Saturday, May 08, 2010

Why I Don't Watch the News Much

If you read enough history, ancient, medieval, or modern, you can start to get better sense of patterns in human behavior, good and bad. Being a pessimist, I tend to watch for signs of civilization's decline. Examples from history (the Roman Republic, pre-Revolutionary France, Czarist Russia, or Weimar Germany) will produce the following list:
  • Political instability or "resolution" of civil political matters through violence
  • Currency instability/devaluation
  • Public calls for a single leader and an end to parliamentary process as too inefficient
  • "Winner take all" political contests, followed by a "purging" (firing, not Stalinesque) of civil service appointees felt to be too close to the other political party/previous administration
  • Concentration of the political spoils system
  • Infrastructure failures
  • Inability to control the border
  • Unwillingness by elites to support basic tenets/values of the majority society (e.g. free speech, private property)
  • Increasing "rights" to a broader range of "citizens"
  • Mob rule/rule by public passions/rule by plebecite/referendum
  • Federally funded bread and circuses
  • Outlandish crimes/behavior
  • Anarcho-tyranny
  • Decline in general manners and civility in political and private behavior
  • Loss in actual skills/technological capabilities
  • Increase in the numbers of political "crimes" (e.g. suppression of political free speech by subtle or blatant force)
  • Concentration of wealth among politically connected individuals/groups
  • Politicization of "the legions"
I posited this list of trends to Lin and the Down Under Defense Expert (DUDE). Lin's comments:

I took a course at my alma mater...studying the Roman Republic. Each one of the points that you raised can be related to some degree to them. I’ll offer some (hopefully) insights later. Imagine this worst case(?) scenario. O-buma’s popularity skyrockets and he becomes an FDR...Haven’t we already entered a dark age?


The DUDE thought he'd forwarded that list to me (ha! possibly--it's more a sampling of trends from my various reading adventures). His additional comments included:
More apropos are Marx’ Ten Conditions necessary for Communism [Comments in brackets belong to the DUDE]:
  1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
  2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
  3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
  4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
  5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
  6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State. [There were no telephones in those days. Communication in this case refers to roads and especially to bridges, tunnels, etc.]
  7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan. [Mao and his gang did a great job of putting waste-lands into production. Nothing grew, but it was “in production.”]
  8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
  9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
  10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. [Children’s factory labour in some other form is OK, however.] Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c. [So, kids get free education in things like how to work in a factory…]

This also follows from a discussion I had with Doc (who's coming at the problem from the left rather than the right), who suggested that great disparities of wealth actually will precipitate a workers' revolt...which might be the Marxist point of view, but which he strongly stated he does not WANT to see happen. In the business/economic world, there are things that can be done at the stockholder level by tying businesses and executives' income to concrete improvements to employee welfare. By treating workers better now--more flexible leave policies, more freedom to work from home, more flexible work hours, better access to health care or child care, more access to educational opportunities, etc.--companies beneft in the long run. Workers that are treated well actually are more productive and loyal, but somehow the work-60-hours-a-week-with-little-reward approach to business seems to prevail. Throw in a crumbling educational system, crushing taxes, and crumbling family structure because both parents are working and you've got a recipe for long-term decline.
So if you accept the premise that our civilization is in decline, how do you fix it? Not a clue. With any luck, though, the internet will at least allow more people access to more tools and information to fix things incrementally.

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