our age. The parallels with our current situation are many, and I am sure that the word "Iraq" is already coming to your mind. Yes, the Iraq campaign was a series of victories, just like Germanicus' campaigns. But, from a strategic viewpoint, modern Iraq, just like Germania two thousand years ago, turned out to be a conquest too expensive to keep.

But there is more to be seen in this distant mirror and so let's go a little more in depth into history. First of all, Germanicus' campaigns were the consequence of an earlier, failed campaign: the defeat of Teutoburg in 9 AD, when three Roman legions were annihilated by a coalition of Germanic tribes. Not even their commander, Consul Publius Quinctilius Varus, escaped alive. Teutoburg was not only a disaster, but a mystery as well. How could it be that the Roman legions, not exactly amateurs in practicing the art of war, blithely marched into a dense forest where a large number of Germanic warriors were waiting to hack them to pieces?

I wouldn't be too surprised if Varus himself were to appear to me one of these nights as a bluish ghost in my bedroom. Then, he could  tell me the story of why exactly he was sent to Germania as the governor of a province that existed only on paper and supplied with insufficient troops to control a region that had never been really pacified. Lacking this apparition, we can only speculate on this story, but it takes little imagination to conclude that someone, probably in Rome, wanted Varus' head to roll. Whoever they were, anyway, they probably couldn't imagine that so many more Roman heads would roll together with Varus' one. We will never know for sure, but we know that the man who led Varus into the trap in the forest, Arminius, was a Roman citizen, albeit born in Germania. Varus was betrayed.

I know what you are thinking at this point. And, yes, we can find some kind of a parallel with modern history in the 9/11 attack to the twin towers in New York. Let me state that I am not discussing conspiracy theories, here; what I want to highlight is the similarity of the reaction of the ancient and the modern empires to events that both perceived as an existential threat. Just as the US citizens were deeply scared by the 9/11 attacks, the Romans were deeply scared by the disaster of Teutoburg and that had political consequences.

The main consequence of the defeat of Teutoburg was that it strongly reinforced the position of the Emperor as the military leader of the whole Empire. Don't forget that, in the early 1st century AD, the idea that there was to be an emperor at the head of the Empire was still something new and plenty of people would probably have liked the Republic to be re-established. That was what what Brutus and Cassius had tried to do by killing Julius Caesar. But, after Teutoburg, reinstating the Republic became totally out of question. You probably have heard of Suetonius reporting that Emperor Augustus, on hearing of Varus' defeat, would walk aimlessly at night in his palace, murmuring, "Varus, Varus, give me back my legions!" That was a master propaganda stroke on the part of Augustus, a consummate politician. By showing himself so concerned, Augustus was positioning himself as the defender of the Empire against the barbarian menace.

Not only Teutoburg reinforced the role of Emperors; the campaigns by Germanicus reinforced the effect. If Teutoburg had shown that the Germanic tribes were the existential threat for the Empire, then, Germanicus' failure showed that they couldn't be destroyed. The result was that the Empire positioned itself for a long term war. That generated the equivalent of our present military-industrial complex: a standing army and a set of fortifications along the Imperial borders. That was good business for the military contractors of Roman times. However, the Empire bled itself to death in order to maintain the colossal defense works it had built. Before Teutoburg, the Roman army had been producing wealth as the result of the conquest of foreign lands. After Teutoburg, the army became a destroyer of wealth, costing much more than it produced; as Germanicus' campaigns clearly demonstrated. As time went by, the Roman Empire became weaker and weaker, but it stubbornly refused to admit it and to accept the barbarians in roles that were not those of mercenaries or slaves.

Four centuries after the battle of Teutoburg and Germanicus' campaigns, an enlightened empress, Galla Placidia, broke the rules in a bold attempt to revitalize a dying empire. She married a Barbarian king and tried to start a new dynasty that would merge the Germanic and the Latin elements of the Empire. She didn't succeed; it was too late; it was too much for a single person. The Roman Empire had to go through its cycle, and the end of the cycle was its disappearance; a relic of history that had no reason to exist any longer.

This is the destiny of empires and civilizations that, as Toynbee says, die most often because they kill themselves. So it was for the Romans, our distant mirror. A dark mirror, but, most likely, our destiny will not be much different.

See also

Note also that I created a new blog "A Distant Mirror" to act as a repository of all the post published here that deal with Roman history. It is still being filled up.

Fortress Europe: a wall to keep foreigners out?

gc2smOff the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on September 14, 2015

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"….. the buffer zone has disappeared. The geographical transition from civilization to barbarism is now no longer gradual but it is abrupt. To use the appropriate Latin words, which bring out both the kinship and the contrast between the two types of contact, a limen, or threshold, which was a zone, has been replaced by a limes or military frontier. Across this line, a baffled dominant minority and an unconquered external proletariat now face one another under arms; and this military front is a bar to the passage of all social radiation except that of military technique – an article of exchange which makes for war and not for peace between those who give and take it. ….. the cardinal fact (is) that this temporary and precarious balance of forces inevitably tilts, with the passage of time, in favour of the Barbarians." From Arnold Toynbee, ""A study of History." (image above from Wikipedia)
The more I look at what's happening in the world today, the more it seems to me that we are following an already beaten path: we are going along the same way that the Roman Empire followed a couple of millennia ago, only faster. For every event that takes place today, you can find a parallel event that led the old Empire to its end. So, the present refugee crisis in Europe has a parallel in the crisis of the 1st century AD that led the empire to lock itself inside a set of fortifications. Is that the destiny that Europe faces today? Are we going to build a wall to keep the invaders out? A look of what happened to the Romans may tell us something about this point.

It all started in 9 A.D., when three Roman legions were destroyed by a coalition of German tribes in a battle in the forest of Teutoburg. It was an epochal defeat, a sign that something was badly wrong with the Empire that, up to then, had easily defeated every enemy. And, as a consequence, the Romans panicked.

You probably know the story, told by Suetonius, of Emperor Augustus walking at night in his palace, asking the dead general who had led the legions at Teutoburg, "give me back my legions". But that was only a symptom of a general fear that the Barbarians would soon march all the way to Rome.

Fear often leads to overreacting, and there is no doubt that the Romans overreacted. It would take four centuries after Teutoburg before Rome was besieged and taken by a Barbarian army. But, at that time, fear reigned in the Empire. A few years afterward, the Romans invaded Germany again with no less than 8 legions; without accomplishing much more than demonstrating that there was no way for them to conquer and subdue the Germans.  Then, they changed their strategy: if the barbarians couldn't be defeated, they could at least be kept out of the empire.

Border fortifications around the Roman Empire had been existing even before the battle of Teutoburg, but, after the battle, they were greatly expanded and strengthened. The final result was the system of border fortifications around the Empire that we call today "limes" (even though the Romans didn't use that word). A series of walls that started at the Northern border of Britannia and circled the whole Empire, even though not continuously.

Were the fortifications useful? For one thing, it is true that they kept the Barbarian armies at bay for a few centuries. But it is also true that they must have been atrociously expensive. So much that, eventually, the economy of the Roman Empire became engaged in only two activities: cultivating grain and maintaining the border fortifications. Unfortunately, we lack the data we would need in order to quantify these expenses, but I think it can be proposed that the border fortifications were such an economic burden that they were a major factor leading to the eventual demise of the Empire.

The fortifications had another problem; perhaps even bigger: in the effort of keeping the Barbarians out, the Romans had locked themselves in a no-win situation. They badly needed slaves for their agriculture and soldiers for their armies, and this manpower, during the late years of the Empire, would largely come from Barbarian people. But how would Barbarians came in if the borders of the Empire were closed? The wall, in principle, should have kept Barbarian armies out, but let Barbarian workers in. However, the Romans never could convince the Barbarians that it was a good idea for them to come into the Empire to become slaves in the name of the free market. It is possible that the walls were not only too expensive for their purpose, but even counterproductive as they kept out manpower that the Empire desperately needed.

Over time, it became impossible for the Empire to maintain the fortifications and, with the beginning of the 5th century, they were abandoned. According to Gibbon, it was in the winter of 406 AD that the frozen Rhine made it possible for a large number of Barbarians to cross the river and to march into the Empire unopposed in a crisis that resembles very much the flow of refugees pouring into Europe today. A few years later, in 410 AD, Rome was sacked for the first time in the Imperial age by the Visigoths. Then, in 455 AD, Rome was sacked again by the Vandals and, this time, it was truly the end of the Western Roman Empire. For a few decades afterward, some individuals still claimed the title of "Roman Emperor"; but nobody was paying much attention to them. The walls had not helped Rome to survive.

Is this what's going to happen to Europe in our times? Are we going to make the same mistake the Romans made and ruin ourselves by building an expensive wall to stop invaders from entering

Right now, walls don't seem to be in the plans, also because European didn't experience an equivalent of the defeat of Teutoburg (yet). So, it seems that the European governments are seeing the refugees from abroad as cheap manpower that Europe desperately needs – just like Rome did, long ago. But it is also clear that the situation can't remain the way it is for a long time, with millions of refugees pushing at the borders of Europe, chased away from their lands by a combination of wars and climate change. At some point, someone will start panicking and call for a defensive wall.

Modern Europe has seen already a wall separating it in two halves, the one that was called "the Iron Curtain". Also that wall didn't bring good luck to those who built it, whose economy collapsed among other factors also under the weight of maintaining the walls. A new wall to keep North Africans and Middle Eastern people out would probably cripple Europe forever. Will it be built? We can't say, right now, but one thing that we learn from history is that we never learn from history

The Gift of Clear Mind: Laudato Si’

Off the keyboard of Albert Bates

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Published on Peak Surfer on June 28, 2015

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Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

"Human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational."

Does the Pope also Duckwalk?

If we are honest and admit climate change threatens the survival of our species, right now and not next decade or next century, and don't just turn away or accept the numbing banality that comes with avoidance of the subject, we would have to, to not be hypocritical, actually choose to do something about what we know we know.

But do what, exactly? Our institutions are not working. Any real change has to come from our personal footprint, changing our choices. Change is our only way of being truthful with ourselves, and not neurotic or schizophrenic.

What is needed, says Margaret Klein Salamon, founder of Climate Change Mobilization, are achievable goals, a set of actions that anyone can take and appreciate that they are actually changing the situation for the better. Merely changing light bulbs or buying a Prius won't cut it. It has to involve not green consumerism but de-consumerism. We have to give up those fabulous perks that came with the Age of Oil; to discard zombie fashion. We have to stop having so many babies, eating so much meat, and cutting down so many trees. We have to go back to understanding our relationship with the land and our sources of sustenance, and showing greater care for the whole of the natural world that underpins our existence.

Salaman says:

When people become agents for truth and vital change, they are elevated, enlarged, and lit up. The truth, and their role in advancing it, affects how they view themselves, what occupies their mind, and how they conduct their affairs. The power of truth allows them to transcend their limitations and what they once thought possible for themselves.

We cannot begin to say how refreshing it is to see Pope Francis face the urgency of the situation and awaken us to our need to be alive, and to swim upstream. To borrow a line from Jim Hightower, “Even a dead fish can swim downstream.” In his new encyclical, Laudato Si', Francis writes:

The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.


[I]f we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously.

The pope comes out against technological advances that will save us from our modern sins or magically improve productivity by replacing human work. He eschews market-based mechanisms to solve environmental problems, condemning, like the popes before him, the profit motive at its root.

The New York Times columnist David Brooks, defender of both profits and the fossil economy, responds:

Within marriage, lust can lead to childbearing. Within a regulated market, greed can lead to entrepreneurship and economic innovation. Within a constitution, the desire for fame can lead to political greatness…. [G]as and oil resources extracted through fracking have already added more than $430 billion to annual gross domestic product and supported more than 2.7 million jobs that pay, on average, twice the median U.S. salary.

We won't quibble with either Brooks or the pope because they are speaking past each other. Brooks is right that lust and greed are powerful motivators, and part of our serpent brain. Francis is right that to live at peace with each other and the planet we have to set aside those childish things, open our hearts and begin to see the world as adults. Brooks is clinging to the past while Francis is salvaging the future.

Jeb Bush, shortly after announcing his candidacy for US President, told a reporter about the pope's statement, "I don't get my economic advice from my priest." His pollsters are telling him he is on the wrong side of the climate issue but his strategists tell him he doesn't want to see the Koch brothers' billions go to a rival. Perhaps he thinks he will pivot later in the race, before he has to debate Bernie. 


What is new is that it is not even about pandering to voters anymore. Even half of Republicans now want this issue dealt with. Well, good luck, because the zombie lies aren't about the voters. They're for the donors, who make their living killing the planet. The question is not why today's politicians suck more than ever, it is who they are sucking more than ever.


—  Bill Maher

Paradigms change. Jason Hickel, Martin Kirk, and Joe Brewer, co-authors of a London School of Economics comparison between the encyclical and the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), wrote in The Guardian:

He calls out the transnational corporations that profit by polluting poor countries. He criticizes the foreign debt system that has become a tool by which rich countries control poor countries. And he warns that the financial sector, grown too powerful, has eroded the sovereignty of nation states and “tends to prevail over the political.”

