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Humans: the Movie

Humans: the Movie

What follows is a story involving a movie watched by animals. The pacing of the movie to be described might seem like a very odd choice, but it simply mirrors the pacing of human life on the planet. A vivid visual imagination on your part will help to bring the story to life. So, put on your creative cap and let’s dive in!

Picture a small-town movie theater on a street so quiet and unimposing that the surrounding prairie and forest sidle right up to the back of the theater. The marquee advertises a feature film called The Human Saga.

As the afternoon shadows lengthen, a trickle of woodland creatures start to emerge from the forest, mosey up to the theater, pay for tickets, and go in. You notice rabbits, a fox, a group of turkeys, a band of raccoons, some stoats, newts, a skunk (who will be lucky enough to sit next to it?), a hoppy group of frogs, some chittering squirrels, a family of porcupines, a pair of doves, an ancient looking tortoise, a doe and her two fawns, and even a mama bear with cubs. They and many others have all come to absorb a tale of what these humans are all about. It’s a long movie: almost three hours chronicling the almost 3 million years of humans on Earth. But it’s fine: no one is in a big hurry.

The animals amicably settle into their seats, enjoying candy, popcorn, and a hot dog here and there. They’re relaxed, but wide-eyed with excitement for this special treat.

Opening Scene

The curtains rise, and the opening scene dazzles the crowd, bathing them in orange light as a bright sunrise radiates from the screen…

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Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXXI–Diminishing Returns On Investments In Complexity

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXXI

December 4, 2022 (original posting date)

Chitchen Itza, Mexico. (1986) Photo by author.

Diminishing Returns On Investments In Complexity

Another very brief contemplation prompted by The Honest Sorcerer’s latest writing regarding our energy predicament.

What you have described so well is perhaps the conundrum faced by every complex society throughout history: diminishing returns on investments in complexity.

This phenomenon appears to apply to almost everything in the human realm but most importantly resource extraction and use as you suggest.

We do tend to put into action the easier and cheaper solutions to our perceived problems with those, in turn, adding to our complexity and creating even more problems that need even more attention (i.e., energy and other resources).

I have argued before and continue to believe that the ‘best’ use of our remaining energy resources would be to encourage local communities to become self-sufficient (especially in terms of potable water procurement, food production, and regional shelter needs) but perhaps even more importantly decommission those complexities that pose significant risk to present and future species.

As I wrote some time ago: “Three of the more problematic [complexities] include: nuclear power plants and their waste products; chemical production and storage facilities; and, biosafety labs and their dangerous pathogens. The products and waste of these complex creations are not going to be ‘contained’ when the energy to do so is no longer available. And loss of this containment will create some hazardous conditions for human existence in their immediate surroundings at the very least — in fact, multiple nuclear facility meltdowns could potentially put the entire planet at risk for all species.”)

I believe ‘simplification’ is coming but am highly doubtful it will be through much if any ‘coordinated’ effort by our ruling caste. As many who have studied our predicament have argued, it will be Nature that imposes the ‘solution’ to this conundrum that is humanity and we will have little to say about it.

As walking, talking apes that tend to deny reality and believe in ‘magic’, we will continue to weave comforting narratives that our human ingenuity and concomitant technological prowess can save us from ourselves.

Imagination, however, is not reality and while we can think up all sorts of possibilities the starkness of physical laws and biological principles stand firmly in the path ahead preventing our magic from having any real impact — except, perhaps, to exacerbate our predicament.

Lessons from the Unraveling of the Roman Empire: Simplification, Localization

Lessons from the Unraveling of the Roman Empire: Simplification, Localization

The fragmentation, simplification and localization of the post-Imperial era offers us lessons we ignore at our peril.

There is an entire industry devoted to “why the Roman Empire collapsed,” but the post-collapse era may be offer us higher value lessons. The post-collapse era, long written off as The Dark Ages, is better understood as a period of adaptation to changing conditions, specifically, the relocalization and simplification of the economy and governance.

As historian Chris Wickham has explained in his books Medieval Europe and The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000the medieval era is best understood as a complex process of social, political and economic natural selection: while the Western Roman Empire unraveled, the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) continued on for almost 1,000 years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and the social and political structures of the Western Roman Empire influenced Europe for hundreds of years.

In broad-brush, the Roman Empire was a highly centralized, tightly bound system that was remarkably adaptive despite its enormous size and the slow pace of transport and communication. Roman society was both highly hierarchical–the elites claimed superiority and worked hard to master the necessary tools of authority– slaves were integral to the building and maintenance of Rome’s vast infrastructure–and open to meritocracy, as the Roman Army and other classes were open to advancement by anyone in the sprawling empire: every free person became a Roman Citizen once their territory was absorbed into the Empire.

When the Empire fell apart, the model of centralized control/power continued on in the reigns of the so-called Barbarian kingdoms (Goths, Vandals, etc.) and Charlemagne (768-814), over 300 years after the fall of Rome. (When the Ottomans finally conquered Constantinople in 1453, they also adopted many of the bureaucratic structures of the Byzantine Empire.)

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Supply v Demand – Does It Always Work?

QUESTION: Mr. Armstrong, You say that wheat fell during the Great Depression during the Dust Bowl when supply would have declined. This makes no sense. Would you address that question?


ANSWER: Your problem is typical in analysis. It appears that 99% of the people always try to reduce some event to a single cause and effect. Everything is connected like a line of dominoes. You are not just pushing over a single one. The action has a ripple effect that moves through the entire world economy and is not even restricted to a single nation.

I do not make stuff up to try to prove a point. I have been curious to discover how things really work. When I say we have the largest database in the world, I am not joking. Just as I have been a collector of various things, that includes data. It is easy to find a yearly chart of wheat, but not daily or weekly during that period. Here is how wheat responded during the Great Depression on a weekly basis. Note that it peaked about 4 weeks before the stock market. Then you see a huge gap down in 1931.

This was caused by the wholesale defaults of just about every nation. Some went into a moratorium and suspended payments on their debt like Britain. But most outright defaulted and you can buy their bonds usually on eBay.

Here is the impact of the 1931 Sovereign Debt Crisis. The dollar soared on our index from roughly the 112 level to nearly 160. That was high which exceeded even World War I levels. That illustrates just how high the dollar rallied. Because wheat was priced in dollars, it fell in terms of dollars while rising in terms of other currencies because of their defaults.


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The Future is Rural: Food System Adaptations to the Great Simplification

The Future is Rural: Food System Adaptations to the Great Simplification

The Future is Rural challenges the conventional wisdom about the future of food in our modern, globalized world. It is a much-needed reality check that explains why certain trends we take for granted–like the decline of rural areas and the dependence of farming and the food system on fossil fuels–are historical anomalies that will reverse over the coming decades. Renewable sources of energy must replace fossil fuels, but they will not power economies at the same scale as today. Priorities will profoundly shift, and food will become a central concern. Lessons learned from resilience science and alternatives to industrial agriculture provide a foundation for people to transition to more rural and locally focused lives.

Jason Bradford, a biologist and farmer, offers a deeply researched report on the future of food that reveals key blind spots in conventional wisdom on energy, technology, and demographics. The Future Is Rural presents Bradford’s analysis from his career in ecology and agriculture, as well as a synthesis of the historical and scientific underpinnings of the astonishing changes that will transform the food system and society as a whole.

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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