Monday, May 18, 2015

Declining Societies : Solutions Not Welcome

Very interesting link by a reader. I was already aware of three fourths of the article but some of it was brand new to me. 

Declining civilisations are a lot like a Monty Python skit where people are screaming a bridge is about to collapse and they are inquiring of a crowd if any of them are engineers. Several real engineers hold their hands up but nobody calls on them. Instead, they ask a baker, a hairdresser and a florist what they think should be done about the dangerously unstable bridge. The engineers finally get discouraged and they trudge off downcast. As soon as they are out of frame, the bridge collapses. That's the basic story of the end of the previous 40 or so civilisations we know about.

A friend of mine a couple of years back told me about the Roman Emperor given a tour of the watermills at the edge of the empire where two guys had figured out how to do the work of a thousand slaves grinding bread flour simply by using water power. I went off and read a little bit more of the background on the watermill in the last days of Rome. Sure enough, the late Roman Empire had a half a dozen inventions that could have transformed their lives overnight and reversed their fortunes. Nobody had the brains to try to deploy any of them as solutions. Instead, civil servants were coming up with oxen powered warships (decks covered with manure waist deep in a day) and mice trained to catch grain beetles to control spoilage (Mice poo and fleas as opposed to tighter barrels, which worked in the Byzantine Empire). The exact sort of solutions you would expect to get from a guy with an IQ around average and way too much authority. Stuff that just made things worse.

I continue to be amazed in the present era where you compare the confidence and self-assurance of the self-appointed ruling class on television with the results they are getting. You'd think that with their societies crumbling around them on a daily basis, they might be humbled and start to wonder if the direction they are urging us all in is actually working. It is their special gift to be nearly impervious to feedback. No matter what happens they continue to blame the problem squarely on the existing limitations on government power (which are increasingly non-existent) and believe with religious style zeal that the earthly paradise is always just one more emergency legislation session away. Only a temporary extension of State power, you see … until the "crisis" passes. Except every week there seems to be a new "crisis."


Ave said...

From the article : "Her conclusion was that when IQ differences are greater than 30 points, leader/follower relationships will break down or will not form. It establishes an absolute limit to the intellectual gulf between leader and followers."

This puts the leader in an intermediate position between the the low IQ threshold and the high IQ threshold : with this theory, there can be a maximum of 60 IQ points between those below the leader and those above.

30 points is IMHO the extreme value to which you can stretch the rubber band, something every side would only do when forced by special circumstances (crisis, war etc.) In everyday life I would reduce the difference to a mere 20 poins, meaning that a leader with an IQ of 100 will routinely lead a crowd of people with an IQ of 80 and listen to people with an IQ of 120, that would be in the range of good con artists, TED speakers and consultants. But I repeat myself.

Now what happens when the low IQ threshold is sinking ? The leaders have to follow the decline, and thus there is a disconnect from the higher threshold. Every single problem can be solved by IQs over 100, but only those with high IQs with solve those problems without creating new ones.

Now consider that in a complex society the whole hierarchy exists because there are still problems to solve, that couldn't be tackled without it. The whole explosion of poor, illiterate populations is such a problem, that typically couldn't be solved without the hierarchy in place.

It ultimately leads to the collapse of the whole society (Joseph Tainter, "The Collapse of Complex Societies"). An highly intelligent person would recognize the complex society as unsustainable : it is only a matter of time before the collapse occurs, inevitably.

Now the prize question is : does the hierarchy listen to the high IQ crowd or not ? In history we can see that it doesn't, at least not at a time where the problem can still be cured.

Michael Malsed said...

This article is spot on and your correlation with Rome eventual downfall and comparison to current times is also correct.
I have been employed fulltime in the fire and ems fields for 32 years and I think that may qualify me for a "field degree" in sociology and human interactions.
The one huge trend that I have tracking in that time frame is the decrease in the human I.Q.
People don't know how to take care of themselves, a large percentage of the population happily and voluntarily live in squalor and will not take responsibility for their own actions.
Before somebody starts screaming "racism" because I must be talking about a certain type of people, please note that race is not the issue nor is gender, and definitely not political, the issue has always been intelligence, taking responsibility for your own actions and maintaining or improving the human condition. When people stop understanding how to solve common everyday problems then the complex problems and the people that can help, become pariahs.
When I worked in the Los Angeles area, we would get calls about a crazy older, half dressed man walking down the street. I knew exactly who this person was, as he probably had the highest I.Q. I had ever witnessed. He was one of the "prized brains" at one of the bigger defense firms in southern California. He could get you to the moon but he would get an idea, start walking and forget to get dressed. We would take him to work, thank us, slightly embarrassed and walk into the defense complex. Shortly thereafter, the defense company assigned him a team to make sure he had appropriate care.
I retire in a few years and I will pass the torch to the next generation.
I don't envy them.
A history teacher once said to me, "as long as people care for each other and have the intelligence to solve problems, civilizations will thrive. When people stop caring and become apathetic to civilization that created them, well there is not enough brains in the world to fix that".
In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.

Unknown said...

Last three paragraphs.

deadman said...

Complete side note; yet Tex; you're going to have a chuckle at this one :

Scientist Missing for over 30 years Found Living Inside Secret LSD Drug Lab Hidden in Basement.

