Category Archives: Uncategorized

History repeats itself. That’s bad news for the 2020s



When there are too many elites in a society, competition for power makes existing problems worse.
Francisco Goya / Wikimedia

David Baker, Macquarie University

What will happen in the 2020s? If history is any guide (and there’s good reason to think it is), the outlook isn’t great.

Here are some big-picture predictions: stagnant real wages, faltering standard of living for the lower and middle classes, worsening wealth inequality, more riots and uprisings, ongoing political polarisation, more elites competing for limited positions of power, and elites co-opting radical movements.

Thanks to globalisation, all this won’t just happen in one country but in the majority of countries in the world. We will also see geopolitical realignment, dividing the world into new alliances and blocs.

There is also a low to moderate chance of a “trigger event” – a shock like an environmental crisis, plague, or economic meltdown – that will kick off a period of extreme violence. And there is a much lower chance we will see a technological breakthrough on par with the industrial revolution that can ease the pressure in the 2020s and reverse the trends above.

These aren’t just guesses. They are predictions made with the tools of cliodynamics, which uses dozens of case studies of civilisations over the past 5,000 years to look for mathematical patterns in human history.




Read more:
Cliodynamics: can science decode the laws of history?


Cycles of growth and decline

One area where cliodynamics has borne fruit is “demographic-structural theory”, which explains common cycles of prosperity and decline.

Here’s an example of a full cycle, taken from Roman history. After the second Punic war in 201 BCE, the Roman republic enjoyed a period of extreme growth and prosperity. There was a relatively small divide between the richest and poorest, and fewer members of elites.

As the population grew, smallholders had to sell off their farms. Land coalesced into larger plantations run by elites mostly with slave labour. Elite numbers ballooned, wealth inequality became extreme, the common people felt pinched, and numerous wealthy people found themselves shut out of power.

The assassination of Julius Caesar was a key event in the decline of the Roman republic.
Jean-Leon Gerome

The rich resisted calls for land reform, and eventually the elites split into two factions called the Optimates and the Populares. The following century involved slave revolts and two massive civil wars.

Stability only returned when Augustus defeated all other rivals in 30 BCE – and ended the republic, making himself emperor. So began a new cycle of growth.

Booms and busts

Demographic-structural theory looks at things like the economic and political strength of the state, the ages and wages of the population, and the size and wealth of the elite to diagnose a society’s health – and work out where it’s heading.

Historically, some things we see today are bad signs: shrinking real wages, a growing gap between the richest and the poorest, rising numbers of wealthy and influential people who are becoming more competitive and factionalised.

Another bad sign is if previous generations witnessed periods of growth and plenty. It might mean that your society is about to hit a wall – unless a great deal of innovation and good policy relieves the pressure once again.

We are living in an unprecedented period of global growth. History says it won’t last.
SRC / IGBP / F Pharand Deschenes

The modern global system has experienced a period of growth unprecedented in human history since 1945, often referred to as the “Great Acceleration”. Yet in country after country today, we see stagnant wages, rising inequality, and wealthy elites jousting for control.

Historically, periods of strain and “elite overpopulation” are followed by a crisis (environmental or economic), which is in turn followed by years of sociopolitical instability and violence.

Elite competition makes crises worse

Factional warring after a disaster in a top-heavy society makes things much worse. It can keep the population low for decades after the initial catastrophe, and may only end when elites are exhausted or killed off.

This underlying cycle fed the Wars of the Roses between the Lancastrians and Yorkists in 15th century England, the struggle between the Optimates and Populares in the Roman Republic, and countless other conflicts in history.




Read more:
Computer simulations reveal war drove the rise of civilisations


In a period of growth and expansion these dynastic, political, and religious animosities would be less pronounced – as there is more of everything to go around – but in a period of decline they become incendiary.

In different regions and time periods, the factions vary widely, but the ideological merits or faults of any particular faction have literally no bearing on the pattern.

We always massacre each other on the downward side of a cycle. Remember that fact as we embark on the pattern again in the 2020s, and you find yourself becoming blindingly angry while watching the news or reading what someone said on Twitter.

A connected world

Because the world’s societies and economies are more unified than ever before, the increasing political division we see in Australia or the United States also manifests itself around the world.

Violence between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Trinamool Congress in Bengal, political polarisation in Brazil following the election of Jair Bolsonaro, and less public conflicts within China’s ruling party are all part of a global trend.

Trigger events

We can expect this decline to continue steadily in the next decade, unless a trigger event kicks off a crisis and a long period – perhaps decades – of extreme violence.

Here’s a dramatic historical example: in the 12th century, Europe’s population was growing and living standards were rising. The late 13th century ushered in a period of strain. Then the Great Famine of 1315–17 set off a time of strife and increasing violence. Next came an even bigger disaster, the Black Death of 1347–51.

After these two trigger events, elites fighting over the wreckage led to a century of slaughter across Europe.

From my own studies, these “depression phases” kill an average of 20% of the population. On a global scale, today, that would mean 1.6 to 1.7 billion people dead.

There is, of course, only a low to moderate probability that such a trigger event will occur in the 2020s. It may happen decades later. But the kindling for such a conflagration is already being laid.




