Thursday, June 21, 2007

Doomed To Repeat It

Tune in Saturday morning at 9:00 AM PST for the Basham and Cornell Progressive Radio Show. On this weeks show we will have James Paul, who is Executive Director for the Global Policy Forum. He will be discussing the "War and Occupation in Iraq." You can listen online at the Basham and Cornell Progressive Talk Show

Guest Post by Mike

I was always fascinated by Ancient Rome, a civilization to which we owe much of our current legal system and democracy, and that controlled much of the known world at the time. I wondered how a civilization that endured for almost 1000 years and was the envy of the ancient world and the preeminent world power could collapse and fall so low that its fall ushered in a dark age where knowledge, science, peoples standard of living and quality 
of life all declined substantially and chaos reigned.

Before we look at The reasons behind Rome's tragic fall and the fall of all civilizations that aspire to empire, lets first look at the fragility of civilization, particularly complex civilizations, since they are the easiest to destroy. The reasons for this are precisely the very factors that allow the civilization to attain its high level of complexity, such as a well developed division of labor with each job requiring highly specialized skills and knowledge. Think for a moment, if most of our civilization were wiped out except for a small portion of the population, would any of you be able to design and build an airplane, build your own house, make a computer, a 
TV, grow our own food or make our own clothes etc....

History and science support the conclusion that our civilization is far more fragile than we dare to think. Michael Shermer in Scientific American, Aug 2002 studied 60 civilizations, both ancient and modern in order to determine the average life span of civilizations, Shermer, discovered that the average civilization endured 421 years, he also concluded that modern civilizations do not last as long as ancient ones. Among the 28 most recent civilizations post Rome, the average life span was reduced to only 305 years. The main reason is likely that modern civilizations are far more complex. By complex I mean we have a well developed division of labor, with jobs requiring specialized skills, as well as complex distribution systems and a complex hierarchical government. In addition modern civilizations, particularly those whose existence are based on cheap energy and consistent economic growth are far more likely to be adversarial and in direct competition for the natural resources required to maintain and protect their way of life.

Lets examine why dominant civilizations that start out so good and become world powers eventually collapse. There are MANY factors as well as clear signs which constantly are associated with the fall of civilizations. First and foremost is the greedy desire for empire. Rome squandered and wasted its resources fighting petty wars to grow and later to merely maintain their empire. Initially the plan was, since they were a dominant world power they would conquer and take the resources and money they needed, this worked while they were growing and had the money and military power to sustain that growth, however once they became so big that they no longer had the military or economic power to maintain, control and defend what they had no less keep growing, the empire imploded. When this happens, civilizations either decrease in complexity and are replaced by another dominant civilization and world power or the civilization falls completely, followed by chaos and a power other words a dark ages ensues.

There are many clear warning signs exhibited by empires in decline such as the Roman Empire, The British Empire, Spain, and arguably America today These include:

1) huge debt levels

2) political corruption

3) unsustainable wars and military occupations

4) inflation

5) inequitable distribution of wealth, with the rich and powerful becoming ever richer, while the middle class is destroyed and is relegated to a huge underclass of poor, much like the plebeians or serfs

6) a rigid caste or class system with little chance of bettering oneself and little class mobility

7) debasing of the currency, followed by a corresponding increase in the price of commodities

8) a depletion of vital natural resources

9) a clear economic shift away from being a manufacturing economy that makes and designs things, to being a finance or money changing economy that doesn't make anything and shifts money from the poor and middle class to the wealthy elite money changers

10) Disdain for and neglect of the poor by the wealthy elite leadership

11) a destruction of freedom and democracy and a move to a totalitarian form of rule, with power being concentrated almost exclusively in the hands of a king, emperor or a "Decider" who does not tolerate dissent and supports the same ideas Hitler and the Roman emperors or the current Neo Con/PNAC "Unitary Executive" concept embrace.

Lets move forward and examine PNAC's "Unitary Executive" theory which goes against everything our Founding Fathers as well as Jesus stood for. PNAC is obsessed with making America the Preeminent Superpower by bullying, holding down and exploiting other countries. This concept of bullying those weaker and preventing them from bettering themselves seems to be a timeless and classic core tenet of conservatism and is in direct opposition to the Golden Rule. The greedy wealthy elite have used these tactics to oppress the poor since before Ancient Rome, and it has NEVER worked, the result of sinfully inequitable distribution of wealth combined with authoritarianism is ultimately economic depressions, revolutions and misery.

Historically we have done much better economically under Democratic administrations where policies are designed to benefit the vast majority of citizens rather than a tiny minority of powerful wealthy elites. We need to have good healthy relationships with other countries, that include cooperation and goodwill rather adversarial destructive relations where we are so hated, feared and reviled that terrorists can easily recruit people so committed to destroying us that they are willing to sacrifice their lives to do so. GWB's inept and bellicose policies have certainly made us more of a target to terrorists and helped to create more terrorists, however I think the biggest threats to our civilization and prosperity as well as to our military and economic dominance is an an energy crisis and/or a debt implosion.

The British Empire also collapsed from an unsustainable empire and high debt levels, they moved from a manufacturing economy to a finance/money changing economy and were replaced by the United States, both militarily and economically as the World power in the 20th century. The reasons for their decline were similar to Ancient Rome's decline and mirror our own decline in the 21st century. Our primary dangers today are unsustainable debt levels and a lack of energy resources. Great Britain faced a similar problem to the one America faces today in the 16th century, when they too were faced with an energy crisis, at that time their economy was based on wood, much as ours today is based on oil, wood was used as energy for heating homes and manufacturing as well as ship building. Britain's forests were rapidly depleted, much as our domestic oil reserves are today, wood prices rose eightfold and Britain began importing wood at great cost, echoing what we are doing today with oil, what saved Britain from collapsing as a civilization was not ignoring the problem and denying it, but taking action and changing the economy to one based on a new more readily available source of energy. Britain progressed to a coal based economy which helped them become the most productive economy of the time, and ushered in the Industrial Revolution that made them a world power and brought much of the prosperity the West has enjoyed since then.

To avert a collapse similar to Rome's, we need progressive leaders who think of the future and are willing to break from the preconceived group think of the past and take us in a new direction. I'd like to hear your opinions on who those leaders are that can take us in that new direction and ensure our continued prosperity and fix our tarnished image as a symbol of justice and freedom for all.