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Author Topic: The Life Cycle of an Empire  (Read 5732 times)
desolutionist
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« on: February 14, 2015, 02:32:49 pm »

I've been watching a great history channel series on Netflix called "Mankind: The History of All of Us".  One of the points that the show made pertaining to the fall of Rome and emergence of the dark ages was that "civilization does not progress in a straight line towards more prosperity, more order, more law, more technology"; the Greeks and the Romans achieved amazing things but then those things were lost.

It's easy to see parallels between our modern "Empire" that is the United Sates and Rome: People now are collectively sensing a looming unraveling of our orderly world structure between the Ukraine, ISIS, Greek economy bringing down the Euro, and much more.  There are many areas and instances of growing chaos replacing order.  Social disorder and discord is growing.  ISIS resembles the barbarian hordes and vandals that swept across a diminished Rome.

Not trying to bring anyone down or start a political debate, I just find history fascinating particularly this message that "civilization does not progress in a straight line".  It's difficult to imagine a defeated USA.  Its easier to imagine the USA nuking the whole world before that happens; we end up in the dark ages either way!
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« Reply #1 on: February 14, 2015, 02:50:15 pm »

The Roman Empire did not fall because the barbarian hordes were strong or great. The barbarians wouldn't ever have taken down Rome in its prime. Instead, Rome itself suffered deep internal corruption. After their primary rival (Carthage) fell, the Romans themselves of later years lamented that they grew soft, and lost touch with the virtues that had in the past made them strong. Romans toward the end of the Republic were already pining for a past in which Rome had a better sense of purpose and a better sense of propriety. The republic itself dissolved into an empire. The empire started well enough, with Augustus taking the reins after a brutal and bloody civil war. And while August was as reasonable as one might expect from an Imperator, his successors were in time far less capable of leading the empire. Wars on many fronts were a constant problem. Another  problem was that of veterans. The State itself often failed to deliver the proper benefits to veterans, meaning that their loyalty became tied to their commanders, rather than to the Empire as a whole. Eventually, the once-unified state of Rome became fractured into more and more factions. And as the apparatus of the state collapsed under its own weight, it was increasingly possible for those barbarians -- increasingly filling in the military duties once put aside for Romans anyway -- to threaten the empire. The Romani were a fascinating people, and the degree to which we Americans parallel them is quite fascinating.

Likewise, we humans are not locked into moving in a forward direction. The Dark Ages -- that dreadful period of barbarity after the eventual collapse of Rome -- proves that. From around 500 AD to 1500 AD, Europe was mired in a social and scientific stasis. This period marked a sharp decline in all aspects of life. Given my choice, I'd opt for life in the Rome of 200 AD over life in medieval 1200 AD very easily.
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« Reply #2 on: February 14, 2015, 03:33:40 pm »

This is a very fascinating subject. It is open to plenty of interpretation.

Quote
People now are collectively sensing a looming unraveling of our orderly world structure
True, Humanity still has a long way to go, However, when has the world not had these problems (Aside from the pressing issue of Climate Change)? Look back at any year over the past ten thousand, and you will find human conflict. You will see invasions, corruption, hubris, and unfair class structures. I'd argue that the world is much better today than it has been ever before(Although this can vary in different regions). We have never had a truly orderly world structure. The past twenty five years can be seen as a direct aftermath of the dissolution of the Communist Bloc, an inherently unnatural and unstable structure. You can certainly say that ISIL is a barbarian horde(I don't disagree), but the truth is that no matter how many journalists or aid workers they execute, they will never be a threat to America itself. Russia's undermining of Ukrainian stability is also unacceptable, but the country has sacrificed a lot to simply gain the Crimea. Their economy has weakened significantly, and the Russian People don't seem to have the stomach for an occupation of the rest of the Ukraine. As of last July, only 10% of the population supported the idea of sending troops into the Ukraine. Greece might be making life difficult for the Eurozone, try, but on the other hand, America is finally rehabilitating its economy. Oil prices have crashed. America is still a country that people want to move to. I've heard a lot of people panicking about the growing economy of China. You can interpret that in whatever way you want, but which of those two countries is the one that people still want to immigrate to for greater opportunity? Where are the scientists and doctors moving to China for high paying jobs?

 It's true that progress has not had a straight path, but one might want to consider the last hundred years. The World has globalized, pooling its intellectual and physical resources together such that technology is developing at a rate never before seen in human history. There will be setbacks, I'm sure, but barring some global catastrophe, what can happen to the progress of civilization but a setback of a few years?  
  

The State itself often failed to deliver the proper benefits to veterans,

Huh, this sounds strangely familiar. Smile
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« Reply #3 on: February 15, 2015, 11:48:29 am »

Okay, two things.

1. The cause of Rome's fall is a very complicated question that is hotly debated and probably is the result of a conflation of many, many, many different forces that cannot be easily explained in a blog post.  However, in a very general sense:

1a. The Republic fell because the government system which was designed to manage a city-state was not well equipped to deal with the massive wealth disparities created when Rome became the landlord of the Mediterranean.  Internal divisions between the Tributes and the Senate, largely fueled by this disparity, eventually made violence an accepted method of political change with the result that the man with the biggest armies won.  Thus, at the height of its power, Rome became basically another kingship.

1b. The Empire did not, in fact, fall as people imagine it did.  Internal insanity inside, the methods and traditions of the Roman military were alive and well DEEP into the Middle Ages and even the Renaissance.  They just moved out of Rome and into Constantinople, because that's where the wealth was.   Constantinople did not get sacked until the Crusades (the third, I think) and did not actually fall until Islam turned cannons on it later still.The Western Empire did not "collapse" as much as the now de-centralized local lords started gradually hiring the locals to do the work, and without the massive cash flowing into Rome anymore as it used to (the East took most of it) the institutions gradually broke down.

It's kind of like if the United States government just decided to stop sending any money to Texas anymore, but still demanded military support and taxes.  (And remember, in the olden days, wealth was largely created by stealing it from other countries in warfare; we generate more STUFF using industry than older civilizations could ever have dreamed of).  How long would Texas survive without falling seriously under the influence of Mexico or some other nearby nation?  100 years or so?

1c. But not entirely.  Even after infighting among the locals sacked Rome a few times and the reach of the old institutions was gone entirely, one part of the Roman bureaucracy remained strong and remains strong TO THIS DAY - the Roman Catholic Church.  The Church took over the job of trying to run the Western Empire as the other political branches withered.   Since this was kind of like the Department of the Interior trying to take over all of the jobs of the United States Government, you can see they had some problems.
  
Conclusion: The "fall" of Rome is NOWHERE NEAR as simple as some kind of natural flow of Empires rising and falling.

2. Since the Industrial Revolution, the rules of human civilization have changed radically.   Astoundingly.  Seriously, we live in a jaw-droppingly, insane world now.  None of the normal forces that would pull civlizations up and down have anywhere near as much sway on us anymore.  We fix nitrogen to massively increase the output of our croplands and can manage even through bad weather and normal climate change.  Our engines of war and HUGE populations make nomad (we'd say "terrorist" nowadays) incursion as an existential threat basically unthinkable.  Communication technology makes sharing ideas and growing complexity easier than ever before.  In a nutshell: the rules are different.  It will take more than a plague or an aggressive country to cause the collapse of a nation.  

Example: Western Europe has been crushed twice into powder, yet the nation-states bounced right back up and their culture survived basically intact.  

Now, there are things that can disrupt our civlization, but we're talking things like political coups, meteors from space, solar flares, that kind of thing.  The rules are very different now, and you need to take the "cycles" historians read in the past with an enormous grain of salt.

EDIT: And, not to pick on the King of the Vintage Super League too much, but I have some quibbles with his recitation of events:

Instead, Rome itself suffered deep internal corruption.

