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Does Society Turn More Violent During its End Times?

QUESTION: Is MMA the new Roman Colosseum? I’m a layman in history but didn’t blood sports rise in popularity during Rome’s decline? Now everyone and their mother is talking about MMA, and random celebrities e.g. Logan Paul or now Trump Jr. are jumping in the octagon or being challenged.

JR
ANSWER: Yes. For some reason, society begins to turn more violent toward its end times. Mixed martial arts is a full-contact combat sport that allows striking and grappling, both standing and on the ground, using techniques from other combat sports and martial arts. It is an interesting pattern. The Christian Persecutions really came into full swing only as the Empire was collapsing during the 3rd century.

As the fracking protesters show, a people’s rebellion is the only way to fight climate breakdown

It is hard to believe today, but the prevailing ethos among the educated elite was once public service. As the historian Tony Judt documented in Ill Fares the Land, the foremost ambition among graduates in the 1950s and 60s was, through government or the liberal professions, to serve their country. Their approach might have been patrician and often blinkered, but their intentions were mostly public and civic, not private and pecuniary.

Today, the notion of public service seems as quaint as a local post office. We expect those who govern us to grab what they can, permitting predatory banks and corporations to fleece the public realm, then collect their reward in the form of lucrative directorships. As the Edelman Corporation’s Trust Barometer survey reveals, trust worldwide has collapsed in all major institutions, and government is less trusted than any other.

As for the economic elite, as the consequences of their own greed and self-interest emerge, they seek, like the Roman oligarchs fleeing the collapse of the western empire, only to secure their survival against the indignant mob. An essay by the visionary author Douglas Rushkoff this summer, documenting his discussion with some of the world’s richest people, reveals that their most pressing concern is to find a refuge from climate breakdown, and economic and societal collapse. Should they move to New Zealand or Alaska? How will they pay their security guards once money is worthless? Could they upload their minds on to supercomputers? Survival Condo, the company turning former missile silos in Kansas into fortified bunkers, has so far sold every completed unit.

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Beware of the Real Debt Crisis on the Horizon – not the BS on TV

We have to come to the reality that from 2019 onward, we are headed into a Pension Crisis that will be serious. Many are starting to yell about the debt crisis. They lump on private debt and yell its a bubble. What they miss entirely is the fact that we face more than a decade of crises that would have been avoidable, had governments been actually managers and central bank had not tried to keep using Keynesian Demand Side Economics that even Paul Volcker warned back in 1978 had failed.

This is by no means prophecies of doom and gloom. Unfortunately, they are prophecies not even of a pessimist, but only facts that are comprehensible simply using a pocket calculator and not even a computer. The Pension Crisis is the end of Socialism. Promises that were made which were never sustainable but were a scheme to win votes. Then the money needed to pay the pension required 8% interest annually. Then the central banks enter the game and mess everything up even more. Instead of DIRECTLY aiding the economy, they lower rates and HOPE that the banks will pass it along. They never did. The banks parked the money at the Excess Reserve Window that the Fed has still not closed.

The cost of pensions is currently stifling Western society beyond belief. Europe itself is ahead of the curve and will crack before the United States. Europe already has between  30% to 40% of the population who have already retired or are about to leave the labor market. They have used the old Roman pension system of the army which was earning an average of 20 years service to qualify for a pension. It was the pensions which contributed to the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

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The Return of the Inquisition: Do you confess?

The Return of the Inquisition: Do you confess?

In 279 BC, the vast army of King Pyrrhus of Epirus was met by Roman forces at the Battle of Asculum in southern Italy, in what would be one of the costliest military engagements of ancient history.

Pyrrhus fancied himself the second coming of Alexander the Great and believed that he was a descendant of Achilles.

Many of his peers and contemporaries believed Pyrrhus to be the greatest military commander of all time.

His exploits were legendary. And when he set sail for Italy in 280 BC, the Romans did not underestimate him.

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The Battle of Asculum was decisive. Pyrrhus actually won the battle; but in defeating the Romans, he lost so many of his men that his army was practically broken.

Pyrrhus purportedly said of his victory, “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined. . .”

This gave rise to the term “Pyrrhic victory,” which refers to a win that’s incredibly costly.

