Stupidity Is How Plutocracies Kill Civilizations

Civilizations are born as innovative republics, die as senile plutocracies. In particular they are born stoic (when all the population endures together) and die epicurean (historian Will Durant about the Babylonians)… the epicurean phase is actually more of renunciation of humanity when oligarchs addict We The People to bread and games, panem & circenses (Juvenal).. and when the civilization switches from popular and smart to oligarchic and dumb. 

Western and Chinese civilizations endured overall… for the same fundamental reason: more debate, thus superior thinking blossoming out…. 

Remember when Qin Shi Huang tried to destroy the “100 philosophy schools”? Qin was the first Chinese sovereign to proclaim himself “Emperor“, after unifying China in 221 BC. He ordered the books of the philosophy schools destroyed, since, presumably only the “Legalist” philosophy of the state of Qin should rule. However, the point that Qin failed to understand (and similarly, say, Domitian) is that the “100 schools” including Confucianism and its derivatives,Buddhism and what not, had enabled, through debate, to build the superiority of Qin’s Legalism. 

To construct a debate, and make it fructify, one needs opponents. Say the Taliban, the Talibiden and its Bin Biden… I would not hesitate to debate the Taliban. A French woman reporter interviewed a top Taliban chief. He looked at her just once., The rest of the time, he only looked at the interpreter, a man. It is hilarious to see a big bad Taliban being scared of a single French woman. But that’s French supremacy for you.

Western Europe (differently from China) was not submitted for 16 centuries. How? From its most significant supremacy… That means its superiority in most significant matters (like the outlawing of slavery). And first then, supremacy in matters intellectual (let hasten to add that this supremacy is in increasing doubt nowadays… For example, some “advanced” countries are more anti-vaxx than some supposedly little developed countries… This probably came from the fascist, and useless measures taken… in said advanced countries…)

Supremacy: a concept hated nowadays. That hatred is the deepest problem. Superior thinking, superior debate have been cancelled by cancellation of… debate.

European supremacy in metallurgy, weapons, food production, beans, domesticated animals, mechanical advantage, outlawing slavery, tyranophobia (Charlemagne was more of a first among his peers, a chief comrade, than a God-like Roman emperor; Frankish kings were elected). 

1,000 years ago, East Asian supremacy boomed demographically, from rice cultivars which one could plant twice a year, doubling productivity. 

This steam engine was demonstrated by Hero of Alexandria by 50 CE (who also engineered pumps making great jets of water for Roman firemen…). Papin in 1707 CE would go further and build a steam powered boat…)

Engineering professor Denis Papin demonstrated steam power along 100 kilometers of a German river, before his devilish invention got destroyed by monks in 1707. We need technological, intellectual supremacy more than ever, because of the confluence of several planetary ecological crises. The nature of what is superior, including superior thinking, needs to be examined carefully… to get us more of the good stuff we need, superior thinking. 

Mastering thermonuclear fusion would provide nearly free electricity, and solve the ecological crises. Electric chargers for car batteries will not. So when the Biden administration proposes 74 billion dollars for plugs, it removes money from the indispensable research into what would feed the plugs ecologically. 

Rome went down in part because it didn’t feed its technology with new science. The Roman anti-science mentality arose from tyranny’s hatred for debate, and deep thinking in general. Plutocracy lives from stupidity, thus killing civilization. 

So deep was the hostility of the Roman plutocratic oligarchy for innovation that by the time of firm installation of Augustus’ fascist empire, and then more so, the Roman deciders were mistrustful of technology. They only allowed it to proceed when it was long established, and had become traditional. That’s one reason why they did not do anything with the steam engine (that the fuels, wood and coal, were more abundant in the north, where Roman civilization was less intellectually focused may have to do with it.  