It depends on how you look at it.  The Romans had a "client" system going well back into their history which was always basically corrupt.  The real difference as the civilization rose was that huge amounts of cash entered the system, exacerbating the power of the "dons," for lack of a better word.

After their primary rival (Carthage) fell, the Romans themselves of later years lamented that they grew soft, and lost touch with the virtues that had in the past made them strong. Romans toward the end of the Republic were already pining for a past in which Rome had a better sense of purpose and a better sense of propriety.

They did, but this was almost a sideshow.  It was the old Senate families pining for a past when Men were Men and Women were Men and whatever blah blah get off my lawn.  That wasn't causing a problem.  Public morals were not tearing the institutions apart.  The problem of the allies wanting citizenship, of the rich having enough money to buy all the land and farm it with slaves, stripping Rome of its citizen farmers, the need for constant huge armies in the field to defend the newly enlarged frontiers, and other class-based issues really were where the issues the destroyed the Republic festered.  And those old Senators pining for the old days?  They didn't do jack-all about the problems because they were too concerned with personal glory for their families rather than the good of society.  When they complain about the good old days, that's political propaganda.

The empire started well enough, with Augustus taking the reins after a brutal and bloody civil war. And while August was as reasonable as one might expect from an Imperator, his successors were in time far less capable of leading the empire. Wars on many fronts were a constant problem.

I guess you can have different definitions of "well enough," but sure, since Agusutus did a pretty thorough job of murdering all of his rivals and bankrupting all of the countries that might bankroll an opponent (i.e. Egypt) he was basically unchallenged in power.  His successors from within his family had varying levels of competence, but don't be fooled: ever since Sulla and Julius, the flavor text of Goblin King was definitely the rule of the day in Rome.

Another  problem was that of veterans. The State itself often failed to deliver the proper benefits to veterans, meaning that their loyalty became tied to their commanders, rather than to the Empire as a whole.

Again, sort of, but this problem pre-dated the fall of the Republic.  The moment the military stopped being made up solely of the landed class, you had professional armies loyal to one commander who paid them in plunder.  This is how Sulla and Marius and the others did what they did in the first place.

Eventually, the once-unified state of Rome became fractured into more and more factions. And as the apparatus of the state collapsed under its own weight, it was increasingly possible for those barbarians -- increasingly filling in the military duties once put aside for Romans anyway -- to threaten the empire.

No, not really.  Rome just moved East.  The Western areas received less support and grew increasingly resentful, turning to local tribes moving in from Germany and France to try to pick up the slack, and eventually the machinery of government quietly ground to a halt.

That's not to say there were not attacks on the Western Empire by Germanic people, but you have to remember that by the time these attacks are taking place, Western Rome basically is made up of Germanic people.  As you say, they occupied roles in government and the military already.  It was more of gradually falling under the sway of a different power system due to the fact the East Rome wasn't offering much support and people in the "real" Empire didn't really see the point of spending the blood and treasure necessary to go back and re-institute direct rule.  I think only one of the Eastern Emperors really tried to go re-conquer the West, and  that attempt was abortive at best.

West Rome didn't die with a crash, it just merged with the Germanic tribes and the money and know-how to run its complicated machinery withered away or moved East.

The Romani were a fascinating people, and the degree to which we Americans parallel them is quite fascinating.

It's all in how you tell the story.  If you focus on the Roman idea of self-determination and ambition, or on the fact that they had a Senate with class problems, then sure, you can draw narrative parallels.  If you focus on the need for conquest and tax domination as a way to fund your state, on a hostility to science or advancement that wasn't immediately put to practical use, or on the massive impact things like famine, disease, or wandering tribes of Germans could do to your civilization, then the parallels go away.

It's all in how you tell the story.

Likewise, we humans are not locked into moving in a forward direction. The Dark Ages -- that dreadful period of barbarity after the eventual collapse of Rome -- proves that. From around 500 AD to 1500 AD, Europe was mired in a social and scientific stasis. This period marked a sharp decline in all aspects of life. Given my choice, I'd opt for life in the Rome of 200 AD over life in medieval 1200 AD very easily.

This depends on where you were.  In Europe?  Probably correct.  However, up until the Mongol invasions, China, the Middle East, or Constantinople might be fine places to live.

That said, I'd rather be at the poverty line in the U.S. today than a king in ANY of these past civilizations!
« Last Edit: February 15, 2015, 12:42:43 pm by MaximumCDawg » Logged
Chubby Rain
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« Reply #4 on: February 15, 2015, 01:04:32 pm »

It's easy to see parallels between our modern "Empire" that is the United Sates and Rome: People now are collectively sensing a looming unraveling of our orderly world structure between the Ukraine, ISIS, Greek economy bringing down the Euro, and much more.  There are many areas and instances of growing chaos replacing order.  Social disorder and discord is growing.  ISIS resembles the barbarian hordes and vandals that swept across a diminished Rome.

I think you have to be careful with the difference between perception and reality. Even if we are not necessarily better informed about global conflicts, we are certainly more aware of them and that influences our perception of the world. Is the world worse off than it was previously? Depends on where you live... If you lived in Russia during the early 1990's, your perspective would be vastly different than an American in the same time period. Chinese and even African economic views (via polls of citizens) have been positive recently while American and European views are much more pessimistic. It's all relative.http://www.pewglobal.org/2013/11/08/despite-challenges-africans-are-optimistic-about-the-future/

Not trying to bring anyone down or start a political debate, I just find history fascinating particularly this message that "civilization does not progress in a straight line".  It's difficult to imagine a defeated USA.  Its easier to imagine the USA nuking the whole world before that happens; we end up in the dark ages either way!

Yeah, it's an interesting view that is disconcerting for some but you have to remember that America's status as a superpower largely emerged from WWII - damage to the infrastructure of Europe set them back decades. Things change and only time moves in a straight line.

EDIT: And, not to pick on the King of the Vintage Super League too much, but I have some quibbles with his recitation of events:

The esteemed Dr. Atog has a degree in classics, in addition to being pretty good at Magic. His expertise there outstips mine so I'm going to stay out of this, even though I find the subject quite interesting.

2. Since the Industrial Revolution, the rules of human civilization have changed radically.   Astoundingly.  Seriously, we live in a jaw-droppingly, insane world now.  None of the normal forces that would pull civlizations up and down have anywhere near as much sway on us anymore.  We fix nitrogen to massively increase the output of our croplands and can manage even through bad weather and normal climate change.  Our engines of war and HUGE populations make nomad (we'd say "terrorist" nowadays) incursion as an existential threat basically unthinkable.  Communication technology makes sharing ideas and growing complexity easier than ever before.  In a nutshell: the rules are different.  It will take more than a plague or an aggressive country to cause the collapse of a nation. 

Example: Western Europe has been crushed twice into powder, yet the nation-states bounced right back up and their culture survived basically intact. 

Now, there are things that can disrupt our civlization, but we're talking things like political coups, meteors from space, solar flares, that kind of thing.  The rules are very different now, and you need to take the "cycles" historians read in the past with an enormous grain of salt.

The benefits of globalization - however, you can still get rather dramatic effects at the local level. A few minor gripes: 1) epidemics can become pandemics much easier in a globalized society; I would not discount the effect of a pandemic on global civilization (not to mention the fear factor) 2)  Despite advances in agriculture, a very large percentage of the world's population is either malnourished or even starving. Part of that is a distribution problem, another part is a growing population. 3) You mentioned normal climate change (which may have been a subtle political statement, I do not know...), but global climate change represents a much larger issue (not trying to start a political argument, but this is the scientific consensus...). A warmer world is a drier world and that threatens to exacerbate current food shortages and famine (being a global issue means that these things cannot be offset by shipping food from one place to another). Shortages in resources lead to conflicts, wars, political coups, etc. and those typically do not stay within artificial borders. I agree with you that our world has gotten more complex but I do not agree that our world has gotten more resilient (you did not explicitly say this but I believe it was inferred).
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MaximumCDawg
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« Reply #5 on: February 15, 2015, 01:19:42 pm »

EDIT: And, not to pick on the King of the Vintage Super League too much, but I have some quibbles with his recitation of events:

The esteemed Dr. Atog has a degree in classics, in addition to being pretty good at Magic. His expertise there outstips mine so I'm going to stay out of this, even though I find the subject quite interesting.