Pyrrhus also tried his hand at diplomacy with Rome, sending one of his ablest statesmen to the capital to negotiate peace with the Roman Senate.

The emissary was not successful. But he reported back to Pyrrhus that Rome’s Senate was incredibly impressive– “an assembly of kings” comprised of its noblest citizens.

And he was right. In the early days when Rome was still a republic, its Senate was a highly revered institution that stood for wisdom, dignity, and virtue.

They were far from perfect. But the men who served in the Senate during the early republic were heavily responsible for building the most advanced civilization the world had ever seen up to that point.

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So, You Think Science Will Save the World? Are You Sure?

So, You Think Science Will Save the World? Are You Sure?

I understand that by publishing this post I may be giving ammunition to the anti-science crowd. But we can’t just hide in the ivory tower and tell people that science is perfect as it is. We need deep reforms in the way science is done.

In Italy, we have a term for those who engage in a task much too big and too difficult for them. We call them a “Brancaleone Army” (Armata Brancaleone), a term coming from the title of a wonderful 1966 Italian movie where an Italian self-styled knight tries to lead a ragtag army of incompetent fighters. The sad conditions of science nowadays sometimes look to me like the story of the Brancaleone army.

What is truth? These famous words come not from a scientist but from a politician, Pontius Pilate, governor of Palestine in Roman times. As a politician, Pilate knew very well how truth could be twisted, stretched, sliced, cooked, flavored, and rearranged in many ways in order to be sold to people. Things are not different, today. In politics, truth is what you perceive to be true. After all, isn’t it true that we can create our own reality? (a US government official is reported to have said that at the time of the invasion of Iraq, in 2003).

Eventually, the Roman Empire drowned in its own lies, it was an epistemological collapse. Something similar may happen to us: we cannot continue for long to ignore reality, believing that we can manufacture our own, and deceive everyone in the process.
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How Mises Explained the Fall of Rome

How Mises Explained the Fall of Rome

An excerpt from Mises’ classic work, ‘Human Action’.

Observations on the Causes of the Decline of Ancient Civilization

Knowledge of the effects of government interference with market prices makes us comprehend the economic causes of a momentous historical event, the decline of ancient civilization.

It may be left undecided whether or not it is correct to call the economic organization of the Roman Empire capitalism. At any rate it is certain that the Roman Empire in the second century, the age of the Antonines, the “good” emperors, had reached a high stage of the social division of labor and of interregional commerce. What brought about the decline of the empire and the decay of its civilization was the disintegration of this economic interconnectedness.

Several metropolitan centers, a considerable number of middle-sized towns, and many small towns were the seats of a refined civilization. The inhabitants of these urban agglomerations were supplied with food and raw materials not only from the neighboring rural districts, but also from distant provinces. A part of these provisions flowed into the cities as revenue of their wealthy residents who owned landed property. But a considerable part was bought in exchange for the rural population’s purchases of the products of the city-dwellers’ processing activities. There was an extensive trade between the various regions of the vast empire. Not only in the processing industries, but also in agriculture there was a tendency toward further specialization. The various parts of the empire were no longer economically self-sufficient. They were mutually interdependent.

What brought about the decline of the empire and the decay of its civilization was the disintegration of this economic interconnectedness, not the barbarian invasions. The alien aggressors merely took advantage of an opportunity which the internal weakness of the empire offered to them.

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New Data Reveal the Hidden Mechanisms of the Collapse of the Roman Empire

New Data Reveal the Hidden Mechanisms of the Collapse of the Roman Empire

Alaric Sack of Rome
The reasons for the fall of the Western Roman Empire have remained a mystery for modern historians, just as for the Romans themselves. Yet, recent data from the Greenland ice core provide us with new data on collapse of the Empire, showing how fast and brutal it was – a true “Seneca Collapse.” Could our civilization go the same way? (above: the sack of Rome by the Visigoths of King Alaric in 410 AD).
The Ancient Romans never understood what hit them. Nor did later historians: there exist literally hundreds of theories on what caused the fall of the Roman Empire. In 1984 Demandt listed 210 of them, ranging from moral decline to the diffusion of Christianity. Today, some historians still say that the fall is a “mystery” and some attribute it to the improbable piling up of several independent factors which, somehow, happened to gang up together. 
 
