Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Decline and Fall of Practically Everyone

Complex historical phenomena, such as the "fall of Rome" and the decline and ultimate failure of the United States Empire, can never be attributed to a simple cause. If we've learned anything from complexity and chaos theory, it's that complex systems are non-linear in cause and effect and can rarely be predicted with any degree of useful accuracy.

What we can do is catalog the characteristics of complex social systems during their various phases of birth, development, decline and death an compare these characteristics to search for commonalities across the cultural landscape and through time. Such an exercise, in these days in the waning of the American Empire can be sobering indeed.

We see many of the characteristics today observed historically in, to take the most popular example, the Roman Empire. Of course, different is never the same, one compares historical periods with some risk of irrelevancy. Nevertheless, the parallels are striking.

Rome found itself on the long end of a very large Empire unable to produce a sufficient Gross National Product to support vast armies spread across what was then the known world. A tiny elite minority monopolized the Empires wealth, almost all of which was sunk into unproductive military adventures that were no longer able to return their own keep. With so much resources committed abroad, Rome was unable to manage its own local economy, and, as they say, the center cannot hold, the Empire spun centrifugally to its doom.

Today, the United States finds itself in a similar, albeit totally different situation, strung out in foreign, imperialist misadventures attempting to consolidate and control enough energy resources to keep itself afloat another few decades, if that. At home, our education system is collapsing in on itself, mired in a post-modern quagmire, unable to recover the intellectual legacy of the Enlightenment that once made it great. Our youth eschew intellectualism in favor of empty images, mind-numbing technology and meaningless entertainment. Civil discourse disappears as neighborhoods fragment into tiny isolated microcosms of individualized consumer units, permanently plugged in, assiduously warding off the silence lest a single thought steal in unchallenged. Silence leads to thought, thought leads to questions, questions lead to dissent.

We will prepare the monasteries, though not the uncomprehending scriptoria of the Irish Dark Ages, but candles of light to show the way in the darkness. It is not only knowledge that is at stake, but rational thought, intellectual discourse, meaningful comprehension and creative interpretation. Just as the wilderness is a seedbed of biological diversity, so the wilderness of the human mind is a seedbed of cultural diversity. All must be preserved and fostered.