The Evolution of Civilization
The global diaspora of hominids began early in their descent. They roamed throughout Africa and Asia for millions of years, speciating as they went. These creatures then traversed Europe and Oceania, making their way to the Americas as soon as passage became possible. By the advent of history, humanity’s habitat was all Earth that a large land creature could claim as habitable, including many inhospitable places.
Hominids were a generalist omnivore and apex predator. No other large animal was better adapted to survive in a diversity of biomes.
Beyond any urge to be on the move, erratic climates prodded searching for richer lands. Beginning 31 millennia before the fall, a disparaging drier climate drove waves of hominids out of Africa.
Hominids were not socially distinct from their ape predecessors. Family was the core of social organization. Mothers were the nexus.
Many creatures on Earth lived via fluid sociality. Among them were fish, cetaceans, ungulates, elephants, most mammalian carnivores, and primates.
Among hominins, a community of up to a few hundred individuals had dynamic subgroups that included families, friends, and coalitions. Subgroups merged for safety, such as for sleeping, or during conflicts with conspecifics. They then split up for foraging, or when disagreements arose within the larger group.
Families banded together through close social ties. Foraging clans were nomadic extended families. Reciprocity was the rule.
Mobile foragers were egalitarian. Such clans sometimes had elders and initiates, but no chiefs. No one commanded authority over adult males. Foragers leashed ambitious leaders.
Women typically had considerable social and sexual choice. Relations between the sexes varied, but women were an indispensable asset. Women gathered and captured food. They made much of the equipment that afforded comfortable living.
Compared to women, whatever archaic men did paled in practicality. Women were the ones who developed sewing, weaving, basketry, pottery, woodworking, and building. Owing to their social skills, women were the primary prehistoric traders.
The skills of a band of foragers, herders, or hunters were complete in their self-containment. They otherwise could not survive.
Knowledge was key. Its accumulation was the legacy of women. Mothers reared and educated offspring, molding them into productive members of the clan.
Women crafted a suitable place into a home. It was she who added man to her domesticated animals. Women weaved the comity essential to civilization.
Hunter-gatherers were committed to sharing. Many communities actively sought equality. Open-faced fairness was the only course by which group bonding could be sustained.
Foraging bands had nothing resembling later (modern) economic exchange, nor even the thought of individualism. The universal practice of eating together derived from the hoary practice of sharing food.
Many of the moral rules for clan society were not directed at transgressions against private property, but against not sharing. Facing the prospect of perpetual scarcity, failure to share can affect a group’s survival prospects. Hence, early peoples had a heritage of egalitarianism. With rare exception, this practical equity was forsaken after food surpluses became possible.
As agriculture became more arduous, men took control of it. The leadership which women had naturally taken was wrested from them. “The application to agriculture of those very animals that woman had first domesticated led to her replacement by the male in the control of the fields; the advance from the hoe to the plough put a premium upon physical strength, and enabled the man to assert his supremacy,” wrote Will Durant. The patriarchy which would forever diminish humanity sprouted when crops became an enterprise – when humanity became mankind.
Sexual activity as a moral issue only began with property regimes. “Marriage began as a form of the law of property, as a part of the institution of slavery,” noted Durant.
Losing virginity was only a social stigma for girls. Condemning sexual activity as immoral applied only to women. In the crime of marital infidelity, the blame always laid with the temptress.
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Hominids established settlements long before they descended into humans. Like other motile animals, hominids first settled in places of natural abundance.
The sites of the earliest large societies were forested areas near fertile rivers. Those forests were invariably diminished by human habitation.
Cave paintings and fossil remains show that hunters had a strong preference for large-hoofed mammals. This preference remained unchanged for hundreds of thousands of years. 30,000 years before the fall, these meat supplies dramatically dwindled as overhunting took its toll. Men had a chronic habit of depleting their habitats in every aspect.
Prior to the advent of agriculture, early villages died out when they exhausted local resources. The resettlement cycle repeated until crop cultivation and trade rendered location itself a significant resource.
Crop cultivation only began 23,000 years before the fall. At that time, women were learning the rudiments of agriculture: cultivating choice seeds and keeping out inedible weeds.
A pronounced period of sporadic but extensive glaciation relented 14 TBF. The settled site of Abu Hureyra illustrated the difficulties after the chill.
Abu Hureyra was in the Euphrates valley, in Mesopotamia. Abu Hureyra was first occupied 13 TBF. It was a village of small huts, cut into the soft sandstone of the terrace there.
The huts were supported by wooden posts and roofed with reeds and brushwood. There were underground food storage compartments.
In its 1st incarnation, Abu Hureyra was a village of a few hundred at most. Villagers gathered wild plants, ate local game, fished. Gazelle migrated through during the summer. Year-round were sheep, aurochs, and onager, a few of which were kept as livestock. Smaller food animals included birds, fox, and hare.
Many early settlements rejected domestic livestock in favor of wild game. Hunting versus herding, and farming versus foraging, were social decisions that varied by location and culture.
The area began to dry out as the climate changed. Seeds were gathered in response to a steep decline in the wild plants that had served as staple foods. From these seeds came gardens of cereal grasses.
Severe weather forced abandonment of Abu Hureyra 10.2 TBF. Drought had disrupted gazelle migration, devastated local populations of game, and decimated forageable plant food sources. Survival meant a more mobile existence.
Abu Hureyra went unoccupied for 500 years. Then people returned. They built mud-brick houses and created a settlement 10 times the size as before: one of the largest in the Levant at the time.
Settlement at Abu Hureyra did not last. The village was again abandoned 7 TBF. Local wildlife had been culled to a degree that their harvest was insufficient. Growing crops was a hardscrabble lifestyle that residents found unpalatable.
Farming communities became increasingly common in the Fertile Crescent from 12 TBF. East Asia followed shortly thereafter, as did other peoples around the world. In the process, cultures changed to reflect these new lifestyles.
In temperate biomes, animal domestication was often decisive in settling down. Because they could be ‘harvested’ anytime, livestock were considered a more reliable food source than crops, which were sensitively dependent upon seasonal weather conditions.
Early agriculture was a survival strategy. Animal domestication and cultivating crops were a reaction to overexploitation of local resources by a burgeoning population.
Agriculture engendered settled communities. Strife often grew alongside settlements. Settling intensified conflict between neighboring groups for the best land and convenient access to water. Disputes were especially acute when harvests were paltry.
In birthing towns, people wrought exclusion zones from Nature. Not only were wild animals not tolerated, but local vegetation was also much modified. Wastes accumulated in and around settlements, further degrading the habitat.
Erosion from deforestation and intensive agriculture damaged the soil. Growing enough food grew problematic. As at Abu Hureyra, settlements were abandoned when nearby resources were exhausted. This repeatedly occurred in once-fertile places.
Settlements birthed a sense of entitlement to private property. The notion was reinforced by agriculture. For some, surpluses accumulated to produce wealth, which was furthered by inheritance of land.
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The animal that had the most impact on men was the horse. In their descent, horses adapted to survive on steppes and in savanna with sparse vegetation. These were forbidding habitats for other large grazing animals, especially ruminants, such as bovine (cattle), deer, and sheep.
Horses died out in the Americas in the last ice age. But equids endured in Eurasia. Eurasia’s larger landmass afforded more warmth near its center, where horses survived.
Horses were sensitive, gregarious herd animals. They were hunted by men, and first domesticated for their meat. Young horses became pets, cementing a social bond.
The first human cultures to ride horses were in central north Asia, 6,000 years before the fall. Horse-drawn travois, wagons, and chariots followed.
The utility of horses found favor throughout Eurasia, where they spread in succeeding millennia. Their introduction often came by force, as an instrument of conquest.
Within a thousand years of first being ridden and driven, horses went to war. Besides tilling fields and for transport, horses were accomplices to the brutality of men for many millennia. Horses changed the equation of conflict in a way that was only superseded by gunpowder weaponry.
Temujin was born on the steppes of Mongolia in 938 BF to a family of nomadic hunters. Severe adversity at a tender age both toughened and seasoned Temujin with forbearance.