Neanderthals were first to use coal (80,000 BCE).  The Chinese were also using coal for heating as early as 1,000 BCE. Romans used coal, wood and charcoal for heating. Charcoal and coal burn at higher temperature than wood, so are best for steam engines. Charcoal is labor-intensive, so is best for blacksmithing, and running steam engines at high speed. The Romans were mining coal and using it to smelt iron in both the Rhineland and Britain by the late 2nd century BCE. In that process, the carbon in coal removes the oxygen in iron oxide, causing liquid iron to flow out…

Overall, though, the graphs are clear: Roman metallic industry collapsed spectacularly in the Second Century of the stupid empire. It had become too difficult to extract the ores. Mechanization, steam engine driven, was the way to continue exploitation of the ores. And this is exactly why the enormous mines of Rio Tinto in Spain stopped being exploited in the Second Century. At their peak, they had 10,000 slaves, and used (among other things) Archimedean screws to bring water out of the mines. The mines got relaunched in the Nineteenth Century… thanks to steam power.

Thus we see that plutocracy does not just make people stupid, by censoring debate, and just cancelling other minds. It also makes civilization go old, decadent, and unable to feed, or defend itself, by making it lose the intelligence which allows it, not just to rise, but to survive. 

Civilization is like a body. Can a body develop inequality, a few cells harnessing much more power than the others? Yes, and it’s called cancer…

Stupidity is entangled with plutocracy. Really intelligent civilizations are not plutocracies. Reciprocally, too much stupidity kills intelligence to the point that the civilization cannot adapt to the changing circumstances it itself bring. That’s how plutocracies kill civilizations

Patrice Ayme 

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3 Responses to “Stupidity Is How Plutocracies Kill Civilizations”

  1. Yossi Farjoun Says:

    Thanks Patrice. When I think of civilization collapse, I wonder how much effect does the accumulation of laws & regulations have on things. My sense is that there needs to be a “refactoring” (to use a programming term) or the laws instead of an accumulation of patchworks….”out with the old—in with the new” every now and again just to “clean house”….perhaps that’s what revolutions are for?


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Hi YOSSI!
      SUPER NICE to hear from YOU!
      Sorry I didn’t react earlier, but we were busy trying to buy a house (on second thought, disclosures just revealed it’s ready to explode and, or gas us, so we are getting cold feet…).
      Laws are a funny thing, indeed. In France, it’s the ultimate morass: laws get voted, and enacted… And rarely removed from the books. Some “Laws” of the fascist Vichy regime are still on the books… Many of them.
      For example, in France it is unlawful not to help someone “in danger”… The law was passed by Vichy to force French citizens to help German soldier-occupiers who had been attacked by the resistance, and were sort of dying in the ditch where they belonged… That law contradicts Roman law, the basis of French law, which says that only ACTS, not “NON-ACTS” can be punished. Vichy, engaged in “revolution nationale” passed no less than 16,000 laws… All, in a sense, unconstitutional, because there was no constitutional state (French presidents like Mitterrand and Chirac insisted that Vichy was a valid French state… Although it clearly had less validity than, say, Hamas, or the Taliban…)

      Justinian engaged in the “refactoring” you talk about, refurbishing all Roman laws, and separating the secular from the Catholic Sharia. It was sort of adopted in France after the Fourteenth Century… Officially in say 1330 CE, Salic Law (written in Latin by Roman lawyers) ruled. This means that the present bedrock of Western, thus world law, right now, although written in Latin, was actually French …and the laws were sometimes deliberately misread, to create contradictory precedents… The most famous example being that women could not become reigning queens, which was “read” in Salic law, by reading the first three lines and not the fourth… That created a precedent which was erroneous and subsequently violated (amusingly the three queens who ruled France were all foreign born and raised, two from Florence, one from Austria…)

      So “revolutions” can’t change everything. Both the French and American revolution did NOT change old laws: US precedents are often found in 17C England… Except when a new law was voted, which explicitly contradicted the old one… As I said, Deep US Law is basically French Middle Age law …especially after Louis IX, so called Saint Louis, refurbished the entire judicial system… Modern law comes from Louis IX… a very strange personage… Both very good and excruciatingly bad…

      Anyway keep the comments coming, that was nice… And I hope you are all doing OK…


  2. D'Ambiallet Says:

    You have what Fernand Braudel called the long view. Thank you


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