Tuesday, October 24, 2017

guest article-2 of 2 articles today

GUEST ARTICLE ( 2 of 2 articles today )

I have read Glubb's essay and would like to comment on it.


What Glubb writes has been written before , after all the painting series “The course of Empire” ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Course_of_Empire_(paintings) ) date from the 1830's and tell the same thing. Glubb does show a lot of nuance and finesse, but the premise remains the same.


The problem is that since Jopesh Tainter's “The Collapse of Complex Societies” came out, Glubb's reasoning becomes outdated.


My own intepretation of Tainter is the following : complex societies are build upon a promise, in essence that promise is a return on investment for the extra effort.


In a vacuum, it means that the society conquers space, invests in it, then exhaust itself in a search for more rewards - in order to fulfill its promise - then eventually fails, causing people to stop cooperating in a losing game, leading to collapse.


This in itself is already very promising, but incomplete. In history and geography, there is such a thing as “permanence of settlement”, meaning you will find life where nature can host it, and thus areas are always as populated as they've ever been.


Strata upon starta of culture and experience have accumulated in any place since the moment agriculture started there. So the invaders or “new empire” doesn't start in a vacuum, rather it grows on countries already permeated by culture and administration.


When the Arab-Muslim empire arrived in Mesopotamia, they found a functioning society administered by the Eastern Roman Empire, itself a descendant of the Roman Empire, which took over the Hellenistic kingdoms there that stemmed from Alexander the Great's conquests, that swept across a well-administrated Persian Empire, that itself built upon the former civilisations that existed there.


Locally, people don't change that much. Shlomo Sand demonstrated that Palestinians were the former Hebrews, at some point converted to Islam.


So the Empire is mainly a sales pitch for a project. It's the main problem of historians before the 20th century is that they believe that the empire's sales pitch was the historical reality. Look what happens when a project fails or is revealed as vaporware : it's always somebody else's fault. You, yes you, were decadent, and weak, and all these foreigners corrupted us, and this is why our good project failed, you made it fail.

 The reason why this sounds a lot like religion (you have sinned and now God is very cross) (pun not intended but kept anyway) is that essentially religion is such a sales pitch.


Sure, the complex society feeds a lot more people than what preceded it, and allows international trade through economies of scale, thus making the goods more affordable. But the society's collapse doesn't mean everybody dies and trade grinds to a halt. The quantities and prices change, but there is still something functioning. If a place craters terribly (like those places obliterated, void of the living in the Thrty Years War) then immediately people from better functioning neighbourhoods come in and take over. No vaccum. Okay, yeah, the Mayan cities. Grant you that one. Or The Inca cities, too. Poor guys.


Cities have always been dangerous places. When it weren't foreign types being the danger, it were locals. Paris in the 19th century attracted the scum from the french provinces and the countryless nobodies, forming dangerous violent gangs like the “Apache”, already contributing to the firearms industry for self-defense (for instance the Bulldog revolver).

Debauchery was already recorded in the friggin Bible (Sodom, Gomorrha and LGBT City, CA) as well as some forms of drug abuse.


All this talk about the glory of civilisation is bending history to fit the narrative. The Eisenhower Years was a time when the civlisation actually delivered on its promises, and thus is hailed as the pinnacle of civilisation in right-wing history books, but it was preceded by the Great Depression civilisational hangover and followed by the Seventies hangover, in which things looked quite grim.


You can find these examples everywhere in the story of any empire. Nero and Caligula ruled in the heyday of the the Roman Empire, but these weren't great times to be there.


It's a cycle of promises and hangovers, until the promises are not believed anymore. The Bush-Senior Era (Reagan Presidency  + Bush Sr Vice-presidency, then Bush Sr. Presidency)  was followed by the Al Gore Internet Wonder Years (Y2K was just folklore) until the already creeping Cyberdictatorship Years exploded with 9/11. 9/11 was probably the poison that killed the ability to make promises, for good. I see Trump's antics with the JFK files an indication that something has to be done to restore the promise, but this time we're too far gone.


So is it all about broken promises ? No, because humans as social creatures need to coordinate with others and there is always going to be a new promise. Always.


This is how the Eastern Roman Empire/Byzantine Empire lasted 1000 years longer than its Western counterpart : they could rig the whole thing again back to functioning order. The real problem the Byzantines had is they believed false promises from Italians in the Fourth Crusade, who invaded the capital city.


The reason why empires collapse is that they accumulated too much pollution, human as well as physical. Too much humans (usually in the capital city) that are a net loss (they cost more to take care of than they contribute). Too much soil erosion in the countryside (especially in the latifundias that belong to the superrich). Too much rich people to sustain, with too little returns. No reserve in food, ressources and goodwill in case of a catastrophe (so Puerto Rico didn't invent anything :) :) )


At one point, the system can't deliver on its promises because it would have to purge the situation first, and this is something that can't possibly have positive returns, it will always be a money/ressource sink. The former generations could actually deliver because they didn't make that expense...


We are living in such a world. The cheating housewife in suburbia is a much bigger ressource drain than your average Detroit hood on meth. Professional politicans cannot do anything else but lie, for instance on repeating the 9/11 lies, and thus cannot restore confidence. The whole system is unsustainable and bound to fail.