This is an important move, because without naming the forces that cause human suffering and environmental destruction, it is impossible to address them.

As Professor Ian Gough put it, "This revolutionary encyclical challenges both current ethics and economics."

Francis continues:

The basic problem goes even deeper: it is the way that humanity has taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm. This paradigm exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object. This subject makes every effort to establish the scientific and experimental method, which in itself is already a technique of possession, mastery and transformation. It is as if the subject were to find itself in the presence of something formless, completely open to manipulation.

Men and women have constantly intervened in nature, but for a long time this meant being in tune with and respecting the possibilities offered by the things themselves. It was a matter of receiving what nature itself allowed, as if from its own hand. Now, by contrast, we are the ones to lay our hands on things, attempting to extract everything possible from them while frequently ignoring or forgetting the reality in front of us. Human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational. This has made it easy to accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology. It is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit.

It is the false notion that “an infinite quantity of energy and resources are available, that it is possible to renew them quickly, and that the negative effects of the exploitation of the natural order can be easily absorbed” (quoting the Pontifical Council For Justice And Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, at page 462).

Here Francis begins to sound more like the Dalai Lama. The Tibetian Book of Secret Doctrines says, "Cherish no notion of separated individuality." Subject and Object are one. Man and Nature are one. Form and Formlessness are one. Mind and Buddha are one. The encyclical says:

It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected. Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation. Just as the different aspects of the planet – physical, chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too living species are part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand. A good part of our genetic code is shared by many living beings. It follows that the fragmentation of knowledge and the isolation of bits of information can actually become a form of ignorance, unless they are integrated into a broader vision of reality.

Speaking directly to his "cheerfully reckless" critics, Francis says:

It has become countercultural to choose a lifestyle whose goals are even partly independent of technology, of its costs and its power to globalize and make us all the same. Technology tends to absorb everything into its ironclad logic, and those who are surrounded with technology “know full well that it moves forward in the final analysis neither for profit nor for the well-being of the human race”, that “in the most radical sense of the term power is its motive – a lordship over all” (quoting Omano Guardini, Das Ende der Neuzeit, (The End of the Modern World, at 56).


Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.

The study by Hickel, Kirk and Brewer contrasted Francis’s vision with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals:

The SDGs are right to embrace a wide range of issues. Unlike their predecessors, the millennium development goals, they recognize that the problems we face are multidimensional. But they have confused thoroughness with holism, lists with patterns. It’s a mistake born of outdated thinking.

The pope, by contrast, has struck at the systemic nature of the issue. “It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is connected,” he says. “To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system.”

This is what makes the encyclical far more than a document about climate change. It is a profound critique of the deep logic of our political economy. This is a vastly more sophisticated paradigm than the one that underpins the SDGs and a large part of why the encyclical feels cohesive, fresh and relevant, where the SDGs feel inconsistent, clunky and 20 years out of date.

Francis is not above legitimate criticism, less for what he puts into the encyclical than for what he leaves out. Physicist Lawrence Krauss, writing for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, says:

First off, he dismisses the need to address reproductive rights for women, and also the concomitant problem of population growth in poor countries as part of any proposed solution to world environmental problems. If one is seriously worried about the environment on a global scale, then one needs to worry about population growth. A population of 10 billion by 2050 will likely be unsustainable at a level that provides all humans with adequate food and access to medicine, water, and security.  Moreover, the environmental problems induced by overpopulation are also disproportionately born by those in poor countries, where access to birth control and abortion is often limited. As I have argued elsewhere recently in this regard, ultimately empowering women to manage their own reproductive future gives them the surest road out of poverty.

Perhaps even more glaring is the double standard within which Francis, with Franciscan modesty, lives in a grand gilded palace, overseeing a legion of wealthy Cardinals, while calling for even the poorest among us to reduce consumption. To be sure, the encyclical was directed to believers within the church, including collegially off-key voices within the Vatican. Cardinal George Pell, its head of finance, currently immersed in a scandal involving paedophile priests in Australia, is a prominent climate change denier and plenty of other senior Catholics are dredging up lame, discredited arguments against His Holiness's views. To them, Francis says:

Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption. We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that “less is more”. A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment. To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfillment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures.

In 1978, Vaclev Havel, who led the non-violent Velvet Revolution and later became president of post-Soviet Czechoslovakia, wrote:

(The power of truth) does not reside in the strength of definable political or social groups, but chiefly in a potential, which is hidden throughout the whole of society, including the official power structures of that society. Therefore this power does not rely on soldiers of its own, but on soldiers of the enemy as it were—that is to say, on everyone who is living within the lie and who may be struck at any moment (in theory, at least) by the force of truth (or who, out of an instinctive desire to protect their position, may at least adapt to that force). It is a bacteriological weapon, so to speak, utilized when conditions are ripe by a single civilian to disarm an entire division…. This, too, is why the regime prosecutes, almost as a reflex action, preventatively, even modest attempts to live in truth.

Salaman wrote, "Climate truth has the potential to be more powerful than any country’s independence; more powerful that overthrowing authoritarian states; and more powerful than civil rights or any group’s struggle for safety, recognition and equality. Climate truth contains such superordinate power because all of those causes depend on a safe climate."

Will the Papal Encyclical make any real difference in the battle against climate change? One need only recall what happened in 1979, when John Paul II traveled to Poland and preached thirty-two sermons in nine days. Timothy Garton Ash put it this way, "Without the pope, no Solidarity. Without Solidarity, no Gorbachev. Without Gorbachev, no fall of communism." Bogdan Szajkowski said it was, "A psychological earthquake, an opportunity for mass political catharsis…"  The Poles who turned out by the millions looked around and saw they were not alone.  

Senility of the Elites,4914.msg76739/topicseen.html#msg76739Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis & Chimeras on May 29, 2015

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The senility of elites: coal mining must continue, no matter what the human costs

The coal mine of Bihar, India. Photo by Nitin Kirloskar

This post was inspired by a recent article about coal mining in India by David Rose in the Guardian about coal mining. In India, people are dying in the streets because of excessive heat caused by global warming, but Rose reports that "across a broad range of Delhi politicians and policymakers there is near unanimity. There is, they say, simply no possibility that at this stage in its development India will agree to any form of emissions cap, let alone a cut." In other words, coal mining must continue in the name of economic growth, no matter what the human costs. 

I think it is hard to see a more evident example of the senility of the world's elites. It is, unfortunately, not something that pertains only to India. Elites all over the world seem to be nearly totally blind to the desperate situation in which we all are. 

On this matter, I have a post written on my "Chimeras" blog that describes how the blindness of the elites is not just typical of our times, but was the same at the time of the Roman Empire. It is a discussion of how one of the members of the Roman elite, Rutilius Namatianus, completely misunderstood the situation of the last years of the Empire. It is our plea of human being that we don't understand collapse, not even when we live it.

Of his return: a Roman patrician tells of how he lived the collapse of the empire.



The 5th century saw the last gasps of the Western Roman Empire. Of those troubled times, we have only a few documents and images. Above, you can see one of the few surviving portraits of someone who lived in those times; Emperor Honorius, ruler of what was left of the Western Roman Empire from 395 to 423. His expression seems to be one of surprise, as if startled at seeing the disasters taking place during his reign.

At some moment during the first decades of the 5th century C.E., probably in 416, Rutilius Namatianus, a Roman patrician, left Rome – by then a shadow of its former glory –  to take refuge in his possessions in Southern France. He left to us a report of his travel titled "De Reditu suo", meaning "of his return" that we can still read today, almost complete.

Fifteen centuries after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, we have in this document a precious source of information about a world that was ceasing to exist and that left so little to us. It is a report that can only make us wonder at how could it be that Namatianus got everything so badly wrong about what was happening to him and to the Roman Empire. And that tells us a lot about how it is that our elites understand so little about what's happening to us.

To understand the "De Reditu" we need to understand the times when it was written. Most likely, Namatianus came of age in Rome during the last decades of the 4th century, during the reign of Theodosius 1st (347-395 C.E.) the last Emperor to rule both the Western and the Eastern halves of the Empire. When Theodosius died, in 395 C.E., there started the last convulsions of the Western Roman Empire, that would lead to its formal demise in 476 A.D. But, at the times of Namatianus, there still were Roman Emperors, there still was a Roman Senate, there still was the city of Rome, perhaps still the largest town in Western Europe. And there still were Roman armies charged to defend the Empire against invaders. All that was to disappear fast, much faster than anyone could have guessed at that time.

Namatianus must have been already an important patrician in Rome when Stilicho led what Gibbon calls "the last army of the Republic" to stop the Goths coming down toward Rome in a battle that took place in 406 C.E. Then there was the downfall of Stilicho, executed under for treason on orders of Emperor Honorius. Then, there came the invasion of the Goths under Alaric 1st and their taking of Rome in 410 C.E. All in all, Namatianus saw the fall of seven pretenders to the Western throne, several major battles, the sack of Rome and much more.

Those troubled times saw also a number of figures we still remember today. Of those who were contemporary to Namatianus, we have Galla Placidia, the last (and only) Empress of the Western Roman Empire and it is likely that Namatianus knew her personally as a young princess. Namatianus must also have known, at least by fame, Hypatia, the pagan philosopher murdered by Christians in Egypt in 415 CE. He also probably knew of Augustine (354-430), bishop of the Roman city of Hippo Regius, in Africa. There are more historical figures who were contemporaries of Namatianus, although it is unlikely that he ever heard of them. One was a young warrior roaming the Eastern plains of Europe, whose name was Attila. Another (perhaps) was a warlord of the region called Britannia, whom we remember as "Arthur." Finally, Namatianus probably never heard of a young Roman patrician born in Roman Britannia, someone named  "Patricious" (later known as "Patrick"), who would travel to the far away island called "Hybernia" (today known as Ireland) some twenty years after that Namatianus started his journey to Gallia.

But who was Namatianus, himself? Most of what we know about him comes from his own book, De Reditu, but that's enough for us to put together something about him and his career. So, we know that he came from a wealthy and powerful family based in Gallia, modern France. He attained prestigious posts in Rome: first he was "magister officiorum;" something like secretary of state, and then "praefectus urbi," the governor of Rome.

During those troubled times, the Emperors had left Rome for a safer refuge in the city of Ravenna on the Eastern Italian coast. So, for some time, Namatianus must have been the most powerful person in town. He was probably charged with defending Rome from the invading Goths; but he failed to prevent them from taking the city and sacking it in 410. Maybe, he also tried – unsuccessfully – to prevent the kidnapping by the Goths of the daughter of Emperor Theodosius 1st, Galla Placidia, who later became empress. He must also have been involved in some way in the dramatic events that saw the Roman Senate accusing Stilicho's widow, Serena, of treason and having her executed by strangling (these were eventful years, indeed).

We don't know if any or all these events can be seen as related to Namatianus' decision to  leave Rome (perhaps even to run away from Rome). Perhaps there were other reasons, perhaps he simply gave up with the idea of staying in a half destroyed and dangerous city. But, for what we are concerned with, here, we can say that if there was one person who could have a clear view of the situation of the Empire, that person was Namatianus. As prefect of Rome, he must have reports coming to him from all the regions still held by the Empire. He must have known of the movements of the Barbarian armies, of the turmoil in the Roman territories, of the revolts, of the bandits, of the usurpers, and of the Emperors. In addition, he was a man of culture, enough that later on he could write a long poem, his "De Reditu." Surely, he knew Roman history well, as he must have been well acquainted with the works of the Roman historians, Tacitus, Livy, and Sallust, and others.

But could Namatianus understand that the Western Roman Empire was collapsing? Perhaps surprisingly, he could not. That's clear from his report of his travel to Gallia by the sea. Just read this excerpt from "De Reditu":

"I have chosen the sea, since roads by land, if on the level, are flooded by rivers; if on higher ground, are beset with rocks. Since Tuscany and since the Aurelian highway, after suffering the outrages of Goths with fire or sword, can no longer control forest with homestead or river with bridge, it is better to entrust my sails to the wayward."

Can you believe that? If there was a thing that the Romans had always been proud of that was their roads. These roads had a military purpose, of course, but everybody could use them. A Roman Empire without roads is not the Roman Empire, it is something else altogether. Think of Los Angeles without highways. Namatianus tells us also of silted harbors, deserted cities, a landscape of ruins that he sees as he moves north along the Italian coast.

But Namatianus, really, understands nothing about what's going on. He can only interpret it on as a temporary setback. Rome has seen hard times before, he seems to think, but the Romans always triumphed over their enemies. It has always been like this and it will always be like this; Rome will become powerful and rich again. Namatianus is never direct in his accusations, but it is clear that he sees the situation as the result of the Romans having lost their ancient virtues. According to him, it is all a fault of those Christians, that pernicious sect. It will be enough to return to the old ways and to the old Gods, and everything will be fine again.

