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Monday, December 04, 2006

Crusade, Collapse, 'n' Stuff...

Our feerlez leedor had the unsurprising lack of intellect to brush the American response to the struggles in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Crusade. This puts an artificial superstructural excuse on a much more fundamental and dire grab for resources - much like painting lipstick on a pig.

Crusade is irrelevant.

What matters are resources and the control and production of them.

The vagaries of culture are simply accidents of history. If Mohammed had convinced millions of people of atheism, or if the Xians hadn't completely mangled the golden rule from a double negative that encourages passivity to a double positive that recommends interference, I am sure the events would have played out differently, but the fundamentals would still have been the same.

What we are facing is something quite different.

If one insists on using the lens of Crusade, then one can see that the west seeks hegemony over the oil that the Islamic locals now enjoy.

As I said, I don't think it's relevant. Also, I am uncertain as to whether it is actual or reasonable to think of a Western Roman "collapse", as much as it was a strategic withdrawal by the elite to more profitable places. Constantine could see, from his heinously expensive wars in Gaul, that Western Europe was a dud - a money pit, a black hole where wealth gets poured and little else comes back. In energistic terms, it had a negative ER/EI - Energy Return divided by Energy Invested. He went broke chasing the barbarian army around France, and converted to Christianity to loosen up the funds in a dominantly Christian run Treasury. This insight ran a hundred years earlier than Constantine - to Emperor Diocletian who initiated the divided between eastern and western Roman Empires.

And every rich family in Rome with any sense at all invested in the east. West of Roman Power? Celts. Illiterate pagan "savages". To the north? Picts. Nutty people from Scotland who painted themselves blue, which gets them all hopped up and crazy. And the Northeast was populated by Huns and Goths and other unsavoury groups. To the South? The Sea, and beyond the sea? Excellent farms hard up against the largest desert on the planet. To the East? All The Money In The World. Big Rivers, and the ancient civilisations of what is now Palestine, Egypt, Greece, Turkey, Iran, India, China, and the Silk Road through Afghanistan... Let's see, Celts vs. Greeks. Picts vs. India. Goths vs. Persians. Hmmmm. Not a hard choice to make there!

Within 200 years, Rome was done, but the Empire lived on: a few hundred years later it was still enough of a potent social notion that Charlemagne crowned himself the Holy Roman Emperor....

From a post in a Bay Area Energy group, by Dave Fridley, primary author of the SF City Council Depletion Protocol Study Proclamation (who deserves a medal, IMHO):

"In Roman times, 85-90% of the population were the energy producers--that is, the farmers--whose surplus energy supported the 10-15% of the population (including the emperor, army, musicians, artists, vagabonds, merchants and so forth) who were not directly involved in energy production. In the US today, 3% of the population (and vast amounts of fossil fuels) provides the surplus to support the 97% of the population not directly involved in energy production. In that regard, only the "elite" of the empire would have even noticed a material change with "collapse"."

Today, North Americans and Europeans are the elites. Again: Fridley writes:

"Although some Roman historians lamented the passing of the Republic (which lasted for about 400 years--longer than ours--til about 40 BC), I've never read anything of a self-aware group that looked at the material conditions of the empire and predicted collapse over some centuries in the future. That, I think,would be pretty much unlikely at the time, since in Western civilizations, at least, it wasn't until the publication of Thomas More's Utopia in 1516 that we ever viewed the future as a better place than the past, and thus see decline as something odd. Before then, the "Golden Age" of man--what civilizations aspired to, were always those of the past, and history was considered a process of degeneration. With this kind of world view, what exactly would "collapse" mean to one of the elite Romans and how exactly would it have mattered to the 90% of the population who lived in stasis?"

It's also important to remember why the Romans would even bother invading England and Wales... Why? Tin. the Phoenicians were in Wales 1500bce. At the time, there was so much tin in Wales, it came up out of the ground in extremely rich ores of black, almost purely metallic, material. It was harvested and sent back to Phoenicia to make bronze. The Romans were Iron Age people, but bronze was still a vital metal, and tin had many other purposes. The production of tin peaked during Roman times and went into depletion. England became worth less to the Romans, and yet another reason to abandon Western Europe.

