Monday, March 27, 2017

The Common Catastrophic Systems Collapse, 1177 BC and All That

When we speak of wanting people to know their history, the usual plea is for just minimal awareness of the last 50 years, maybe 100, or in a stretch, national history since the American Revolution. 

Sadly, many people only have a surface understanding of what has happened in their own lifetime. This limits any kind of informed guess they could make about what comes next, see trends, patterns - or better yet - know what mistakes to avoid that tend to repeat themselves.

A knowledge of deep history was a common baseline understanding by our Founding Fathers, which is one reason our republic has lasted so long. They were classically educated men who knew not just Latin, but many were fluent in ancient Greek and Hebrew as well. They knew ancient history in its own language. They studied previous republics and knew the weaknesses that led to their ultimate fall. Our system was designed to give future leaders of our republic opportunities to avoid the common mistakes of the past.

What is frustrating for me is that so few of today's leaders have that understanding, not to mention the voting public. Our society has lost a critical mass of influencers who understand the larger historical picture, and hold an apathetic narcissism to do the hard work now to east the troubles of future generations.

Collectively, as a result we don't see the things that cycle through the centuries of human history as a constant. We are ignorant, like children. Well meaning, but dangerous in our ignorance of ourselves, our nature, and the world around us full of similarly flawed people.

We don't see history's patterns and don't appreciate that history is about people. Our technology, tools, and other details may change, but the essential nature of man remains the same. As such, we are not all that different from Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers that we all were in a historical blink of an eye. Our minds are the same. Logic, drive, fear, greed, sloth, envy, vanity; it is here as it was then.

We are subject to the same strengths, weaknesses, vices and desires of all those who came before us. So are out institutions created by us in all our imperfections.

That brings us to a common, almost instinctual fear, like that lower brain stem fear of snakes. Few things seem as frightening, or as unrealistic to those living in the "now," as systemic societal collapse. Not just of your country, but of the entire global system. All the zombie books, movies, and stories derive from that concern in the back of everyone's mind; an almost genetic memory. It should be, as almost complete collapse has been a regular occurrence throughout human history.

Sure, when you bring up the topic, most will think of the fall of Rome, but that was just one recent example in a long series of diverse, complicated, and relatively advanced civilizations that collapsed over the course of thousands of years on every continent but Antarctica - and at least for now - Australia.

I find this topic fascinating because there is always a collapse in the making small, and perhaps even large. They are decades, and more often than not centuries, in the making. Sometimes it is the collapse of a single nation, but often it is something much greater. Unless you believe that you are living in a unique moment in human history that has brought a halt to all the normal ebb and flow of our existence, you have to ask yourself, when is the next collapse?

Will it be small and localized somewhere else, or a cascading global collapse driven by its own inertia and logic?

Is it in 10 years? 100? Are we going to be lucky and have another 500 yrs to so to go? Or, are you living right in the middle of one yet, being part of it, don't have the perspective to see what is going on?

All these things came to mind again while watching the below video from Eric Cline, PhD, professor at George Washington University in DC, and author of a book new book, 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed

I've been thinking about all weekend.

Forget the fall of Rome, that is modern history. What about something even further?

Just in the West, how many times have we lost the ability to read? To write? To have sophisticated urban design?

As Cline outlines and I mostly paraphrase in part below, do any of these things sound familiar?
General features of system collapse.
1. Collapse of the central administrative organization.
2. Disappearance of traditional elite class.
3. Collapse of centralized economy.
4. Settlement shifts and population decline.

- It might take as much as a century for all the aspects of the collapse to be completed and there is usually no single obvious cause for the collapse.
- In the aftermath of such a collapse, there is frequently a transition to a lower level of socio-political integration, and a development of romantic "Dark Age" myths about the previous period.

Are we facing a similar situation to 1177BC?

Q: Is there climate change?
A: Yes.
Q: Are there famines and droughts?
A: Yes.
Q: Earthquakes?
A: Yes.
Q: Rebellions?
A: Yes.

Only thing missing? Sea Peoples?

Well actually we do have Sea Peoples - the refugees flowing in to the Western World from the Middle East.
Here is a fun slide he continues to make his point. So where are we today?

Oh, did he say "today?"

In Q&A, piracy is brought up. And yes, in the late Bronze Age is it a big problem and part of a general collapse of international trade by sea that proceeded the collapse.

1,000 years before coinage was even invented this was a problem. A problem that existed even further back in the large abandoned cities thousands of year prior to 1177 BC.

Really people; do you think we are all that much different?

On a not totally unrelated story, I've heard a lot of bad, and frankly lazy reporting about the French author Jean Raspail and his story, The Camp of the Saints. The sub-titles are good, take some time to listen to this interview from 2011.

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