That's even more chilling than the report on the decaying cities and fortifications. How could Namatianus be so short-sighted? How can it be that he doesn't see that there is much more to the fall of Rome than the loss of patriarchal virtues of the ancient? And, yet, it is not just a problem with Namatianus. The Romans never really understood what was happening to their Empire, except in terms of military setbacks that they always saw as temporary. They always seemed to think that these setbacks could be redressed by increasing the size of the army and building more fortifications. And they got caught in a deadly spiral in which the more resources they spent in armies and fortifications, the poorer the Empire became. And the poorer the Empire became, the more difficult it was to keep it together. In the end, by the mid 5th century, there were still people in Ravenna whom pretended to be "Roman Emperors", but nobody was paying attention to them any longer.

So, Namatianus provides us with a precious glimpse of what it is like living a collapse "from the inside". Most people just don't see it happening – it is like being a fish: you don't see the water. And, then, think of our times. You see the problem?

The "De Reditu" arrived to us incomplete and we don't know what was the conclusion of Namatianus' sea journey. Surely, he must have arrived somewhere, because he could complete his report. Most likely he did reach his estates in Gallia and, perhaps, he lived there to old age. But we may also imagine a more difficult destiny for him if we refer to a contemporary document, the "Eucharisticos" written by Paulinus of Pella, another wealthy Roman patrician. Paulinus fought hard to maintain his large estates in France, despite barbarian invasions and societal collapse, but he found that land titles are of little value if there is no government that can enforce them. In old age, he was forced to retire in a small estate in Marseilles, reporting that, at least, he was happy to have survived. Perhaps something similar happened also to Namatianus. Even those who don't understand collapse are condemned to live it.

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

Off the keyboard of RE

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on December 30, 2014


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A while back, I tried to clarify the way Money works as a Proxy for Energy in the Money Valve series, in which I took a detailed look at how the various facets of our Industrial system conspire to turn Resources into Waste over time.  The whole bizness got pretty complicated even though I tried to keep it simple, stupid in the KISS principle.  What I was trying to demonstrate is how money and energy are related, and how the flow is mediated by the monetary system.

We began with a fairly simple chart, to see how Money is allocated based on Energy.

MoneyValve3The whole idea began to get a lot more complicated once I tried to identify the various sectors of the economy, how they interact, where the inputs are, and where the waste flows to.  Even at a simple level, the network gets pretty complex.

MoneyValve7While it is worthwhile to try to elucidate how all the factors interplay here in an Industrial type economy, in reality the basic issue is one of fundamental thermodynamics, which the classic Heat Engine graphic at the top of the article illustrates.  In the classic Heat Engine, energy in the form of Heat flows downhill from Hot to Cold, and how big the gradient is between Hot and Cold determines the amount of work the Heat Engine can perform.  For the Heat Engine to do WORK, there always has to be a HEAT SINK, a place for the waste heat to go on the way downhill.

As I have argued on numerous occasions, Money serves as a PROXY for the energy available in a given society, and because of that there is a PRECISE analogue to the Credit-Debt system of money we use to the available energy in a given society.  All you have to do to see this is re-label the Thermodynamic Heat Engine to see how this works.

Heat_engine-Money analogy is so clear and so precise that I am quite certain Master of the Mint Sir Isaac Newton understood this relationship when they founded the Bank of England in 1692.

At the beginning in the theoretical example, a Heat Engine is very efficient, when there is a large difference between the temperature of the Heat Source and the Temperature of the Heat Sink.  The greater the gradient here, the more Work the system is capable of performing, and the waste heat is only a small percentage of the total energy consumed by the machine.  Over time however, as the Energy source which provides the Heat is consumed and the Waste created in the process becomes ever larger, the Gradient becomes ever less, and the machine becomes ever less capable of doing Work.

In the REAL example here of Industrial Civilization, back in the late 18th Century when the Fossil Fuel resources began to be exploited, there was a very large gradient between what was available for exploitation in terms of resources, and the total amount of WASTE accumulated to that point in time.  The New World Continents of North & South America were virtually empty of people, as the diseases of Smallpox, Tuberculosis and Scarlet Fever decimated the Native populations, and compared to Europe and the Middle East, not near so much agriculturally intensive society either, though there was some going on prior to the Colonial Era.

Beginning with this era, it became possible to issue out EXTRAORDINARY amount of DEBT, if you were in a position of power with which to do that.  There was seemingly ENDLESS resource available in the New World even BEFORE the discovery of Fossil Fuels and how to use them in Heat Engines.  Once fossil fuels began to be exploited, it seemed like you could issue out ENDLESS debt on this one, because the Energy Source was so big.  And so it came to pass, virtually endless Debt has been issued out on this resource base, which now is running a bit thin overall.

It hasn’t “run out”, nor will it likely ever really entirely dissapear, but what has DISAPPEARED here is the Energy GRADIENT between available resources and Waste produced, so the Engine of this sort of economy is no longer very efficient, and becomes less so every day.  At this point, the Waste is not just filling Land Fills with Garbage, it is filling the Atmosphere also with CO2 and the oceans with plastic garbage, not to mention the Nuke Puke from Fukushima.  All of this waste accumulating in the environment make the Engine less able to do Work, because the gradient is less capable of absorbing the Waste Heat.

In terms of how this is reflected in the Monetary System serving as Proxy for this, all the DEBT issued out since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution has to collect in a DEBT SINK.  What is that sink?  It is the expanding balance sheet of the Central Banks, most notably De Federal Reserve Bank of the FSoA, but also including numerous other CBs like the Peoples Bank of China (PBoC).  The source of the Credit was the Global supply of fossil fuels, which still exist but the gradient between what is extractable and the waste produced in the burning of it no longer is there to do efficient work with.

On the Credit-Debt level, you see this problem in sharp relief.  The folks with the power to issue Debt still have that power, and they continue to issue more and more of it every day.  In the main, it is a few powerful Oligarchs who have the power to issue out debt, and they get the ball rolling on anything.  They do not pay off the debts however, they are all transfered through various processes of bailouts and bankruptcies onto the balance sheet of the Public, at the Central Bank.  This is how the “Privatization of Profit, Socialization of Debt” occurs.

You reach a point in this equilibrium however when the Debt level in the Debt Sink is equal to or greater than the Credit that can be issued out on the resource base of energy.

Credit-Debt_FlowWhy does the money stop flowing?  Well, it doesn’t in it’s entirety at first, but the backflow of bankruptcies matches or equals the rate at which new credit/money is issued out.  This is the stage we are at now.  You can keep issuing out credit, but you don’t get any return from it because the backflow matches any amount of new credit you pitch out.  There are not more resources the money can access without accumulating debt at an equal or greater rate.  The money at this point has to be issued out at a ZIRP, because there is nothing to be sieved of the flow from Interest & Taxation.

The Boom-Bust cycle occurs in the early years of accessing an energy source because the “animal spirits” of the folks issuing credit take over and they issue more credit than the machine at that point is prepared to handle.  You can only grow the money supply and credit as fast as the resource base that underpins the money is accessed.  In fact the folks running the Central Banks learned this, and thus came up with the target inflation rate of around 2%, to match how fast new sources of fossil fuel energy were being found and exploited.  The early 20th Century collapse of the Great Depression was an example of a Boom cycle where animal spirits amongst the creditors went wild, but the consumption ability was low at the time, there were not enough vectors through which to waste the energy.  It all went Bust in 1929 at the end of the Roaring 20s, and the aftermath of that Bust is well recorded history overall.

The situation we have now IS DIFFERENT THIS TIME, it’s not that the credit has been issued out too fast to access the resource base, it’s that the resource base relative to the debt level is too depleted to offer a return on investment. Certainly you could in theory issue out another say $100B in Credit to energy companies to drill the Arctic Ocean, but you’ll never get BACK the $100B PLUS INTEREST from the population at large to pay off on this investment.  The Debt Sink of the Consumer is already full up here, on all levels from personal debt to Goobermint debt signed for in his name by his “elected” representatives.  Da Goobermint is NOT handing out free money to consumers to buy the oil as it hands out free money to extractors to drill, and they likely never will.  What they are doing in just about all economies across the globe is strangling the amount of credit the population at large has available to buy the energy, while they close up shop and stop the CapEx required to exploit any sources of energy that are still left here.

You can see this in action already in the Bakken and other neighborhoods where high CapEx is necessary to drill and develop the energy source, rig counts are already down there.  Royal Dutch Shell and the other majors are already backing off from further investment, and Geopolitically you see the collapse of agreements between countries like Russia which still has some energy resource to exploit and the multi-national companies that provide the expertiese and equipment to do the drilling, like Halliburton and Baker-Hughes, recently merged as they consolidate downward here.  These service companies to the Energy Industry are the ones getting hit first and hardest, but the whole industry will collapse in a cascade fashion here.

Once you grasp that Money is not a THING in itself, but just a PROXY FOR ENERGY, you should also grasp that it does not MATTER what the currency used is made from, Paper, Gold, Cowrie, Shells or Digibits.  Issuing out more digibits to buy energy that is not being extracted does not allow you to buy more energy.  You cannot issue out more Gold (because of course what Gold is left in the ground takes ever more Energy to extract), so all converting to a PM based monetary system does is deflate the economy, the gold becomes less valuable with respect to the resource available as well, not to mention not very available for people to use because it is so centralized overall.  In the final stages of the game, no matter HOW MUCH “money” you have of any type, it simply does not buy the resources you want to buy with it, they just are not there to BUY! we depend on money to lubricate and run the global system of trade we have developed, it remains possible to an extent for the folks running the credit creation biz to funnel credit out to some places and not others, and in so doing triage off the economy whole sectors of the globe now.  Southern and Eastern Europe is being so triaged off as we speak, with our friends in Greece at the forefront of this, in a constant state of Bailout and Political Crisis, but NONE of the Bailouts to date have done a goddamn thing to relieve the misery of the Greek population, all they have done is keep the Bankstering System in Greece and Europe as a whole floating another day.  At this point as far as the majority of the population in Greece is concerned, there simply is no benefit whatsoever to remain inside the system.  They want to Opt Out.

Greece is the Canary in the Coal Mine here, and the same effect is going to move through all the economies of the banking system as the Credit that is issued out to consumers to buy energy is triaged off here.  The last places to experience this will be the centers of credit creation, in the City of London and Wall Street, but the speed at which it works its way inward increases daily here, you absolutely can track this progress on a monthly if not daily basis now.

Eventually, the Credit issued out is worthless, the currency is worthless there just is nothing left to BUY with it.  That is why the Roman currency collapsed, not because they diluted the Gold in the Coins with Base Metals, but because there simply was not stuff to BUY with that currency once they reached the Limits to Growth of that type of economy, mainly agriculturally based to provide energy to the society.

Has such a thing occurred before?  Indubitably, it has, it most certainly occurred at the end of the Babylonian Empire in the earliest years of the Ag Economy.  From Revelation 18:

10 Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.

11 And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more:

12 The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble,

13 And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.

At a certain point in the Collapse of a Civilization, it ALL goes WORTHLESS.  Not just the Fiat Paper, not just the Gold, but even the SOULS of MEN.  The life of a Slave is Worth LESS than it costs to keep the Slave alive, so the slave is disposed of.  When the Souls of Men become worthless, just how much value do you think remains in an Ounce of Gold?  Answer, not a whole lot there.

Money is a mathematical artifice that represents the total energy available to a society at any given time.  You cannot create more energy by issuing out more credit.  For the Roman Empire, which took Millenia to grow, it took Centuries for their economy based on Agriculture as their source of Energy to Collapse.  For the Industrial Society which developed over just a few Centuries, it will Collapse in a matter of decades at the most, and possibly more rapidly  than that as the monetary system which mediates the flow of energy itself collapse.


There is no stopping this process, the only thing that remains somewhat possible is to slow it down some, and to REVERSE ENGINEER to some older technologies that are less energy intensive on the way downslope.  That is not possible however on the grand scale here, the network as a whole is too dependent on the energy to continue functioning, so until the network collapses, there will be no changes made.  When the network does collapse, the change will come rapidly indeed.

Prep for it.


Fashion vs Will to Power III

Off the keyboards of Steve from Virginia and RE

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Published originally in the Commentariat on Economic Undertow


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Steve from Virginia who publishes the Blog Economic Undertow and myself are old Internet Compadres who have been debating the root causes of Collapse for quite a long time now with each other.    It first began before we set up the Diner on his blog, I think my first posts on EU go back to around 2009, maybe 2010.

For the most part, Steve and I agree on most concepts Economic in nature WRT Industrial Civilization Collapse.  From Debt to Fukushima and beyond we are entirely on the same page.  However, Steve and I also have a FUNDAMENTAL DISAGREEMENT on the etiology or root causes of the disease human society is faced with in the waning years of the Waste Based Economy, which crops up anytime he advances his theory that the Progress Meme followed over the years here is based on what he refers to as “Fashion”, whereas I contend that this results from what I refer to as the “Will to Power”.

