Houston, We Have a Problem

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You know, I am old enough to recall when NASA was all about space exploration.  Under the current administration it appears that NASA is mostly concerned with supporting the agendas of the Obama Administration.  Case in point, a NASA funded study of epic historical illiteracy:

If we’re to avoid their fate, we’ll need policies to reduce economic inequality and preserve natural resources, according to a NASA-funded study that looked at the collapses of previous societies.

“Two important features seem to appear across societies that have collapsed,” reads the study. “The stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity and the economic stratification of society into Elites and Masses.”

In unequal societies, researchers said, “collapse is difficult to avoid…. Elites grow and consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society.”

As limited resources plague the working class, the wealthy, insulated from the problem, “continue consuming unequally” and exacerbate the issue, the study said.

Meanwhile, resources continue to be used up, even by the technologies designed to preserve them. For instance, “an increase in vehicle fuel efficiency technology tends to enable increased per capita vehicle miles driven, heavier cars, and higher average speeds, which then negate the gains from the increased fuel-efficiency,” the study said.

The researchers used what they termed a Human And Nature DYnamical (HANDY) formula to reach their conclusions. The formula uses factors such as birth rates, resources, and income classes to create a mathematical equation to project outcomes.

The study was sponsored by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and headed by the National Science Foundation’s Safa Motesharrei.

For those who think modern society is immune from the problems that brought down ancient civilizations, a “brief overview of collapses demonstrates not only the ubiquity of the phenomenon, but also the extent to which advanced, complex and powerful societies are susceptible to collapse,” the study said.

So how do we save ourselves? “Collapse can be avoided, and population can reach a steady state at the maximum carrying capacity, if the rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed equitably,” reads the report.

Go here to read the rest.  What this nonsense on stilts actually reminds me of is the way conservatives in the sixties would point to current sexual immorality and state that is how the Roman Empire fell.  Please.  The three main factors in the fall of most civilizations are:  catastrophic military defeat, the growth of governmental bureaucracy that stifles initiative and imposes crushing costs on the private sector and increasingly sclerotic elites who simply are unable to meet new challenges.  I almost feel like sending the authors of this travesty my 12 volume set of Toynbee’s A Study of History which has several thousand pages devoted to why societies collapse, but I doubt if they would read it.   (Toynbee had a lot of crackpot ideas, but the hundreds of historical vignettes that dot his Study are invaluable.)   You can go here to read the paper.  It is the usual type of trash produced these days in too much social “science” where math substitutes for actual historical knowledge.  The study reaches its preferred conclusions, ecological catastrophe and “inequality”, by loading up the study with societies like “Great Zimbabwe”, where the historical record is non-existent to very poor, and ignoring the collapse of societies where the historical record is quite good:  Rome, Ancient Egypt, various Chinese dynasties, etc.  Almost all the works cited at the end of the study are recent, in the last decade or so, and most devoted to precisely the same ecological interpretation of historical events favored by this study.   Garbage in, garbage out in other words.   Politicized junk history is worthless and this study is a prime example.  Stick to space exploration and Tang NASA, History is most definitely not your strong suit.


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  1. I liked a comment over at Darwin’s place that said something like (extreme paraphrasing here!):
    All the fallen states were made up of humans. There, found the problem for you. Now can you get back to focusing on your job?

  2. Do you mean Arnold Toynbee’s “A Study of History”?

    I cannot find “Outline of History”.

    I am partial to the ‘decline in morality’ theory as to the fall of civilizations.

  3. The NASA study really seems like a “study” that had fore-ordained conclusions.
    An interesting part of studying history is the interplay of different social factors and noticing how hard it is to separate cause and effect sometimes. What came first and what was overlapping- moral decline and the military defeat – etc.?

  4. Yes Tito, it is A Study of History. I have made the correction. An Outline of History was HG. Well’s two volume study of history. God alone knows how I confused the two when I drafted this post as they are in no way comparable.

    Morality and the collapse of societies rarely have much to do with each other. The spreading of Christianity for example coincided with the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West. Saint Augustine wrote City of God in an attempt to refute the fairly common pagan contention that it was the spreading of Christianity that was causing the weakening of the Empire. Augustine was correct. The two processes had nothing to do with each other.

