World population is presently exploding. How many human beings were there before dogs became in wide use? In 35,000 BCE, it is estimated that Earth had three million human beings. Before the rise of cities, in 10,000 BCE, world population had reached 15 million. The rise of civilization was enabled by a technological explosion, the discovery, invention and intense use intense use of science, technology, writing, genetic engineering (dogs, cattle, goats, chicken, cats, wheat, rye, millet, rice, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, etc.), irrigation, fuel, etc.
Civilizations rise when they find new technological tricks to dominate and exploit their environments, be it the human, and, or, natural, environments. Those tricks exhaust resources after a while, bringing stress, thus war (against people, and, or, nature). War activates the fascist instinct, bringing the rise of plutocracy (as observed nowadays), and complete cretinism (also known as theocracy). This makes the collapse worse. Civilization can be destroyed by fate. The most famous case is a civilization we owe so much to: Crete. It was devastated by one of the worst volcanic explosion in 25,000 years (as it tried to recover, it was hit by a “plague”, according to Greek historians).
Crete is part of our cultural inheritance. Today, the status of women depends upon the breakthrough ancient paintings (from the Knossos Palace, above), some 40 centuries old, depict. The status of women was high in Crete. Women could be in authority, for 2,000 years. Women were then to be subjugated in Greece, for 3,500 years (yes, time flies, these are big numbers: civilizational setbacks can last millennia).
Europe is named after Crete, an acknowledgment. The goddess Europa was from Crete (and one of her sons was the famous king Minos, after whom Minoan Civilization is named).
An example of self-imploding collapse is the Maya. The Maya were, for millennia, an extremely advanced civilization which seemed to be on its way to accomplish on its own something similar to the ascending superiority of Middle Earth (my term for the Mediterranean plus Egypt-Middle East-Arabia plus India area).
However, a terrible century long drought starting in the Seventh Century struck the Maya who proved unable to manage the crisis, to which they added terrible wars (the worst involving a queen, in the leading role, not just the usual demonic males). All Maya cities were destroyed. When the Spaniards landed, eight centuries later, the Maya were just shadows of their former selves (yet, they proved to be tough customers).
As Jared Diamond (2005, in his book “Collapse”) wrote, one can only be struck by “the disappearance of between 90 and 99% of the Maya population after A.D. 800 …and the disappearance of kings, Long Count calendars, and other complex political and cultural institutions.” Not just that, but much more importantly, the giant irrigation system of the Maya, with its dams and canals, was one of the world’s largest, ever: it can still be seen from space. When that centuries old irrigation system was left in disrepair, civilization became history.
In the close-by very extensive highlands of central Mexico, many powerful states also rose to high levels of power and prosperity, only to rapidly collapse. Teotihuacan (the sixth largest city in the world in the Seventh Century) and Monte Alban among those to experience dramatic collapse, with populations decline of at least 20–25% from their peak within a couple of generations (Tainter, 1988).
Civilization collapses come in many guises. Egypt cycled through more than two dozen dynasties, and a couple of century long occupations, tweaking itself every time. However, in the end it was unable to stay an independent, original civilization, undergoing thereafter 2,000 years of subjugation.
The present civilization was born from a near-collapse. And was born thanks to a philosophical reset.
Indeed, in the case of the Greco-Roman empire, full collapse was avoided. The Franks rebooted Greco-Roman civilization, with their own Germano-Christian sauce, by the early Fifth Century (defeat of Goths who were ejected from Gaul, 507 CE, thanks to the battle of Vouille’). This is completely clear, when one inspects known facts, battles, laws, and the Storia Francorum of bishop Gregory of Tours.
The truth of what happened was masked by severe setbacks which were endured in the Sixth Century, under (Constantinople based) Roman emperor Justinian: Christian madness made Greco-Roman intellectuals flee to Persia (!), while a terrible plague (“Justinian Plague”), and a mysterious cataclysm (asteroid, volcano?) struck Earth’s climate. (The reality of what happned under the Franks was also masked by French Revolutionary propaganda, which was anxious to put all and any “ancient regime” in a bad light, and the usual Anglo-Saxon propaganda, anxious to disparage its absurdly French origins in all and any way.)