So you don't want to argue on the internet?  What kind of nerd are you? Smile

The benefits of globalization - however, you can still get rather dramatic effects at the local level. A few minor gripes: 1) epidemics can become pandemics much easier in a globalized society; I would not discount the effect of a pandemic on global civilization (not to mention the fear factor) 2)  Despite advances in agriculture, a very large percentage of the world's population is either malnourished or even starving. Part of that is a distribution problem, another part is a growing population. 3) You mentioned normal climate change (which may have been a subtle political statement, I do not know...), but global climate change represents a much larger issue (not trying to start a political argument, but this is the scientific consensus...). A warmer world is a drier world and that threatens to exacerbate current food shortages and famine (being a global issue means that these things cannot be offset by shipping food from one place to another). Shortages in resources lead to conflicts, wars, political coups, etc. and those typically do not stay within artificial borders. I agree with you that our world has gotten more complex but I do not agree that our world has gotten more resilient (you did not explicitly say this but I believe it was inferred).

I'm not suggesting we, as a species or a civilization, are entirely immune to things like disease or normal climate change.  (By normal, I mean the usual sequence of dry years and wet years, not things like man-made global warming or ice ages.  Things  that might trigger huge instability in your ancient civilization in the short term.)  What I'm saying is that our ability to deal with them is MASSIVELY different from before.  Our technology, communication, and general understanding of the world around us are so much better than any of these older countries that we might as well be extra-terrestrials.  Different enough that historical "lessons" need to be looked at skeptically.

I don't think it's unreasonable to look at dystopia novels like 1984 and so forth just as much as historical lessons when we think about what large-scale change might be like in the future.

EDIT: A good example of the effect of technological change on historical "rules" is the Mathusian Catastrope.  In the late 1700s, people were looking at massive population growth and, measuring the yield of farmland by the technology of the day, predicting massive die offs.  It didn't happen because technology improved and the assumptions about yield were wrong.  

EDIT2: Per your quote about people suffering today: Yes, it's true, not everyone enjoys the Western standard of living, but things are improving.  The world is more peaceful, less disease-ridden, and a better place to live generally now than ever before.  You gotta look at this stuff in relative terms.
« Last Edit: February 15, 2015, 02:18:39 pm by MaximumCDawg » Logged
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« Reply #6 on: February 15, 2015, 03:13:51 pm »

Rome, Britain, Spanish, Mongolian and every other empire could also be compared to the current US.  The details of their falls all may have varied, but there was always one common thing, an unsustainable economic system.  All of these empires relied heavily on conquering and taxing new lands to survive.  This is not unlike the US's system of outsourcing labor to India/China, and bullying the middle east to sell us cheap oil.  Our military spending and lavish lifestyles are not sustainable without exploiting these countries. 

1b. The Empire did not, in fact, fall as people imagine it did.  Internal insanity inside, the methods and traditions of the Roman military were alive and well DEEP into the Middle Ages and even the Renaissance.  They just moved out of Rome and into Constantinople, because that's where the wealth was.   Constantinople did not get sacked until the Crusades (the third, I think) and did not actually fall until Islam turned cannons on it later still.The Western Empire did not "collapse" as much as the now de-centralized local lords started gradually hiring the locals to do the work, and without the massive cash flowing into Rome anymore as it used to (the East took most of it) the institutions gradually broke down.

This is pretty much the definition of a fallen empire.  Of course there are remnants, and part of the country still remains.  Rome is no where even close to the powerful empire it once was though, nor is Britain, Spain, ect.

It's kind of like if the United States government just decided to stop sending any money to Texas anymore, but still demanded military support and taxes.  (And remember, in the olden days, wealth was largely created by stealing it from other countries in warfare; we generate more STUFF using industry than older civilizations could ever have dreamed of).  How long would Texas survive without falling seriously under the influence of Mexico or some other nearby nation?  100 years or so?

This is actually very close to what is happening today.  The US doesn't spend enough resources on maintaining its own infrastructure anymore.  Our education system is awful, our roads are riddled with traffic in major areas, our crime rates are higher than any other developed country, ect., ect., ... meanwhile the US is in trillion dollars of debt, and most people are struggling to get by.  "Trickle-down" economics has basically destroyed this country as all of the wealth is now concentrated into the hands of a few people who have no obligation to return it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQnijnsM
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« Reply #7 on: February 15, 2015, 03:27:38 pm »

Excellent post, MaximumCDawg. I'm glad we can discuss the rise and fall of a grand empire on TMD. This is in many ways more interesting than discussing how Delver can defeat Gifts, or whether to un-restrict Channel. Now, to delve into some pontification.

On the Vestiges of the empire

You are right that much of the Roman empire could be found in vestiges to the East in Constantinople. Until the Fourth Crusade softened it up, and the Turks took over, that is. It is interesting to note that that this blurs the line between Greek and Roman. Yes, the Greeks were taken over by the Romans. At the same time, Greek culture had a profound effect on Roman culture -- I would say far moreso than other conquered peoples. And the Easter Roman Empire was very heavily influenced by those Greeks. This is manifest perhaps most explicitly in religion. You are right to find a strong influence of the Romans in the Roman Catholic Church. However, Constantinople isn't Roman Catholic, but Orthodox -- the flavor of the Church more Greek than Roman.

And I'll argue that our own government owes heavily to Rome as well. The founding fathers were keenly aware of their Classics. The ability of a governor or head-of-state to pardon someone of a crime? Roman. The court system we have? Also Roman; it is not entirely unheard of for a modern US court to use Roman law as a source of common law, I believe. Even our electoral system is Roman. Neither we nor they had a true democracy. Both we and they have a voting system that is structured carefully to avoid actual direct election.

On the Fall of the Republic and Gaming

There is no grand consensus on why the Republic fell. I've heard theories up to and including the use of lead for their piping systems. For myself, looking at it, I see a set of incentives that led men to be increasingly ambitious. That ambition came to a head under Caesar himself. Whether Caesar was the final straw that collapsed the republic, or merely a symptom of that internal strife, I suppose we cannot ever know. But it is pretty clear that the assassination of Caesar was the point at which there was little hope of saving the republic.

But, since this is a gaming forum, I'd like to discuss the fall of the Republic in terms of people breaking a game. To put it another way, sometimes, I like the view the late Republic as a system of people playing a game with a very complicated rule set. The Gracchi managed to "break" the game using the office of the Tribune of the Plebs. The senate, in an effort to keep the game going, assassinated them. Of course, doing so broke the rules even more than just regular murder. Tribunes of the Plebs were sacrosanct, meaning that they were to be beyond any sort of physical assault or attempts at injury. However, the senate nonetheless had them killed.

And then we get to Casear, who also broke the game. While the Tribunes of the Plebs had discovered the loophole pertaining to their offoice, Caesar realized that he could bring into himself many offices that should have been kept separate. Likewise, he used the Dictator office in ways far beyond its original intent. Though, of course, Marius and Sulla had done so already. Once again, Caesar had broken the game. And the senate reacted the only way they could fathom -- by killing the player.

