04 February 2009

The Doomsayers and the problems of magnitude

It is always fascinating to read what the doomsayers put forth! Really, we have had so many predictions of the decline and fall of absolutely everything that even Bill O'Reilly isn't old enough to get in on more than the 50th floor of this high rise. Given that Western Culture has been doomed since the invention of ink on paper, lets compare what has gone on before to what is going down now... I mean we have had a ton of problems getting civilization to run and its fallen apart more often than any care to recount. Although I wouldn't put it past O'Reilly to try.

Everyone loves to start with the Roman Empire - vast, sprawling, highly civilized and, in a few hundred years in the West and another thousand past that in the East it all went away. For all of being a large-scale system (that is what Empires are, after all) that has a centrally fixed planning and coordination site (that moved when things got rough), it suffered due to a number of horrible internal problems.

First was internal law. Being a Roman Citizen meant you got some of the benefits of civilization, the primary one was not being owned by someone else. Unfortunately if you need a case adjudicated you had a problem if you won it: no one to enforce it. Here a natural imbalance of power that the Left always claims in the West was actually the case and the rich could get away in private problems and convictions (those done by the State were another matter). If you won a civil suit, you had to figure out how to collect, and if the person you were suing were rich and had body guards, well, you were a low class scruffian more than likely. And when the law of the State started to go bad, that reflexive downhill trend went faster and, soon, important slaves were in charge of finances, property, and even gained inheritances... and were still slaves! Being a Citizen didn't mean much, beyond paying off someone else to serve your time in the Legion and soon the Legion got wise of that and hired foreigners that were cheaper, more amenable to orders, and didn't cramp the lifestyle of the Citizens. When you finally roll around the Byzantines, individual nobles had their own men-at-arms that were at service to the State, not disbanded and being a Citizen meant, at dead worse, guard duty.

Second was societal decay. If you get the attitude that, if you are rich and can buy your own safety from justice, then comes the idea of indulging yourself with that wealth. This did cause enormous amounts of trade to happen! Mostly in luxury items, but the State got its share in taxation, which allowed all those monuments to go up. And one of the prime things a rich person needs are services and, well, those citizens are expensive and slaves cheap and easy to boss around... in a mere century or two Rome was bustling with a huge slave population that needed care and feeding and, rather than work with those damned low class citizens to start farms, make bread, and tote things around, you handed that off, being rich, to the State. What a deal! You buy them, the State pays for them and any comparisons to social security and health care are intentional. And, on the low side of citizenship, if you could find anything that catered to the rich and needed an actual citizen to do the work, well, luxury goods and decadent trifles were all the rage. Or you might scrape by doing things for your fellow low class citizens who don't have much money but still need some vital goods and services.

Third was trade. Strange to say it, but trade kept everything going: money didn't just go *out* to Persia, Africa, Asia and the Far East, but it came back in the way of goods, services, a work force, and new technologies. Of course in Asia that stream of money attracted attention and you got all sorts of even more uncouth scruffian barbarians following the money trail *back* to Rome. That didn't work out so well as the semi-civilized, semi-scruffian, semi-barbarian, semi-citizens defending Rome may never have actually seen Rome. And when you got an Imperial Paymaster or Commander who found that he might get a 'better deal' by setting up shop on his own and cutting a deal with the barbarians coming in... and don't forget skimming off the trade going through the area you controlled. When the hordes swept through the Western Empire and found themselves in Northern Africa because the guys behind them were *worse* there wasn't much of Rome left. Of course even when it was just the Eastern Empire, they still thought of themselves as 'Romans'.

Basically, the moment Rome needed a Caesar, it wasn't going to survive as an ongoing affair. Crossing the Rubicon sealed the fate of the Republic, put a Glorious and Decadent Empire in its place (poor Augustus trying to tell others not to do what he had done as a youngster...) and then the genes faded as the system was rewarding ill behavior, non-obedience to laws and rewarding the accumulation of wealth and power. The Roman upper crust was in a high state of decay by the time of Nero, and you would have good and bad Emperors after that, but they had no ability to revitalize Roman society as, strange as it may seem, you can't dictate good behavior from the top of the power structure. You can mercilessly kill to maintain it, but, as Mao would find in China, that really just made everyone afraid of doing anything, right or wrong.