Why is it so difficult to understand something that was so massive as the fall of the Western Empire? There is more than one reason, but one is the lack of data. We have scant written material about the last centuries of the Empire and very little has arrived to us in terms of quantitative data. Things are changing, though. Modern archaeology is generating astonishing results telling us a lot about the mechanisms of the collapse of the ancient Empire. For instance, look at this graph: (from Sverdrup et al., 2013):    
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Five Things You Should Know About Collapse

Five Things You Should Know About Collapse

The Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca was perhaps the first in history to identify and discuss collapse and to note that “the way to ruin is rapid.” From Seneca’s idea, Ugo Bardi coined the term “Seneca Effect” to describe all cases where things go bad fast and used the modern science of complex systems to understand why and how collapses occur. Above: the Egyptian pyramid of Meidum, perhaps the first large edifice in history to experience collapse. 

1. Collapse is rapid. Already some 2,000 years ago, the Roman philosopher Seneca noted that when things start going bad, they go bad fast. It takes a lot of time to put together a building, a company, a government, a whole society, a piece of machinery. And it takes very little time for the whole structure to unravel at the seam. Think of the collapse of a house of cards, or that of the twin towers after the 9/11 attacks, or even of apparently slow collapses such as that of the Roman Empire. Collapses are likely to take you by surprise.

2. Collapse is not a bug, it is a feature of the universe. Collapses occur all the time, in all fields, everywhere. Over your lifetime, you are likely to experience at least a few relatively large collapses: natural phenomena such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or floods – major financial collapses – such as the one that took place in 2008 – and you may also see wars and social violence. And you may well see small-scale personal disasters, such as losing your job or divorcing. Nobody at school taught you how to deal with collapses, but you’d better learn at least something of the “science of co,plex systems.”

3. No collapse is ever completely unexpected. The science of complex systems tells us that collapses can never be exactly predicted, but that’s not a justification for being caught by surprise.

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As the World Turns

As the World Turns

In the liberty movement, we often refer to the historical tactic of the Roman “bread and circuses” when describing the deliberate mass distraction of the public of today. In the era when Roman emperors supplanted the senate and dominated political and social life, it was deemed advantageous to create various forms of “entertainment,” often violent, in order to keep the citizenry preoccupied and thus less likely to physically act against the power structure as the empire suffered economic decline. The use of bread and circuses continues into our era, but the method has been refined and the manipulations have become in some ways more subtle.

For example, in ancient Rome the horrors of the Colosseum were meant to keep the public’s attention AWAY from the government. Today, the soap opera of government keeps people’s attention away from the true power brokers within global finance.

The White House itself has been molded into just another reality TV show, and mainstream media coverage has been relentless. With Donald Trump (no stranger to reality TV) at center stage, it is difficult for the citizenry to gauge what is politically legitimate and important. What we are bombarded with is an ever escalating drama between Trump, his staff, and the media, and instead of ignoring the theater many people are desperately seeking to interpret the meaning behind a show that is actually meaningless.

Every two weeks or so another episode develops in which Trump, playing the character of the brash and aggressive “populist,” fires one of his cabinet as if The Apprentice never ended, but was simply transferred to the Oval Office. Some people find this entertaining as it is Trump doing what he is most recently famous for doing. Those on the political left interpret this as reckless abandon and confirmation that their fears over Trump being ill suited to the presidency are justified. Still others in the liberty movement who originally supported Trump’s campaign are perhaps desperately looking for vindication. They wanted so badly to avoid the inevitable evils of a Clinton regime that they are now willing to give Trump a pass on almost anything, and they argue that the endless turnover in the Trump White House is Trump fulfilling his election promise of “draining the swamp.”

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Donald Trump: Wise Emperor or Condemned to Damnatio Memoriae?

Donald Trump: Wise Emperor or Condemned to Damnatio Memoriae?

About one year ago, shortly before the US elections, I published a post on Cassandra’s Legacy where I wondered what Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would look like if they were Roman Emperors. I reasoned that the Roman Empire of the 1st and 2nd Century AD was facing many of the same problems which the American Empire is facing nowadays: declining resources, excessive costs, overextended military apparatus, and others. I concluded that Hillary Clinton might have resembled Emperor Trajan, who embarked on a difficult and ultimately self-defeating military attempt to expand the empire. Trump, instead, might have looked like Emperor Hadrian, Trajan’s successor, who took the opposite path: stopping all wars of expansion and consolidating the Empire within its borders.