Now, as for Roman corruption. Yes, they were corrupt, and they were always corrupt. Perhaps the influx of money just let that corruption become more powerful. Now, you say that public morals were not the problem, but instead that it was the selfishness of the senators. But I would argue that the selfish, small-minded nature of those senators was part of that lack of public morals. The Romans were playing a game, with each man and to a degree each familia pursuing its own good without a mind toward the greater societal good -- indeed, the "res publica" itself. And so, yes, there may not have been any "good" old days. But there were days when the Romans weren't tearing themselves apart quite as badly as they were at the fall of the Republic. Perhaps, instead of the "good old days" we should think of them as the "not quite as awful old days."


A Few More Comments:

The truth is, as MaximumCDawg said, much in the way the story is told. Augustus was a man who brought an end to a horribly bloody conflict. But he was, no doubt, a brutal leader. It was his successors that made him seem god-like in comparison.

Where I'd like to disagree with you most strongly is where you state that there are threats that pertained to the Romans that do not affect us today. I appreciate your optimism, but I fear that I have a bit more in common with Diogenes in my outlook. I'd argue that the US often pursues conquest to further its finances. The military industrial complex is yet another concept we have inherited from the Romans. And I wish I could classify hostility to science as a uniquely Roman trait. Unfortunately, this modern rot of vaccine-haters is very much an example of the US showing its own hostility to science. And for the threat that the Germans posed to the empire? It wasn't long ago that the Germans posed a threat to American. More recently, that threat was occupied by the Russians. So, while I agree entirely that ISIS are barbarians entirely incapable of harming America, I would say that the Russians were most recently filling the role of Carthage as an existential threat to the US. As for hunger and poverty and class struggles, I would say those threats remain with us even today.
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« Reply #8 on: February 15, 2015, 04:29:57 pm »

First off I am absolutely loving this discussion and have learned more in this thread than I did in all of my history classes ever taken. I thank you all for this. I wish I had more to add to the conversation but I want to just make one simple statement. As far as I know the other known Empires all lasted thousands of years. Roman was what two thousand? The ottoman was as long too? Im pretty sure even certain chinese dynasties lasted longer than the US has been a country let alone a world power. We are still quite in our infancy as an empire if we even are one. Globalization and the fact that we outsource so much makes me feel like were getting closer to a world empire thru the UN  or NATO than just being dominant in any regards ourself. I guess only time will tell. Oh and pretty simple math as long as there continues to be mass growth then poverty and starvation will always exist. Sans some mass disease or world war three the economy shall continue to fail and ppl will starve and fight. We are on a rock with limited goods after all. Maybe its time for someone to "conquer" Mars lol.
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« Reply #9 on: February 15, 2015, 04:44:30 pm »

It's true, I am an optimist, but I find it hard not to be given the profound changes for the better over the course of human achievement, mostly since the 1600s.  To ground this in the present conversation about whether there are lessons for us in the course of foreign civilizations, lemme start where you stopped.

I don't buy the argument that the United States is doing the same kind of conquering and plundering that was common in the ancient world.  You can draw connections, but I think they're more narrative than grounded in reality.  Certainly, powerful nation-states tend to favor their own interests and certainly they draw other countries into their sphere of influence in one way or another.  But there's thousands of years of evolution between how "big nation syndrome" manifested in Rome versus the United States.  

Ancient kingdoms would storm in with their army, maybe have a massive battle with the enemy army, and then sack and plunder. The wealth of an ancient city was stolen, most of the population killed, probably, many more captured and sold as slaves, and in Rome's case, local bosses installed to take care of private tax collection (i.e. protection money) by any means necessary.  That kind of naked crushing and exploitation started to evolve with the Age of Exploration into the European colonial and imperial system.  This system had a lot in common with prior conquesting empires, that's true, but I think you started to see some evolution in the ideas of mercantilism.  

By the time you come to America and the much-alligned military industrial complex or dollar diplomacy, you're seeing something more different still.  Control through economic codependency might be the best way to put it.  It is not materially the same sacking and plundering.

I don't buy the AMERICA IS THE BEST A++ NUMBER ONE rhetoric, but I'm realistic -- I don't know of any nation that has ever been as powerful as we are (were?) that has used its power more responsibly.  Look at the nations we have "conquered" since WW2.  Japan?  Germany?  South Korea?  Rebuilt as robust and powerful democracies with healthy democracies.  Beholden to us, sure, but they don't have local warlords squeezing every drop out of the people for our benefit.  Russia and Germany's tactics in the 1940s might be similar to the old style; we went with the Marshal Plan, and I think you see a vast difference in how things turned out.  (Doesn't always work.  Philippines?  Iraq? Afghanistan?  Sure, but again, we did not conquer and exploit like empires of old.)  

If nothing else, look at how the rhetoric of the world has changed.  Even the most brutal dictators always make a show of having power derived from the voice of the people.  The divine right of kings or other theories of power have died, and we live in an age where if you deviate from obvious democracy, governments find the need to try and explain how they really are democratic.  I credit the United States (and to a lesser extent, the USSR too) to spreading this theory.

As to the threat posed by other sources like hunger and disease; yes, of course we still risk these kind of problems.  But to compare the coping ability of a globally connected world powered by machines, electricity, modern medicine and chemistry versus one with horses and carts and statutes to Jupiter?  Really?  Our technological progress makes comparisons about the impact of these risks totally impossible.  What would destroy Athens at its peak might just be a localized Ebola emergency requiring quick effort by international health workers to contain today.

I do think you can look to ancient civilizations like Rome when you're looking at how people act; psychology probably has not changed much since then.  But by every other possible metric, things are so different now than they were that I think those who argue for a cyclical history or personify nation states have a pretty hard argument to make.

On the Vestiges of the empire

You are right that much of the Roman empire could be found in vestiges to the East in Constantinople. Until the Fourth Crusade softened it up, and the Turks took over, that is. It is interesting to note that that this blurs the line between Greek and Roman. Yes, the Greeks were taken over by the Romans. At the same time, Greek culture had a profound effect on Roman culture -- I would say far moreso than other conquered peoples. And the Easter Roman Empire was very heavily influenced by those Greeks. This is manifest perhaps most explicitly in religion. You are right to find a strong influence of the Romans in the Roman Catholic Church. However, Constantinople isn't Roman Catholic, but Orthodox -- the flavor of the Church more Greek than Roman.

I'm not sure it's really fair to call it "vestiges."  That plays up the narrative that the Western Empire was the Empire, and it collapsed, and the poor huddled survivors fled to the East and eked out their days.  That's just not right.  The seat of power moved East with Constantine and then the West just kind of crumbled away over time because no one gave enough of a crap to stop it.  Sure, the people in Byzantium in 600 ad looked a heck of a lot different from the Roman Republic, but we're talking a difference of, what, a thousand years?  There's gonna be cultural drift.  Just because they dressed and spoke differently doesn't mean it wasn't still Rome.  

And sure, the churches split (hilariously), but I wasn't trying to use the Catholic Church to connect the Empire.  Just as the West had its own Emperor (nominally subject to the East), it had its own government apparatus.  Most of it fell away, but the Church managed to survive.  As it found itself the last shred of the former order, it did its best to try and maintain the image of the past organization.  You can forgive them for the sort of dominating, oppressive, and politically involved entity they became in the Dark Ages when you understand where they were coming from.

The point is that Rome didn't collapse, at least not the way people think of it.  The power center shifted gradually East, and the West faded by blow and whimper until all that was left of it was the Church.  The Eastern Empire lived for hundreds of years more, and the Church is still around today.  

And I'll argue that our own government owes heavily to Rome as well. The founding fathers were keenly aware of their Classics. The ability of a governor or head-of-state to pardon someone of a crime? Roman. The court system we have? Also Roman; it is not entirely unheard of for a modern US court to use Roman law as a source of common law, I believe. Even our electoral system is Roman. Neither we nor they had a true democracy. Both we and they have a voting system that is structured carefully to avoid actual direct election.

