Saturday, December 03, 2011

History as teacher

I will have to paraphrase a quote for this (I think it may be Heinlein, although H. Beam Piper isn't out of the question for it, either) and it goes something like this:

If you are an expert in a field and your analysis shows that disaster is likely to follow, do you act on it?

This also goes along with the other bit, this one from Glenn Harlan Reynolds which he has stated so many times it isn't funny:

I will believe it is a crisis when those involved start acting like it is.

These both hit in the same direction in that if you see a crisis or disaster coming and you have a reliable set of background(s) to have a decent level of certainty (hitting into the 'pretty certain' which is 50%<Certainty<75%) that it will happen then do you start to act on it and take precautions?  My Lady has pointed out to me that I have been blogging about this, in one form or another, since I started blogging and that much of my posting is just about this topic.  Forming up the background to get a 'feel' for possibility (that is the universe of all possible things that can happen), probability (that sub-set of things that rise above 0.01% possibility), weighting (level of assurance) and certainty (combining the prior pieces to get to a reasonable set of outcomes that start to fall above the 10% likelihood zone) is not a science, but an art.  Analysis varies by an expert, their background and ability to discern what is and isn't probable from all possible events, and then weigh those probable events with a degree of certainty that they might happen.

I have journeyed through politics, societies, warfare, liberty, freedom, death, taxes and human nature over the course of my blogging and that has helped give me a background 'feel' for the course of events.  I really don't know a lot, no one can in this world of ours, and I've found myself driven to concentrate on a few, key topics time and time again, and they are ones that are fulcrums for societies, Nations, peoples and even all life on the planet.  I really don't worry much about 'is there life on other worlds in different star systems?' as that is a Drake equation function in which we are only in the last couple of years able to fill in one or two of the first numbers in a long series to get the possibility in a rough 'ball park' way.  Fun speculation, yes, but surviving our current age is far more important than finding life on other planets.  This concept of 'survival' is the key one as, if we don't survive as a species and retain personal liberty, both, then we are finished as an intelligent life form.

While this question has been posed in many ways over the centuries, the most compelling of ways was done by James Burke in his series Connections.  In the very first episode we are handed the fall of our society and its material works by a simple question: what do you do when the power goes off and you are stuck in an elevator?  This then progresses through a 'worst case scenario' in which something like a Coronal Mass Ejection has bathed the planet for a few days and has wiped out all modern electronics.  The power isn't coming back on.  Once you get out of the elevator, realize the predicament of the world before anyone else pieces it together, what do you do and where do you go?  The answer is that our civilization started out with the ability to plough land, grow crops that would sustain more than just the farmer and his family, and allow excess food to be exchanged for other goods.  Before then the world of mankind was in a hunter/gatherer mode, and was nomadic.  With agriculture land becomes valuable because of what it can sustain, and good crop land meant the growth of a thriving society that soon could build spaces for relatively non-productive individuals to make a living.

Because the sun is going through a deep minimum cycle and may be in one that has been played out before, there is no good way to say just if a CME will happen, when it will happen, what direction it will go and how energetic it will be.  Yet, sooner or later, one will come the way of planet Earth.

Scary stuff, no?

It would help if we prepared for a CME or EMP event(s) by hardening out power and electronics structure, but that costs money, takes time and is a hedge against a low probability event.  Something like an EMP induced by a CME is not out of the question and our problem is that we don't know how often a CME of that size is coughed out by the sun in our general direction.  This has uncertainty to it, and a lot of it.  If these things happened every 10-15 years we would build our equipment and infrastructure with it in mind, but since it may not hit us for centuries... or tomorrow.... we don't.  We know that one will, sooner or later, hit the Earth's magnetosphere and atmosphere, but when, how large and how long are all unknowns.  You can safeguard some equipment via a Faraday cage (you just knew aluminum foil was good for something, right?) but even if you protect enough to help survive for a couple of years there will be no electronic spare parts.  Unless you can make them yourself.

Before the Green Revolution in the 1970's we had expected the carrying capacity of Earth to be in the 4-10 billion range.  Before industrialized agriculture, coming in the early 19th century, that carry capacity was in the 2-3 billion range.  Pre-industrial agriculture required a very different form of society and lifestyle than we have today, and if a CME induced EMP wiped out modern electronics our current 6 billion people on the planet would see a one year crash into the 1-2 billion range as those who do practice pre-mechanized and early mechanized agriculture aren't in the best of cropland, and in the industrialized world we don't have enough farmers or farmland to sustain current population levels without modern systems.