One year after Trump’s election, it seems that my interpretation was correct. Trump is doing more or less what Hadrian did some 2.000 before him. Apart from not having engaged in new wars, Trump’s tax plan has a very transparent purpose, that of decoupling the US from the globalized economic system. (an interesting discussion on this point is provided by Dr. D. on “The Automatic Earth“). That may not be so apparent by listening to what Trump says, but the insults, the threats, and the outrageous behavior are mainly noise that masks the direction in which the Trump administration is trying to move – and it is like steering a transatlantic liner. It is slow.

In short, Trump is engaged in reversing the grand plan that the Neocons had devised in the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union. At that time, the idea of a US-led World Empire seemed feasible and the plan was explicitly laid out in the “Project for a New American Century” published in 1996.

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Rome: A Eulogy

Rome: A Eulogy

When we find ourselves in times of trouble, we could do worse than plunge into The Academy of Western Civilization.

So let me take you down on a stroll around the ultimate theo-geopolitical space: the Eternal City, a.k.a. Caput Mundi (“wonder of the world”).

In Adonais, Shelley urged “Go thou to Rome” and “from the world’s bitter wind / seek shelter in the shadow of the tomb”. What better refuge than Rome’s ruins, stressing loud and clear that fragmentation and mortality are mere illusion, and reality is enduring unity outside time.

Since Petrarch arrived from Avignon in 1341 to sing its praises, Rome in the Western mind has represented the ultimate threshold, the ultimate shrine. It’s still easy to picture Freud at the Forum comparing the vertical sequence of Roman ruins to the layers of memory in our psyche. Or Fellini in La Dolce Vita also interpreting Roman life as a vertical sequence, cinematically playing with images from different historical eras.

The mythical origins of Rome point to a resurgence of Troy vanquished by the Greeks. The foundation – and development – of Rome involves Mars as the father of Romulus and Remus, and Venus giving birth to the “gens Julia” of which Caesar sprang up. Greek-Latin antiquity is a formidable theo-geopolitical space. Vanquished in Troy, Mars and Venus got their revenge in Rome.

An empire lasting five centuries could not but still be imprinted in the Western psyche. It’s a pleasure to revisit Suetonius describing how Augustus embellished Rome for the glory of the empire. Or Lucretius, two centuries after Epicurus, presenting the world as issued from a flux of matter and composed by the congregation of every atom in the universe.

Our collective psyche is familiar with what happened after the reign of Marcus Aurelius; the Germans to the west and the Parthians to the east threatened the borders of the empire.

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Euro – a disaster – failed monetary unions past and present

Euro – a disaster – failed monetary unions past and present

A glance at history

The beginnings of monetary union can be traced back to attempts to unify the coin standard. Emperor Augustus successfully unified the coins in the Roman Empire – for over 400 years the gold coins were minted almost exclusively with the seal of the Roman Emperor. The fall of the Roman Empire, caused among other things by its multiculturalism and multinationality, led to the disintegration of the state and to the deterioration of the coin value through a lower proportion of gold or silver. Until the 19th century, the fragmentation of the right to mint coins to the regional rulers led to the fact that the profit resulting from the creation of money from the difference between metal value and production costs and the value of the coins issued was no longer allocated only to a feudal ruler. In the 19th century, completely new methods of creating money emerged for the ruling classes – paper standards were gradually introduced. The paper standard should no longer be based on gold or silver parity, but should be secured by appropriate policy of the central bank, especially by influencing interest rates. In the 19th century, monetary unions were developed, on which the idea of the euro was based. All failed.

In 1865, the Latin Monetary Union unified the currencies of France, Italy, Belgium, Greece and Switzerland. A French franc corresponded to an Italian lira, which corresponded to a Belgian franc, etc. Greece and Italy were then as now debtor countries. The Union’s objectives were similar to those of the euro zone today: to simplify trade and make countries more competitive on world markets.