Oh, I won't argue with that.  The Founding Fathers were very aware of Rome and its system and explicitly set out to borrow from them.  No doubt.  They went back to the most powerful "democratic" system they could find and used it as the starting place for our system.  Then they added lots of modern peculiarities, like the bicameral legislature, the three branches, and other things which make us pretty different from Rome.

Also, I'd argue that the Fathers were focused more on the narrative the Romans told about themselves than on the actual way politics worked in Rome.  That is, they borrowed from the ideals espoused by the classical authors but did NOT import the real (dirty and violent) way that politics actually worked.  Still takes my breath away thinking about how well what we came up with worked, too.

So, in a sense, they were copying what Rome wanted to be more so than what it really was.  (Case in point: the Catiline Conspiracy taken at face value by the Fathers, which caused many of them to be very worried about Aaron Burr, may have been a wet dream by Cicero trying to take down his political rivals.)

(Also, I have never ever heard anyone argue any point of modern law ever by any reference to ancient Rome.)

On the Fall of the Republic and Gaming

There is no grand consensus on why the Republic fell.

Boy, ain't that the truth.  I tend to think either the death of Gias Gracchus or the invasion by Sulla are the most reasonable flashpoints.  I think we'd agree that it involved: (1) A political and social system designed to encourage and reward personal ambition; (2) New problems of wealth disparity and angry masses caused by the spoils of empire and slaves; and (3) An increasing willingness to raise the stakes by worse and worse violence to achieve political ends.

With your game analogy, I don't really thing the Gracchi were "breaking" the game as much as they were exploiting a loophole.  For the non-history people here, a little backstory.  So the Roman Republican system had the Sentate, obviously, which was an oligarchy of the most powerful families in the Republic.  Earlier there had been a mutiny by the army (made up of landed lower classes) which had forced the Senate to agree to a new political position called the Tribunes.  

The powers of the Tribune were... vague?  They could veto actions of the Senate and other Tribunes, and it was illegal to touch them in Rome.  They were elected by the people (sorta) and were seen as their voice in government.  There was nothing explicitly saying they could not propose legislation on their own, but as a matter of practice, it had never been done.  Until the Gracchi brothers.

The Gracchi, starting with Tiberus and later with Gias, tried to propose legislation to solve some of Romes pressing social problems, most importantly getting land back in the hands of the people and away from rich landlords.  The Senate tried some creative and increasingly aggressive tactics to try to get control over them.  Eventually, they flat out murdered them.  And then we get a long period of Rome where the Tribunes champion the cause of the Plebs and the Senate murders them, until finally the Senate gets some of its own medicine in return.  And then it's just a game of who can kill their enemies.

Analogizing this to Magic, I'd say that the Gracchi are Dredge players.  They are using the tools of the game in a totally unintended way to attack the existing power structure (Senate = Big Blue) and the Senate has to employ increasingly harsh mechanisms to control them.  If you let the cabal of Blue Control players vote and the voted to ban Bazaar, that's kind of the "line crossing" that went on in the Republic.

And then we get to Casear, who also broke the game. While the Tribunes of the Plebs had discovered the loophole pertaining to their offoice, Caesar realized that he could bring into himself many offices that should have been kept separate. Likewise, he used the Dictator office in ways far beyond its original intent. Though, of course, Marius and Sulla had done so already. Once again, Caesar had broken the game. And the senate reacted the only way they could fathom -- by killing the player.

Ceaser didn't do anything Gias Marius (not the Gracchus brother, dear reader) and Sulla hadn't done earlier.  In fact, had he lived, it is at least plausible he would relinquish power as they did.  Eventually.  I believe Ceaser is the one credited with saying Sulla's biggest mistake was giving up power.  Anyway, once the rules of the game were that politicans with big armies could march on Rome and impose their will, that was that.

Now, as for Roman corruption. Yes, they were corrupt, and they were always corrupt. Perhaps the influx of money just let that corruption become more powerful. Now, you say that public morals were not the problem, but instead that it was the selfishness of the senators. But I would argue that the selfish, small-minded nature of those senators was part of that lack of public morals. The Romans were playing a game, with each man and to a degree each familia pursuing its own good without a mind toward the greater societal good -- indeed, the "res publica" itself. And so, yes, there may not have been any "good" old days. But there were days when the Romans weren't tearing themselves apart quite as badly as they were at the fall of the Republic. Perhaps, instead of the "good old days" we should think of them as the "not quite as awful old days."

Yeah, that's all true.  But the "good old days" were not about Senators getting along.  They were about Senators getting their way and not having to kill anyone to do it.

When you talk about the classical authors longing for the days of hairy chested, brave Romans crushing their enemies, you're talking about people who were annoyed that Ceaser and his gang were wearing loose togas.  You probably have read more of them than me, but I don't know that there was a substantial body of moralists saying that the Senate had previously been able to look beyond its own self interests.  I'm not sure it ever did.  

I mean, look at the archetype of Roman virtue - Cato, right? - you don't see him talking about reasonable compromises to save the Republic.  Roman "virtue" just doesn't bend that way.

(EDIT: To carry the story further a but, and put my comments in context, here's the Social War in one paragraph.  A general named Sulla, annoyed at being shut out of the spoils of a war with a rebellious and rich lord in the East (in favor of Gias Marius, his former boss and political opponent), marched his army into Rome -- which really was breaking a hard and fast rule -- and took over by force.  When he left to go get the booty he wanted, Giaus Marius marched his own army in to Rome and starting chopping off the heads of Sulla's supporters.  Sulla came back with his army, Giaus Marius went insane and died before he got there.  Sulla fought a reasonably long civil war with his other opponents in Rome and eventually took over, killing people nonstop for a good long time.  Sulla's idea was he could purge the "radicals" and then everything would go back to normal.  All he really accomplished was demonstrating the power of the army to control Rome.  Juluis Ceaser was in Rome as a young boy just beginning to get into politics while this was going on, and certainly learned how to wield power from Sulla.  It's actually very curious that he survived Sulla's reign at all, but that's a different story.)
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« Reply #10 on: February 15, 2015, 05:23:08 pm »


Roman and American Conquest

To discuss how our notion of conquest is consistent with the Roman notion, I will take a brief segue. I would like to discern conquest into two sorts. The first sort of conquest involves devouring the conquered population. The women are taken, the men are killed or enslaved. The wealth is taken into the treasury and the victorious soldiers are unleashed to have their way with the people and the goods. This is the sort of victory march one might expect from most ancient people, and one can argue that the villains of the second world war took a fairly similar approach.

The second sort of conquest is the one more familiar to us Americans. Rather than devour a conquered people, our custom is to re-shape them in our own image. Rather than consume the vanquished, we put favorable magistrates in charge of them. We build roads and schools and replace their culture with our own. We bring them our version of civilization, often at the expense of their native culture. As a personal aside, the Marshal Plan is one of the most important and significant steps we have taken as a people. Whenever I am feeling bad about what American has done as a nation, I think back to how brilliantly and humanely we rebuilt our destroyed enemies after World War II.

Most of the ancient world engaged in the former of the two types of conquest. Rome, fairly uniquely, engaged in the latter. If you had to have one ancient people taking over your city, the Romans would be a fine choice -- not that it was ever an ideal circumstance. And the Romans, of course, did not always just take you over and then build you a road. But for the most part, it is not unfair to say that we Americans learned about conquest from the Romans. The Romans sometimes did just rape and pillage. And likewise, we Americans have done that too. Brazen conquest of the American Indians comes to mind. But, the Romans stood out as fairly unique in their relatively reasonable treatment of the vanquished. "Vae Victus" -- woe to the vanquished -- was uttered by a barbarian, not a Roman, after all.