Another disaster that could do something on this scale, but still leave some industrial capacity for mankind intact, is a caldera event at Yellowstone, National Park.  Yellowstone is one of the largest volcanoes on the planet and falls into that category of structures requiring that you need to examine hundreds of miles around the volcano to find out it is actually there.  Mt. Toba, being on an island, is easier to find as it blew out a lovely lake and a good part of the island it creates by existing.  While Mt. Toba is still in its 'recycle' mode, that is it is still getting mass under it for another eruption and is outside its periodicity for another eruption, Yellowstone is in its periodicity cycle for an eruption and has a decent amount of magma far below the surface to make it a real threat.  When it goes it will be a bad few decades on planet Earth until the upper atmosphere aerosols and dust filter out to let a decent amount of sunshine back to the surface.  This will, of necessity, created years of bad crops (or years without a real summer) and also impact plankton and sea life in a negative fashion.  As the aerosols and dust migrate into the southern hemisphere, no place on the planet will be immune to its effects.  And that is if we are lucky and only does a single event, not go into a multi-event mode over a few thousand years of semi-continual eruptions.

This is a certainty to happen within the next 0 to 300,000 years.

Yes, that first number is the goose egg: Zero.

You have a much better chance of getting hit by lightening during a hurricane while having an earthquake happen at the exact same time.  Or an asteroid conking you on the noggin and killing you.

It would be really, really nice to be a space based civilization by then, wouldn't it?

Too bad all trends are in the opposite direction for the past 100 years.

The systems that mankind has put in place are what as known as 'brittle': they don't sustain stress well and tend to fracture and break, not bend.  When withstanding shock a structure that bends spreads the shock over the structure and allows that force to be distributed.  A brittle structure absorbs the shock to its breaking point and then collapses.  Getting to space was actually just a theory in the 18th century and basic mechanics for getting to space were worked out in the 19th century, and the first rockets to get up to the edge of space by Robert Goddard showed that this was something that could be achieved.  It has been, but done by governments until just recently, and because of the way governments work they are stuck with the problem of doing things in nation-state interest, which is not always in accord with long-term survival. 

By prohibiting the citizen opportunities to get to space via a governmentally run system, even though the foundations for a fully space-based system have been available since the late 1960's to early 1970's, as put together by Gerard K. O'Neill's High Frontier team at Princeton, anything that had to get to space had to go through a nation-state government.  Private space flight was generally prohibited until just the last decade, and that meant that governments and sponsor corporations saw little interest in better, cheaper and alternative ways to get to space.  Something like the use of dirigibles to get high into the atmosphere and then utilize low thrust rockets to increase speed, thus increasing orbital distance, wasn't even thought about until the late 1990's and not seriously thought about until the last 5-6 years.  Ditto direct rocketry on private platforms designed by independent companies.  By slowly pulling NASA out of the way and opening a commercial spaceport in the US, the US is now the only Nation that may stand on the brink of private space exploration.  And because of the economics of getting to orbit, it is actually cheaper to mine the moon, move that material to orbit, smelt it in orbit and build stations in orbit than it is to build them on Earth and get them to orbit.  The cost is laying out the minimal infrastructure to do this, which was planned way back in High Frontier.

Even worse is the other things that governments have gotten loaded on with over the last century, like making sure that there is a 'retirement age' and some 'benefits' to citizens.  To put it sadly but bluntly: no one promises you a great retirement and stopping work may be the worse idea to getting to a prosperous old age.  Because of the nature of national governments, they really can't 'invest' in anything (and the demise of those who DO so is a cautionary tale since the early industrial era).  To 'invest' a government must take productive work hour product (known as 'money') from people who actually work for a living and choose which corporations to 'invest' in.  This is done not just by direct payment but via 'regulation' which not only uses up citizen taxes to run the 'regulations' but then impinges upon companies who have to comply with such 'regulations' by doing things not related to actual productive work.  Instead of holding companies fully liable for health and safety of employees on the job site, the government intervenes to set 'standards'.  Because these have a monetary cost to them, larger businesses are better able to comply with these artificial 'standards' by spreading the cost around to all their output than a smaller firm in the same industry.  While a small business may be exempt when employing 500 people, the 501st person comes with a huge overhead expansion cost of regulatory compliance for everyone in the company.  Thus government not only can support large businesses, it can punish small businesses and ensure that big businesses have fewer up-and-coming competitors.

Notice where survival is in this?

If you don't, and see that adding 'benefits' to citizens via taxation so that a few get the benefits, then you are also experiencing this strange feeling that people who should have been managing their own lives, taking precautions against the future, and generally looking after themselves are in a non-survival mode of thought.  That is correct because they are.  When government is utilized to shield citizens from the harsh reality of having to actually make a living and figure out if they can ever retire, then government has gotten away from doing the few tasks it was set out to do and now has an expanded suite it was never designed for.  A car is a great conveyance on paved roads, just don't try to plough a field with one as they aren't made for that.  Yet that is where Connections winds up if you don't have diesel for a tractor on a deserted farm that you were just lucky enough to find after high tech civilization collapsed.  You only got there because you were prepared to survive, either outran or outlasted the death of 2/3 of humanity, and now are in absolute survival mode trying to figure out how you will feed yourself, your family and any other loved ones on this deserted farm you somehow got to in your car (that doesn't have a transistorized ignition system or management system but is good old distributor and spark plugs with timing).  By having some wherewithal you have actually survived the collapse of government and are now self-governing and find yourself having to restart low tech civilization.

We have seen this sort of scenario before and I will not use the Fall of Rome or any of the interim Chinese Kingdoms/Emperors, or even the rising and falling of the likes of Inca, Maya, Aztecs, Toltecs, etc.  There is a precedent for when a large-scale trade system went under (and for its time it was very far reaching, although far less than global), and it crashed due to multiple causes: shifting weather patterns which caused changes in disease location and agricultural output, shifting populations to follow the changes in agriculture and climate, multi-nation alliances, and military struggle.  When it started to fall apart they saw the rise of barbarism, mostly at sea because that was handy, but also on land with the mass migration of peoples over a couple of centuries that would displace old populations.  Their ships were splendid and carried cargo far and wide, their trade notes are multiple feet deep in some places TODAY, items from as far away as the British Isles, Inner Siberia, India, and Central Africa were traded readily and traders ranged far and wide leaving markings behind.  It went down in a bit over a decade and it was the Late Bronze Age that, for all of the distance to Babylon and primitives in the British Isles, it had gone on for centuries and yet we remember it for Troy and one city falling.  That city was a trade hub that allowed all this trade to take place easily and those in charge of it, prospered by that trade.  An extremely high level of civilization and sophistication was seen due to the wealth increases of trade and many Empires and Kingdoms prospered.  Its fall was marked by military venture that was public and then spread to private and then became endemic enough to kill off the trade network.  By the end of it the Old Hittite Kingdom was gone, the Achaean Greeks were being replaced by the Dorian Greeks, after Ramses II Egypt barely hung on with bitter fights after sea people ravaged the northern part of the Kingdom, the Israelites found things difficult and the tribe of Dan had to take to ships to survive while others used the turmoil to get back into the Promised Land.

Baltic Amber trade dwindled to nothing.  Spice became forgotten save for the few that had taken root natively and were grown.  Cities around Greece, modern day Sicily and Italy, many of the islands, the entire coast of Asia Minor were brought low and many burned to the ground and no one has rebuilt at those sites since.  The Greek people once had a written script we call Linear-B and there are still piles of it left on coasts around the Med., yet the Greeks lost the ability to read it times got so desperate.  Only the great walled city of Tiryens got through, but with much trouble including plague.  Troy was rebuilt, but by the time it was actually functioning again it was no longer the center of trade for all of the civilizations around it.  No one can say, for certain, how many died, but when you have 30, 50, or 100 cities with anywhere from 10,000-50,000 residents each, and they are all wiped out and the populace barely able to get by on local food production on a rural basis, the numbers must be staggering given the entire population of the planet.  It would take 200 to 300 years until trade started to actually get to the minimum of old levels in the new Iron Age.  Persia rose and then went too far at the Hot Gates and in a generation there would be a Greek Emperor who would last only a couple of decades until he fell, unable to consolidate that Empire.

The seeds of the Ancient Greeks would sprout far and wide, particularly in that place called Rome, which would, finally, eclipse the old trade web that was by then forgotten to the point of near oblivion.  And then forgot the wisdom of Republics and started giving goodies away to the poor so as to appease them and oppress the middle class so the rich could rule.  In mere centuries slaves would outnumber the free and then Western Rome would fall, rotten to its core.  By then trade was not so dependent on just one city and even the Eternal City could go dark and trade would continue because it was becoming dispersed and diverse.