In 894 BF, a tribal assembly confirmed Temujin as Genghis Kahn: commander of all Mongolia. Temujin assimilated conquered people rather than follow the steppe custom of looting and leaving them. This sensibility abetted the Kahn in creating a dynasty that conquered its way to the largest contiguous land empire in history.
The logistical lynchpin of the Mongol conquests was, of course, the horse. Helping the rise of the Mongols was warm, wet weather that allowed favorable conditions for breeding horses. Most calvary campaigns took place during the warmer seasons, when there was sufficient grazing for their herds. The Mongols disseminated horses throughout Eurasia, accelerating the animal’s cultural adoption.
The cost of ‘building’ the Mongol empire was tremendous. The Mongol conquests were one of the deadliest in history.
The world before the Mongols went on their bender had 360 million people. Some 50 million were killed during their subjugation. This death count does not include those who died from the bubonic plague, which the Mongols carried with them. The Black Death that decimated Europe in the 8th century BF was sparked by the Mongol conquests.
The Mongols did not have an overarching concept for ruling a settled population. The Mongol empire was not a state in the normal sense of the word: merely a vast agglomeration of diverse tribes held together by military domination. The Mongols relished conquering, not ruling. Battle was a thrill, governance a tedium.
Already in Genghis’s lifetime, the empire was divided among his 4 favorite sons into ulus: a Mongol word which denoted supremacy over certain tribes rather than a defined territory.
As a divisible dynasty, the Mongol empire was not built to last. Lacking a strong political or cultural backbone, the initial policy of assimilation transformed into dissolution.
Most conquered tribes reclaimed their lands within a century of their subjugation. Though some political relics remained, within 3 centuries of the first Mongol conquests the last Mongol ruler had been overthrown.
War horses were only retired for motorized tanks after the 1st World War. This was part of a trend in abandoning equids for a dirtier substitute. The rapid replacement of horses with petrol vehicles in the early 2nd century BF was a critical turning point in man’s drive to self-extinction.
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The social impact of agriculture was enormous. Depending upon locale, especially its climate, the population density of foraging societies ranged from 0.1 to 1 person per km2. Farming facilitated population densities of 40 to 60 people per km2.
Proximity begat interdependence on a much larger scale. Labor specialization furthered the trend, facilitating innovation and engendering trade.
This gyre geared societies to grapple with economic transgressions, molding morality around materialism. Polity evolved via private property regimes.
Political evolution was gradual. Early on, incipient elites lived among their neighbors in stateless communities, without the control mechanisms of coercive institutions.
This made the well-to-do vulnerable. Men garnered power by hiring protection. Authority as a creature comfort had such an appeal that men’s appetites for status and wealth grew.
Political states arose first in areas which grew grains as a major crop. “It was not an increase in food production that led to states, but rather the transition to reliance on appropriable cereal grains that facilitated taxation by the emerging elite. When it became possible to appropriate crops, a taxing elite emerged, and this led to the state,” reported 1st-century-BF historian Joram Mayshar.
Authorities cultivated cultures that shifted morality from equality to inequity as a norm. There were twin forks to this corruption: material and spiritual.
Persuasive men were able to accumulate property and power. Power meant the resources to dispense livelihoods to others. Work became employment.
Clans evolved a strong corporate identity, built around genealogical connection, whether actual or mythical. The idea of social identity arose. Thus the seed of tribality was planted.
Earthers had an innate sense of spirituality. This grew from the desire to find meaning and purpose in life.
Information fed material, social, and spiritual needs and wants. In an increasingly interdependent environment, control of information meant power.
Authority grew as chiefs gathered skills about them: craftsman to make valued goods, artisans to elevate esteem via aesthetics, priests to weave stories and rituals which sated spiritual wants and sewed social cohesion.
The seminal moral shift underlying the emergence of political states was social acceptance of inequity: a perversion which warped sense of fairness.
Organisms use their sense of equity to assess the quality of their interactions with others. Even single-celled bacteria have a feel for fairness.
Plants regulate their distributions to mutualist microbes based upon the little ones’ relative contributions. Social animals, hominids included, were no different.
Empathy is the tender projection of how another feels. Compassion adds incentive to do something when sensing suffering. Lacing empathy with fairness composed morality. 3rd-century-BF German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer considered compassion “the basis of morality.”
Morality was fundamental to how people defined themselves and adjudged others. “Moral character information determines the impressions people form of individuals,” noted 2nd-century-BF psychologist Geoffrey Goodwin.
Moral impressions cast the foundation of relationships. “Moral traits are a reliable predictor for how individuals will fare as potential partners for cooperation and affiliation,” observed 1st-century-BF psychologist Nina Strohminger.
Mentalizing (mind perception) is the process of inferring someone else’s perspective. “Mind perception is the essence of moral judgment,” remarked 2nd-century-BF psychologist Kurt Gray. In assessing the morality of acts, people tried to discern intention. “Determining intentionality is the first step in moral computations,” wrote 1st-century-BF psychologist Jean Decety.
“Human morality grew out of our primate psychology,” observed 2nd-century-BF ethologist Frans de Waal. Simian sense of fairness was selfsame.
What differed among simian species was social tolerance for inequity. Many were even-handed in empathic relations, with insistence on equity at the risk of ostracization. This was consistent with many other mammals and birds. It also corresponded with early hominid morality.
By contrast, those primates with brusque, hierarchical social systems, such as baboons, endured considerable inequality. Like baboons, humans evolved to inequity as an acceptable norm. The moral decay came with economics.
With the advent of private property, sense of fairness in men morphed from the age when foragers shared and held equality as an abiding moral value. “Views on morality changed dramatically across history,” observed 1st-century-BF psychologist Lisa Cohen.
Inequality took root with agriculture: once land was given intrinsic value. Agrarian inequity was initially accepted because its origination was ostensibly of good fortune in plot selection and hard work. Farming sharpened ownership and the work ethic into moral values unto themselves.
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Economics was born when there was something to trade. Surplus birthed economic activity.
Economics began innocently. Someone might come to possess something or make more than they needed. As well, they may want for what they don’t have. The twinning of excess and want were the wellspring of trade. Settlements were often sustainable only because of trade.
The economic term goods dates to 8th-century BF English: something good made by someone’s labor. A good kept by its maker was simply a possession. Goods became economic when they became available to others.
Goods had a life cycle. They were created, distributed in some way, and then consumed. Any leftover was waste.
The problem with goods was bads: untoward externalities. An externality was an unintended effect. Chopping down a tree for fire, to build a home, or clear land for planting crops negatively affected much local life, beginning with the tree.
Bads were the evil twin of goods. What changed with technology was the scope of bads, and thereby their habitat impact.
Along with population growth expanding the quantities of bads, bads from goods accelerated with industrialization. Industrial products were often of unnatural materials and chemicals that did not decompose and were toxic. Enduring pollution was a common externality of an industrial good’s lifecycle.
The term political economy arose in the 4th century BF for the study of trade in light of the state’s role. As an academic discipline, political economy was an outgrowth of moral philosophy. In the late 3rd century BF, the term economics gradually supplanted political economy in usage. But political economy is apter, as it emphasized that goods and bads were always under the auspices of the authorities.
Like other apes, both genders of hominids had their own dominance hierarchies. Male or female, once an ape had dominance it exercised authority: the ability to settle conflicts and set rules. Apes acknowledged authority through submissive greetings and gestures.
Readiness to resort to violence was the constant backdrop of human politics. “Blood alone moves the wheels of history,” wrote German friar Martin Luther. An outraged Luther sparked the Protestant religious revolt against the corrupt and domineering Catholic Church in the early 6th century BF.
The availability of abundant resources lessened aggression in other primates. Men were exceptional in this regard. In them, abundance generated greed.
The history of man was a chronicle of coerced inequity in resource availability: a primal economic violence. The beating heart of Earther political economy was coercion enforcing unfairness. “Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite,” quipped 2nd-century-BF economist John Kenneth Galbraith.
Stratification deepened as agrarian societies grew. Rather than communal plots, clans worked fields separately, cooperating only when necessary. Territoriality strengthened the grip of private property and elevated materialism as a moral value.