Read more:
Big gods came after the rise of civilisations, not before, finds study using huge historical database


Technology to the rescue?

One thing that could reverse this cycle would be a major technological breakthrough. Innovation has temporarily warded off decline in the past.

In mid-11th century Europe, for example, new land-clearing and agricultural methods allowed a dramatic increase in production which led to relative prosperity and stability in the 12th century. Or in the mid-17th century, high-yield crops from the Americas raised carrying capacities in some parts of China.

In our current situation, something like nuclear fusion – which could provide abundant, cheap, clean energy – might change the situation drastically.

The probability of this occurring in the 2020s is low. Nevertheless, innovation remains our best hope, and the sooner it happens the better.

This could be a guiding policy for public and private investment in the 2020s. It is a time for generous funding, monumental projects, and bold ventures to lift humanity out of a potential abyss.

Sunlit uplands of the distant future

If you look far enough ahead, our prospects become brighter.
Shutterstock

Cheer up. All is not lost. The further we project into the future the brighter human prospects become again, as great advances in technology do occur on a long enough timescale.

Given the acceleration of the frequency of such advances over the past 5,000 years of history, we can expect something profound on the scale of the invention of agriculture or the advent of heavy industry to occur within the next 100 years.

That is why humanity’s task in the 2020s – and much of the 21st century – is simply to survive it.The Conversation

David Baker, Lecturer in Big History, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


The Dark Ages



Comments


Due to the increased volume of spam posts and propaganda from other websites (including those of a ‘Christian’ nature who think it is acceptable practice to spam others) I am attempting to tighten up the protocols for comments on this Blog. I don’t want to stop comments altogether, but sadly, that may eventually happen. It seems there are some idiots (I am being kind) who want to continue to attempt to post their propaganda and nonsense on this Blog via the comments, even though they never get through the moderation process. I am fed up with having to work through all of this rubbish (and that is generally what it is). I understand there are some genuine people out there that will be inconvenienced by this ‘tightening’ up in the comments process here and I really didn’t want you to have to endure this moving forward. I am saddened that this has had to happen.


England – Late Bronze Age Must Farm


The link below is to an article that takes a look at Late Bronze Age ‘Must Farm’ in eastern England.

For more visit:
https://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2019/06/the-short-life-of-must-farm.html


Limited Posts During Personal Maintenance Time (Annual Leave/Holidays)


It’s that time of year when I take some time off for a variety of reasons and tasks – in short, it’s annual leave time. Yes, some much appreciated time off work. Last year I attempted a holiday and nearly died – diseased kidneys, blood poisoning, and internal bleeding – all a result of a kidney stone. What followed was months of illness, as that experience proved a catalyst for an old illness to make a renewed appearance also (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – CFS). Finally, in the last few weeks, I have been reasonably well and have been working at a frantic pace, trying to make up for lost time.

So now I hope to enjoy these next few weeks, do some traveling (including to the previous destination that I never arrived at due to falling ill on the way), get a bit of personal things done (yeah, including a host of medical stuff) and really, just to relax and have a break – an enjoyable break in fact.

So what does this mean for the Blogs? Well, I was going to continue to post in a haphazard manner over the next three weeks, but have since thought better of it and will not do so. So no new posts for the next three weeks – there may be some still to appear on one of the Blogs that I scheduled in advance, but you won’t hear much from me during this period. So enjoy the break from me, as I enjoy the break from everyday usual life.


No Posts This Week


I have been battling poor health now for months and I have reached the point of peak exhaustion (if that is a thing). I’ll be taking extended leave during May, along with a lengthy break from the Blogs, with the aim being that of taking the opportunity to recover and recharge the batteries. However, I also need an immediate break and so will not be posting to any of my Blogs this week. I have to try and get through work through April, in order to get through to May and my extended break. This may prove to be a very difficult task and even perhaps prove unattainable, yet that is the goal. Each day closer makes the remaining time that little bit easier to contend with. So, in short, there will be no posts for the remainder of this week and I will then start to bring the Blogs back ‘online’ again after that – at least until my extended break in May.


Silly Season Break


Just a quick post to let everyone know that this Blog will be on a break from now, over the silly season and should return early in the New Year. This isn’t so much because of Christmas and the New Year directly, but because my work schedule is so great and I won’t have the time to put in on the Blog during this period. I would have liked to keep up the posts, but it has become clear I just can’t keep it up at the moment – it is far too busy at work and with increasing staff shortages over the next couple of weeks, it will not get any easier.

Let me also take the opportunity to wish you all a happy and safe Christmas, and New Year period. Enjoy this time with family and friends.


Settler States



More Time Away


I was posting a few Blogs and getting a few more ready when some bad news came through. Sadly I will be needing to take some more time away from the Blogs (immediately) – which is something completely unplanned and unexpected. This may be a lengthy break of two to three weeks. I’m afraid this is unavoidable and apologise for the time away from the Blog.


Sick Leave


I’ll be taking a week off from the Blog (at this stage – may be longer) due to a resurgent CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). I have been battling this ‘outbreak’ for about 6 weeks and there has been very little improvement, so I need to take some ‘health time.’ Back when I can be.


%d bloggers like this: