Distractions Cause Civilizations to Fail

There are many historical and philosophical descriptions of Rome's fall. The new territories got too far from Rome. Generals and administrators acted as independents, less interested in the empire than their own self-aggrandizement. When the rich got richer and the poor got poorer the empire collapsed under the increasing costs of maintaining the rule of law. Romans got lazy. Other civilizations grew more skilled at war. Rome's conquered constituents revolted.

Let's assume these descriptions were heard and responded to by the Roman administrators before Rome fell. The wise leaders set a limit of how far the farthest province could be from Rome. They rotated generals from one army to the next. They often changed administrators preventing local personal empire building. They taxed the rich to prevent extreme stratification of wealth. They used the taxes to level the playing field for each new generation, ensuring that each individual had access to education, and opportunity.

Rome, shared technology with its neighbors. Rome gave up the slave economy and the practice of taking resources by force. Instead they included neighbors in their free and open market economy.

So the question is, "if Rome heard and implemented these changes though administrative behavior would Rome have fallen anyway?"

Is it possible that perceiving these problems and implementing these actions would not have prevented Rome's fall? If so, these problems could be considered distractions. The historians and philosophers were not looking in the right places to see what was really causing Rome's fall.

If they had looked more carefully they would have seen that the total human footprint of the Roman Empire was crashing into the empire's existing carrying capacity.

They could have seen that, while the carrying capacity of the empire was growing because of improvements in technology and the acquisition of new resources through conquest, the total human footprint (made up of the collected footprints of individuals within the empire) was growing even faster.

If this latter fact were true, the success of some to achieve improved wellbeing would transpire at the expense of others. A zero sum game would nullify beliefs that, a rising tide raises all ships, priming the economic pump improves everyone's wellbeing, and benefits trickle down.

Rome fell because its resources and technology did not supply its needs adequately to prevent the creation of a zero sum game. The same is true for the Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Asian, and Native American civilizations before Rome, and a similar number of civilizations since Rome.

So we must ask the question, "Why does each civilization not see and not address the problems of their total human footprint crashing into existing carrying capacity?"

One answer is that each civilization is distracted by the more visible and immediate but less important problems.

Is it possible that today climate change, consumption of non-renewable resources, over consumption of renewable resources, species extinction, social conflict, and overly risking extensions in technology, are problems that appear to us as larger than the unseen and unvalued problem of our total human footprint's approach to our existing carrying capacity?

Is it possible that we do not see that our personal actions of, recycling, conservation, and more efficient use of resources will not prevent this collision or our civilization's collapse?

Is it possible that we do not see that the policies (within the scope of our institutions) that encourage ecological actions in both the individual and commercial arenas will not prevent our civilization's collapse.

Is it possible that these problems and these actions are distractions? That if these problems are aggressively addressed by these behaviors, our civilization will collapse anyway.

Is it possible that we do not see that this time, collapse will not be a local dark age? That this time a new civilization, one that was waiting in the wings in a distant resource rich valley, will not emerge. This time it will be a global civilization going down. This time the hidden valley with the rich resources will have been found and included in the fall. This time the gifts of non-renewable resources will have been exhausted and the renewable resources will have been consumed to extinction in the social conflict that will end our global civilization.

There is a way to deal with the problem of total human footprint crashing into carrying capacity. It's called Rapid Population Decline (or RPD). It requires universal compliance with a one child per family behavior.

This behavior will keep our civilization from going the way of Rome -- if we are not too distracted by our more immediate problems to see the bigger problem and implement RPD to solve it.


Jack Alpert (Bio)     mail to: Alpert@skil.org      (homepage) www.skil.org      Other position papers

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