Communalism versus individualism was a distinction between foragers and agrarians. Still, agriculture involved a sliding scale of social endeavor. The degree of interdependence among farmers depended upon the dominant cereal crop.
A collective culture grew where rice was the primary grain. Before mechanization, growing rice took twice as many hours of work as wheat. To deploy labor effectively, especially during planting and harvesting, rice-growing societies developed cooperative labor exchanges.
The history of social and political dynamics in southeast Asia and Japan, where rice was the staple cereal, testified to the political inclination toward consensus born from collective work in the fields.
Cultures which relied upon wheat and other grains that could be independently grown led to individualism. This was clear in the Fertile Crescent, where concocted religious creeds became the brittle glue of association among its flinty peoples, who were more given to conflict than cooperation.
That privatism would triumph over communism with the advent of agriculture was not inevitable. It was instead cultural.
Among certain peoples, land was communal. The soil was tilled and harvested for all. This was true for the first peoples of the Americas, among some groups in Africa and the Indian subcontinent, and throughout many of the islands south and east of the Asian mainland. Land, like water and wind, could not be sold.
The communist spirit was eventually overtook. Native cultures which practiced communalism were technologically content, and thereby ill-prepared for those men, hardened by individualism, who came with conquest and plunder on their minds.
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The production of surpluses begat a gyre of materialism that defined economics and shifted men’s morality. Once the inherent inequality of private property developed as an acceptable norm, it had its own momentum. The idea that Nature may be ‘owned’ was the crucial concept that set the vector of human civilization.
Consider mode of survival as a risk mitigation strategy. For nomads, sharing is insurance. Foraging and hunting are chancy endeavors, so a regime of sharing is adaptive.
Landing in a rich land changes the risk equation. If abundance is at hand, best to stake a claim to it. Being able to store food and valued goods further damned the sensibility of sharing.
Herding and raising crops are laborious. Only property rights render such a life strategy sensible.
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From antiquity there was a crucial lubricant which engendered trade: money. Money abstracted economic value into symbolic form.
Money originated to overcome the logistical difficulties of barter. Whereas money is a generic fungible (medium of exchange), currency is a monetary species. USA dollars and European euros were exemplary currencies in the last age.
Currency brings money to life. The term currency derived from currentia in medieval Latin, meaning “in circulation.” Currency was a commodity of social fact: an agreed-upon token signifying some designated value.
Currencies descended from commodities in common use or held in especial esteem. Obsidian was a shiny example.
Obsidian – volcanic glass from Anatolia – was the material of choice for Stone Age tools. For over 8,000 years, starting around 15 TBF, obsidian served as a regional currency. Çatalhöyük and other ancient Neolithic villages in Anatolia were partly supported by having a supply of obsidian nearby. Obsidian as currency was contemporaneous with grain and livestock as units of trade.
Ancient Indians used almonds as specie; southeast Asians, rice; Mongolians, bricks of tea; Guatemalans, corn; Babylonians, barley; Nicobar Island natives, coconuts; Norwegians, butter and dried cod.
Taking a step into monetary abstraction, Mesopotamia in the early 6th millennium used weighed amounts of silver for payments. Silver superseded grain because it did not rot. Centuries later, Egyptians added luster to the idea by using gold.
Early codes of law formalized the role of money in civil society. Among them was the Mesopotamian Code of Ur-Nammu, which wishfully decreed in its prologue: “equity in the nation.” Mesopotamians had a vibrant economy via currency. A land of frequent conflict and slavery, equity was in short supply.
The difficulty with currency came in its preservation of value over an expanse. To that end, coins had to have intrinsic value. That meant coins were precious metals: preferably gold, or, of lesser regard, silver.
The use of precious-metal coinage did not obviate other commodity currencies. In Roman times, salt served as a common currency. Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt: salarium in Latin, which formed the modern word salary.
Gold was always considered the most precious metal. Its reddish-yellow color and soft luster had an undeniable appeal. But there was more to gold’s allure.
As a storehouse of value, gold had 2 advantages: it was rare and practically incorruptible. No chemical agent known to the ancients could diminish it.
Gold was readily processed and its quality easily assayed.
Gold has a low melting point: 1000ºC, almost the same as copper. Pure gold separates from whatever dross it is with by melting it.
Quality assessment is even simpler. The purity of a gold object can be ascertained by putting acid on it. If it does not decay, it is pure gold.
Silver was the other precious metal serving as currency. Silver was much more abundant and not nearly as incorruptible. Significant silver finds at various times in history caused huge price fluctuations that made silver less desirable than gold as a currency unit. As a backing for currency, stability is prized above all else.
Gold is not just rare on Earth. Gold is scarce throughout the cosmos. Iron is the densest possible production by a star before it explodes in a supernova. Gold can only be made colliding neutron stars, which are the densest stellar remnants.
China was the first purveyor of state banknotes. By 3400 BF, notebook-sized sheets of mulberry bark circulated as currency. The sheets carried the emperor’s seal and the signatures of the country’s treasurers.
China also invented paper money, which evolved in the 14th century BF from deposit receipts, used by merchants and wholesalers who sought to avoid carrying bulky coinage for costly commercial transactions. The Sung Dynasty issued the first government-backed paper money in the 11th century BF.
The notion of paper currency came to Europe in the 9th century BF, through accounts of travelers to the Far East.
As trade expanded in Europe toward the end of the Middle Ages, bills of exchange became prevalent. They were primarily a safety measure. Traveling with cash was dangerous. A deposit could be made with a banker in one town for a bill of exchange, which could be redeemed in another town. Such bills could also be used as payment.
This early form of credit became a significant source for creating money, in similar fashion to ancient Egyptian grain banks, which issued notes from deposits. Bills of exchange were common in England before credit lines became widely available in the mid-3rd century BF.
Coins had been used in England since the 24th century BF. From the 8th century BF, Britain’s authorities regulated the precious-metal trade to ensure quality. Goldsmiths were incorporated into local guilds.
Goldsmiths were not merely bullion merchants. They were also money lenders. By creating a temporal rift between assets and liabilities, the very process of lending fabricates money.
The Royal Mint of England became a main repository for merchants to deposit their precious-metal wealth. In 460 BF, King Charles 1 – a staunch believer in the divine right of kings – took advantage of that trust. He seized the private gold stored in the Mint as a forced loan. Thereafter, merchants deemed their gold more secure in the private vaults of local goldsmiths.
This escapade proved fortuitous. Charles’ regal caprice led to goldsmiths becoming the forerunners of Britain’s modern banking system. They created the instruments necessary to finance investments on a large scale.
Owing to the extent and sophistication of its banking sector, England was uniquely poised to privately finance industrialization when the machine age began, in the 4th century BF.
Paper money had an inherent dilemma: trust in its issuer. As governments took on the monopoly of printing money, confidence in currency became a matter of state.
Governments established their fiscal trustworthiness by ostensibly backing their paper currencies with precious metals. The economic integration among countries which began in the 3rd century BF owed to having an international gold standard. Alas, that metallic metric did not stabilize currencies.
However sensible it may have seemed at the time, precious metal as a salve for states’ mutual mistrust turned out to be an unsound insecurity. Then again, irrespective of monetary scheme, stability in fungibility eluded modern Earthers.
Men weaned themselves off metal-backed currencies 130 years before the fall. They did so after an unceasing series of monetary crises, in the wake of wars and spectacular financial speculations that ended in busts.
In abandoning metals as monetary signifiers, governments simply declared what their currency was worth. The reputations of states resolved through trading, resulting in currencies’ relative values.
Fiat money became universal out of suspicion: a financial irony in the extreme. Currencies became a national confidence game. This enshrined volatility.
In a sustained fantasy of optimism, over 2 dozen nations in the European Union (EU) forged a common currency – the euro – at the end of the 2nd century BF. The euro was a play of plutocracy. While the rich nations in the club made out well, the euro sapped the weaker ones. The weak went along only because they were economic dependents to the richer states.
A currency was not just the coin of the realm. It was also the means to regulate the financial flows which lubricated a society’s economy.
The inability of weak EU nations to adjust economic dynamics through financial levers meant their populations suffered a lower standard of living while providing goods and services to their wealthier European cousins at a rigged discount. The imbalance resulted in a series of financial crises which were subdued by submersion. The rich EU nations buried the problem with cheap loans to the poor ones: loans which were perpetually renewed. This was done to sustain the political confederation of the European Union and keep the rigged game going.
The euro was instrumental in the destabilization of Europe as its civilization collapsed, a half-century before the fall. Sapped by the rigged currency, people in chronically weak countries revolted as their cost of living spiraled. This chaos caused the breakup of the EU. That tumultuous experiment in supernational government lasted less than a century.
4 centuries before the fall, germinal economist Adam Smith foresaw the problem with a financial system founded on the quicksand of abstraction: “The trouble with paper money is that it rewards the minority that can manipulate money and makes fools of the generation that has worked and saved.” In the last 2 centuries of man, financial manipulation was the main way fortunes were made – and the way that those who had prudently saved saw their financial nest eggs evaporate.
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An economic system is a characterization of how a political economy works. Economic systems pertain 3 issues: what goods are made and how many, how goods are made, and how goods are distributed. There are 3 economic systems: traditional, command, and market.
A traditional economy relied upon custom to address what was made and how it was shared. Traditional economies produced to survive. There was minimal trade. Societies which relied upon economic surpluses to thrive extinguished traditional economies.
In a command economy, the authorities decided production and distribution. Command economies were typical in ancient civilizations, including China and Egypt.
In the modern era, command economies were used by Russia, Japan, and China to industrialize rapidly, to establish themselves as a global political power.
Russia was ruled autocratically throughout its history. Holding rigged elections from the late 110s BF did not change that historical constant.
Long an agrarian nation, Russia was a latecomer to industrialization, which it only began in the 220s BF. After a single decade, this modernization was interrupted for 3 decades by economic depression and political revolution.
Joseph Stalin became dictator in 178 BF. He ruled with an iron fist until his death 3 decades later. Stalin imposed a brutal command economy which furthered industrialization at the expense of staggering pollution and 20 million Russian deaths.
Successors to Stalin only did better by not slaughtering so many Russians. Russia largely abandoned its command economy in 109 BF, when its government collapsed in fatigue. The Russian political economy became an oligarchy of state corporatism: plutocratic capitalism via state puppeteering.
After a century of civil war in the 6th century BF, Japan saw stability for 3 centuries with its feudal political economy. Japan’s idle of isolation was broken by the threat of invasion in 247 BF by nouveau imperialist USA.
A prodded Japan rushed to industrialize via a command economy. The nation marched under the slogan: “Enrich the country, strengthen the military.” The Westernizing Meiji Restoration transformed Japan into an aspiring imperialist power, beginning in the 220s BF. This set the island nation on a collision course with its provocative nemesis: the USA.
The revolutionary who started China’s last dynasty was Mao Zedong. With help from the Russians, Mao installed a command economy upon taking power in 151 BF. “This led to the growth of bureaucracy, new social inequalities and privileged elites,” wrote 2nd-century-BF China historian Maurice Meisner. The outcomes of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” were societal discord, 30 million Chinese dead from famine, and a billowing beginning of horrific pollution from pell-mell industrialization.
After Mao, China dabbled in state-sponsored corporatism. The unsurprising result was burgeoning inequality.
A market economy relied upon disorganized endeavor, using trade as a regulator. Aside from a few ill-fated attempts, the modern global economy was carpeted with capitalism.
Finance propelled modern capitalism, successfully concentrating wealth. In 80 BF, the richest 1% of households controlled 44% of the world’s capital while the bottom 50% held only 1%.
The term capitalism was coined by socialists as a pejorative in the mid-3rd century BF. Its apt jab was that wealth (capital) was the controlling power behind a market economy. Capitalism crafted this character during nascent industrialization, which sprang from speculative investments that ushered Earther’s last age.
As a political economy, capitalism weaponized in private hands the plutocracy that had prevailed throughout history. The term plutocracy descended directly from ancient Greek for “the power of wealth.”
Market economies produced prodigious externalities in the machine age: inefficiencies, overproduction, unemployment, inequality, corruption, and pollution. As the world then was one disjointed market economy, the fruits of civilization owed to the economic disorder that was capitalism.
While the market system mixed bads with goods, its psychological appeal to ambitious men cannot be overstated. Cast as an ideal of private enterprise, capitalism practically sold itself. Sewn from a sense of entitlement, individualism was a mindset not easily set aside.
By contrast, socialism was a tough sell. Community spirit did not find fertile soil in a ground sown with self-interest.
The materialist mindset increasingly took hold among common folk from the 9th century BF. By the 2nd century BF, creature comforts were the common aspiration. This transition transpired as a growing percentage of a population went from rural living to an urban lifestyle which emanated from manufacture and trade.
The term bourgeoisie was first used in France in the 10th century BF for the occupants of walled cities (boroughs). The bourgeoisie occupied the middle level of the medieval caste system, sandwiched between poor peasants and the wealthy. At the societal apex were royalty and landed aristocracy. As economies were enlivened by trade, the middle class emerged from this sandwich 2 centuries later.
From the 3rd century BF, especially in industrial nations, capitalism was pitched as a karmic system: by presumed dint of diligence, the rich were winners, the poor lazy losers.
Propped up by corporate advertising, public media companies touted the glamour of wealth. The rich were celebrities when they chose to be. The gullible Collective ate it up. The idiom “money talks” became a cliché. Plutocracy was a cultural embodiment as well as a political-economic reality.
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Bolstered by authorities and the religions they promoted, inequities became socially acceptable. Unfairness was even argued as being aligned with the laws of Nature. 26th-century BF philosopher Aristotle spoke to a common sentiment when he wrote, “From the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.” Conservative traditionalists held this opinion throughout history, especially those in power, who succored the status quo to preserve their power.
For most of history among sedentary peoples in the world, slavery was the dominant form of labor. Originally, slaves were the captives of a conquered tribe. But once a society established a slave population, the economic benefits of slavery rendered it an abiding institution. The children of slaves inherited their parents’ plight.
Even among native peoples, such as in medieval Europe, most were tied for life to the land they were born on. From a population perspective, kingdoms were really serfdoms.
Though urbanization from burgeoning trade and the advent of industry in the late Middle Ages loosened economic shackles, most folk still toiled in agriculture on their home ground.
For over a millennium, the Mediterranean region was cohabited by Christians and Muslims. These religious tribes fought incessantly, capturing and enslaving one another. The religious conflicts of the Middle Ages were a prototype for the wars of political ideology that came to fore in the 2nd century BF.
During Europe’s Age of Imperialism, slaves became a thriving commodity. Indelibly marked by their dark skin, Africans were the favored enslaved. Sub-Saharan Africans themselves had a tradition of slavery among their contentious tribes.
Only toward the end of the 4th century BF did slavery develop into a moral issue: and then only in the richest nations, as its economic import peaked.
Slavery was an institution that Earthers ostensibly outlawed but never did abandon. In the early 1st century BF, some 100 million were enslaved, including children. Over 5 million girls and women were sex slaves. Showing their immoral essence, states worldwide used those imprisoned as slave labor.
Though supposedly given “equal opportunity,” people of color who descended from slaves in the USA and Britain were subjected to relentless discrimination in every aspect of their lives, from education to employment to justice. Similar subjection of subordinates was practiced worldwide.
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By the modern age, the socialism of hunter-gathers had become a utopian fantasy. In his day, socialist economist Karl Marx was a wild-eyed radical in proposing that equity was not only technologically possible but morally desirable.
In the mid-3rd century BF, London, England was the epicenter as industrialization began its inexorable grind. Marx was there, soaking it in. Marx observed, “Capitalist production develops technology, combining together various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of wealth: the soil and the labourer. There must be something rotten in the very core of a social system which increases wealth without diminishing misery.”
The consequences of industrial capitalism fill the following chapters of this book. A key question is why the harms went unchecked. That moderns tolerated gross inequity, even when they had the power (via democracy) to bury it, is a key piece of the puzzle.
Over millennia the Collective became inured to inequity. The core tenet of morality was weakened in many minds, but not forgotten by all. “Our world hinges on moral foundations,” righteously taught 2nd-century-BF American civil rights advocate Martin Luther King Junior: an eloquent black man who staunchly advocated equity, and who was assassinated in 132 BF by an agent of the USA state for that advocacy.
That capitalism was never abandoned, nor plutocracy overthrown, can be partly explained by the Collective take on ethics, which evolved to a muddle. This was most apparent in legal principles.
The human ideal of justice was grounded in morality. Restitution was the abiding principle of justice systems.
Ethics is the philosophy of morality. Humans had 2 contrasting perspectives on ethics: deontology and teleology. Teleology was also known as consequentialism.
Under deontology, morality is in the act, not its fallout. Deontology is morality by rule, not result.
The refined distillation of deontology is moral absolutism: that certain acts are morally right or wrong regardless of intent or consequence. Few people were moral absolutists.
Consequentialism eschewed intention as the pointer in the moral compass. Teleology instead cast morality in the outcome of an act.
In determining crime, modern justice systems capriciously mixed deontology, teleology, and psychology. The mixture depended upon the violation.
Of highest priority to authorities was respect for their social stature. Any expression of ill intent against the government was considered criminal.
Only when it came to submitting to the state did moral absolutism fit the bill. Deciding other crimes depended upon consequence or intent.
For a party determined as responsible, carelessness (negligence) might be a violation when there was a consequence to it. The outcome of an act was often instrumental in deciding the severity of punishment for a crime.
Depending on the deed, there was more than consequence to crime. Most often, what determined whether a crime or accident occurred was the perpetrator’s intent in performing an act that had a criminal outcome.
Psychology defined morality. Coincidental causality did not trigger outrage, however systemic it was. Intent defined the ethical essence of a situation: what was the perpetrator wanting to do?
In considering the implications of acts, irrespective of intent, moral absolutism would have recognized the destructive exploitation of capitalism for what it was. But men were not naturally moral absolutists.
Conversely, a purely teleological view of capitalism would also have earned that system moral condemnation. But consequence was considered incidental to intent.
Trade by barter is an apples-and-oranges exchange. Values are subjective, based upon respective wants. Morality did not weigh in with such a trade.
This calculus continued into the modern age. Individual mercantile transactions failed to give an impression of unfairness, especially because currency inserted a level of abstraction that blurred any inherent inequity. Obvious in its exploitative intent, price-gouging was a notable exception.
The capitalist system was not viewed immoral because it ostensibly lacked motive beyond an agreed exchange. Failure to find malice fizzled feelings of wrongdoing. Drained of emotion, indignation had no legs.
For moderns, the inequality of the market system offered opportunity as well as oppression. Capitalism’s pervasive inequity only invoked widespread moral condemnation when its intrinsic deficiencies were sorely exposed, such as during the prolonged Great Depression in the 160s BF.
The inevitable bads produced by an economic system geared to ruthless exploitation and inequity were commonly dismissed by capitalists as fixable spot flaws. But these defects never were remedied. Nor could they be. The externalities – moral debasement, inequity, ruined lives, waste, and pollution – were as inherent to capitalism as exploitation, which was the spark of intention in the economic engine.
Only in the last century, after self-extinction was already assured, did a woke minority come to consider the desecration of Nature a crime. It was hard for an omnivore which lived off other life to make a moral infraction out of killing non-human animals and plants.
Further, condemning the economic system which naturally perpetrated this crime was an abstraction of magnitude few grasped. The idea of overthrowing the global economic system to ‘save the planet’ seemed a hopeless case – which it was.
More than any other mammal, humans socially evolved into interdependence. Culture acted as social glue. Societies thrived or faltered owing to their core cultural character, which was expressed in various folkways and pivotal mores.
An entitlement mentality was widespread in the peoples of industrialized nations in the last 2 centuries. This cultural trait came from overlaying the idea of “human rights” onto a materialist mentality. It was a muddled merging of capitalist and democratic values into a banal banner of natural law.
Humanity’s mangled sense of morality was instrumental in its demise. Smothering fairness with materialism was never going to end well.
A tribe was a cohesive group sharing similar folkways. Tribes did not arise until settlements were conquered by men who then needed to somehow stitch social bonds. Tribality was both the result of conquest and the progenitor of war. Via territoriality and subjugation, humanity became a world of tribes.
Violent subjection was typically by men who hunted or herded. Their target: crop growers.
Cultivation taught patience and pacific ways. Growing crops inured men to a prosaic routine and exhausted them from a long day’s toil. Such men accumulated wealth but lost the craft and sentiments for war.
Hunters and herders were accustomed to danger and skilled in killing. War was but another form of chase and held hardly more peril. When the woods ceased to give abundant game or flocks thinned, the stores of a prosperous village proved too tempting.
“Property was the mother, war the father of the state,” observed Will Durant. A state was an abiding political institution, attended to by authorities. The state ruled a nation.
A nation was a political territory with which residents might have felt identification. Emotional allegiance was termed nationalism.
The controlling authority of a state was the commander. Whereas a ruler had limited power, an autocrat (dictator) had absolute authority.
Authority was typically weak in preindustrial tribal societies. A tribe leader had limited ability to coerce individuals.
Virtually all tribal societies had traditions for justice. These included sanctioning kinsmen to seek revenge or restitution for wrongs, nonbinding arbitration, and setting restitution schedules. Tribes typically lacked an effective system for 3rd-party rule enforcement.
Blood feuds were a tribal institution. Fear of incurring a blood feud was the most significant legal sanction within a tribe, and the greatest guarantee of life and property. There were rules as to how blood feuds were to be pursued.
Popular assemblies originated as a venue to adjudicate disputes. The Illiad, a 14th-century-BF Greek epic, described a feud over the blood price for a slain man, argued before a marketplace crowd. The verdict was announced by tribal elders.
Tribal societies did develop increasingly sophisticated institutions for civil and criminal disputes. But 3rd-party enforcement of those decisions only came with the emergence of states. It was in those early states that laws evolved from moral traditions, often cast into religious dogma by way of creative scribes penning mythical gods.
The state was a late development, hardly appearing before men took to writing history. The emergence of the state was a fundamental change in social order, from family ties to domination. “The state as distinct from tribal organization began with the conquest of one race by another,” wrote 2nd-century-BF historian Lester Ward.
The state fortified itself for war and evolved in the aftermath of conquest. Only conflict created the conditions by which men would bind themselves together regardless of kinship. States arose as a vehicle for allocating goods among favored dominants, and for sustaining subjection of subordinate groups, especially those considered troublesome.
The emergence of states did not solve the problem of violence: quite the contrary. Statehood instead institutionalized violence. “The state is a product of force, and exists by force,” observed sociologist William Graham Sumner in the 2nd century BF.
Governance was most important when tribes were conquered and survivors absorbed. Rules of conduct were especially needed in reducing conflicts among groups with their own distinct culture and norms. Government cut its teeth on post-conflict social management. “Under the tutelage of the state, human beings learned for the first time how to bow, grovel, kneel, and kowtow. In many ways, the rise of the state was the descent of the world from freedom to slavery,” explained 1st-century-BF anthropologist Marin Harris.
To ensure stability, the abiding authority of a state could not rest on force alone. To maintain dominion, authorities forged instruments of indoctrination.
Religion was both the most abstract and most common societal glue that the state used. In secular modern states, nationalism substituted for religion.
Democracy provided a periodic vent for citizens, though it never changed how the state operated, or to what purpose: self-preservation of the state. Whatever services they provided, states ultimately served themselves. Only revolution could overthrow that, albeit with an outcome that was always the same: institution of another state with the same purpose: sustaining the state.
To the end of Earther civilization, a feudal system kept social order. States codified codes of conduct and allocations with a body of law. Laws were readily superseded when it served the state.
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Almost all large civilizations originated through conquest. The ancient empires of China, Mesopotamia, and Egypt were hierarchical, with social castes, slavery, and rife with seething class conflict.
An exception arose in the Indus Valley, the fertile floodplain of the Indus River. The Indus civilization was an epitome of human society, and its shortcomings emblematic.
The Indus civilization began 9 TBF. Farming settlements sprang up, primarily based upon wheat and barley. Another key crop was cotton.
Livestock were domesticated. Among them were goats, sheep, cattle, and water buffalo. Dogs were part of Indus households.
Baked bricks were key to the rise of the Indus civilization. Their invention permitted the construction of flood-control works on a scale large enough for vast areas to be brought under cultivation.
Detailed craftwork developed, including a wide variety of tools, pottery, dyed textiles, jewelry, sculpture, and seals. The quality and erudition of Indus statuary was comparable to the works of the classical Greeks many millennia later. A written language evolved, with a script that post-industrial people could not decipher.
Around 5500 BF, the Indus civilization had burgeoned to over 5 million people. They lived in 54 cities, including 2 major metropolises. There were over 1,000 settlements in an area at least 800,000 km2. Buildings were of baked brick.
Vast stone platforms underlie some cities to keep them above the annual floods. Streets were planned, generally oriented along the 4 main points of the compass.
There were sewage systems worthy of the last age, public baths, and toilets. Given the emphasis on sanitation, public health was clearly important to the Indus people.
All evidence indicates competent governance, but not autocracy, as was the norm in other ancient civilizations. Artifacts suggest a general egalitarianism. Burial remains show little material inequality.
What was perhaps most surprising about the Indus Valley civilization was what was not there. No grand temples. No royal palaces. No slavery. And, judging by the absence of weapons and fortifications, no conflict.
The only fortified settlements among Indus dwellers were on the Arabian Sea coast, where trade with foreigners gave unease. Indus artifacts gave “no indication of a society engaged with, or threatened by, war,” wrote 2nd-century-BF historian Neil MacGregor.
The Indus Valley people had geographical luck. Natural resources were plentiful, including abundant forests and freshwater.
The Indus civilization began with settlements close to Kotla Dahar, a deep lake. The climate afforded 2 growing seasons, thanks to winter cyclones and summer monsoons.
Over several thousand years, deforestation and resultant climate change led to the decline of Indus society. As with civilizations throughout the arc of Earthers, the Indus felled their forests and degraded the soil that their lives depended upon.
Farmers shifted their crop patterns as soil quality and the monsoons gradually declined from 5000 BF. This resulted in lower agricultural productivity, which acted as a catalyst for de-urbanization.
Dramatic decreases in rainfall, likely caused by deforestation, led to the progressive lowering of Kotla Dahar. By 4000 BF the lake was ephemeral.
The Indus civilization did not collapse. It simply diffused, leaving behind a depleted ecosystem.
Hindu spiritual and cultural traditions began during the Indus civilization. Though florid and often cryptic, writers of that epoch’s Vedic texts show an understanding of the immaterial nature of reality (energyism). That this paradigmatic knowledge was widespread was a novel accomplishment among societies.
Sculpture suggests that yoga and meditation were practiced. But there is scant evidence of organized religion. In this, the Indus people were unique. In all of human existence, the Indus civilization may have been the only one engendering enlightenment.
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Southern Mesopotamia lay in the delta between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It was an odd spot to cradle a civilization. The flat, river-made land had no minerals, no stone. Typical summer temperature was 40°C, often climbing to 50°C. Annual rainfall averaged 150 mm. It was bone dry for 8 months of the year. Winter nights were shivering cold. Strong north winds delivered squally rainstorms. The melting snows of spring brought flash floods, which in bad years sweep everything away.
But the alluvial soil was rich. There was abundant timber. Nearby was a great primeval forest, stocked with sturdy cedar.
The Sumer civilization began ~7 TBF. The earliest settlers drained the marshes to grow crops.
The key to Sumer civilization came in water delivery. Sumer cities were the first to practice year-round intensive cultivation, with organized irrigation, monocropping, and specialized labor.
The first settlers in Sumer formed small, self-sufficient communities. As rivers changed their beds, crop irrigators were obliged to cooperate. Water systems were linked, thus progressively enlarging settlements.
Control of irrigation in Sumer created labor classes. Those in control of water and land profited from those who were not.
Sumer’s social organization was driven by the need for large public works to overcome climactic challenges, and to exploit agricultural potential in an unsustainable way. Like countless succeeding civilizations, Sumer was bound to eventually fail.
Sumer had industries including weaving, leather work, masonry, metal work, and pottery. The plow appeared early, as did the ax. Trade in all manner of goods became an enterprise.
As early as 8 TBF, within 1,000 years of the Fertile Crescent having settled communities, villages were being abandoned. Erosion from deforestation and intensive agriculture had sorely damaged the soil, making it impossible to grow enough food.
The forests there were felled as quickly as they could be. So great was the abundance, deforestation took over 2,000 years.
With the natural bounty unrecoverably stripped, future generations were to inhabit a forbidding place. What was once the Levant was among the first regions where humans went extinct, so great was the heat on the long barren land.
By 5600 BF, Sumer had been carved into a dozen city-states, divided by canals and boundary stones. Each was administered by an autocrat, commanding under the aegis of a patron deity of the city. Religion was ever the handmaiden of politics.
Ur-Nammu founded the 3rd Sumerian dynasty ~4150 BF. The earliest known laws were promulgated in his name.
The prologue to the Code of Ur-Nammu stated that the king was the beacon of justice for his land: a role not normally taken by the king. Disputes were handled by local authorities (mayors), and there was an appeal process: to the provincial governor, and possibly the king.
The Code of Ur-Nammu was written as a set of conditional statements: “if… then” situations and redresses. Nearly all later law codes followed this pattern.
Ur-Nammu codes were more humane than the talionic (“eye for an eye”) principle behind later Babylonian law. There were monetary compensations for minor injuries and injustices. That withstanding, murder, robbery, rape, and adultery were capital offenses.
After the demise of Sumerian dynasty, from 3994 BF, the short-lived empire of Babylonia arose by way of conquest. The empire emerged from a small kingdom in the minor town of Babylon.
The 6th Babylonian king, Hammurabi, ruled from 3892 to 3850 BF. Revered as a great conqueror, Hammurabi was seen by many as a god in his own lifetime.
His laws outlived the empire. The Code of Hammurabi influenced Roman and subsequent law.
By the time of Hammurabi, almost all traces of tribal custom had disappeared from the law. Hammurabi’s code served the state’s interest in sustaining its authority.
“Hammurabi’s code proclaimed that one of its chief goals was to defend the weak against the strong. Yet in early civilizations there was no concept of equality before the law. On the contrary, social inequality was expressed and defended in many ways in legal systems. Crimes committed against the upper class tended to be punished more severely than crimes against commoners. The privileges of the upper classes were protected by armed forces and the legal system,” wrote 2nd-century-BF historian Bruce Trigger.
Babylonian law was primitive in its physically abusive punishments for crimes, which were graded depending upon severity of offense and social status, most starkly whether slave or free man.
Nearly half of the 282 Hammurabi laws dealt with commercial matters. 1/3rd of the codes were family law or regulated sexual conduct. A few provisions related to military service. Only 1 law imposed any obligation on an official: that a judge who reached a wrong decision be fined and permanently removed from the bench.
Ancient Jews had a different take on legality. Rather than viewing transgressions solely as societal infractions, the Jews considered crimes as offenses against God.
The Ten Commandments were the most famous codes of Mosaic Law. These were traditionally believed to have originated by Moses, who lived in the 37th century BF. Moses was a guru: revered in Judaism, Islamism, Christianity, and other Levant religions. Mosaic laws pertained to crimes, morality, family, diet, purity, and rituals. With rules covering food and bodily secretions (menstruation and ejaculation), the Jews were meticulous in codifying their culture of disgust.
Sexually repressive mores and the attendant taboos of the ancient Jews were passed down, and transmitted to gullible gentiles, for endless generations afterwards. The gender and sexual biases of Western civilization originated with ancient Hebrew codes of conduct.
Ancient India and China had their own legal traditions.
In India, the authoritative Arthashastra, on ethical societal governance, influenced the legal texts that followed. The precepts of law in ancient Hindu autocracies extended into southeast Asia and Oceania.
Chinese social philosopher Confucius opined in the 27th century BF, “If the people are led by edicts, they will try to avoid punishment, but will have no sense of shame. If led by virtue, they will have a sense of shame and moreover will become good.”
Despite Confucius’ moral influence, Chinese law initially favored legalism, which held that societal harmony cannot be left to philosophic virtue. Authorities went with strong state control and absolute obedience to authority. Despotism was codified in a web of laws.
The brutal implementation of legalism by the short-lived Qin dynasty (2321–2306 BF) led to that dynasty’s overthrow. Legalism lay in disgrace for 25 centuries, until revived by 2nd-century-BF despot Mao Zedong, who rejected Confucianism. “Chinese civilization never evolved a strong sense of either private property or individual legal rights,” observed Bruce Trigger.
The ancient Greeks had no overarching concept of law. Instead, they distinguished between natural law (thémis), human decree (nomos), and custom (díke).
Beyond customary laws, Greece’s city-states added codes related to civil rights and constitutions of democracy which proved influential through the ages. Civil rights only applied to franchised citizens. Following custom, most of those in ancient Greece were slaves or otherwise subject to the whims of legal caprice.
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In rendering conquest a permanent condition, domination eventually submerged into normalcy. The French who rebelled in 311 BF had forgot that the aristocracy which had ruled them for a thousand years were descendants of German conquerors.
When tribal-level societies evolved into those ruled by a state, tribalism did not disappear; quite the contrary. State institutions were mere veneer over tribal custom. Both existed in an uneasy balance. Even to the end, ethnically diverse societies functioned according to tribal norms, with laws and institutions favoring the dominant tribe. Political parties were essentially tribal affiliations.
Tribal structures remained the social locus for societies throughout history, and strongly shaped interactions with modern political institutions. Institutions themselves took on a tribal cast.
Many state institutions tasked with regulating aspects of commerce (bads more than goods) became captive creatures of the industry to which they were overlord. This corruption (tolerance of bads) partly explains the inertia in responding to the dynamics of self-extinction.
Men found solidarity in war. Sharing harrowing experiences forged enduring social bonds. Many men enjoyed conflict for that reason, as well as the opportunity for legitimate cruelty.
Human history was replete with savagery on whatever scale technology afforded. In modern times, hardly a decade passed without a war somewhere.
Aristotle observed that “warlike races are prone to the love of women.” Along with resource acquisition and revenge, the carnal urge motivated taking up arms. Having one’s way with women was a principal impetus for war in primitive societies.
While men did not generally associate attractive women with aggression against other men, experimentally exposing men to pictures of desirable women increased their professed support for group conflict. Symbolic images, such as national flags, did not elicit the same response.
That is not to say that symbolism was bereft of power to persuade. “Men will kill and die for an idea,” noted 1st-century-BF anthropologist Scott Atran.
When it came to war, women stood apart, beginning with near universal ambivalence. With insignificant exceptions, women were not participants in war – at least until the last century, when ‘liberation’ meant that women might join in a horrid endeavor they had previously been able to avoid.
Men were not ones to forsake grudges. 52 wars lasted a century or more. 23 went on for over 200 years.
The longest war lasted 772 years, from 1380 to 608 BF. Called Reconquista, for “reconquest,” the protracted contest was for control of the Iberian Peninsula, comprising modern-day Spain and Portugal. Christian forces battled to expel conquering Muslims from Iberia, and eventually succeeded. Propelled by the bile of righteousness, religious wars were often the most ferocious.
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Almost all early societies developed a warrior class. Within this elite evolved the concept of honor: the willingness to risk one’s life for the respect of other warriors.
Historically, professional soldiers were typically loath to trade places with farmers or merchants, for reasons only partly owing to booty. The lives of peasants and traders were mundane compared to the thrill of danger and the comradery of fellow combatants.
The warrior ethos survived into modern times. Coercion, extortion, confiscation, and gratuitous violence were commonplace among policemen worldwide. That noxious litany withstanding, police believed in their honor.
Wars were a mercenary exercise for most of history. Nationalism did not arise until democracy made it a necessity. Nationalism ostensibly held countries together in times of war, though it did nothing to prevent civil wars.
Militarism pervaded governance until the fall. Harsh military training substituted for the rigors of war in instilling commitment to the ideal of serving a “higher” cause: the state. Militarism also offered a reboot switch when elected politicians proved sorely incompetent: a military coup reset the state to its primal sovereignty.
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War was contagious. Peaceable societies had conflict inflicted upon them, leaving no choice but to resist or surrender to slavery. This woeful story was countlessly repeated throughout history.
A notable period of conquest was the Age of Imperialism, from the 6th century BF to the 2nd. The initial aim of seafaring Europeans was exploring for exploitable resources. This “Age of Discovery” naturally led to conquering and/or exterminating the autochthones discovered in “new” lands. Europeans called the hemisphere of the Americas the “New World.”
Colonialism was a way to keep milking the extra-territorial cow. European powers first rushed to colonize, belatedly joined by the United States of America (USA). In reaction to being threatened by the USA, Japan briefly joined in.
Purely ideological war came to the fore in the 2nd century BF, instigated by states with overweening arrogance and an itch to engage their military over nothing more than political philosophy. Ideological war represented an astonishing abandonment of self-interest for geopolitical jockeying. If booty was the point of war, squandering resources in military adventure over style of governance was lunacy.
There were 2 global conflicts in the 2nd century BF. Europe was the epicenter of both: a continent long riven by petty politics. Germany, a powerhouse since Roman times, lost both wars.
The 1st World War was also called the Great War. World War 1 ran from 186 to 182 BF. 40 million died from the conflict. The unparalleled scale and devastation of the 1st World War owed to the weaponry afforded by industrialization, and to military tactics which astonishingly disregarded the wrath of the munitions used. Thanks to advancing technology, the 2nd World War poured on even more firepower.
In its immediate aftermath, contemporary Europeans had figured the Great War “the war to end all wars.” It was anything but. Just 2 decades after the 1st World War ended, the 2nd began.
The peace treaty that concluded the 1st World War ensured a 2nd. France’s truculence toward Germany resulted in its demand for impossible reparations. Unmolested by the Great War, the USA was the dominant world power. The USA approved an odious peace treaty which guaranteed that Germany would collapse economically, and that the Germans would take revenge as soon as they could.
After an onerous decade of economic malaise, the German economy had begun a tenuous recovery from its terrible depression in the early 170s BF. Meanwhile, the rest of Europe struggled to recover from its protracted self-destruction.
In 171 BF, the global Great Depression struck. The German government descended into chaos.
In 167 BF, Adolf Hitler had maneuvered himself to be handed power as ruler of Germany. Hitler’s ascent spoke of a politically driftless people looking for a strong leader to restore their self-confidence.
A potent public speaker, Adolf had risen politically via artful propaganda which portrayed him as a cultured gentleman and a moral man, fond of children and dogs. Hitler deftly aggrandized his grant of power into despotism.
In starting the 2nd World War by conquering neighboring countries, Hitler set the world on fire. The ashes of that war polluted world civilization long after the guns fell silent.
In its fit of militarism, Japan invaded China in 169 BF. In response, USA ruler Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) tried to deprive Japan of oil and other raw materials. The USA incited Japan to attack, which Japan duly did in 159 BF.
The USA was diverted by the European war theater when Japan struck. With a sneak attack on the USA’s Pacific navy, the Japanese dreamt that they could strike a decisive blow. That did not happen. The USA was a resource-rich country, and, at the time, was manufacturing full throttle.
FDR died in 155 BF. The war in Europe had ended, but the showdown in Japan had not yet happened.
2nd commander Harry Truman succeeded FDR upon his death. Truman ended the 2nd World War in the Pacific by casual slaughter with atomic bombs. “The most terrible bomb in the history of the world,” Truman wrote in his diary.