The most recent installment of this long running debate came in the Commentariat on EU, in Steve’s latest addition to his Debtonomics Theory, which has numerous installments itself over on EU.  We got into a similar debate which I published here on the Diner a while back as Underpinnings of  Industrialization II: Fashion or the Will to Power?

So, without further introduction, here is the latest keyboard Boxing Match between myself and Steve as to what REALLY drove the development of Homo Erectus to Homo Industrialis over the millenia the genus has been walking the earth.

Further thoughts on this topic welcome from all.


Reverse Engineer

  1. I think what is missed here is that it is not really “Economics” per se that we are talking about, but a Monetary System designed to control Economics.In a monetary system, he who controls the issuance of Money controls the downhill flow of energy and all the resources that the money buys. In the words of Mayer Rothschild:“Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes it’s laws”It is a lot of nonsense that the creation of the Industrial Economy is simply a matter of “Fashion”, as Steve often argues. There is a control paradigm in place that manifests itself through the monetary system. This is the Will to Power , manifest through control of a monetary system, Mayer Rothschild made this clear, and so have many others including Henry Ford.“It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”The evolution of the Industrial Economy is an engineered thing, from the top down, it is not a result of “fashion”. It has been imposed on the population against its will in most cases, see the Luddites for this, not to mention about every 3rd World Nation that has had either Death From Above or Tanks rolling over their territory to coopt them into the paradigm and fork over their resources.Steve has a lot of marvelous insights into the nature of debt and the way the economic system works, but his concepts of “Fashion” as being a driving force in this are completely wrong, or misplaced, however you want to phrase it.The industrial economy evolved because it enabled more power to be accessed, and it has been controlled by a relatively small number of people since its inception going back to around the beginning of the Enlightenment in Europe, but really taking off with the invention of the Steam Engine.Bigger and better weapons enabled more of the world resources to be accessed by a small number of people who controlled these weapons of war, beginning with the Cannon, evolving today to Phantom Jets and Apache Helicopter Gunships.This is not “Fashion”. It is the WILL TO POWER.


    1. steve from virginia Post author
      RE sez: “All your base are belong to us!” Steve sez, “Turn that game off and go to sleep!”In a world where everything is ‘made up’ the will to power — even the power itself — is a fashion: an organized set of appearances. ‘Will to power’ is an indeterminate (macht) fancy that was expressed in mid-19th century philosophy (Schopenhauer). Other thinkers offered will to pleasure (Freud) or will toward greater understanding or meaning. All of this orbits around shared assumptions that reflect (fashionable) determinism and rapid industrialization (leverage).Within determinism, puny man becomes a God without any idea of what a God is or how to go about it. God and man are synthesized versions of each other, that is, looks like a God (image and likeness) while God cannot be anything but ‘like’ a man. Presume for a minute that God can only prove its own godliness by exercising power: God can only prove itself by destroying all humans because the last survivor might in the end defeat God … thereby disproving God’s reality. God here really has no power, it is are either an impostor or a monster with no sense of anything. Without God there is no such thing as power: ironically, when Nietzsche killed off God he killed off his own philosophy at the same time.Instead of power we have ‘real’ video games.The issue is whether determinism is a component of nature/biological evolution (Darwin). It is only for teenagers: there would be no life on Earth: the dominant form would end up destroying everything else (outcome of power). Since life has been on Earth for +400 million years, some other dynamic has determined life-outcomes besides power or will associated with it. If it is sexual selection (Darwin, Freud) then appearances matter (ability to choose partners). Most likely there is a ‘Will to belong’ or will to collaborate intimately.Put another way, even predatory animals operate within (power) constraints by necessity. A lion is always more powerful than a gazelle, the lion will eat a gazelle, never the other way around. A lion won’t invent a machine that gobbles up all the gazelles. After finishing off gazelles the lion won’t turn his machine on the zebras, nor will the lion burn the zebras up for fun. The lion has a built-in (genetic/behavioral) regimes that spares the bulk of gazelles and zebras so that there are lion-lunches into the foreseeable future. The same inhibitions prevent one group of lions from killing all the other lions. There are subtle and varying levels of interchange between prey and prey, predators and other predators so that each sustains the others … within ‘brutish’ nature there is a high level of collaboration and interchange. None of them have to have meetings …Don’t misunderstand, because determinism doesn’t function well with others does not mean the idea is without currency. Our Wile E. Coyote world, quivering in the air over a chasm, is a monument to determinism, ours is a big world with a lot in it to slay:There was a little girl,
      Who had a little curl,
      Right in the middle of her forehead.
      When she was good,
      She was very good indeed,
      But when she was bad she was horrid.There are few- if any balances in the human-American version. Winner-take-all or ‘will to power’; whatever term you please exists in the mind as an unhappy and unworkable abstraction … as a fashion. Nietzsche is right up to the point of how individuals respond to power’s appearances. We invented ‘will to power’ to explore the possibilities of machines, there is no other purpose but entertainment and perhaps seduction. What makes us ‘powerful’ are the forms that ‘power’ takes rather than the exercise of it: ‘helicopters, tanks and aircraft carriers’ appear more powerful than they really are (they are unaffordable liabilities).To exercise power is invariably self-destructive and counterproductive because power requires resources that are eroded by way of power’s exercise (US in Iraq and Afghanistan) or because no contestant has a monopoly on it.

  2. Tagio
    RE:It doesn’t have to be one or the other. If you read Pereleman’s “The Invention of Capitalism: Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation,” you see a lot of support for your thesis that, at the beginning of the industrial era, people had to be forcibly divested of their historical rights in common property, forced out of the countryside and driven to the cities to become wage slaves. Though life was not easy, they preferred their subsistence + level of farming, hunting, gathering, and home economy (income from weaving and other skills), with its more natural rhythms, more leisure time and “togetherness,” to the “opportunity” to go to the industrial hubs and enjoy “the finer things” of life. Contrary to classical economists’ rosy picture that people voluntarily chose, as a reaction to the invisible hands of Mr. Market, to become workers for capitalists, Pereleman shows that people had to be forced into it. The “capitlists” of the time, who were busy divesting people of their historical rights in a common property (“primitive accumulation” aka theft) railed against the common people’s “laziness” and uncouthness, and their lack of desire for luxury and the finer things of life. However, the people at that time living through it clearly preferred remaining in the home-bound economy to becoming a machine themselves.Fast forward 200 years, however, and people are today basically completely mind-fu***d, can’t even see their slavery, and pursue, as fashion, the next great thing and the next after that. Yes, they are manipulated by the ad agencies, television, and the rest, but they are very easily manipulated. Whose fault is that? Whether you say it is the fault of those with the will to power who pull their strings for their own climb up the ladder in the system, and so are also completely captive by it, or the fault of the nudnicks too stupid to see that they simply are fashion-driven automatons with no will of their own, I’m not sure in the end it matters all that much. Steve is right that what is needed is a major, widespread cultural shift in perception.
  3. Reverse Engineer
    ” the dominant form would end up destroying everything else (outcome of power)”Take a look around, that is precisely what is in process.It took quite a bit of evolution to finally develop an organism which could so efficiently dissipate energy, to the point it threatens its own survival.Anyhow, the bottom line is that at no point could this “fashion trend” be resisted, because if you did resist you get bombed back to the stone age. Or mowed down by Muskets if you were an Aztec. etc.RE
      1. steve from virginia Post author
        RE, the honey always comes first, the rat poison, later. Very rarely is the order reversed and it invariably fails longer-term. See, ‘Vietnam’.
      2. Reverse Engineer
        Nonsense.The Rat Poison came first when the Conquistadores wiped out the Aztecs, and it came first when the FSoA Cavalry knocked down the Plains Indians.It also came first when the Brits took over India, and it came first when Gen. Smedley Butler made Venezuela safe for Standard Oil.In all those cases the paradigm was extraordinarily successful in taking what once were neighborhoods inhabited by either H-Gs or subsistence farmers and coopting them into the Industrial Economy.The folks with the superior weapons of War won the day. That’s not fashion, that’s Will to Power.The paradigm started breaking down around WWI, when just about everybody was similarly equipped with rifles and artillery. Then they ran into the problem that mechanized tanks and APCs don’t function well in the Jungle.In MENA though where mechanized war machines function fabulously well, NATO set up an armed camp and Puppet Regimes in the various nations around there, and for 50 years since WWII this served well to keep the populations under control and the Oil flowing outward for Happy Motoring here. Of course the whole neighborhood has been in a constant state of conflict through the whole time period, but there was enough Oil flowing outward to generally pacify the populations with enough food to eat, and yes Televisions too. However, even there, the Rat Poison came before the Honey, and Rommel, Patton and Montgomery were all quite successful rolling over the local populations, they only ran into trouble when they ran into each other.Large Military machines are the defining feature of all Empires, from the British Empire right back to the Roman Empire. If you want to screw around with the definition of “Fashion” and say they did this because it was “fashionable”, feel free to do so, but the fact of the matter is that this has nothing whatsoever to do with fashion, it has to do with the guy with the best weapons and biggest army runs the show, for so long as there are resources for that army to keep growing.When the resources run thin, the army collapses, and so does the State that runs it. See the Roman Empire, see the FSoA Empire.RE

      3. steve from virginia Post author
        RE, you are enamored of the forms that force takes rather than outcomes.The world is filled with humans because we like sex and the great theater that surrounds it, more than we like killing each other or its particular theater. There has to be a theater, because we are animals, our nature is not to kill but to simply live. Our theater contains the meanings that our activities do not possess on their own.We’ve turned our attention from killing humans to killing the greater world because we learned the hard way that there are few advantages to be gained from killing each other, that the attempt is counterproductive. If there is one consequence that unites every expression of force since the beginning of history it is futility.Humans appreciate the theater that force offers, but force itself produces mostly temporary gains that often immediately reversed. With force, function rarely follows form; it has its own self-contained dynamic. Obviously, there are exceptions; Spanish buccaneers did capture parts of the New World … but they did so on their own, without any direction from the Spanish government. A better outcome would have been gained had the Spanish set up trade with natives rather than stealing from them. As it turned out, Spain’s initial successes in the New World were more-than cancelled out by its failures in the Old: in fewer than a hundred years, Spain was reduced to impoverishment and irrelevance, it ceded much of its European territory and prestige, its government was bankrupted many times over. Across Europe, a quarter of human population was wiped out in pointless and useless wars funded with New World gold and Dutch paper. European wealth flowed east to China in exchange for junk, there was a hundred years of (hyper)inflation … the application of force was a European calamity on the scale of the great plagues of the fourteenth century No single political entity was powerful enough to have its way and bring order. The enterprise as a whole ended up a complete failure.It always does: as military empires grow their power is stretched thin, it becomes decadent. Empires collapse under the costs of their own power. Geographic empires are often just lines on a map, they are little but empty space. When this space is ‘conquered’ power is diluted. The North American plains Indians’ empire was feeble. It could not fill the empty spaces of its own domain with Indians as could the Americans with European immigrants. America could draw upon all of Europe; the natives had nothing but their own rate of reproduction. American West was won with railroads, plows and barbed wire, by farmers not by soldiers as there were too few natives to put up any sort of a large-scale fight.Empire cans rarely be gained by conquest, then only be held for the briefest time, and only then by answering wants rather than by fear of the conqueror. Answering wants is costly, it appears weak, but everything else is much more so. Conquest succeeds only if the conquered are afraid; if they refuse to fear, then what?You can say otherwise, but exercise of force is always a net loss. What matters is whether the various protagonists are able to bear them; generally they cannot. If the ‘function side of military purpose is non-functional or mal-functional (or delusional), what remains? The theater. There is nothing else.America has a massive military advantage over the rest of the world together … on paper. Its advantage takes forms that are pleasing to mechanical engineers and marketing managers, politicians and the media sphere. The theater of American military supremacy plays out on television sets and movie screens, during elections and patriotic holidays, in sports stadiums across the country … every single day. In reality, the US military is hollow and incompetent, like the Nazi- and Red Communist versions … and all the others since Alexander of Macedon. For all of its toys the Pentagon cannot beat dope-peddlers and Quran-thumping street criminals with sandals and pickup trucks. It cannot do its job because the job cannot be done.Absent function there is nothing but the form. There is no ‘third thing’. Form = appearances or fashion.