The Rhetoric of Conquest

How much has the rhetoric actually changed from the Romani to us? I'd say not so much. The Romans may have discussed their Imperium, and placed their own nation's needs over that of their conquered people. But how long has it been since we Americans used Manifest Destiny to justify our adventures? Is Manifest Destiny so different than a divine right of a king to conquer?

Likewise, the Romans did view themselves as a civilizing force. The Romans were, in their minds, bringing proper civilization to the barbaric Gauls while at the same time crushing them under their foot. But here again, are we so different? When Bush II invaded Iraq, he did so under a banner of bringing democracy to the indigenous people. So, no, Bush didn't say we would civilize those barbarians. He said that we would liberate and bring democracy to those people too incapable to bring this about for themselves. How different is that? I would argue that it is not so different at all.

And so we have Americans claiming a divine right to conquest, and Americans bringing the proper course of life to less people through warfare. These claims are very much in line with what a Roman would believe.

As for the divine right of kings, that could not be said to be a Roman conception. The Romans, for all their love of Imperium, had a distinct cultural aversion to the term king, or "rex." That is perhaps part of why the Romans went directly from dictator to emperor, but no Roman took to himself the title of king, nor called his rule a regnum. So, the Romans would not have been any greater fans of a "divine right of kings" than we Americans.

Cincinnatus and Washington and Caesar

Cincinnatus was a Roman who, given Imperium as general, put down his sword and returned to his farm as soon as his duties on the battlefield was finished. He was celebrated by the Romans as an example of devotion to the state, and as an example of opting for the idealized pastoral life over the wealth and power of imperial command. He was a fairly unique character, as the vast majority of Romans would never voluntarily relinquish power. His story standing out also illustrates the rarity of such a deliberate abdication of power. And yes, that city in Ohio is named after him.  And we Americans have our own version of Cincinnatus: George Washington himself. The story goes that Washington was offered a kingship over America, and in his thunderous humility took only an elected office. In both cases, the rarity of declining power is what makes the story so memorable.

And that takes us back to the discussion of giving up power. You mentioned that Caesar indicated that giving up power was Sulla's mistake. The Roman Senate ensured that Caesar had no other option. Caesar was faced with so many trumped up charges by the Senate that, if he returned to Rome without an army, his life would likely be over. I don't view Caesar's crossing the Rubicon as being some brazen power play. I view it as a desperate act by a brilliant man devoid of options. What else could he do? Given their murderous treatment of the Gracchhi, it was clear that the Senate had no scruples about using murder to achieve their ends, even when it was entirely inconsistent with both law and custom. That march on Rome itself, which was the to me the end of the Republic, was made by someone who had no other viable choice. Thus, there may never have been an ideal time for Romans. But there may have been a time when the Gracchi would not have been killed in cold blood by the Senate. But once they were, the pudor of the senate could not longer be relied upon. And once that was the case, it was only a matter of time until armed force would be the only thing on which a Roman could rely. And thus we see the civil war that sundered the republic.
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« Reply #11 on: February 15, 2015, 05:32:24 pm »

I don't think it's fair to think Caesar didn't have designs on putting himself in the position he was in.  The lawsuits and brutality following the end of counselship were well-understood -- didn't he hop from office to office to try to avoid exactly that problem?  Certainly he knew the Triumvirate was not going to insulate him forever.  I'd argue Caesar made sure he had the ability to follow Sulla's example if he had to.  Why else charge off into Germany?  He was off getting glory and power, sure, but he was also creating an army he could use to protect himself.

As to the other issues, I think we agree on American "conquest" as being of a different character from most ancient societies.  I do think you're not mentioning one big difference when you compare us to Rome, and put Rome in a favorable light: when they conquered, they taxed directly, and the tax man was just a hired gun who came in and was told to get whatever he could by whatever means necessary.  They would bid on the job, and the "corporation" who promised the most to the state got the gig.  They would be paid of whatever they could squeeze out of the people on top of their promise.

That particular level of open bleeding is not something we have engaged in.  

EDIT: Since you mention it, American invasions of the First Nation lands is still not quite the same as ancient warfare.  It's true that the First Nations were brutally and horribly destroyed or banished to reservations, but for the most part it was almost a passive friction between the Americans and the First Nationers slowing grinding them down.  Very rarely did you see French and Indian War or Custer's Last Stand style open warfare.  If I could use an inflammatory analogy: it is more like Israel building settlements in Palestine than like Rome conquering Syria.
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« Reply #12 on: February 15, 2015, 05:47:02 pm »

I think you raise an excellent point that Caesar worked hard to build up personal loyalty from his troops. That he was able to do so is, I think, a product of a particular failure of the Roman state. A very important distinction between America and Rome is that we Americans are not at the point where soldiers are loyalty to their specific generals above their country. If we ever get to that point then I will fear we are in for what horrors befell Rome.

Caesar grew up in the shadow of Sulla and Marius who increasingly threatened Rome's delicate balance between individual ambition and the res publica. Caesar was out for Caesar, and not for anyone else. That is certainly clear. I don't know if he actually expected that he would exceed Sulla and become a rex or an imperator. But it is clear that the Senate believed that was his intent. And there was little reason they had to believe otherwise.

Great point about tax collection. A modern reader of the Bible might wonder why Tax Collectors were regarded as such vile men in the Gospels. Tax Collectors to the region where the Gospels are set, under Roman occupation, were easily lumped in with the other "sinners." But here, too, I wonder whether we are so different today.

Maybe we don't directly send thugs to our "friends" to be "tax collectors." But we do send in non-military "contractors" to provide "security" in those regions. A non-military "security contractor" is a hired thug by any other name. So maybe we don't directly squeeze the population in quite the same way the Romans did. But we aren't above installing friendly regimes and effecting "regime change" when it is convenient to us. I strongly suspect that if the Romans had access to our communications and transportation technology, they would also devise something more far-sighted and clever than sending out goons to collect taxes.
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« Reply #13 on: February 15, 2015, 05:55:31 pm »

Great point about tax collection. A modern reader of the Bible might wonder why Tax Collectors were regarded as such vile men in the Gospels. Tax Collectors to the region where the Gospels are set, under Roman occupation, were easily lumped in with the other "sinners." But here, too, I wonder whether we are so different today.

Maybe we don't directly send thugs to our "friends" to be "tax collectors." But we do send in non-military "contractors" to provide "security" in those regions. A non-military "security contractor" is a hired thug by any other name. So maybe we don't directly squeeze the population in quite the same way the Romans did. But we aren't above installing friendly regimes and effecting "regime change" when it is convenient to us. I strongly suspect that if the Romans had access to our communications and transportation technology, they would also devise something more far-sighted and clever than sending out goons to collect taxes.

I probably lack enough information about exactly what security contractors do to speak with confidence on this topic, but I hesitate to equate the two.  You can point to some similarities - they're both able to project force on behalf of a foreign power - but I suspect that the differences you are labeling as "far sighted and clever" might actually mean the "occupation" is of an entirely different character.

I don't want to diminish the feelings of anyone living under either kind of occupation, mind you.

Perhaps a better analogy is to modern United States use of drones.  Flying death robots over a foreign country so we can kill The Bad Guys at will.  It doesn't pinch the local pocket, but man, it's gotta have a similar enraging psychological effect.
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« Reply #14 on: February 15, 2015, 06:15:13 pm »

It's probably for the best that the Romans didn't have access to drones. I would assume that the resulting ability to commit local murder of fellow Romans without repercussion would soon lead to all of the Optimates killing one another. If nothing else, the Modern Age has taught us valuable lessons of moderation in our use of killing technology. Had we not learned that lesson, at least to some degree, we wouldn't have survived the Cold War. All that hyper-macho bravado of the Romani would have gotten them killed if Carthage had The Bomb.

