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Monday, December 5, 2016

the glory that was rome


THE GLORY THAT WAS ROME
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note: I noticed I get YouTube on our TV, so it is a lot nicer watching a longer video from my recliner as opposed to at the desk from a PC.  As I was playing around I noticed that the movie "DefCon 4" was on said web site.  For me, along with Road Warrior, one of the Top 5 post-apocalypse movies.  Really the only great low budget one ever made.  Check it out.
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Today, I promise I won’t dwell on the cause of the Roman Imperial collapse, nor the timeline.  You know where I stand-energy deficit and Waterfall Collapse.  I can’t convince anyone otherwise who has already made up their mind that their collapse as well as our own will take 300 years.  And similarly ( because I’d be a fool to not grant the possibility that there is always a small chance I might be wrong ), no one can tell me anything to convince me that empires don’t see a Seneca Collapse ( the last 500 years seeing Economic Collapse rather than Ecological, mainly due to a Central Banker parasitic paradigm co-opting colonialism -but all empires previous always saw ecological  complete collapse ).   Rather, today I’d like to focus on looking at Rome and its aftermath as a guidepost.  Rather than arguing over WHAT causes collapse, or how LONG it takes to complete, how about a before and after snapshot so we know our destination.  Folks always tend to skip over the Dark Ages ( or discount them as Not As Dark As You Racist Honkey Mo-Fo’s make it out to be and here are a bunch of “inventions” to prove the point ) or skip over the social/cultural changes by once again adding American Exceptionalism ( ie, “we know better now and will treat feminism and diversity, or other compassionate ideas, as currently ), or Hubris as it is known at the end of every single swinging cheese dingus empire throughout all time since the implementation of the Agricultural Age.

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Rome, in all its glory, for its time closely compatible with the American Empire now living off oil wealth, insofar as the energy surplus it was able to steal for themselves, had a handful of very important advantages.  It was able to turn the coastal North African strip into a breadbasket ( as well as other areas ).  All parts of the empire where networked with very well constructed roads, so well constructed they easily outlast our modern asphalt ones by centuries.  This allowed military movement, but also trade-theirs was akin to our navy securing sea lanes for globalization and centralization.  They also had a centralized state-which seems obvious to us, living in our nation states, but is important to keep in mind as to what followed.  Lastly ( for our purposes of discussion here, anyway ), they had a lot of slaves.

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And what was there in the aftermath of the Roman Empire ( I discount the Eastern Empire as economically and culturally they are not even close to the same entity )?  You had decentralization of governments, down to such a level that principalities, city-states, dukedoms and all the rest were the norm.  As in, as far as you could see was sometimes as far as the government got.  Very small.  Why?  Because there was no more surplus energy, and a surplus is what grows centralization.  Nothing is free, and certainly not lunch, and it takes excess energy to build roads and armies and bureaucracies.  On the ascent, there is more energy being brought in than is needed to grow the infrastructure of centralization and on the descent there isn’t enough to keep it together.  The Dark Ages saw zero surplus energy and hence localized political units only.  With small governments came small armies.  There was no longer the surplus to equip and feed them.  In effect, the political ruling class also acted as the army.  That is how bad the energy deficit became.

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Without the energy to upkeep roads and provision an army, no trade was possible.  Trade depends on a monopoly of violence for its functionality.  With so many small “counties”, trade was nearly impossible.  Without trade, not even slavery was possible ( nor was neighbor raiding even all that successful without the excess energy to field a superior military ).  Serfdom was the logical answer.  You can’t import slaves, you just assign slavery to the peasants at birth.  This is an important point to keep in mind.  The Survivalist Ideal is a large nation of Yeoman farmers, ready to join together in a militia to guarantee their freedoms.  Yet without enough surplus energy to keep a firearms industry functioning ( both the steel working and the powder manufacture with excess nitrates ), I would imagine your odds of becoming a peasant to be relatively high.  If you believe your single plastic poodle shooter will overcome an army of melee weapons, I would urge you to consider the foolishness of going up against a column of archers who are on the other side of the treeline firing over the treetops with flaming arrows into your home, or poisoning the stream you depend on in your fireproof bunker.