So, to talk of a "collapse" of the Roman empire, as Fridley notes, is an act of 20/20 hindsight. After Constantine gave up on it, it took centuries for Rome to be sacked and leveled by the people it had violently oppressed. The Romans had no sense of a "utopian future", so calamity was always the word of the day.

Again Fridley:

"Compare this as well to the worldview of the Chinese, who developed a sophisticated view of rise and fall that came from thousands of years of dynasties rising then collapsing. To a Chinese, this was a natural phenomenon, and they created a whole phenomenology around it, including the concept of "mandate of heaven" (tianming) that gave the emperor his right to rule, and the withdrawal of the mandate that led to the collapse of the dynasty, usually indicated by natural disasters. It survived to the 20th century even...the massive Tangshan earthquake of July 1976 was commonly seen as the event that withdrew the mandate of heaven from Chairman Mao, and indeed, he died 2 months later and his regime overthrown."

And a few years later the post-punk music combo The Gang of Four would sing:

Out on the street: assassinate all of them
look so desperate declare blood war
on the bourgeois state too!
Watch new blood on the 18 inch screen
The corpse is a new personality
Ionic charge brings immortality
Guerrilla war struggle is the new entertainment!!!
Guerrilla war struggle is the new entertainment!!!
Guerrilla war struggle is the new entertainment!!!
Guerrilla war struggle is the new entertainment!!!

Fridley continues:

"...Kunstler (I believe) had a good insight into this as well. He remarked on the phenomenon of "temporal amnesia"--the fact that we forget how things were after a period of change, such as living in the same place for a long time. This building is replaced. Those trees are planted. Social security benefits are reduced. Copays go up. Food prices creep up. After 10 years, things are materially different, but do you really remember how it used to be? Over several hundred years of collapse, who in Rome or Mesopotamia or any of the other major civilizations that collapsed have had the historical context to talk about "collapse"?"

What we have, and the romans didn't have, are the basic laws of physics that govern all energetic systems. One big rule is: you can't get more energy out of a system than what is already there. There is no energy fairy. When most work is done by hand, your farmers are the energy producers. When most work is done by hand, most work is in energy production.

Another big rule is: In a closed system, energy is never lost, it simply degrades in quality (thermodynamics - entropy).

These facts speak far beyond any localised temporal curiosities of "culture" or "religion" or any quibbling about that. It's all really very simple: look at yeast in a sugar/water solution. Do the math. The earth's carrying capacity for humans has been exceeded (youngquist: Geodestinies). the remaining conflicts of civilisation will be over the remaining energy stores and metal deposits (Klare: Resource Wars) The total energy content of society will retreat. Per capita energy and resource consumption peaked in the early 1980s (per Colin Campbell). The west has been innovating to do more with less. however, this cannot continue indefinitely (see first big rule). The non-west (the so-called South) has been bearing the brunt of it all and if resources reduce too quickly, many of those nations will go into a Malthusian die off. Some (east Africa) already have: declining rainfall and increased population have produced a “Malthusian” situation where pressures on a less-productive resource base have exploded into conflict per, and some are quickly descending (Nigeria - New Yorker Article by George Packer - Lagos as the model of the city of the 21st century).

Without natural gas, there will be no miracleGro and the productivity of the planet's farms will drop dramatically. Richer nations will have older populations and more resources to feed their people. The rest won't and will die off. Nations with especially abundant food resources (such as N. America) will be using substantial amounts of food for fuel to power their heavy transport systems (trucks, trains, aircraft, mining equipment). Eventually that will be abandoned, due to population pressures.

Nations of the middle east, predominantly Islamic, will face an even tougher time - similar to those presently faced in Africa.

Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum (former Prime minister of UAE):
"My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, his son will drive a Land Rover, but his son will ride a camel."

Crusade models don't really work: they presume the primacy of the superstructural cultural machine as guides for substructural resource exploitation. In fact, the superstructural issues (crusade, war against terror, jihad, "somebody's got a bad case of the Mondays", rock and roll, hip hop TV whatever...) is actually just the excuses proffered by the elites to motivate the workers to act against their own self interests and murder other members of the working/peasant class, in order that resources may be acquired in order to maintain the facade of civilisation that maintains socio-political hierarchies as linguistic amplifications of the social dominance patterns common to primates.

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