We now stand at an age of interconnection that, for all its different standards and scale, was only rivaled once before and ours, too, is dependent upon a high technology and civilized peoples to run it.  Yet those who expect freebies from government or care from government are not free, at all, and those oppressed by government to its own dictates are less free still.  As there was no way to harden the old trade systems so, to, are the lifeblood of our commerce systems unhardened and for all the fineries traded around the globe all it can take is one very bad day and it will come down in a crash.  Or rot from the inside as it is already doing as true freedom and liberty are replaced by security provided by government for each man instead of for each Nation.  Those who hate the system and call it cold, gray capitalism are lying to themselves and you, for capitalism is the enabler of human liberty and government is that which carries the whip and chains.  Those governments that seek to 'control' capitalism become far worse than any gray owner of any company, as the dictates of government are for the government, not its people, and once given the ability to reward and punish, it is the people who suffer and have their spirits broken.  We see the new class of warlords as was seen in the Late Bronze Age, called pirates, brigands, armies of thieves, we now call them terrorists and yet their goal is to live and die by the sword no matter what credo they spout.

History teaches us that when Nations depend on trade and have no fallback plan, no hardened way to survive, then all who depend on trade are at the mercy of its fall and that the precarious system will finally fall.

History teaches us that when you see barbarians arise to spread war on their own, with no oversight of any Nation worth speaking of, that you are on the cusp of something that can turn into pure savagery for all involved civilized and barbarian alike.

History teaches us that when individuals are cared for by government which saps money from the productive wealth of working citizens, that it is the unproductive that get rewarded at the behest of the wealthy through the promises of great breads and circuses, and that it is rotten to its very core.

History teaches us that republics need stout defenders from its citizenry at all times who are willing to water the great Tree of Liberty with their own blood and that of tyrants.

History teaches us that no matter how grand the cusp of technology and trade is, that both can be lost in such a short time period as to be breath-taking as your very last breath may be taken by it.

History teaches us that savage man is a threat to all of civilization no matter what the savages say about who they attack it is all who are civilized who are threatened by them, not just those they attack.

History also teaches us that stopping collapse and creating renewal by removing rot and hardening the system via the freedom and liberty of people has never, ever, not once, been tried for any Nation and all others have had their people willing to suffer collapse into barbarous agony rather than raise their hand to halt it and reverse it.

One does not need to be overly intelligent to learn these lessons, nor be extremely deep in understanding as History teaches us via example and we forget that at our peril.  They are not nice lessons nor savory ones but, for all of that, they are good lessons to learn.

All one has to do is call themselves a Free Citizen, act civilized, disdain the corrupt enticement of government, not be swayed by the siren's song of power, reach out to be a strength to those you love and your community around you, and then be prepared for the day when you will have to stand for your freedom and liberty with your fellow Free Citizens and defend yourselves morally, ethically and physically against all onslaught. Being civilized isn't about being 'nice' but doing what is necessary, and History has taught me its lessons and now is the time to start changing the path so we can avoid the fate of so many other people's who couldn't be bothered to save civilization, or themselves, and thusly lost both.

There is no greater force for good and civilization than that person that is a Free Citizen.

I am a Free Citizen.

And nothing will sway me from the course of being civilized as I self-govern so that we may have a republic.

The republic is upheld by you being able to self-govern, you being willing and able to care for yourself, you being ready to have, hold and teach the skills necessary to keep local society alive, you being a stout and ready defender of your life, your family, your home and your neighbor, and by you not turning to barbarism not enslaving yourself to any Nation or State to get bread, circuses, medication or hand-out of any sort.  Governments that promise health care, retirements, fun and games, free food and on and on always, and ever, collapse under that weight as no government can do these things and survive with any class of free people within it: there are the rulers and the ruled and all else gets crushed between those two.

Republics ask much of its citizens.

Federal republics can only be secured by its citizens stepping up to the plate and saying 'no' to government.

If you have ever wondered why my main blog has many articles on survival of a post-crash sort, DIYism, firearms, sewing, wood working and finishing.... now you know.  I do these things not in fear but as a Free Citizen of the Federal Republic of the United States of America. And those who dare to take up that task implied by being such a Free Citizen are the most powerful people on the planet not because we are an army, but we can create one at any moment when our liberty and freedom is in jeopardy.  So it was in 1776, so it must remain today to keep our liberties and freedom and pass them on undiminished to our children and grand-children. 

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