(The worst will be in Chinese cities, though :) )


Where I differ from Jim With Heavenly Hair is that another system may well take over, for much fewer people. The post-collapse world will be full of teenagers eager to learn a new trade. A new system can be set up quite quickly, especially since we've been deprived of bankable promises for almost a generation now. People long for fresh air, and they may fall for the new Empire, once this one has cratered to the ground, taking 90% of the population with it.


  1. Phenomenal response. I'll be printing that out & adding it to my list of important documents

    I appreciate the time you took. I really liked Glubbs essay but now see that it is somewhat simplistic and also a product of the time (social mood) he wrote it in.

  2. "Too much humans (usually in the capital city) that are a net loss (they cost more to take care of than they contribute)."

    That's a powerful statement right there, and one I had never considered before, but it will be on my mind for some time now.

    Many years ago when I was just starting out in the architecture business my wife gave me a book titled, "The Ten Books on Architecture" written thousands of years ago by a guy named Vitruvius. It changed the way I think. Few books do that. One of the things in the book was a description of how the elders chose a place to create a society and the long process involved. Many things were considered and when the choice had been narrowed down to a few locations temporary establishments were created and a variety of farm animals were located there and small vegetable fields were set up. Then, after a year or 2 the fields were harvested and the animals were killed and all were closely examined to determine what the environment did to them. Perhaps there was a swamp located within the prevailing wind stream that caused poisonous vapors to cause harm to the living theings there over time, etc. There were many, many steps in the process to effect the long term usefulness of the new community.

    I contrast that against the way new developments are done now where the biggest consideration is not the overall usefulness of the location but rather the enormous hurdle of navigating the mostly useless gov't hurdles and of course the gargantuan financial obligations. I am not doing the book The Ten Books on Architecture justice here and only a self indulgence in it can that be made. I found it fascinating and might read it again since it's been more than 30 years since the first time I read it.

    1. I hadn't thought of the practical planning considerations being subsumed by political and financial. You could explain a lot about things/places today that way.

  3. Super interesting, Ghostsniper.

    Clearly in older times people were interested in the long term/very long term. Building a city was very ressource-intensive back then.

    Nowadays, nobody gives a rat's ass about the future. They want their money as fast as possible, with no concern for the way what they have built will age.

    It is truly a flight forward, and it's suicidal. it's not seldom to hear people say "tomorrow is going to suck, when I'll be old I'm not going to enjoy life, so let's do as much as possible right now, and on credit if need be".

    I understand why ypoung generations don't want to work anymore, first they witness how their parents are being destroyed at work (people come back home and talk about work relations and stress and betrayal by the hierarchy) and second because there is nothing left to improve, in that everything is overbuilt, leaving no room for something different.

    In Europe, the demographic decline actually frees up space, but in gloomy abandonned areas far from the globalized urban nodes.

    1. Here in the US, if you stay away from the coastlines, plus a few oddball locations NOT on the waterline but associated with the Industrial Economy, you can find the same semi-abandoned areas. What better relocation destination?

  4. pioneer preppy wrote a column about the emptying of the lands near him--missouri-- and it looked like a good place to set up a homestead. money is necessary and jobs in out of the way places are scarce. so cash is best unless one has a home business.
    his article is in the left sidebar of his web site, 'the small hold'.
    in northeast pennsylvania, said to have the best soil , the new yorkers were moving in, destroying family farms by paying millions for the lands and building mansions on them, and raising the taxes to levels such that the heirs of the settlers, some with claims to the land 300 years old, were pushed out.
    the new yorkers commute 2 hours each way every day. what a load of parasites.
    that farm land, which could sustain many, is now ruined.

    1. New Yorkers moving in. California did that years ago, took the entire West and jacked up prices on everything. I was born there, and I'm NOT fond of those humpers. Ruined Nevada, but it had the furthest to go to get flushed so it is still better than most places ( does not include Vegas which should have stayed in the AZ territory ). It seems like areas in the South have old well established carpet baggers and colonial administrator families controlling most areas. Most areas 100th meridian to the left coast states are great for scouting retreats further abandoned. Not to discount the South or even Yankeeland, it is just a harder search.

    2. As you say, the Kalifornians are mostly to blame for the outrageous real estate prices across the country now. Sadly, the only land that you can get at a reasonable price anymore is junk land. There are exceptions, but they’re rare.

      The excerpt below is from the Rancho Costa Nada Author, Phil Garlington. Our friend Phil knows a thing or two with regards to this topic:

      “Land. Mother Earth News likes to depict the woodsy homestead in the tall pines by a gurgling brook. Fact is, even the rawest land these days is pricey if it comes with water and timber. The only cheap land left in the States is worthless land. That means desert land. Bone-dry land.”


    3. They build on farmland here in Dingoland as well. It really ticks me off

    4. Go to the Rancho Costa Nada website above. Must have book, for free. If you love it, buy one of the authors books on Kindle to support him. I'd list it as one of my top motivational/off grid idea books.

    5. Same here Jim, one of my all time favorite books. The reason I thought of him and decided to mention him, was because I decided to look him up and see how he’s doing these days. I know that he’s getting up there in years now, since as I recall, he was around 60 at the time when Rancho Costa Nada was published in 2003.

      His views on working for others mirrored my own, so I could really relate to this author.

    6. Great, another great one almost dead.