Any parallel to the modern Left trying to equate barbaric actions as falling under civilized law and being unwilling to uphold the actual necessities of civilization by going after those trying to tear it apart are purely coincidental. Really, the Left makes Citizen Soldiers out to be 'mercenaries', castigates those under lawful contract as 'outlaws', wants to put 'human rights' over simple survival and letting those waging Private War to go free... and any comparisons of all of that to Romans unwilling to fight for themselves, support their State, and apply an unbalanced law to the gain of the wealthy at the expense of society is purely coincidental.

Luckily Rome survived far worse 'climate change' than we have suffered through, but don't remind folks of that as they don't like to think of a time when the climate wasn't absolutely perfect just like it was when they were a kid, save for the hurricanes, tornados, blizzards, floods, tsunamis... just *perfect*.

And yet you hear some folks trying to make America out to be an 'Empire'. Look at history and you will know what an Empire is and America just doesn't add up as that.

For all of that, Rome isn't that great a model for modern Doomsayers: too many differences, too many large scale things that just don't have easy parallels and, generally, people actually saw it as a step up from what they had before until it all went so very wrong and the dark ages Reset Switch went down on Western Europe.

Nope, to find the right place that fell down that has substantive links to our present circumstances you have to actually go back before Rome to the previous Dark Age. The one everyone was so desperate to get out of that Alexander the Great was actually Great for giving a kick-start to the whole thing. And what is chilling about it, is that as the broad outlines now get filled in past the few tales of the bards and poets, we start to see a wholly different world of the late Bronze Age. If you want to pin a massive turning point that was, most likely, not too well recognized at the time, it was the Trojan War, and we appear to have some gross misconceptions of that war based on all the inferences of pre-archaeological classicists who speculated much without all that much data. The major turning point in our understanding hinges on two key events.

One is the deciphering of Linear B as being that of pictographic Greek.

The other is the Hittite Foreign Ministry Archive.

Together these two things helped to start re-organizing our entire outlook of the Late Bronze Age. The second one is easily understood for its importance: all the treaties, acts, major events, and diplomatic traffic between the center of the Hittite realm and all of its far-flung neighbors, nearby neighbors, allies, and the such. Mostly it is the outgoing record that is recorded and from that the picture of the Trojan war warps strangely from one of a few decades ago of relatively primitive States going to war with each other over minor reasons. While, like in the modern era, minor reasons can serve as an inflection point, the one added part that then shifts the balance of the entire system to something else, they are rarely the pure cause in and of themselves. So Helen abducted by Paris so that a Thousand Black Ships would be launched now turns into something a bit more complex and less amenable to the Bards and Poets.

You would think that it would be the Hittite archive that would be the major turning point, but it is the post-WWII analysis of Linear B that is the true one. Linear B was identified as Bronze Age writing of some sort and shards of it litter the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean. Literally you can find the stuff nearly everywhere done on clay that has either been sunbaked or kiln baked (though not fired into ceramic). It comes in all shapes and sizes, from single glyphs to complex works that we only have in fragments, and when you actually can decipher the stuff it tells a story... it is, indeed, an early form of Greek and the overwhelming majority of it is lists, parts of lists or accounting for trade items. They are shopping lists, inventories, sales listings... not heroic and epic poems, but '40 bronze shields for Agamemnon' and '30 flasks of wine to Hector'... stuff like that. And while the names are ones we know from Homer's epic tales, some of the shards go back to the Early Bronze Age, so the names are ones common to the era and area.