  5. The NASA study missed several important hysterical determinants.

    In addition to class war and global warming, the Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Persian, Pan-Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine, Spanish, HRE, British, etc. Empires collapsed under the weights of gender, race, and sexual orienation victimizations.

    Let me know if I missed any.

    Anyhow, History shows societies that organize themselves around tiny elites (all-powerful states, bureaucracies, central planners/collectivists, dynasties: Bushes, Clintons) who think they should control the systems suffer a 100% failure rate. Today’s system shares similar fundamentals to nearly every other case of failed empire. And it’s foolish to think that this time will be different

  6. “Morality and the collapse of societies rarely have much to do with each other.”
    Immorality begets cowardice and ninnies. Can you see any “gays” formulating the Great Escape? “Gays” would not be in the armed forces who are at war for freedom, truth and Justice.
    The soul of man must have a purpose. Without a purpose, other than self-gratification, there is not a reason for a coward to save another human being much less the founding principles of Freedom, Truth and Justice.

  7. “Immorality begets cowardice and ninnies.”

    Ah, if history were only that simple. Great courage and military ability have often gone hand in hand with wretched immorality. For example, few men have been braver than the redcoats who stormed Badajoz in 1812. The crimes they were then guilty of in the sack of the city caused even a hardened campaigner like Wellington to be appalled.

  8. I’ve heard very little about Toynbee, except criticism from the kind of people that I aspire to be criticized by.

    Glancing at the NASA report, it’s not a study that concludes that civilizations fall due to inequality and resource depletion; it’s a study of inequality and resource depletion. Those are the terms of the model it uses. If I were, say, an electrical engineer, I could produce a model showing that electrical usage in Beirut and Berlin declined drastically as they fell. Correlation and causation and all that. It seems to me like all civilizations have had a big gap between elites and masses, whether the civilization was booming or in decline. I tend to agree with economist Douglass North, that the determining factor of success is whether the formal and informal institutions (in the broadest possible meaning) of a society reward the creation or redistribution of wealth.

  9. “The crimes they were then guilty of in the sack of the city caused even a hardened campaigner like Wellington to be appalled.”
    “The crimes they were then guilty of” came about when they rejected virtue and assumed vice, relying on cowardice to commit their crimes instead of courage to maintain their human dignity.

  10. ““The crimes they were then guilty of” came about when they rejected virtue and assumed vice, relying on cowardice to commit their crimes instead of courage to maintain their human dignity.”

    Actually it was the custom then and had been for millennia that cities that resisted and had to be taken by storm were subject to a sack. Think of Henry V’s warning to Harfleur. The troops were also maddened because the French resisted ferociously and the Brits sustained 4800 casualties. Also consider what segment of the British population the troops in Wellington’s time were recruited from:

    Here is Wellington describing his troops in 1813:

    “A French army is composed very differently from ours. The conscription calls out a share of every class — no matter whether your son or my son — all must march; but our friends — I may say it in this room — are the very scum of the earth. People talk of their enlisting from their fine military feeling — all stuff — no such thing. Some of our men enlist from having got bastard children — some for minor offences — many more for drink; but you can hardly conceive such a set brought together, and it really is wonderful that we should have made them the fine fellows they are.”

    The troops were kept in line through ferocious discipline. When that gave way, as it did after the storming of Badajoz, horror often ensued.

  11. Donald, isn’t that true of all troops? In the highest emotions, and ordered to ignore personal safety and the normal restraints of civilized society, soldiers of any era are tempted to act horrifically. Military discipline serves two purposes: prodding the man to be a soldier and restraining him from becoming a thug.

    Much like righteous anger is the most dangerous of virtues, because it prompts the passions.

  12. “Donald, isn’t that true of all troops?”

    All troops can get out of hand after they have sustained casualties. This was exacerbated at Badajoz due to the custom of sacking a resisting city and due to the fact that many of the men had a history of law breaking in their civilian lives. Another factor is that among the 4800 casualties the British sustained no doubt there were a fair number of non-coms and officers, leadership often meaning leading from the front and taking greater risks in those days. Thus many of the troops first through the city would have been without their regular leaders. What followed was a complete break down in discipline which lasted for 72 hours. Many officers were shot by their own men while trying to restore order.

  13. NASA isn’t some innocent organization suddenly gone bad, do some research on the NASA Nazi’s…the roots of NASA and who it comprises.

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