Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Victor Davis Hanson: The Fragility of Complex Societies

Again, Victor Davis Hanson gives crucial perspective. A few snippets from The Fragility of Complex Societies:
"The hydraulic dynasties of the Near East and the pharaohs’ Egypt, despite their centuries of existence, were likewise vulnerable in a way that both Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt was not. Less than 3,000 hidalgos under Cort├ęs decapitated the Aztec Empire in less than three years. In our time, we have seen, with the implosion of the Soviet system, the wages of central planning and a redistributive economy."
. . .
"While a disaster comparable to Tokyo is certainly possible here in California, Americans are by nature less prone to rely on centrally provided resources, and are still uneasy with high urban densities. We forget that the suburbanite — ranch house, three cars in the garage, and distance from the urban center — is not just an energy waster in comparison with his Euro apartment-dwelling, single Smart-car-driving, train-commuting counterpart, but a far more independent-minded, free, and self-reliant citizen as well."
. . .
"We need these cranky independent people, if only as a minority to remind the rest of us who are plugged into huge conglomerations, both private and public, for our wages and sustenance that there are dangers with reliance on hierarchy, centralized government, and high density — which, well beyond fragility, inevitably results in groupthink, fad, and cultural uniformity.

"So it is not mindless to resist high speed rail (here in California it would be far wiser and cheaper first to ensure a three-lane, safe north-south freeway 99 or I-5). Our larger corporate farms, given the lack of ground water on the West Side, are dependent on centralized federal water projects, which, when abruptly cut off, can end production altogether — quite a contrast to the eastern side of California where smaller farmers, a shallower water table, and ancestral, local, and gravity-fed, Sierra-sourced water districts, funded by farmers themselves, are more resilient."
. . .
"I could go on, but all this suggests another danger of complexity — the inability to transmit knowledge and the dire wages of specialization. The original architects of such systems are now mostly dead, and we, their replacements, often lack their education and respect for civilization’s protocols. The result is that millions of Americans are simply enjoying a system built for them by others which they are not quite able to use, repair, expand — or understand."
. . .
"Are we becoming like Dark Age Greeks (1100-800 BC) who wandered amid the ruins of the Mycenaean palaces, curious how such “hemi-gods” and “Olympians” were able to build things like the Lion Gate and the tholoi tombs, so far beyond their own competence that they deemed them the work of all-powerful mythological gods? Or maybe we will become 8th-century AD Greeks and Romans who looted the marble from their predecessors’ temples and majestic gravestones to scavenge the lead seals and the iron clamps or to melt down the stones for lime — or simply to seek shelter in abandoned shrines and temples.

"The apocalyptic movies have it wrong: we do not need a nuclear holocaust, earthquake, or asteroid to put us back to The Road. We can get there easily with rising ignorance and illiteracy as we drift among an infrastructure we demand, but do not understand or appreciate: Not with a bang, but with a whimper."

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