    1. ellenanderson
      @Tagio “you see a lot of support for your thesis that, at the beginning of the industrial era, people had to be forcibly divested of their historical rights in common property, forced out of the countryside and driven to the cities to become wage slaves.”
      I think most people don’t understand that or accept it because of the anti-peasant narratives whose ultimate expression is found in commercials written by Madmen.
      Steve is quite correct that it could be otherwise without violating the so called “laws of human nature” so cherished by crackpots and evolutionary biologists. My grandparents were horrified by their grand children’s failure to turn off lights and all sorts of other wasteful habits. In the early days of department stores I have heard that the owners had to pay gawkers to look into display windows because it was considered unfashionable to stare – or to wish for things that you could not afford, for that matter.
      Plenty of people are revolted by what is going on in the world. Right now it is inchoate. Their revulsion has to get focused on what is responsible for this mess – not human nature but human choices that could have been made differently. There is a reason why usury was traditionally considered a sin, you know.
    2. Reverse Engineer
      Steve, you’re rewriting history to match up with your philosophical outlook.Whether the Spaniards would have done better to trade with the Aztec than mow them down is a moot point, they chose to mow them down. Regardless of what became of all the Gold they raided and their control over their colonial empire, in the end the South Americans came to live like Spaniards, Spaniards did not come to live like Indios.The next bit is complete fabrication:“The North American plains Indians’ empire was feeble. It could not fill the empty spaces of its own domain with Indians as could the Americans could the Americans fill the space with immigrants. America had all of Europe to draw upon, the natives had nothing but their own rate of reproduction.”-SteveIn fact, in pre-Columbian Amerika estimates are that there were 200M people living here. What killed them off was not a low reproduction rate, it was disease brought over by the first Europeans, smallpox, typhus etc. The Calvary did cleanup on the last few survivors of the epidemics.Once again, in the end Europeans did not come to live like Plains Indians, rather the few left came to live like Europeans, or else trapped in poverty on reservations by the Europeans. Did farmers forsce those folks onto reservations? No, the cavalry did that. That’s how come the farmers had land to farm on, the cavalry marched all the remaining prior residents off the land!Your claims completely contradict history, and merely reflect a philosophical outlook you have that military action is never productive, just destructive. Which in aggregate is true, but for the winners in a war its productive if they capture more resources at the expense of the losers.The FSoA military looks powerful because it sports a lot of big hardware, the problem is the ability to bomb a country back to the stone age is not the same as being able to hold and control it. This requires a lot of surplus energy, and complicity of local elites. The military itself will collapse because if its dependence on so much energy to run it. However, on the way up the hill, it was a very successful paradigm for the winners. That’s why the whole world is industrialized, not because it was a fashion choice.RE
      1. steve from virginia Post author
        Your thesis is unsupportable: “but for the winners in a war its productive if they capture more resources at the expense of the losers.” How can they do that? The costs don’t vanish, they are shifted toward those who can bear them, which in this case would mean the winners. USA bore the costs of destroying Japan and Europe, USA bore the costs of reconstructing Japan and Europe afterward. The US could bear these costs because it was industrialized and could turn American oil into money, it possessed (the balance of the world’s) organic credit. It could also (falsely) depreciate the rest of the world’s losses. If any of the countries had bothered to calculate the costs in advance there would not have been the war in the first place.Wars = consequence of egotism of mad men who cloak their psychopathy with ‘policy’.The problem w/ European colonies was (and is) that they cost more than they returned even without any fighting. Add fighting the the costs/losses were greater. England had a great empire because it was industrialized and could turn domestic coal into money; it could do so because had organic credit and could afford to subsidize the costs of both coal- and colonies. UK did not have industry because of its dominions, neither did the Soviet Union. Gains were fleeting, empires unraveled as credit ran out (USSR) or fell short of meeting costs (British Empire). Ditto the Spanish enterprise in the West, as it became a backwater after Western gold and silver ran low.As for the rest, I simply don’t agree.:)
      2. Reverse Engineer
        Au contraire mon ami, it is your thesis which makes no CFS.After the French & Indian Wars, Did Britain have more or less resources? They pushed the French out, and got rid of most of the Indians. Formerly stuck on a few rocky islands off the coast of the Eurasian land mass, the Brits now had all the juicy land east of the Mississippi and the French got stuck with the Frozen North in Quebec.After WWI & WWII, did NATO have more or less Oil at it’s disposal? They won the wars, they got to milk Elsie the Cow there in Saudi Arbia for 70 years since.Now, the losers of course were worse off here, the Indians were dispossessed of their land, the French had all their war debts and a few pieces of marginal land for their trouble. Over in MENA after the big mechanized wars, with the exception of a few Sheiks and Puppet Dictators, the rest of the population was worse off.In both cases, the land and resources were worse off, as once under control of the Industrial Machine began to be overutilized and gradually sucked dry to depletion.However, the winners did good for themselves, the Brits got to leave the little islands they were stuck on and expand across the Frontier, and NATO got hold of MENA to keep another 70 years worth of Happy Motoring going here in the FSoA.Wars have become non-productive in the years since because there aren’t any good resources left to win/steal here. Theft however is very good Bizness as long as the person you steal from has lots of good stuff, and was very good to the people running the War Biz all the way up the hill here. Just read Smedley Butler’s “War is a Racket.”” Take our friends the du Ponts, the powder people — didn’t one of them testify before a Senate committee recently that their powder won the war? Or saved the world for democracy? Or something? How did they do in the war? They were a patriotic corporation. Well, the average earnings of the du Ponts for the period 1910 to 1914 were $6,000,000 a year. It wasn’t much, but the du Ponts managed to get along on it. Now let’s look at their average yearly profit during the war years, 1914 to 1918. Fifty-eight million dollars a year profit we find! Nearly ten times that of normal times, and the profits of normal times were pretty good. An increase in profits of more than 950 per cent.Take one of our little steel companies that patriotically shunted aside the making of rails and girders and bridges to manufacture war materials. Well, their 1910-1914 yearly earnings averaged $6,000,000. Then came the war. And, like loyal citizens, Bethlehem Steel promptly turned to munitions making. Did their profits jump — or did they let Uncle Sam in for a bargain? Well, their 1914-1918 average was $49,000,000 a year!Or, let’s take United States Steel. The normal earnings during the five-year period prior to the war were $105,000,000 a year. Not bad. Then along came the war and up went the profits. The average yearly profit for the period 1914-1918 was $240,000,000. Not bad.

        There you have some of the steel and powder earnings. Let’s look at something else. A little copper, perhaps. That always does well in war times.

        Anaconda, for instance. Average yearly earnings during the pre-war years 1910-1914 of $10,000,000. During the war years 1914-1918 profits leaped to $34,000,000 per year.

        Or Utah Copper. Average of $5,000,000 per year during the 1910-1914 period. Jumped to an average of $21,000,000 yearly profits for the war period.

        Let’s group these five, with three smaller companies. The total yearly average profits of the pre-war period 1910-1914 were $137,480,000. Then along came the war. The average yearly profits for this group skyrocketed to $408,300,000.

        A little increase in profits of approximately 200 per cent.

        Does war pay? It paid them. But they aren’t the only ones. There are still others. Let’s take leather. …”

        Now, on balance here, this cost the Taxpayers a lot more than this, but the Taxpayers aren’t the ones running the show. War used to be a very profitable Bizness for the people running the show. Less so now as resources are depleted, but you still do have taxpayers footing the bill while the Industrialists take home the profits.

        As should be obvious, this is a Top Down run enterprise, and has been so for a long time, likely to the dawn of Agiculture. It’s not Fashion. It’s Will to Power.


      3. steve from virginia Post author
        Will to Power is a slogan, it is clearly fashionable even as it fails.Resources simply are, they are generally depleted, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. Whoever manages a resources tends to deplete it. The wise do not deplete their resources but husband them instead. The wise understand that someone coming along later might ‘discover’ some important use for a resource other than to eat- burn- or simply shoot the resource and let it rot.North America had less resources after the English arrived not more (not considering what was wasted prior to of their arrival). After a century or more of pointless wars both the French and English were bankrupted. Your supposition is that one group possesses a monopoly on waste, which is incorrect. What determines outcomes within modernity is access to credit; at the same time, whatever credit is diverted toward war-making is lost. Marching up and down the road or blowing something up is not remunerative. It is simply waste. Winners in war cannot create resources they can only change custody from one waster to another. The gains of a ‘winner’ are always counterbalanced by the losses of the ‘loser’. In addition there are the direct costs of the war itself.It’s one thing for a blogger to carry on about how wonderful determinism is as well as its inherence, but sadly, too many actual policy makers fall into the power trap and embrace the same illogic … Bush and now Putin. Pursuit of power is why the world is bankrupt, why it’s poised at the edge of ecological ruin. Will to Power is a myth; it has to be otherwise ‘power’ would succeed; after 500+ years of modernity there would be some evidence of success somewhere, instead the record is accelerating failures and exhaustion.I am doing a terrible job of explaining my own fundamental premise.
      4. Reverse Engineer
        Note: Actually the French government lost Quebec to the English Crown also, but mostly French speakers populated Quebec, and still do. The English Crown also held onto Canada substantially longer than they held onto the colonies in the now Lower 48. As we all know, the American Revolution occurred shortly after the French & Indian Wars, and put the USA squarely in the pocket of the International Banking Cartel, courtesy of Alexander Hamilton.RE
      5. steve from virginia Post author
        RE, you are arguing against yourself. If the UK/USA ‘won’ than how does that square with an ‘international banking cartel’?You aren’t going Alex Jones on me are you?
      6. Reverse Engineer
        Fashion is a Slogan too Steve.I already stipulated that the NA continent was worse off after the Brits arrived, so also worse off were the French and the Mohicans. The Brits however were better off, they got more space to expand into.SOMEBODY makes a profit off War, otherwise it wouldn’t be engaged in. Smedley Butler made crystal clear who made a profit off his career as a Racketeer for Wall Street.These are the folks who run the show, not puppet politicians like Obama-sama and certainly not you the Voter. These are the people who are most grossly infected with the Will to Power, and it profits them immensely to pursue the Bizness of War. They determine what is fashionable, and then they sell it to you. You have no choice in the matter. If you won’t buy it, they’ll bomb you back to the stone age or blow you off the face of the earth.RE
      7. steve from virginia Post author
        Britain did not ‘expand’ into anything. Britain is an island, it did not get any larger by way of any war.North America’s population increased due to immigration … from France, Italy, eastern Europe, Ireland, Africa, China, Japan, India; there are also natives and descendants from natives. What made it happen was three-masted sailing ships, not war. Regular steamship service accelerated the flow. Today there is more immigration from Latin America. Mexico has not invaded the US nor are they conquering it.As it is, there are more Mexicans in the US than ever; with no fighting, no battles, no idiotic ‘will to power’; only a willingness of millions to labor as near-slaves at the fringes of the US society. The prize is the slim chance … at better lives.Many if not most of the 17 – 20th century immigrants were escapees from the wars; exiles not victors. Immigrants did not win anything but their lives. What happened afterward had nothing to do with Britain’s or any other country’s ‘conquest’, certainly the British did not fight its wars in the West to gain better lives for those whom it considered as ‘trash’. Irish did not conquer Boston any more than Italians conquered Brooklyn or Polish Jews conquered Chicago. African-Americans certainly did not conquer anything and nobody conquered America in their name.British citizens have never been better off after any war, the costs of managing Britain’s silly empire were extracted from the citizens themselves … not immediately but as the debts became due-and-payable, from children and grand-children. Empire was an attempt to find 3d parties upon whom the costs of British borrowing could be shifted. How can a British citizen shoulder costs in a faraway place better than his- or her home? The citizen is the same regardless of place … or else they aren’t citizens at all! The non-British have slender means to carry any burdens, much less the debt burdens of industrial countries. How can a peasant farmer or porter retire or even service the debts incurred by a country such as England? The idea is absurd.I’ve been writing about this sort of thing for five years! Don’t you read any of it?Britain would have done better to trade (at lower cost) with natives rather than engage in wars with its European neighbors overseas. Britain’s massive navy was not cost-free. Nor was its (much smaller) army. Costs don’t disappear regardless of who edits them. They can be put off (by way of borrowing) but the act of putting them off adds to them: credit has its own very large costs.A warring nation cannot gain a free lunch. The ‘counterparty’ loses the lunch and that loss is registered against the winner’s gains. As such, there cannot possibly be a winner. It is physically impossible. There is only one planet, this is it, there are no other places against which the losses can be tallied.Fashion = appearance. You can call it a slogan but this is simply not true. We act on appearances as a component of natural selection, our desires and prejudices are geared toward them.Yes, there is war, yes there is determinism but as a fashion that has certainly outlived its usefulness.