Linear B has been found in Northern Italy, Syria, the upper Nile River, Iraq, Iran, central Asia, central Europe... maybe not in such great quantities as in the Aegean basin, but the presence of it speaks to a long trade chain going back to the Basin itself. While navigation may have been a bit on the 'rough and ready' side, as witness the number of wrecks from the Bronze Age, when you think about *that* fact and realize the trade must be lucrative enough to push people to do that and in far larger numbers than the ships we have found, you move away from the 'few, hardy sailors' to hundreds or thousands of ships making it safely to port for every one lost. Even a modern 2% loss rate would indicate that, plus the fact we haven't been actively looking for wrecks in the deeper parts of the Mediterranean, and the silt build-up often means that those close to shore are deeply buried under feet of sediment and well hidden. Off of the coast of Turkey has turned up lots of wrecks over the decades, and more being found as time goes on: the more you look, the more you find.

This begins to wipe out the idea of tiny, self-sufficient City States into Cities with control of their surrounding areas doing some modicum of sustainment farming, and taking part in a rich trade arrangement to get goods on a regular basis from all over their known world. At least to Persia and the Aral Sea to the East, Iberia to the West, Axum to the South and up to the Baltic in the North. Homer, indicates (along with others) with the names from other lands that come to help defend the Trojans and we do find Axumites and Amazons, along with Egyptians and Persians in that list. You do *not* send troops or royal forces to help out a little nothing City State: you *do* send them to a vital trade partner under threat. And even if these were folks caught in the turning seasonal flows in the Bosporus, the idea that Axumites would be waiting to go *further* makes Troy to be a huge trade center. Indeed, modern excavations have shown just that: the area beyond the citadel had a large city around it, with access to the river delta area (long since silted in). You can even find evidence of Late Bronze Age warfare and a place that may be a massive burial site.

Troy, itself, looks to have been a City State associated with its own trade group and part of the larger Hittite sphere of influence. That comes from the Hittite archives and demonstrates that there was some concern over the affairs of Wilusa (Ilium/Troy) and the Cities associated with it. Plus there are indications of foreign contacts and treaties with the Achaean Greeks (the folks like Agamemnon) and the Dorian Greeks (the folks like Hercules) before the Dorians migrated south into what were once Achaean holdings. Indeed there had been long and ongoing strife between Greeks and Trojans as the evidence of the Gate of Hercules and the damage done to Troy in an earlier conflict can attest to. Jason from Argolas went through Troy in a quest for the Golden Fleece on the far shores of the Black Sea, and his City State is, indeed, present in that time frame. Everyone who wanted to go to transit from Asia, Central Europe or northern Hittite cities and wanted to avoid the overland route and its cost, went through the Bosporus and Troy. The place made money hand over fist and sold the finest horses around.

Their alliance with the Hittites to secure the landward side, and the nearby island City States (like Lesbos) was to secure their outer trade routes. And all those lovely Greek goods wanting a high local price and not having to head into the Mediterranean to get to Egypt, Syria and the trade routes to Babylon went, instead, to Troy. So when you see what we have found in the way of wrecks in the Mediterranean coastal waters, think of what that means for the Aegean and local trade. What must have gotten on the hackles of those Achaean Greeks was that their fine luxury goods (ever lucrative) like wine, olive oil and their preserved meat goods, were having to give a middleman's cut to the Trojans. And the Achaeans were bold and hardy to cross the Mediterranean, but to get income from luxuries you need decent volume and that was had at Troy. The place is littered with bits and pieces of junk from the Bronze Age and that is in the places the hamsters haven't gotten to, too. Hamsters tend to burrow and mix up sediment layers, so the best way to discover what is under your feet is to find a hamster hole...

To run all of this took trade, trade agreements, settlements, and so on and the system started a rapid decay at the end of the late Bronze Age and went into a dark age. When Troy fell its trade network fell with it, and even with trying to rebuild the city, a few years to a decade with it being harassed by the Achaean Confederation, its outer City State partners being ravaged by the Greeks and then the Greeks slowly hitting the weaker Cities around Troy and then even starting to go inland to threaten a Hittite Vassal directly... the ten year war isn't one of siege directly, but strategic interdiction of supply lines and depriving Troy of trade. When you see 'Sacker of Cities' after Odysseus and Achilles, that is what they were doing: bringing down the Trojan trade system.