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Without trade, the local food is the only source of your calories and hence any adverse weather or pest infestation is disastrous.  You no longer have imported grain to act as an emergency buffer.  Even when crops were grown without disaster you still had the problem of malnourishment as few areas are as bountiful as the population needs.  That leads to regular disease outbreaks.  Today, even with all the issues of global trade such as widespread unemployment and inflation, any trade is still better than no trade.  The Agriculture Age really cannot function properly without trade.  It is almost impossible for any area to be self-sufficient ( I chuckle at the Back-To-Landers in their quest for that elusive concept as they pay off a banker for thirty years, buy solar panels from China and gasoline from Saudi Arabia ).  Something has always been used to facilitate that need, be it conquest, colonialism, nation building or what have you.  You have no idea how crappy life will be like without it.

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When energy input shrinks, you end up in a Dark Age.  That is where we are headed.  There is no other destination.  We will contract to the point where we live off the available energy.  This is all very well understood and written about.  But nobody takes that to its logical conclusion, always insisting on leftover technology to smooth out the bumpy road.  Ask yourself, how much Rome Tech survived their collapse?  Welcome to your future.

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19 comments:

  1. Quite a bit of roman technology survived the fall of the roman empire - it was just restricted in usage to the wealthy, the church, and those in political/military power.
    Metallurgy and further advances in technology however, were restricted, lack of trade and wealth (energy) as you point out means that much technological infrastrucutre was repurposed or allowed to deteriorate to some extent - but a lot remained, cultural changes put paid to plumbing and bathing, but even so into the renaissance there were places using plumbing and bathhouses etc. Militarily the technology evolved toward more expensive per unit specilist calvary (knights) and light skirmishers and pike phalankes where the pike was the shield more than an actual shield. Peasants could be easily be equiped with a long spear/pike, told to point it at the enemy, and if they were more afraid of the results of running than of fighting would hold ground and even advance toward other spear carriers or armored knights.
    I suspect the average person from the roman empire height and depths of the dark ages saw little differences and those were more cultural/religious and free flow of wealth than anything else. A slave on a Roman Patricians estate would be little different life from a serf to a dark ages knight.
    Culturally the USA has the socialist/statist leaning megaoplis areas, and the fiercely indpendent rural areas (with less infighting than the historicly similar scottish and irish clans vs the british). The cities need the rural areas products, and the rural areas need the cities products - BUT as energy contracts the city products will end up costing too much and rural areas will find work arounds, while cities will have less and less to offer rural areas except political dominance...

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    1. The city will have one bad thing to offer the rurals-more population. As now, the city refugees overwhelm the rural areas. Now with votes, next with outright colonization.

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    2. City folk dont do well in the truly remote hinterlands. The roads arent plowed, the water doesnt come from a utility, etc, etc. a lot of people have tried moving from city to country and failed even with plenty of resources to draw upon. I expect the bedroom communities around major cities will return to their farming roots as secured fiefdoms for some sort of warlord or boss-man. Beyond that- the areas more than a couple hour drive from the megopolisis? not happening. The city folk forced into those places will return as quickly as possible to a city, maybe a different city, maybe a smaller city, maybe a bigger city, but their craving for city conviences and cosmopolitan attitudes. I have seen it myself in my rural community. The border patrol keeps sending newyorkers to their first assignments in my local town NONE of them are happy to be here, all of them transfere out ASAP so that they can shop walmart daily, and have more than 2 restraunts to pickup food from.
      Now I do expect the cities to have various gangs etc, that will leave the metropoolis for 'resource gathering expeditions' (aka raids to collect food and loot). But again these wont usually be permanant or long lasting. Eventually the closest communities will agree to provide taxes or tribute to the citie(s) closest to them in exchange for 'protection' and some products - but with the first sign of weakness (or excessive demands) on the citys part the rural communities will reduce or eliminate the payment. And city troops will find the rural areas a strange and hostile enviroment.

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    3. I'm thinking the crop growing areas WILL be protected/exploited. All others will be full of nomads and bandits. That is the rest of the far future. The near future, Consumerists won't have their lifestyle infrastructure too much longer.

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  2. As an indication of how much the Roman Empire shrunk most of western europe reverted to forest. Almost a thousand years passed until trade resumed.

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    1. I'd say that near 1k years was a result of soil refurbishing finally allowing enough of a energy surplus again, to allow growth again.