      8. Reverse Engineer
        I read it Steve, I just don’t buy your reasoning on this stuff.We speak English in the US, Steve, not German, not French and certainly not Lakota, Navajo or Tlingit. As a result of WAR, not “Fashion”, the Industrial Culture was disseminated across the Earth.Similarly, Agriculture overran hunter-gatherer by virtue of War, not because hunter-gatherer thought agricultural living was more Fashionable.That this is overall destructive is quite obvious, however as mentioned by Smedley Butler who you completely ignore here, a few people who run this show profit enormously from it. Accessing the stored thermodynamic energy of fossil fuels enabled this bunch of folks to gain hegemony over the entire earth, and transform it into a waste producing industrial machine, via the War process.Such are the outcomes of the Will to Power.RE
      9. steve from virginia Post author
        RE:“I just don’t buy your reasoning on this stuff.”You don’t have to buy anything. I can’t make you understand, I can’t teach you anything. You can learn or not learn, that’s all there is to it.It is clear that if people don’t abandon the deterministic ‘will to power’ myth there will be unendurable consequences.
      10. Reverse Engineer
        You don’t have to buy anything. I can’t make you understand, I can’t teach you anything. You can learn or not learn, it is all the same to me.“Buy” is idiomatic in this usage, the idea is your ideas don’t make CFS to me so they don’t sell. Some folks have CFS, others do not. No argument I make, no speech from Smedley Butler will change your opinion, so we remain on opposite sides of the fence on this.It is clear that if people don’t abandon the deterministic ‘will to power’ myth there will be unendurable consequences.On that we most certainly agree.RE
      11. steve from virginia Post author
        RE, ‘buy’ is your idiom, not mine. Look at your preceding comment.If you adhere to a bankrupt ideology then anything outside of it will not make any sense, it will be incongruent. That is a failure indicator right there.As far as Butler goes, he earned the right to his own opinion but it is only one among many.I have seen the world’s most powerful military lose war after war at stupendous cost … lost to farmers, taxi drivers and plumbers’ helpers. And yet I have not lived long enough to see the United States win a war, that last, almost forgotten ‘victory’ ultimately being Pyrrhic. I’ve seen the other great military powers endure the same outcomes (USSR, Israel, China), the great empires collapsed (UK, USSR); the wannabe- or false empires ruined (France, South Africa, UAR, Russia now); the impulse to empire is exposed as nonsense as is the impulse to industrialize (Argentina).War is an activity like golf. Like golf, some people enjoy it but humans are not genetically predisposed to play golf. There is nothing innate in nature that compels one form or life to wantonly kill or wipe out other forms; to eat some of them, yes. Nature has learned over millions of years that eating all of one’s food supply ends badly for the killer. This is also true of humans. We are not genetically predisposed to be exterminators, or even predators; we aren’t strong enough, fast enough, we lack the ‘basic equipment’; not just teeth and claws but also the fundamental absence of fear that is possessed by other ‘real’ predators. Long ago we trained ourselves to be lions, but we did so imperfectly. We invented myths to keep us from running away when the large animals we wanted to eat turned to defend themselves.Humans don’t hunt and kill animals to survive any more, we grow animals on farms, they are killed by Mexicans working in factories owned by Chinese. Neither the Mexicans nor the Chinese have conquered anyone, they’ve made business deals. The closest most people come to our food-animals is safely within plastic wrap @ the supermarket. Nature takes the form of immaculate green lawns and our pets, ‘wild’ gathers at the bird-feeder or as cockroaches on the kitchen counter. Meanwhile, we recycle the obsolete myths that have long-since outgrown their usefulness, the myths that instruct us that we have an innate, biological urge to dominate everything else. We don’t. There is no economic necessity to it either. If you have been reading over here for more than fifteen minutes the major thesis is that the primary activity of our economy is to thoughtlessly consume resources and borrow to do so, this is another learned process, not innate. It is safe to say that no animal other than human acts to dominate everything; it is limits — not ambition — that is a genetic predisposition. Within this context, we aren’t heroes, we’re failures.Observable reality would bear this out. The fact that there is life on this planet at all is evidence that there is no such thing as ‘will to power’. It is a crazy idea by a minor German philosopher then plastic wrapped by another insane German philosopher. There is no evidence it exists anywhere but in the minds of these two as well as impressionable teenagers.Your argument tends to suggest a one-way dynamic: conquerors and victims. This false. There are would-be conquerors and those who successfully resist them. There is so little difference between the groups that the outcomes are a matter of random chance. Most attempts at conquest fail outright at stupendous cost, the small remainder succeed only until the conqueror is buried under accumulated costs associated with his victories … this leading to either defeat- or ruin over time. What leads to ‘success’ are non-military endeavors: improved agriculture and water management, less-costly distribution of information; emigration and the moderating impulse of religion.The efforts of the the great military powers of the past have experienced the same frustrations as current powers: partial, costly victories at best … more costly defeats that are rationalized away with slogans, ‘We’ll get ‘em next time’.The ‘next time’ always starts with a lie. Whatever you are trying to build on the lie RE, you are building on sand.

        Reverse Engineer
        OK, I can’t leave it alone. LOL.“Observable reality would bear this out. The fact that there is life on this planet at all is evidence that there is no such thing as ‘will to power’. It is a crazy idea by a minor German philosopher then plastic wrapped by another insane German philosopher. There is no evidence it exists anywhere but in the minds of these two as well as impressionable teenagers. ”“Observable Reality” is that there are ongoing Wars all over the world, and SOMEBODY is supplying them with Weaponry. For the people who do that supplying, this Bizness turns a terrific profit for them. Do any Nation-States profit from this? No, they all get to foot the bills for these Wars, while a small number of people collect immense profits from them.To the Robber Barons of the 19th Century, it made economic sense for THEM to have the land cleared of Natives and string Railroad tracks and Telegraph Wires all over the country, not to mention electrify it. You yourself have noted how well John D. Rockefeller did by finding ways to waste the oil he got control of through Standard Oil.For the rest of us, we got stuck with the bills come due on Rockefeller’s Will to Power. Not to mention Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt and numerous others so infected.Japan was forcibly openned to trade by Matthew Perry’s Gunboats. The resources of MENA were accessed by virtue of force applied since WWII just about non-stop. Populations generally have not willingly accepted the destruction and rape of their environment, but by application of military force and coopting the Elite of all these neighborhoods into the game, Industrialization managed to overrun the entire world.

        If you want to, you can look at the expansion of Militarism over the Millenia as a growing Cancer, but it is very effective in doing what it is designed to do, which is dispense death and consume resources. It has also made a few people richer than God, and these folks run the political show through control of the monetary system. They issue the War Bonds. They buy the Politicians. You pay the bills.



So which is it Diners?  What has been the driving force sending Homo Sapiens down the Road to Ruin?  Is it FASHION, or a WILL TO POWER?


How to Lose an Empire

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Extracted on March 23, 2014

Image from an advertising campaign for Pirelli in the 1990s.

Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner

Power is nothing without control

Empires seem to be a typical human structure that reappears over and over in history. The problem is that empires are often so efficient that they tend to overexploit and destroy even theoretically renewable resources. The final result is a destructive cascade of feedbacks: not only the empire gradually runs out of resources, but it also runs out of the capability of controlling them; with the two effects reinforcing each other. Power is nothing without control. And, usually, control seems to run out before power.

In practice, empires in trouble tend to fragment into independent blocks or statelets before actually disappearing as economic systems. It is the result of the increasing costs of control, which are not matched any more by the diminishing flux of natural resources. We have seen this phenomenon in recent times with the fragmentation and the disappearance of the Soviet Union. We may be seeing it today with the modern worldwide empire we call “Globalization.” The recent events in Ukraine seem to show that the system, indeed, has troubles in controlling its periphery and may soon fragment into independent blocks.

Of course, it is still too early to say whether what we are seeing today in Ukraine is just a bump in the road or a symptom of impending systemic collapse. As usual, however, history may be a guide to understand what lies ahead. In the following post, I examine the collapse of the Roman empire in light of considerations based on control and resources. It turns out that, even for the ancient Romans, power was nothing without control.

Peak gold: how the Romans lost their Empire

by Ugo Bardi


A Roman “Aureus” minted by Emperor Septimius Severus in 193 CE. At nearly 8 grams, the Aureus was truly an imperial coin – the embodiment of Rome’s wealth and power. (image from Wikipedia).
In this post, I argue that precious metal currency was a fundamental factor that kept together the Roman empire and gave to the Romans their military power. But the Roman mines producing gold and silver peaked in the first century CE and the Romans gradually lost the capability of controlling their resources. In a way, they were doomed by “peak gold.”

When I heard for the first time that the Roman Empire fell because of the depletion of its silver and gold mines, I was skeptical. Compared to our situation, where we are facing the depletion of fossil fuels, the Roman case seemed to me to be completely different. Gold and silver don’t produce energy, they don’t produce anything useful. So, why should the Roman Empire have fallen because of something we might call “peak gold”?

And yet, as I delved into the matter, I noticed how evident was the correlation of declining gold and silver availability with the decline of the Roman Empire. We have scant data on the production of Roman mines, mainly located in Spain, but it is commonly believed that production peaked at some moment during the first century CE (or perhaps early 2nd century CE). Afterwards, it rapidly dwindled to nearly nothing, even though gold mining never completely stopped (1).

As you can see in the figure, the loss of precious metal production was reflected in the silver content of the Roman currency. The Romans didn’t have the technology needed to print paper bills, so they just debased their silver currency, the “denarius,” by increasing its copper content. By mid 3rd century, the denarius was nearly  pure copper: “fiat money” if there ever was one. During that  period, gold coins were not debased, but they basically disappeared from circulation. (graph above from Joseph Tainter (2)).

As I argued in a previous post, the progressively dearth of precious metals  correlates well with the various events that took place during the declining phase of the empire and with its eventual disappearance. Of course, correlation doesn’t mean causation but, here, the correlation is so strong that you can’t think it is just a question of chance. With time, it appeared clear to me that there were also clear links between several factors in the collapse of the Empire.

In general, complex systems tend to fall in a complex manner and the Roman Empire did not simply fall because of the lack of its primary energy source which, at that time, was agriculture. Energy (and power) is useless without control and for the Romans controlling the energy generated by agriculture requires capital investments for troops and bureaucracy. Both were affected by the decline of the production of precious metals. In time, the reduced military effectiveness of the empire disrupted the ability of controlling the agricultural system. That condemned the Empire to collapse.

This is a hugely complex story that can’t possibly be exhausted with a mere blog post. Nevertheless, the problem is very general and it can be condensed in a single sentence: “power is nothing without control” So, I believe it is possible to lay down in a relatively short space the main elements of the interplay between gold, military power, and food in Roman times. Let me try.

– The Romans and gold

Ultimately, what creates and keeps together empires is military force. The Roman Empire was so large and so successful because it was, possibly, the mightiest military force of ancient times. The Romans had been so successful at that not because of special military innovations. The recipe for their success was simple: they paid their fighters with precious metal currency. The combined technology of gold mining and coin minting had allowed the Romans to create one of the first standing armies in history. Still today, we call our enlisted men “soldiers”, a term that comes from the Roman word “Solidus;” the name of the late empire gold coin.

Not only money could create a standing army, it could also swell it to large sizes. Enlisting in the legions – the backbone of the army – was reserved to Roman citizens, but anyone could enlist in the “auxilia“, “auxiliary” troops. In the figure, you see Roman auxilia (recognizable by their round shields) presenting the severed heads of Dacians to Emperor Trajan during the Dacian campaign of the 2nd century CE. Normally, Romans were not supposed to cut off enemies’ heads, it was seen as uncivilized, but the auxilia were notoriously a little unruly (note how the Emperor, on the left, looks perplexed). But, by the time of the Dacian wars, the auxilia had become a fundamental part of the Roman army and they were to remain so for the remaining lifetime of the Empire.

Gold and silver were essential elements in the hiring of troops for the Romans and that was especially true for foreign ones. Put yourself in the caligae (sandals) of a German fighter. Why should you put your framea (lance) in the service of Rome if not because you were paid? And you wanted to be paid in serious money; copper coins would not do. You wanted gold and silver currency that you knew could be redeemed anywhere in Europe and especially in that gigantic emporium of all sorts of luxury goods that was the city of Rome, the largest of the ancient world. And, by the way, where did these luxury items come from? Mostly, were imported. Silk, ivory, pearls, spices, incense, and much more came from India and China. Importing these items was not just an extravagant hobby for the Roman elite, it was a tangible manifestation of the power and of the wealth of the empire; something that was an important factor in convincing people to enlist in the auxilia. But the Chinese wouldn’t send silk to Rome in exchange for worthless copper coins – they wanted gold and they obtained it. Then, that gold was lost forever for the Empire which, basically, could produce only two things: grain and troops, neither of which could be exported at long distances.

This situation explains the gradual military decline of the Roman empire. With the decline of the precious metal mines, it became more and more difficult for emperors to recruit troops. The lack of a strong central power caused the empire to become engulfed in civil wars; with the army mainly engaged in fighting chunks of itself and the empire splitting in two parts: the Eastern and the Western. During this phase, the number of troops was not reduced, but their quality strongly declined. After the military reform by Emperor Diocletian during the third century CE, the Roman army was formed mainly of limitanei; not really an army but a border police unable to stop any serious attempt on the part of foreigners to puncture the borders. To keep the empire together, Emperors relied on the “comitatenses” (also with other names) mobile crack troops which would plug (or try to plug) the holes in the border as soon as they formed.

The combination of limitanei and comitatenses worked in keeping the barbarian out of the Empire for a while. But the hemorrhage of gold and silver continued. So, during the last decades the empire, the paradigmatic Roman troops were the “bucellarii” a term that means “biscuit eaters”. The name can be taken as implying that these troops fought for food. Of course that may not have been always true, but it is a clear indication of the dearth of money of the time. There are also reports of troops paid in pottery and in some cases with land – the latter use may have been a factor in creating the feudal system that replaced the Roman empire in Europe.