Differently from the Maya, the Franks centered in, or around Paris, and the Romans in Constantinople, were able to adapt to the catastrophes of the Fourth (Christianization, Gothic invasion), Fifth (Germanic invasions of 406 CE; then, the Huns), Sixth (as related above), and Seventh Centuries (dramatic war with Persia, followed by the surprise attack of the god crazed Arabs).
Both then defeated in the Eight Century those fanatics of war who had attacked like carnivorous locusts.
The official “Renovatio Imperii”, the Renovation of Rome, was made formal when Carlus Magnus (Charlemagne) was endowed with the sole “Imperator Romanorum” (Imperator of the Romans) title in 800 CE, an imperial tradition which went on with say Otton II in 962 CE, and for more than a millennium (formally, Napoleon I, as leader of Francia was entitled, the Roman way, to grab back the title for himself).
Greco-Roman civilization incorporated the Cretan, Egyptian-Sumerian, Phoenician civilizations (with more than a touch of Etruscan). Then other Middle Eastern elements were included (Mythra, Great Mother Cult, Judaism, etc.) Western civilization incorporated even more: the fierce love of freedom, and women, of the Germans, and the generalized tolerance and open mindedness of the Franks (by 600 CE all citizens were Franks, and, within a generation the slave trade was outlawed by the Imperium; that latter fact was a world’s first). Interestingly the Franco-Roman synthesis incorporated traits which Crete had, but that the Hellenes had lost (for example maximum sexual equality, in at least some respects: there were female Cretan matadors, playing with ferocious giant bulls).
Conclusion? Even in an horrendous situation (the decline of the Roman empire, under fascism, theocracy, barbarity, invasions, ecological collapse, plague, unfathomable impact of a giant explosion somewhere), fresh new ideas, arising from shock philosophy can turn things around. The Franks demonstrated this thoroughly. The Chinese also did, on a more modest scale… Until Mao came, and unleashed the Dark Side onto fossilized Chinese thought, habits, and a philosophy, Confucianism, which had ruled for 26 centuries, as the symbol of ultimate wisdom (which it was not).
To repeat slowly: the Franks introduced the following reforms, in rough chronological order:
- The rule of warriors bound to common sense and religious tolerance (in complete contradiction with the Catholic terror, just prior). This was illustrated by Clovis’ quip that, had his Franks been there, Christ would never have been crucified. On the surface, it’s as if Clovis had understood nothing of Christianity. Indeed it looks as if Clovis had not understood that God wanted to be crucified, just to visit a guilt complex on his followers, same as with the story of the snake and the apple. Most probably, Clovis understood all too well< and made a show that he was firmly intend to violate God’s law. In any case, under the Franks, Judaism, Paganism, etc were freely practiced. Christianism with a human, even Frankish face (to the Vatican’s rage).
- The implementation of a modern, much less sexist, non-discriminatory legal system, applying to all by 600 CE, the Lex Salica, on top of Justinian’s refurbishing of Roman law. By 600 CE, all citizens of the Imperium Francorum were Franks (in a dramatic contrast with the situation in Spain, where the Visigoths applied Visigothic law just to themselves; same in italy where the Lombards, another type of Germans, were above Roman law)
- The outlawing of slavery (starting around 650 CE).
- Nationalization of the Catholic Church, constitution of the largest professional army since Republican Rome, to face the humongous Islamist invasions of 721-745 CE. Destruction of the army of the Arab Caliphate (which thus collapsed in 750 CE, crushing Bin Laden and other Islamists forever thereafter).
All these reforms were of a philosophical nature: the Vatican discussed excommunicating Charles Martel, for expropriating the Church, but concluded it was safer not to debate with a Hammer. When the Franks formed, named, and made a bishop, within three weeks, from an illiterate Frankish warrior, they were sending a message to the Vatican about who was the boss: secularism, not superstition.
Civilization survived from smarts, not just swords.