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Rome’s “Empire Without End” and the “Endless” U.S. War on Terror

Rome’s “Empire Without End” and the “Endless” U.S. War on Terror

Replaying the Roman Civil Wars in Reverse Since 9/11

L’incendie de Rome, Hubert Robert (c. 1785)

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Three days after 9/11, as the Twin Towers continued to burn, a near-unanimous United States Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). The lone dissenter, Representative Barbara Lee, warned that the resolution gave a “blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the Sept. 11 events — anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation’s long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit.”

Representative Lee was right. In the sixteen years since 9/11, these 60 wordshave been used to justify at least 37 military operations in 14 countries under George W. Bush and Barack Obama alone, many targeting groups that played no role in the attacks. The Trump administration, too, continues to pursue covert military actions under the AUMF that only occasionally emerge into the news cycle — as with the mysterious deaths of four US soldiers in Niger this October. Expressing surprise at their presence, Senator Lindsey Graham, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, acknowledged, “This is an endless war without boundaries, no limitation on time or geography.”

I felt a shock of recognition as I read Graham’s words. Earlier that evening, my graduate seminar on empire in the Roman imagination had discussed Jupiter’s prophecy in the first book of Virgil’s Aeneid:

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The Romans and Us. Why State Violence is on the Rise 

The Romans and Us. Why State Violence is on the Rise 


The Spanish police injured hundreds of people, including women and the elderly, during the referendum for the independence of Catalunya, in 2017 (image source). It was not the worst that states can do – and have have been doing – to their citizens, but it is an indication that state violence is on the rise. Perhaps we can find reasons for this trend if we look back at history, all the way to ancient Rome. The Romans were extremely cruel and violent, perhaps an effect of their reliance on slaves. In our case, we have replaced human slaves with fossil slaves (fossil fuels) but, as they are abandoning us, we risk to return to the violence of ancient times.

The more you study ancient Roman history, the more you realize how similar to us the Romans were. The economy, money, commerce, travel, bureaucracy, laws – so many things in our world find a parallel in the Roman world, even though often in a much less sophisticated form. So, if you were to use a time machine to be transported to ancient Rome, you would find yourself in a familiar world in almost all respects. Except for one thing: you would be startled by the violence you would encounter. Real, harsh, brutal violence; blood and death right in front of you, in the streets, in the arenas, in theaters. It was not the random kind of violence we call “crime,” it was violence codified, sanctioned and enacted by the state.

When we think of violence in Roman times, we normally think of gladiator games. Those were surely bloody and violent, but just part of the story of how the Roman state managed violence. The Roman courts meted capital punishment with an ease which, for us, is bewildering. Poor people, slaves, and non-Roman citizens were especially likely to be declared “noxii” (plural of noxius) and condemned to death.
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Homework Assignment

Poor old Karl Marx, tortured by boils and phantoms, was right about one thing: History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. Thus, I give you the Roman Empire and now the United States of America. Rome surrendered to time and entropy. Our method is to drive a gigantic clown car into a ditch.

Is anyone out there interested in redemption? I have an idea for the political party out of power, the Democrats, sunk in its special Okefenokee Swamp of identity politics and Russia paranoia: make an effort to legislate the Citizens United calamity out of existence. Who knows, a handful of Republicans may be shamed into going along with it. For those of you who have been mentally vacationing on Mars with Elon Musk, Citizens United was a Supreme Court decision — Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission 558 U.S. 310 (2010) — which determined that corporations had the right, as hypothetical “persons,” to give as much money as they liked to political candidates.

This “right” devolved from the First Amendment of the constitution, the 5-4 majority opinion said — giving money to political candidates and causes amounts to “freedom of speech.” The Citizens United ruling opened the door for unlimited election spending by corporations and enormous mischief in our national life. Then-President Obama — a constitutional law professor before his career in politics — complained bitterly about the opinion days later in his State of the Union address, saying that the court had “reversed a century of law to open the floodgates, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.”

And for the next seven years he did absolutely nothing about it, nor did the Democratic Party majority in congress. Rather, they vacuumed in as much corporate campaign money as possible from every hokey political action committee (PAC) from sea to shining sea, especially in the 2016 presidential election starring Hillary “It’s My Turn” Clinton.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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