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  3. More right than wrong but as your library proves we have more transferable knowledge recorded than Rome . Europe descended into the dark ages because loss of knowledge. Monks may have wrote religious tomes but not the technical tomes needed to maintain civilization. Apprinterships kept some skills alive in diminished form but with a lack of literacy it still faded. While decent is a given we have the written knowledge and literacy to reach a level much higher than most forecast. For many it will be 18th century but some areas with water and raw materials (salvage) may have a 1900 level of economy. When you say trade it is a sellable form of knowledge and surplus material. The area,s with water power will be the first to recover and surplus for trade as it was the FIRST energy source of the modern age.
    The Guttenberg press and literacy is what will keep us from returning to caves .

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    1. I'm sorry but I disagree. Knowledge is worthless without resources. The converse might also be true, but irrelevant.

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    2. I have to call you out on this one. If you believe in fast collapse/ die off resources will be avalible in salvage. Now if you want resource scarcity your on no die off, slow collapse side.
      My comment was based off a die off fast collapse of a couple of decades not a long slow decent of century's . If our fate is a slow collapse then we will turn into a salvage society and over 100 hundred years we will be resource destitute and back to serfs. A 90%+ die off = salvage and a chance with knowledge .

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    3. The problem with salvage is that you need the energy to process it. So, sure, salvage a metal beam to create a roof for your underground hovel, waterproffed with intact roof sheeting. But smelt the metal, no. Even cutting it will be problematic without trade saws/gas. Even water power, you need to rebuild first. Fast/slow collapse. either, salvage is helpful, but limited.

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    4. Ah but so long as there is organic material of any type, methane gas can be manufactured. With methane you can almost replace anything done with Petro fuels. To include melting of any metal or processing of any ore. So yes, given a drastic reduction of population, anything produced today can be produced after collapse.
      Much depends on the mindset of whatever the leftover ruleing class has to say about it. During the last Dark Age, the church controlled...thus the ultimate decline toward barbarism.
      Probably be that way this time around too. Don't need to be however, but mankind has a tendency to paint his butt blue and howl at the moon ( Religion )

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    5. well water/wind power already exists and some people even know how to apply it directly (without converting it to electricity first) those areas with people with that knowledge will have the option of 'gearing down' to a more sustainable level of tech that is still much higher than most might predict.
      But you are right james the big lacking resource will be energy (and manhours of time) not steel or glass or XYZ those are all out there and will be salvagable it you have the manhours to retrieve it and energy to process it.

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    6. Spud-I can't say much about the energy level of methane, but I note two problems. One, I've never seen a homestead method that didn't need a lot of industrial age material to process the gas and two, most of our ores are not available without huge equipment and energy intensive processing. Past the farmstead, is methane even practical ( kind of like ethanol )?
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      JJ-The manpower I can easily see. Slavery. The energy, no.

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    7. Simply put, when thinking of methane just substitute the word natural gas, this is methane. Ethanol is a whole different substance.

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    8. No, I understand. Ethanol is grain alcohol, methane is a gas rather than solid. My point was either one works on the farm level but doesn't scale up to power a larger entity. Also, the problem of equipment for processing still stands, even on a farm.

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    9. Alcohol (Ethanol) has lots of uses including recreational - it will be produced but not be enough to fill even half the existing internal combustion gasoline engines.
      Same with vegetable oil and diesel engines.
      Methan doesn't require a lot of industrial age supplies to create if you don't care about losses and have lots of feedstock (an entire towns waste could keep the schools cafeteria cooking 2 meals a day, but only big enough meals for the kids...) so get lots of pigs if you intend to go the methane route. (I have checked into the idea, the biggest problem is the production requires more feedstock than practical at this point- an entire house PLUS all their livestock PLUS outside compostable matter makes just about enough to cook the food for the house and maybe a little more, as long as the climate is friendly enough...)

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    10. So, just processing your sewage is no where near enough for cooking? All the Greenies make it sound like it is.

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  4. Sir Lord BaltimoreDecember 5, 2016 at 4:07 PM

    Lord Bison,

    You might want to check out The Fall of Rome Podcast. I have been listening to it while cooking dinner lately. Good stuff highly informative and nuanced without being dry. Give it a shot. The narrator does a really good job of contextualizing things.

    https://fallofromepodcast.wordpress.com/

    Take care out there.

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    1. I process material best by reading. Video isn't all that great, but listening to audio even worse. I tried books on tape and other than making a car trip bearable, just not my thing. It is just practice-whatever you are used to. I'm used to books. I don't even like the radio too often, preferring my own thoughts.

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