I don't know if military contractors are entirely similar to tax collectors. But they are both foreign agents of occupation, devoid even of the figleaf of propriety that the military  provides. I don't want to bring up too much of modern politics lest it distract us from the task at hand. But if you look among America's allies, it would be difficult to avoid seeing an occupation by an ally on a vanquished people. And the very arguments being used in that occupation are timeless, and not unlike those the Romani and their allies would use. The vanquished people are barbari and not fit to govern themselves. They were be a threat if let unchecked. They must be controlled because they have no thought but for pillage and murder. You know, the same arguments that are always used to keep a boot on a neck.
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« Reply #15 on: February 15, 2015, 06:35:50 pm »

I don't know if military contractors are entirely similar to tax collectors. But they are both foreign agents of occupation, devoid even of the figleaf of propriety that the military  provides. I don't want to bring up too much of modern politics lest it distract us from the task at hand. But if you look among America's allies, it would be difficult to avoid seeing an occupation by an ally on a vanquished people. And the very arguments being used in that occupation are timeless, and not unlike those the Romani and their allies would use. The vanquished people are barbari and not fit to govern themselves. They were be a threat if let unchecked. They must be controlled because they have no thought but for pillage and murder. You know, the same arguments that are always used to keep a boot on a neck.

It's not the same boot.  That's my point.  Rhetoric aside, I think we'd both need to look deeper into the practical, economic, and psychological effect on the lower-power nation of the two in these relationships to actually say they're similar except in a flowery rhetorical sense.

It's probably for the best that the Romans didn't have access to drones.

Heh.
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« Reply #16 on: February 15, 2015, 06:38:45 pm »

I don't know if military contractors are entirely similar to tax collectors. But they are both foreign agents of occupation, devoid even of the figleaf of propriety that the military  provides. I don't want to bring up too much of modern politics lest it distract us from the task at hand. But if you look among America's allies, it would be difficult to avoid seeing an occupation by an ally on a vanquished people. And the very arguments being used in that occupation are timeless, and not unlike those the Romani and their allies would use. The vanquished people are barbari and not fit to govern themselves. They were be a threat if let unchecked. They must be controlled because they have no thought but for pillage and murder. You know, the same arguments that are always used to keep a boot on a neck.

It's not the same boot.  That's my point.  Rhetoric aside, I think we'd both need to look deeper into the practical, economic, and psychological effect on the lower-power nation of the two in these relationships to actually say they're similar except in a flowery rhetorical sense.


You're right. I have no idea what the actual experience is like to be under the yoke of either America or Rome. Being able to contrast the experience may be beyond our scope. All we can do is observe that, after so many centuries, we still live in a world where imperial boots are on necks. Whether or not we are the Romans, it is difficult to deny that we are in the least inspired by their example.
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« Reply #17 on: February 15, 2015, 08:01:54 pm »

for those who want a very thorough breakdown of the roman collapse check out mike duncan's epic podcast The History of Rome. he goes foundation myths to collpase of the western empire

Greek economy bringing down the Euro
greece is not at fault for the instability of an absurd system.

(Aside from the pressing issue of Climate Change)?
,,,
barring some global catastrophe, what can happen to the progress of civilization but a setback of a few years?  
i'm consistently astounded by the state of denial everyone is in.things are certainly unraveling, but no one wants to talk about it being because we are hurdling toward extinction

The past twenty five years can be seen as a direct aftermath of the dissolution of the Communist Bloc, an inherently unnatural and unstable structure.
unlike the brutal capitalist regime which has been greeeeeat for everybody

Russia's undermining of Ukrainian stability is also unacceptable
the united states specifically set out to intentionally bait a conflict by backing a fascist coup. there's a lot of evidence that this is the case.


I don't buy the argument that the United States is doing the same kind of conquering and plundering that was common in the ancient world.  

Control through economic codependency might be the best way to put it.  It is not materially the same sacking and plundering.

I don't know of any nation that has ever been as powerful as we are (were?) that has used its power more responsibly.  Look at the nations we have "conquered" since WW2.  Japan?  Germany?  South Korea?  Rebuilt as robust and powerful democracies with healthy democracies.  Beholden to us, sure, but they don't have local warlords squeezing every drop out of the people for our benefit.  
american empire is responsible for backing and installing most of the worst far right regimes in the world for a long time now. to states america has pretty much ever been "responsible with power" is just drinking imperialist kool aide.
we're more brutal and thorough in our violence than any nation in history, we're just really good at using power to enforce frameworks of public morality arguments to keep the stink of violence off us.
highly suggested reading if you're genuinely interested in "who we've conquered"  
 https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/187149.Open_Veins_of_Latin_America
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/78130.Killing_Hope?ac=1
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/146409.Devil_and_Commodity_Fetishism_in_South_America?ac=1

we built an empire on suicidal fuel sources. we enacted economic and physical violence on a massive scale to maintain it. it's falling apart because capitalism is unsustainable.
the bill's coming due quite simply, and the very so popular comparisons to rome are just the tiresom last hurrah of the jingoist mindset
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« Reply #18 on: February 15, 2015, 08:14:04 pm »

american empire is responsible for backing and installing most of the worst far right regimes in the world for a long time now. to states america has pretty much ever been "responsible with power" is just drinking imperialist kool aide.
we're more brutal and thorough in our violence than any nation in history, we're just really good at using power to enforce frameworks of public morality arguments to keep the stink of violence off us.
highly suggested reading if you're genuinely interested in "who we've conquered"   https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/187149.Open_Veins_of_Latin_America

Speaking of Kool Aid... may I introduce you to, you know, every conquering ancient civilization ever?

Look, you got a political problem with what the States are doing.  I get that, and I'm sympathetic (like I said, we're not The Chosen Land), but to claim that "we're more brutal and thorough in our violence than any nation in history" when you have examples like the Nazi Death camps or Mongol systematic raping and murdering of every civilization from Beijing to Baghdad is just hyperbole.
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« Reply #19 on: February 15, 2015, 08:17:03 pm »

to claim that "we're more brutal and thorough in our violence than any nation in history" when you have examples like the Nazi Death camps or Mongol systematic raping and murdering of every civilization from Beijing to Baghdad is just hyperbole.
those are certainly awful things
but in terms of sheer scale and longevity of ongoing violence, it's not really close
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« Reply #20 on: February 15, 2015, 08:18:50 pm »

to claim that "we're more brutal and thorough in our violence than any nation in history" when you have examples like the Nazi Death camps or Mongol systematic raping and murdering of every civilization from Beijing to Baghdad is just hyperbole.
those are certainly awful things
but in terms of sheer scale and longevity of ongoing violence, it's not really close

I don't follow.  Let's talk numbers.  How many people, as a percentage of the total population, are dying in violence today versus in the past?
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« Reply #21 on: February 15, 2015, 08:23:27 pm »

first, i reject your snapping to a percentage instead of raw number of lives capital has claimed, but even accepting it it's still going to be higher.
you wont agree because you likely refuse to count the millions starving to death unnecessarily worldwide, the millions dying from inadequate health care from being denied it (a human right) under capital, the millions who die in proxy conflict instigated and funded by empire to serve it's interests...ect
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« Reply #22 on: February 15, 2015, 08:25:24 pm »

first, i reject your snapping to a percentage instead of raw number of lives capital has claimed, but even accepting it it's still going to be higher.

Well, it seems like you'd have to take population growth into account.  But okay, let's use raw numbers.  What are they?