When the Officers moved the large metal cabinet they uncovered an entry way to a large hidden room in the basement. The room was full of various science equipment along with a terrified, elderly man. The 83 year old man was identified as Dr. Winston Corrigan, a chemistry professor from the University of Minnesota who went missing in the fall of 1984 and was a previous resident of the home.

- deadman

deadman said...

Thought the missing scientist story was a little too good to be true :

ghost said...

Then I guess the only thing people like us can do is to stop trying to change the world, because it's impossible.

Eric Green said...

Foxes guarding the henhouse:

podrag said...


Changing the world is not impossible. It requires understanding the management of information and particularly economic and professional information. The power of genius is hidden by the Pyramid. You aren't fighting the truth, you are fighting the truth, you are uncovering it: an eminently possible task.

It's not like those who can save the world don't exist. They do. Projects like Ethereum, a Turing-complete programming language on top of a blockchain, herald a return for real economics where people who do useful things are actually integrated within society for doing them and not shunned for being a threat.

Even meditation with compassion yields benefits we cannot even begin to understand.

We cannot give up. We can get angry, we can cry, we can get drunk, take drugs, fornicate, we can stare into the abyss but we can never, ever give up. That is our only test on this Earth I believe, and the only question we will be asked on the other side. For we will be shown what could have happened had we not.

bicebicebice said...

Edward said...

Yes, female sexual selection. Except that we've unbalanced the equation somewhat in recent years. Females waiting too long to get pregnant and then selecting males for intellect and more nurturing personalities rather than brute strength and leadership skills. So now we are in a downward spiral of ever more feminine males and masculine females, which plays havoc with our sense of reality and creates massive generation gaps in social ideology.

bicebicebice said...

Grognard said...

I like to think it's my high IQ that makes me unable to not get along, too. It's probably just because I am an arrogant jerk and don't care about other people's dumb opinions, though.

bicebicebice said...

Sam said...

The decline of civilizations is interesting to me. Especially since I live in the middle of of one. I've been thinking and maybe the average 250 year length of civilizations is related to psychopaths. The civilization is harsh at first and psychopaths are killed off but as it matures it becomes more cosmopolitan and they are able to hide. Over time they infiltrate all the top positions and at that point it rapidly falls apart. It would seem that Pres. George Bush is a psychopath. He has the signs. Torturing animals when a kid. Irresponsibility, drug use and a very advanced ability to lie. Pres. Obama seems to be the same but more on the narcissistic side of psychopaths. Both have run the country full speed into the ground.

There is another person in history that destroyed a country that I'm sure was a psychopath, Alcibiades in Athens, Greece. It was Alcibiades that pushed the great idea of attacking Syracuse which destroyed Athens. The same Alcibiades went from city to city in the ancient world. In Sparta he was more Spartan than the Spartans but he was chased out by King Agis of Sparta because supposedly Alcibiades had a child by the Kings wife. Changing his chameleon skin every time he moved somewhere else and betraying everyone he came in contact with. Alcibiades killed Athens with risky schemes to glorify himself.

A decent but thick read on Empires. ”An Inquiry into the Permanent Causes of the
Decline and Fall of Powerful and Wealthy Nations” by William Playfair, 1759-1823

A quote from the book,”… In looking over the globe, if we fix our eyes on those places where wealth formerly was accumulated, and where commerce flourished, we see them, at the present day, peculiarly desolated and degraded.

From the borders of the Persian Gulf, to the shores of the Baltic Sea; from Babylon and Palmyra, Egypt, Greece, and Italy; to Spain and Portugal, and the whole circle of the Hanseatic League, we trace the same ruinous remains of ancient greatness, presenting a melancholy contrast with the poverty, indolence, and ignorance, of the present race of inhabitants, and an irresistible proof of the mutability of human affairs.

As in the hall, in which there has been a sumptuous banquet, we perceive the fragments of a feast now become a prey to beggars and banditti; if, in some instances, the spectacle is less wretched and disgusting; it is, because the banquet is not entirely over, and the guests have not all yet risen from the table.

From this almost universal picture, we learn that the greatness of nations is but of short duration. We learn, also, that the state of a fallen people is infinitely more wretched and miserable than that of those who have never risen from their original state of poverty…”.

Ave said...

@ sam : I'm afraid the frontmen whose task is to appear on TV are not running anything.

A civilisation is a highly complex mechanism. Top administrators are born into their task or caste and bred to manage the mechanism.

We are absolutely not in a collapse, since there is no technological stagnation, quite the contrary indeed.

This is only the end of human-based value creation. The society resting on human-based value creation has been programmed to fail since the 60's, where some people had definite proof that things could be run (in their own interest) with computers and without humans.

Texas Arcane said...


If you are still talking about changing the world, you have not grown up yet.

From that crooked timber, no straight thing was ever hewn.

The world will change because it has to but humans will have nothing to do with it.

The last time we had 3/4s of the population drop dead we had the Renaissance and Enlightenment immediately afterwards. The fact is, the rest of the population was standing on the throats of the best and the brightest.

The world people have piled up is set to fall down because it was only temporary given human nature. When enough bad humans are gone, a better human will be left in their place. They've already been here once and they will be back. Homo Sapiens was never anything more than an anomaly of the Holocene.