Worked, too.

When you consider that the Noble families of the Achaean and Dorian Greeks were losing out on what they saw as hard earned money and trade, and you get these incredibly sophisticated Trojans and Hittites parading around in fineries bought on taxation of Greek goods (the Greeks would tend to downplay the huge volume of other folks' goods going through Troy, naturally) and even with that the Greek noble houses were getting to be well off and wanted those trappings of power... then an upstart Prince of Troy comes to see a second rank King, cuts a deal with his wife to take her away (she would have more rights and freedoms as a woman in Troy than in the household of that uncouth Menelaus) and that King just happens to be brother to the top ranked King... well... as one author said the 'stealing' of Helen away stops looking like 'Romeo and Juliet' and more like Juan and Eva Peron (The Trojan War by Barry Strauss). It was, for the most part, politics with Paris seeking to get some of Helen's inheritance, and Helen getting more say in her life via the differences in marriage customs between Troy and the Greeks, as wives were equal partners at that time. Underlying trade problems (at least from the Greek view) AND having a woman who ties you to a powerful and rich family in Greece going over to the Old Guard Trojans? Yes, and Priam was none too happy with the deal but had to honor custom...

Now we are getting the picture of the multi-polar world of the late Bronze Age that reaches a complexity of trade and interactions that would not be replicated by Rome: Rome would have more volume but, being an Empire, less complexity as it took over smaller powers. No to get to such a level of diverse trade you have to get to the 19th century through to modern times as the size of the cities and their walls in Greece meant that there was a huge amount of labor and, thus, a large population to support that labor force. What brought all this down? The combination of Public War (openly waged by the City States) and Private War (openly waged by Odysseus, Achilles, et. al.) for personal gain and fortune. The ravaging of cities went far beyond that of the immediate City States in alliance with Troy and spread along the entire southern Hittite coast and all the way to Syria, in the South, and indications of it spreading around the Black Sea to the north. The reverberations of that can still be found in the writings left of that era, as I went over in a previous post.

In the century or so prior to the Trojan War, the Hittites had attacked the Egyptian vassal of Syria, but got a nasty surprise when Egyptians carrying plague hit the Hittite lands. This brought about when the wife of Tutankhamun wrote to the Hittite King to ask that he send a Prince to marry her... that, too, probably had a lot to do with trade and such, plus palace intrigue. Still they were a force to be reckoned with and it took quite a lot to spur things into rapid decline that even Ramses II would have to acknowledge wasn't so hot. His going back to try and retake Syria ended in a draw, but by then the Sea Peoples were already on the move and for the Hittites it would be a last major battle before the Old Kingdom went under. And if Josephus is right about the time of Moses (and that is in dispute) then the Israelites left northern Egypt just as it was starting to come under attack and Ramses II could only fight the declining Hittites to a draw (that is what the foreign ministry and local records record at the battle site, not the political part in Egypt that depicts it as a heroic victory). It is probably too good to be true that Moses would have observed both the battle and the way it was depicted and the unruly state of affairs and decided 'we have got to get away from this place, immediately'. That would put a very different light on things... a weakened army, unrest in the northern provinces and the Israelites deciding it wasn't such a great thing to serve as a buffer force for Egypt any more.

Finally you get some local changes in climate that would dry out the interior of Asia Minor (the realm of the Hittites) and see drier times show up around the Aegean basin. Achaean Greeks might have been seeing some of their income tighten up for this reason, and the Dorians, a bit better adapted to a different climate for trade, would start to make more money than the southerners would. Troy would also see a marked decrease in income, but would be seen as rich, still, and doing lots better than their trading partners.

What does this look like?

Then - Now

For Hittites read - United States.

Troy - New York City.

Babylon - Russia.