Note: I'm digging around for the numbers myself, but at least a few publications suggest they do not work in favor of your argument.  Several of these articles talk about a particular book but they give different data.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-decline-of-violence/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/22/world-less-violent-stats_n_1026723.html

And here's what looks like a different source:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/globally-deaths-war-and-murder-are-decline-180950237/?no-ist

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« Reply #23 on: February 15, 2015, 08:32:26 pm »

like i said, you're specifically zeroing in on direct physical violence and intentionally ignoring ongoing systems of economic violence worldwide
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« Reply #24 on: February 15, 2015, 08:33:56 pm »

like i said, you're specifically zeroing in on direct physical violence and intentionally ignoring ongoing systems of economic violence worldwide

You don't want to talk percentages.
You don't want to talk about violent death statistics.

Okay, well, what is your definition of "economic violence" and how are you measuring how "bad" it is compared the past?

Are you measuring people starving to death?  Well, I'm having trouble digging up the statitics, but at least one paper reports that China, India and Bangladesh have eliminated that problem for the most part, and that's a LOT of people:

https://www.ids.ac.uk/files/dmfile/wp105.pdf

This article references many different forms of suffering that are declining:

http://thinkprogress.org/security/2013/12/11/3036671/2013-certainly-year-human-history/
http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2013/03/28/1764521/in-defense-of-utopia-part-ii-the-whole-world-is-getting-much-much-better/

From there:

Quote
Switching to a worldwide view, since 1955, the average person earns three times more today than they did back then and eats one-third more calories of food.  The percentage living in absolute poverty has dropped by more than half, down to under 18 percent.  If current trends continue that percent will soon be in single digits and could even approach zero in the decade of the 2030’s.  The UN estimates that that poverty has been reduced more in the last 50 years than in the previous 500.

These trends are part of a long-range shift that has transformed world society starting with the 17th century.  In that century, world GDP per capita rose about 20 percent, followed by another 20 percent rise in the 18thcentury.  Then, with the 19th century, the GDP per capita growth rate exploded to 250 percent, followed by a stunning 900 percent in the twentieth century (growth was even higher in Europe and North America, reaching perhaps 2000 percent in the last century).  Based on current growth trends, by the time the current century is over, the average person in the developing world could have an income of $100,000 a year in today’s dollars — that is, a living standard equivalent to that of an upper-middle class person in our country today.

Of course, there’s more to material progress than just incomes. But judging by non-monetary metrics, the changes have been even more spectacular.  Start with life expectancy.  In England, the average life expectancy was 37 in 1750, 40 in 1850, 48 in 1900 and 75 in 1990.  Across the world, life expectancy has doubled since 1800, even as population has increased six-fold.  The average Mexican today lives longer than the average Briton did in 1955.

If you think there's a moral/ethical/political/social/whatever problem with the way the United States conducts itself, that's a different discussion.  But if you're gonna call us the Worst Evar then I think you should have some data to support it beyond just saying so.
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« Reply #25 on: February 15, 2015, 08:40:56 pm »

i dont want to talk percentages because you're trying to compare numbers in the hundreds of thousand to numbers in billions

im not gonna play to your "first principles" obfuscation attempt by explaining basic theory about economic violence that you obviously don't and wont accept since you put it in scare quotes.

im going to save us this turning nasty and stop engaging.
we are clearly on opposite sides of an ideological divide. i place responsibility for deaths on a massive scale on capital and you obviously give it a pass.
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« Reply #26 on: February 15, 2015, 08:42:37 pm »

i dont want to talk percentages because you're trying to compare numbers in the hundreds of thousand to numbers in billions

im not gonna play to your "first principles" obfuscation attempt by explaining basic theory about economic violence that you obviously don't and wont accept since you put it in scare quotes.

im going to save us this turning nasty and stop engaging.
we are clearly on opposite sides of an ideological divide. i place responsibility for deaths on a massive scale on capital and you obviously give it a pass.

I'm not being nasty.  I'm just legitimately confused by the argument that THE END IS NIGH when all the objective data seems to show that things are the best they've ever been in human history.  I'm just looking for some data suggesting otherwise.  Do you have any?
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« Reply #27 on: February 15, 2015, 09:21:33 pm »

Vibe Box, you did arrive in what was an interesting discussion, make some claims, and then fail entirely to provide numbers to support what you said.

Quote
i reject your snapping to a percentage instead of raw number of lives capital has claimed

Be it percentages or raw numbers -- either would be alright -- please provide something more numeric to demonstrate that point.

Quote
You wont agree because you likely refuse to count the millions starving to death unnecessarily worldwide

First, you can't pin all worldwide starvation on Capitalism. That would imply that the entire globe is capitalist, which is certainly not the case. Instead, why not compare starvation rates of capitalism to that in other systems of economics? The way I see it, many more starved to death under Chairman Mao than any equivalent in the history of the United States.

Quote
we're more brutal and thorough in our violence than any nation in history

Wow, that's amazing. So, our American brutality exceeds the massive starvation under Chairman Mao, the mass-executions of Hitler, the genocide and enslavements of the Turks, the pedophilia of the Spartans, the barbarism of the Mongols...I could go on, but honestly, if you think we Americans are bad, you really owe it to yourself to study a bit more history.

Look, I'm no apologist for the US by any means. But if you're going to make accusations like that, that we Americans are inducing massive starvation thanks to capitalism, at least bother to include some numbers to back it up. We're a flawed people, but if you compare us to how so much of the world has functioned, then we actually don't seem quite so bad.
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« Reply #28 on: February 15, 2015, 09:26:49 pm »

Look, I'm no apologist for the US by any means. But if you're going to make accusations like that, that we Americans are inducing massive starvation thanks to capitalism, at least bother to include some numbers to back it up. We're a flawed people, but if you compare us to how so much of the world has functioned, then we actually don't seem quite so bad.

Ditto!  We're not perfect, but we're learning, and since the industrial revolution we've lacked any major collapse of civilization that has deterred us from our course of steady increasing complexity.  Jeebus, Western Civilization survived World War I, for pete's sake, and that turned the whole continent into a charnel house -- and what wasnt a corpse-filled mudpile was a police state full of violent political activism.

Things look good!
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« Reply #29 on: February 16, 2015, 12:29:11 am »

fail entirely to provide numbers to support what you said.
...
please provide something more numeric to demonstrate that point.
obsession with "hard numbers", especially when dealing with someone like this for which you know full well those numbers are going to vary wildly based source is a diversion tactic and i wont be dragged into wasting my time gathering resources for a pretty simple claim that you refute on principle anyway



First, you can't pin all worldwide starvation on Capitalism.
yes, i can. we have enough resources to feed everyone. capitalism is the dominant global structure, and it fails to prioritize not starving people to death.

That would imply that the entire globe is capitalist, which is certainly not the case.
yes it is. the amount of people governed by non-capitalist or capitalist controlled organizations is miniscule.

Look, I'm no apologist for the US by any means.
yes, you are. you're very directly being an apologist for america's long legacy of repeated genocide, support of fascism, and general atrocities.  
you're saying the most powerful structure in the world can't be blamed for starvations' continued existence and you're so firmly in the corner of neoliberalism you don't even see it as taking sides.
if you think we Americans are bad, you really owe it to yourself to study a bit more history.
im a pretty big student of history, dude. it's what lead me to a historical materialist perspective, and frankly this dismissive attitude is what's keeping me from engaging with specific requests in depths on this thread. they do not come from a place of genuine curiosity and engagement, you've pre-judged this and land firmly on the side of neoliberal ideology.

more recommended reading to any lurkers who may be curious
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6617037-debt?ac=1
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/325785.Capital_Vol_1?ac=1
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/183033.A_Brief_History_of_Neoliberalism?ac=1
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2767.A_People_s_History_of_the_United_States?ac=1
im happy to provide these texts to any interested parties who contact me
« Last Edit: February 16, 2015, 12:32:36 am by VibeBox » Logged

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