In a way, as we see, the Romans were doomed by their “peak gold” (and also “peak silver). By the loss of their precious metal supply, the Romans lost their ability of controlling their troops and as a result of their resources. And power is nothing without control.

But the Roman empire did not fall just because it was invaded by foreigners or because it split in multiple sectors. It experienced a systemic collapse that wasn’t just a military one: it involved the whole economy and the social and political systems as well. To understand the reasons of the collapse, we need to go more in depth in the way the Roman economic system worked.

– The Romans and energy

The energy of the Roman Empire came from agriculture; mainly in the form of grain. At the beginning of their history and for several centuries onward, it seems that the Romans had little or no problems in producing enough food for their population. That makes sense considering that in Roman times the population of Europe was less than one tenth of what it is today and hence there was plenty of free space for cultivations. Reports of food problems in the Empire appear only with the 1st century CE and truly disastrous famines appear only with the 5th century CE – when the Western Roman Empire was already in its terminal phase. “Peak food”, apparently, came much later, about 3-4 centuries later than “peak gold”.

The very existence of a “peak food” for the Roman empire is somewhat puzzling: agriculture is, in principle, a renewable technology that had been able to feed the Roman population for several centuries. During the last period of the empire, there is no evidence of a population increase; on the contrary, it is clear that it declined. So, why couldn’t agriculture produce enough food?

The problem is that producing food doesn’t just involve plowing some land and sowing crops. Agricultural yields depend on the vagaries of the weather and, more importantly, agriculture has the tendency of depleting the land of fertile soil as a result of erosion. To avoid this problem, the ancient had a number of strategies: one was nomadism. From Caesar’s “De Bello Gallico” we learn that, as late as in the 1st century BCE, European populations still practiced a nomadic life style. They would do that in order to find new, pristine land and planting crops in the rich soil that they could produce by slashing and burning trees. That was possible because continental Europe, at that time, was nearly empty of people and entire populations could move unimpeded.

The Romans, instead, were a sedentary population and they had the problem of soil depletion. As population grew, it became a larger and larger problem, especially in a mountainous region such as Italy (3). In addition, some urban centers – such as Rome – became so big that they were impossible to supply using just local resources. With the 1st century BCE, the situation led to the development of a sophisticated logistic system based on ships that carried grain to Rome from the African provinces, mainly Libya and Egypt. It was a major task for the technology of the time to ensure that the inhabitants of Rome would receive enough grain and just when they needed it. It required large ships, storage facilities and, more than all, a centralized bureaucracy that went under the name of “annona” (from the Latin world “annum“, year). So important it was this system, that Annona was turned into a full fledged Goddess by imperial propaganda (you can see her in the image above, on the back of a coin minted at the time of Emperor Nero – from Wikipedia). For us, turning bureaucracy into a divine entity may appear a bit farfetched but, perhaps, we are not so far away from that.

Despite its complexity, the Roman logistic grain system was successful in replacing the insufficient Italian production and it permitted to feed a city as large as Rome, whose population approached (and perhaps exceeded) one million inhabitants during the heydays of the empire. But it was not Rome alone which benefited from the annona and the system could create a relatively high population density concentrated along the shores of the Mediterranean sea. It was this higher population density that gave to the Romans a military edge over their Northern neighbors, the “barbarians”, whose population was limited by a lack of a similar logistic system.

But what actually moved grain from the shores of Africa to Rome? In part, it was the result of trade. For instance, grain shipping companies were in private hands and they were paid for their work. But grain itself didn’t move because of trade: the provinces shipped grain to Rome because they were forced to. They had to pay taxes to the central government and they could do so either in currency or in kind. It seems that grain producers paid usually in kind and Rome didn’t ship anything in return (except in terms of troops and bureaucrats). So, the whole operation was a bad deal for provinces but, as usual in empires, opting out was not allowed. When, in 66 CE, the Jews of Palestine decided that they didn’t want to pay taxes to Rome any more, their rebellion was crushed in blood and Jerusalem was sacked. In the end, it was military power that kept the system under control.

The Roman annona system may not have been fair, but it worked fine and for a long time: at least a few centuries. It seems that the African agricultural system was managed by the Romans with reasonable care and that it was possible to avoid soil erosion almost until the very end of the Western Empire. Note also that the annona system doesn’t seem to have been affected – in itself – by the debasing of the silver denarius. This is reasonable: grain producers had no choice; they couldn’t export their products at long distances and they had only one market: Rome and the other major cities of the empire.

But the system that fed the city of Rome appears to have rapidly declined and finally collapsed during the 5th century CE. We have some evidence (3) that it was in this period that erosion turned the North African shores from the Roman “grain belt” into the desert we see nowadays. Possibly, the disaster was unavoidable, but it is also true that warfare does a lot of damage to agriculture and this is surely true for the North African region, object of extensive warfare during the last period of the Roman Empire. More in general, the strain to the economic system generated by continuous warfare may have led producers to overexploit their resources, privileging short term gains to long term stability. Were it not for these events, it is likely that the agricultural productivity of the land could have been maintained for a much longer time. But that was not the case.

With the North African land rapidly turning into a desert, King Genseric of the Vandals (see his face on a “siliqua” coin in the figure), ruling the region, halted the shipping of grain to Rome in 455 CE, then proceeding to sack the city in the same year. That was the true end of Rome, whose population shrunk from at least a few hundred thousands to about 50,000. It was the end of an age and never again would the North African shores be exporters of food.

– The fall of the Roman empire

Complex systems tend to fall in a complex manner and several interlocked factors played a role together first in creating the Roman empire, then in destroying it. At the beginning, it was a technological innovation, coinage of precious metals, that led the Romans to develop a military might that allowed them to access a resource which would have been impossible to exploit otherwise: the North African agricultural land. But, as it is often the case, the exploitation mechanism was so efficient that eventually it destroyed itself. Lower productivity of the precious metal mines reduced the efficiency of the Roman military system and this, in turn, led to fragmentation and extensive warfare. The increasing needs of resources for war were an important factor in destroying the agricultural system whose collapse, in turn, put an end to the empire.

The dynamic interplay of the various elements involved in the growth and the fall of the empire can be seen in the figure below, from a previous essay of mine.  In the diagram, the source of energy is agriculture, but it is just an element of a complex system where various entities reinforce or dampen each other.

The diagram is patterned after the one originally created by Magne Myrtveit for our society described in the 1972 “Limits to Growth” study. This, as other studies of the same kind, provide a nice, aggregated view of the trajectory of an economic system which tends to overexploit the resources it used. As models, however, they are not completely satisfactory in the sense that they don’t include the question of control. It is a cost which needs to be paid and the gradually declining flow of resources makes it difficult. As a result, empires rarely collapse smoothly and as a whole, but rather tend to fragment and engage in internecine wars before actually disappearing. That was the destiny of the Roman Empire which experienced the general rule that power is nothing without control.

The Romans and us

It has always been fashionable to see the Roman Empire as a distant mirror of our civilization. And, indeed, we see that the points of contact are many. Just think of the sophisticated Roman logistic system: the navis oneraria which transported grain from Africa to Rome are the equivalent of our super-tankers transporting crude oil from the Middle East to Western countries. And think how China and India are playing today exactly the same role they were playing in the remote Roman times: they are manufacturing centers which are gradually soaking the wealth of the empire that we call, today, “globalization”.

This said, there is also an obvious difference. The Roman energy system was based on agriculture and hence it was theoretically renewable, at least until the Romans didn’t overexploit it. Our system is based on fossil fuels, which are obviously non renewable resources. Hence, we tend to be more worried about the depletion of our energy resources rather than that of gold and silver which – it seems – we could safely remove from our financial system without evident problems.

Still, there remains the fundamental problem that power is useless without control. The control system of the globalization empire works on similar principles as the older Roman one. It is based on a sophisticated financial system which, eventually, works because it is integrated with the military system. In the globalized army, soldiers, just like the Roman ones, want to be paid. And they want to be paid with a currency that they can redeem with goods and services somewhere. The dollar has, so far, played this role, but can it play it forever?

Eventually, everything that humans do is based on on some form of belief of what has value in this world. The Romans saw gold and silver as stores of value. For us, there is a belief that bits generated inside computers are stores of value – but we may be sorely disappointed – not that there will ever be a “peak bits” as long as there are computers around, but surely a major financial collapse would not just impoverish us, but most of all it would disrupt our capability of controlling the energy resources we need so desperately.

So, when oil pundits line up oil reserves as if each barrel were a soldier ready for battle, they tacitly assume that these reserves will available for use of the global empire. That’s not necessarily true. It depends on the degree of control that the empire will be able to exert on producers. That depends on the financial system which may well turn out to be the weak link of the chain. Without control, power is useless.

The Roman empire was lost when the financial system ceased to be able to control the military system. When the Romans lost their gold, everything was lost. In our case, it may well be that we will lose our ability to control the military system before we actually lose our ability to produce energy from fossil fuels. If the dollar loses its predominance in the world’s financial system, then producers may be tempted to keep their oil for themselves or, at least, not so enthusiastic any more in allowing the Empire to access it. What’s happening today in Ukraine may be a first symptom of the impending loss of global control.

1. “Mining in the Later Roman Empire”, J.C Edmondson, The Journal of Roman Studies, 79, 1989, 84,
2. Tainter, Joseph A (2003. First published 1988), The Collapse of Complex Societies, New York & Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-38673-X,
3. “The Roman Empire: Fall of the West; Survival of the East”, James F Morgan, Bloomington 2012

Panarchy & The One to The Many-The Final Countdown

Off the keyboard of RE

Discuss this article at the Geopolitics Table inside the Diner

Although Seccesionary Movements still appear to be a bit far off into the future here in the FSofA, this aspect of the Collapse has already hit over in Eurotrashland, most notably right now in Spain where the Catalans are making a lot of noise about splitting off from the Castillian control of Spain to form their own “new” country.  Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the UK Telegraph has been covering the talk of Catalonia Secession in quite some detail lately:

It is the latest move in a fast-escalating clash between Catalan nationalists and Spanish nationalists, the latter backed by King Juan Carlos and the Spanish military.

Jose-Manuel Garcia-Margallo, the foreign minister, threw down the gauntlet, calling Catalan secession “illegal and lethal”. He warned that Spain would use its veto to stop the region of Catalonia becoming an EU member “indefinitely”.

The constitutional crisis has eclipsed the parallel drama of a Spanish bail-out request from the European Stability Mechanism. It is no longer clear whether premier Mariano Rajoy can deliver on any austerity deal with Brussels.

Catalan leader Artur Mas held high-stakes talks with Mr Rajoy in Madrid on Thursday, armed with a mandate from the Catalan parliament and with charged emotions left from an unprecedented protest by 1.5m people in Barcelona 10 days ago.

He demanded an independent treasury for the rich Catalan region, with control over its own tax base akin to the model already enjoyed by Basques. The 9m Catalans have an economy the size of Austria’s.

This isn’t the only place in Europe where talk of a breakup of a country into component parts is being discussed though.  There is now talk of Secession in Scotland, one of the main constituents of the “United Kingdom”, which includes Great Britain, Wales and Ireland as well as Scotland.  From Bill Jamieson on The Scotsman:

Many big questions remain unanswered ahead of the signing of an accord on the referendum, writes Bill Jamieson


What is the objective of independence? As David Cameron and Alex Salmond are set to sign an accord on the referendum at St Andrew’s House next week – a formal signing ceremony that the First Minister wishes to take place in front of the world’s press and television cameras – it may be useful for the SNP annual conference next week to clarify the benefits it believes will flow from a Scottish secession from the Union.

In few other countries has the aspiration for independence been so closely focused on the economic pros and cons of self-government. Many supporters may feel this is second-order detail. But there is a sizeable proportion of Scottish voters who are not yet decided and for whom economic considerations will be critical to their decision.

Argument has already been engaged on projections of North Sea oil revenues, public spending, borrowing and tax. Important as these are now set to become, debate here is in danger of missing a key pillar of the SNP case. This is that independence cannot be judged on the basis of linear statistical projections of income and expenditure alone. For independence will, of itself, help release our entrepreneurial energies: it will bring about a cultural change, releasing our animal spirits. It will, in short, be transformative of our economic performance.

Besides these internal Secessions in the making of course is the big one we all have been hearing about for quite ome time, the breakup of the Eurozone itself, administered out of the European Parliament in Brussels.  It reamins unclear who will be the first to leave the EZ, Greece or one of the other PIIGS countries who are failing miserably under the “Euro Straight Jacket” as Nigel Farage refers to it, or the more “successful” Northern European countries like Germany and Finland who are getting a bit tired of Bailing Out their impoverished cousins to the South.

What does seem certain of course is that the European Union is well into Collapse phase now, and is unlikely to survive in current form much more than another year or two, if that.

Preceeding both of these breakups by quite a bit also, we have the collapse of the Soviet Union after the fall of the Berlin Wall into its many component Nation-States like Russia, Ukraine, Belarus etc.

Essentially, this represents a One-to-the-Many fracturing of Goobermint Structures which have been consolidating since Agriculture began around 10,000 years ago.  it is an absolute REVERSAL of a trend that has been in place for a very long time, though it accelerated tremendously with the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th Century.