Achaean Greeks - Unassimilated Islamic masses who don't want to change but have tons of cash - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the various Gulf States.

Dorian Greeks - Iran, Syria.

Syria, Canaan, Eastern Mediterranean States - Europe, especially giving its 'last hurrah' to help the US in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Egypt - China.

That makes al Qaeda, Hezbollah, HAMAS and those guys into the equivalents of the Private War fighters that decided to go on the rampage after Troy was attacked. In truth they probably had always been there but they were a consequential enough problem that the Hittites bemoaned Pijamadus (the Tyrant of Corinth Periander it has been suggested). He was cited in Treaties as someone that the Hittites didn't like, who the Greeks had a say over and 'just why was it that you guys were giving him cover and funding him, anyways?' became the very pointed inferred question through diplo-speak. Just like we have done with KSA et. al. on 'terrorists'.

Even once reduced, Troy was rebuilt but never to its former stature... just like we are proposing for the World Trade Center: it will be nice, but not what it was and we don't have the wherewithal to 'do it right'. And when trade centers around oil and petroleum, then things get very shaky in the US even while making money on the trade, those in the Middle East see the US making money on something they feel is theirs, outright. So their cash gets funneled to the third party actors and pirates like al Qada et. al. that become a threat to the very fabric of advanced civilization by that cash influx.

Just like the late Bronze Age our world stands atop trade: anything that destabilizes the trade system puts our entire world at risk and all of civilization. Pirates are not romantic, they are a symptom of decay in a civilized system, and 'terrorists' are pirates by any reading of the Law of Nations, in that they wage Private War to their own ends. They didn't stop against Troy, Hittites or the trade routes that kept even the pirates going. When the trade collapsed because no one would try to defend it, then the rest soon followed. The large, insular, States survived, but would never dominate as they had.

Do notice that the piracy supporting City States of the Bronze Age did not 'win': they lost because the value that they wanted to get in cash did not equal the value in support of their States in lives that trade represented. They attacked one of the main sources of their life blood and would suffer downfall just like those they attacked and be replaced by those able to garner a means of living and survival different from theirs. And the Hittites, by the time they realized what the problem was, could no longer muster forces against them and were reduced to getting those paying the pirates to attack to actually stand to their treaties. That was a failure of grand proportions.

Here it is not the low level things to seek correlation with, as in the case of Rome, but the higher level things that point to the larger scale system equivalence. Today the trade system that is global has problems getting Nations to oppose simple pirates and most are unwilling to actively go after their land brothers called 'terrorists'. The US has sought to enforce diplomatic agreements on banking to help shut down the supply of cash to terrorist organizations, but that isn't working. What does work is military power of *any scale* be it from the minimal of the Nation wanting help from private citizens to the Public armed forces. Like the Hittites we are unwilling, as a Nation, to actually muster the forces necessary to go after the States supplying terrorists and supporting them and try to deal with the artifact of that support, not the thing itself. To make up for those lacks we try to magically give diplomacy a power it does not have and is lacking: it hasn't worked.

There are huge differences between the Bronze and Modern Ages: State based slavery is not present in the Modern Age, and all the technology today has few antecedents to the Bronze Age. The larger societal and State structures of trade, commerce, conflict and the mix they create is, however, chillingly similar. And as we have given piracy a 'free pass' by and large, we no longer stand for the system of State interest necessary for State survival and regularized trade. Unwilling to take the major operations against civilization down by the only means understood as necessary to do so, which is military force, we now step away from support of our lifeblood by defending it and holding others accountable to their diplomatic agreements.

That didn't work out well for the Hittites and they were swept from history replaced with those taking their name, but not their culture.

And when we step away from confronting terrorism, piracy and not enforcing our diplomatic agreements, we, too, step on that same path.

What followed for the Greeks, Hittites, Assyrians and the rest of the region was a thing known as a 'Dark Age'.

Egypt struggled by, as did Babylon, but even they were not their former selves as Empires.

That is now history.

Apparently we will be too smart, too civilized and repeat it.

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