What does this new trend MEAN for the nature of our societies as we move forward here further into a low energy footprint society?

Going back to my earliest writings on the Peak Oil Forum, one of the first epiphanies I had after witnessing the Collapse of Bear Stearns was that the Banking System which functions as the “Glue” holding this society together was on the road to a One-to-Many fracture.  Not only Banks would be affected, but the Nation-States themselves, which really are just Big Banks themselves.  At one time they were Bigger Banks than the TBTF Banks currently running Global Economic systems, but in the years since the Industrial Revolution these large Banking Houses have become Supra-National entities, larger than the Nation-States.

Since the collapse appears to progress upward from the smallest and weakest Financial Entities to the Largest ones, it seems likely that the progress here will see collapse of the various Nation-States before the TBTF banks, but they then also will fracture in One-to-the-Many devolution.

Where this really comes into play is in the Future Picture many people hold as true, a Brave New World/1984 picture of One World Goobermint, with a Fascist Boot Stamping on the Face of Humanity FOREVER.

The picture Rod Serling paints in Obsolete is one we are ALREADY immersed in, it is not a projected FUTURE anymore.  However, just as we have now Past Peak Oil, in all likelihood we are reaching the Peak of Globalism and the massive and overarching Nation States and Transnational Corporations that have turned the world into a simalcrum (thank you Charles Hugh Smith 🙂 ) of the Brave New World/1984 paradigm.

The One World Order isn’t becoming MORE likely now, it is rapidly becoming LESS likely as an ultimate outcome here.  All evidence points to an ONGOING and ACCELLERATING collapse of the main Conduits used for Global Control, centered around the collapsing Energy Supply used to power these things and the collapsing Monetary System used to organize it all up.

This is not simply borne out by the observation of the system decay, there is plenty of good THEORY as well from the world of Biological and Ecological systems to refer to as well, pioneered mainly by C.S “Buzz” Holling & Lance Gunderson in their work identifying 4 Phases in the Collapse and Reconstruction of Ecosystems.

  • a four-phase adaptive cycle. Holling and Gunderson (2002:32) suggest that most, although not all, such systems follow a four-phase cycle of (1) “exploitation” (r); (2) “conservation” (K); (3) “release” (Ω) or “creative destruction,” a term derived from Schumpeter (1943); and (4) “reorganization” (α). The first two stem from standard ecological theory, in which an ecosystem’s r phase is dominated by colonizing species tolerant of environmental variation and the K phase, by species adapted to modulate such variation. However, Holling and Gunderson (2002) say that “ …two additional functions are needed.” The corresponding phases, especially Ω, are typically much briefer: in a forest, Ω might be a fire or insect outbreak that frees nutrients from biomass, whereas the α phase involves soil processes limiting nutrient loss. The adaptive cycle involves changes in three main variables: resilience; potential in the form of accumulated resources in biomass or in physical, human, and social capital; and connectedness, meaning the tightness of coupling among the controlling variables that determine the system’s ability to modulate external variability. In the r phase, potential and connectedness are low but resilience is high; in K, resilience decreases while the other values increase. Eventually, some internal or external event triggers the Ω phase, in which potential crashes; finally, in α, resilience and potential grow, connectedness falls, unpredictability peaks, and new system entrants can establish themselves. Holling and Gunderson (2002) stress that the adaptive cycle is a metaphor that can be used to generate specific hypotheses; exact interpretations of resilience, potential, and connectedness are system dependent.

The beauty of the Holling-Gunderson model of Panarchy is that it applies across the board to just about all ecosystems, from Trees and Forests to Insects to Mammalian life forms.  It also has direct applications in Economics as well.  Much of the work done on this stuff was done back in the 1970s, but some of it goes back as far as the 1940s.

In a direct parallel to this work, you have the “4th Turning” Generational theory of Strauss & Howe, which identifies 4 major Eras that modern Homo Sapiens passes through on roughly and 80 year cycle.  Each of these eras has a direct parallel in the cycles desribed by Holling & Gunderson.

What is fundamentally different between these models is the Timeline issue, the Holling/Gunderson model is a time independent model which can work on many different timescales, where as the Strauss & Howe model is fixated on the 80 year timeline of modern history.

If all you beleive is at work here is the Fourth Turning concepts, then given 10-20 years or so we should work through the collapse phase and begin the rebuilding for another Generation Cycle.

What really seems to be at work though is a much longer cycle for Homo Sapiens, that goes back roughly 10,000 years to the beginnings of Agriculture.  We worked through the Exploitation and Conservation phases of this, with one final Blowout Free for All exploitaiton of Fossil fuels to drive Industrialization in the final era of this.  We no longer have sufficient resources to exploit for a rebuild phase, and the vast expansion of Human Biomass that it enabled has also depleted the Ag resource base we used to get to the point we could exploit the fossil fuels resources.

As it appears to me, we are not just on the cusp of a Fourth Turning, but a Release Phase in the Holling/Gunderson model that will undermine all the structures built to organize Civilization since the beginnings of Agriculture.

In the near term, the most obvious collapse is coming inside the Monetary System, which developed in tandem with Agriculture.  I first became aware of this watching the collapse of Bear Stearns back in 2007, followed rather quickly by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.  It was at this time I realized that the Monetary System was undergoing a Cascade Failure event, and that in succession it would take down ever larger Banks and Financial Organizations, including of course Nation-States, which until just recently were the Biggest Banks of all.  They have since been superceded in this role by a few Supra-National TBTF Banking institutions however.

So it was not a big jump for me in 2008 to predict that it would lead to the collapse of Nation States and a One-to-Many breakup,  which we have been witnessing for a while in MENA, now also apparent in Spain and the United Kingdom.  In fact this began quite a bit earlier with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but since the USSR was not in direct linkage to the Capitalist system run through the BIS, it’s collapse did not directly begin the Cascade Failure effect we see in evidence now.

The monetary system we use developed in the Exploitaition phase of growth described by Holling & Gunderson, and through the Conservation phase has only been maintained through numerical legerdermain, which only works for a while.  So though the general population and Civilization experienced near constant growth, only briefly plateauing during the Middle Ages, the associated monetary system has suffered repeated failures during this period, in fact on just about precisely the timeline of Strauss & Howe’s 4th Turnings.  In fact I made the case to Jim Quinn (a big fan of Strauss & Howe’s theories) while I was blogging with him on the Burning Platform that the 4 Turnings were merely the outcome of the average lifespan of a monetary system with an average interest rate in the 2-3% range.  Jim never bought that idea completely, but it was one of the few we didn’t completely go ballistic on each other on. LOL.

As we look at the outcomes already extant here of the progress of the Monetary System collapse, it is clear that it is working its way inward from Peripheral Economies to the Core Economies.  Also clear is that some of the TBTF Banks are actually BIGGER than Nation-States now and may last longer than the N-S they are chartered in, though legally it is hard to imagine how that can occur.

If you consider that it has taken about 4 years from the collapse of Bear Stearns to make it to collapsing the Spanish N-S and presenting the real possibility of Catalan Secession, on a linear scale another 4 years before we have similar effects here in the FSofA is reasonable, though it could go a good deal faster than that since Cascades can turn into Avalanches at certain Tipping Points.  Such a tipping point in the case of the Monetary System would be the complete collapse of a Major Currency, in this case the Euro.  The Dollar is likely to get a BRIEF bounce from a Euro collapse, but the instability that would create would be so vast it is likely the Dollar itself collapses shortly thereafter.

Money as it exists today is an artifact of the Growth phase of Civilization, and cannot function without that growth.  When you also consider that Money is the “Glue” that holds this Civilization together, it is difficult to conclude otherwise that when the Monetary system collapse, the Civilization we know goes with it.  “Money Makes the World Go-Round” the saying goes, and so when the money STOPS working, the World as We Know It STOPS going round also. TEOTWAWKI.

Making prognostications about how we will proceed in the aftermath of such a collapse are exercises in extreme speculation, since such a collapse has never been recorded in Human History.  The Collapse of the Tower of Babel in the Mesopotamian Era and the Collapse of the Roman Empire offer only a glimpse into what might occur here, and of course the outcome of those collapses was none too good either.  If you take some passages in Revelation as being representative of how the collapse went down in Babylon, you get none too pretty a picture from that:

Revelation 18

King James Version (KJV)

18 And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory.

2 And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.

3 For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.

4 And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.

5 For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.

6 Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double.

7 How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.

8 Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.

9 And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning,

10 Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.

11 And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more:

12 The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble,

13 And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.

14 And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all.

15 The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing,

16 And saying, Alas, alas that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!

17 For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off,

18 And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city!

19 And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.

20 Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her.

21 And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.

22 And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee;

23 And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee: for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.

24 And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.

This of course does not bode well for the Gold & Silver Bugs out there, since apparently the PMs held no more value than any of the other Goods being traded in the marketplace of Babylon, along with the Souls of Men.

Despite that though, in the aftermath of this collapse, the type of Ag society it represented did re-emerge and grow again with the expansion of the Roman Empire until its collapse, and then in the aftermath of that re-emerged in a Feudal Society, eventually culminating in Capitalism and Industrialization, courtesy of the discoveries in Science and Mathematics made during the Enlightenment.

In neither the case of Babylon or Rome had the population of Homo Sapiens grown to 7 Billion Human Souls.  In neither case had Nuclear Weapons or Nuclear Power Plants with vast quantities of poisonous Spent Fuel ponds been created.  In neither case was the Planet experiencing dramatic Climate and Geotectonic shifting altering the very environment we all live under in ways which cannot be absolutely predicted, but which certainly show trend lines that are none to good no matter how you measure them or what you believe the underlying causes to be.  All of these factors conspire to make the impending collapse far WORSE than those experienced by Babylon and Rome.

When you observe all these factors in synergy, it becomes quite difficult to offer much HOPE for Humanity, or even for most living organisms above the level of the Tardigrades, and some like Guy McPherson make the case that this is an Extinction Level Event on the order of the Permian Extinction 252 Million Years Ago.  This may be so, but even if true will not occur Overnight here.

The questions of how to deal with such a massive upheaval on the Indidvidual level are the questions we seek to deal with here in the Doomstead Diner.  If it truly does turn into an ELE, in the end we all will go to the Great Beyond, but who wants to be the FIRST to DIE?  if you value Life for yourself and your children, you seek to find a way to SURVIVE the great conflagrations to come.  Are there ANY foolproof solutions to this problem?  None yet have turned up at the Diner Tables, but some Solutions presented are better than others and becoming aware of issues that Transcend physical survival into the the world of Psychological and Spiritual preparation also serve as endless fodder for the Diners to chew on.

The Doomstead Diner is not an easy place to take a meal, ever, but on these pages you will find a level of Truth you can find nowhere else on the Net.  At least no place to my knowledge anyhow.  Join us here as we prepare ourselves for the Final Countdown.


Collapse of the New World Order

Recent post from Diner Mark N at the Economics Table inside the Diner, synopsizing the failing Plans of the Elite running the New World Order.


Discuss this article at the Economics Table of the Diner 

RE wrote:
I don’t know if these guys are truly Brain Dead and Stupid or if they are really Smart and just so locked into a paradigm they can’t grasp the truth here. Or if it is as El G suggests, they are Wickedly Brilliant and this is part of the Master plan. I will pick Door Number 2 on this one Monte.

I will take door number one. The elite are brilliant at theft and domination, but they have blind spots. How do you think any of the Rothschild’s would fair if dropped off in the Alaskan wilderness to survive for three weeks with no supplies. I do not believe in there is any satanic tricks or secret powers these guys have and I am sure they would starve like any other soft suburbanite.

I know that the Illuminati had a grand plan, a New World Order if you will. I am quite sure that the whole of the earth was to come under complete corporate domination, selling us EVERY SINGLE good or service we would ever use from the cradle to the grave. With super computers monitoring every single communication sent or received, thought crime immediately punished. We can see they are quite close to Global Governance and currency now.

The world however does not always cooperate as any fallen Emperor could attest. The Illuminati converted their empire to run on fossil fuels with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. The magical energy gains from oil in particular made the New World Order the crowning achievement of all previous empires. As the men of science worked on zero point energy, fusion or whatever new energy was to follow fossil fuels, something went terribly wrong. Human ingenuity failed to conquer the laws of thermodynamics and the laws of nature.

Starting in the late 1960’s technological advancements other than computer science for the most part started to slow. More alarmingly for the Illuminated ones glorious plans, DECAY and ROT started appear in the countries that were under their complete control. It now appears that the engine of the NWO, the global banking system, is FAILING. The very ability to have an industrial civilization will be lost. The ability to feed the global population will be lost. When all these systems fail it will be as if a mighty dam has broken. Unless the Illuminati have magical powers or alien allies they will be scattered by the raging torrents. Just like every single other empire that has fallen so shall this empire fall. The structural support of this empire has been rotting away since peak oil per capita hit in 1979. The foundation is rotten and we will see it fall.

Mark N

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