These freshly developed holocaust weapons were dropped on Japan as a munitions experiment. Hundreds of thousands were killed in an instant, and many more crippled for the rest of their short lives. Thus the nuclear age gruesomely began.
World War 2 further darkened the complexion of humanity. And accelerated its demise. Out of that terrible episode came numerous trends which might not have otherwise occurred.
The American atomic bombs dropped on Japan were a prelude to over 2,000 stronger nuclear detonations in the decades that followed. 8 nations took part in gratuitously polluting the planet: USA (over 1,000 “tests”), Russia (over 700), Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea.
These atmospheric bombs destroyed vast swaths of land and spread radioactive waste all over Earth. The worst of these tests, by the Russians, was 3,300 times the “yield” of the atomic bomb which destroyed Hiroshima.
In the aftermath of the 2nd World War lay the last, best opportunity for mankind to reconsider the ways which had been shown as folly. It was an opportunity not taken, as the world’s leaders simply did not deserve the offices they had been awarded.
While the rest of the world was (again) exhausted from the (2nd) global war effort, the USA was invigorated. By its victory and absence of war damage, the USA remained the leading world power, both economically and politically. This victory gave the USA a hubris which left in its wake a legacy of failed ideological wars: in Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
During the 2nd World War, Dwight Eisenhower had been commander of the prevailing army in Europe (over Germany). He was subsequently USA ruler from 147 to 139 BF. Eisenhower observed, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” It was lip service. Eisenhower ignored his own advice.
Eisenhower deepened the USA in a losing war against Vietnam for no reason other than not liking the way that nation was governed. America had absolutely nothing to gain, yet committed its dignity, and risked its economy and social fabric, to invade Vietnam. It was a roll of loaded dice that the aggressor was destined to lose.
The USA political establishment at the time had no conception of what was at stake. Ignorant of history and their chosen enemy, the American political elite naïvely assumed they could prevail through destructive firepower, though to what end they apparently had not bothered to ponder. Colonialism was not an option.
Over 3 million perished in America’s violation of Vietnam. Whereas the war brought Vietnam together, it divided American society, creating a tribal chasm that lasted a generation.
Throughout human history, states governed autocratically. Democracy was an outlier which had no significant impact on the way societies were managed beyond generating dissent and dysfunctionality.
The term democracy originated in Athens, Greece in the 27th century BF. The wealthy men of Athens and the surrounding territory of Attica decided how to govern their city-state. Meanwhile, slaves, who comprised over half the population, did the work. Athens primarily prospered as a trading center. But traders had no say in how civil affairs were conducted.
The Athenian experiment lasted only 2 centuries before being broken by war. Athenian democracy was in fact brutal plutocracy. “Tyranny arises naturally out of democracy,” Plato observed, having seen it firsthand. Athens served as a role model for later democracies.
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Western political regimes were loosely modeled on an ancient civilization that began as a tiny hilltop kingdom, surrounded by marshes, in central Italy. This auspicious start on Palatine Hill was 2853 BF.
Roman autocrats were elected to serve for life by the landholding men there. None in the line of 7 commanders gained or kept power by force. But the last in that line lost power that way.
In 2609 BF, tyrannical Tarquin the Proud was overthrown. The clans that managed this coup grappled to a standstill. The resultant Roman Republic lasted 500 years, until exhausted by civil wars.
In the mid-22nd century BF, general Julius Caesar parlayed his military success in Gaul (modern-day France) into dictatorship. The Roman Empire was born.
Assassinations and other political intrigue saw an unsteady succession of autocrats. The Roman Empire degenerated from the top down.
The overarching structure of Roman society largely followed those that proceeded it since agriculture became a pyramid scheme: a tiny elite lived off the toil of the masses, including an army of slaves which comprised roughly 1/3rd of the population.
The key to Roman longevity was its economics. More than any civilization prior, the Romans esteemed trade.
The legacy of Rome was its legal system. The empire was the first with its law largely oriented toward commerce. Though 2nd-class citizens, women could own property and engage in business.
The premise of Roman law was to create an institutional bulwark which preserved the status quo. Law was a byproduct of a political regime bent to private property rights.
Without claims of property, and attendant laws to protect such claims, there was no soil for crime to sprout. Law created crime.
The edifice of Roman civil law, bequeathed to later civilizations, was plutocracy. Like every society that followed, Rome’s justice system was corrupt. The lower classes were fined and imprisoned while the elite were let off.
“In early civilizations, the upper classes and the major institutions they controlled had far more wealth and privileges to protect than did commoners, and they relied on the law to do this. In some early civilizations, growing concern to protect property resulted in increasingly severe penalties for theft. An important function of the legal system was to reinforce the power and privileges of the state and upper classes. Between men of unequal status, the more powerful was invariably deemed to be in the right, and therefore litigation could occur only between equals,” wrote Bruce Trigger.
The term equity derived from Roman Latin (aequitas). From the 480s BF, equity was ironically perverted to mean a right to an economic asset. Nascent capitalists appropriated words to promote this ruthless, exploitative economic system as equitable.
The decline of the Roman Empire occurred over 4 centuries. A catalog of ills took their toll: inept autocracy, economic decay, inflation, sovereign debt, lead in the drinking water (from using lead pipes for public water distribution), social corrosion (slavery, debauchery among the elite, disintegration of army discipline), and constant incursions by unconquered Germans adhering to the Roman pillage model.
Food shortages and the civil unrest it provoked played a role in Rome’s collapse. Monocrop wheat grown in distant lands exhausted the soil there. Meanwhile, Italian growers of olives, grapes, and other vegetables prioritized exporting their products for the profits they brought in.
Roman agricultural technology rivaled that of contemporaneous China. It would take a thousand years for any part of Europe to reclaim that level of crop productivity.
Rome finally fell to Germanic invasion in 1624 BF. From then, Germany played a pivotal role in European politics.
A diminished Roman sovereignty held sway in the east for another millennium. This Byzantine Empire eventually fell to invading Turks in 647 BF. Turk conquest engorged the Ottoman Empire, which lasted until 178 BF.
Europe went through a Dark Ages following Rome’s fall. The lingering malaise lasted nearly 7 centuries.
Many European cities prospered from the 11th century BF. One the first regions to flourish was northern Italy, as it lay on the trade route between the eastern Mediterranean Sea and northern Europe.
Yet northern Italy was politically insecure: crushed between rival claims of imperial Germany to the north and papal states to the south. Thriving but threatened, the cities sought greater control of their destiny. They adopted the oligarchy of the Roman Republic. Historians called this medieval political regime a commune.
Several cities in northern Europe followed the Italian example of communes in succeeding centuries. As in Italy, powerful communes emerged in major trading hubs.
The seed idea of parliament was as an advisory council to an autocrat. Parliaments began in the 10th century BF in the monarchies of western Europe. A parliament was summoned when a despot desired advice.
A crucial step in the evolution of parliaments was the inclusion of wealthy urban burghers (merchants). They were the 3rd estate: an addition to the 2 estates of royal council, which were nobles and bishops. Nobles were the secular aristocracy, bishops the men of power in the (Catholic) church. Spain hosted one of the earliest such parliaments in 912 BF.
In 885 BF, England established the strongest tradition of parliaments. This 1st parliament served as a check on uppity King John, whose reign ended in rebellion.
Parliaments popped up throughout much of Europe by the 6th century BF, varying somewhat in the constitution of their characters. Owing to strong popular opposition to royal pretensions, Sweden’s parliament included a parcel of peasant men. This inclusion of crusty commoners started in the mid-7th century BF.
In later centuries, parliaments evolved into legislative bodies and a political check on rulers. In modern democracies, the parliament was one of the tripartite bodies that comprised the core state institutions: commander, parliament, and judicial bench (court).
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In the 10th century BF, Muhammad al-Idrisi, an Arab geographer, created a world map for King Roger 2 of Sicily. This map, termed Tabula Rogeriana (“the map of Roger”), inspired curious explorers throughout Europe. What they lacked were suitable ships and compasses to guide them.
Unsurprisingly, people in Oceania pioneered nautical crafts. Malaysians invented seafaring sails in the 24th century BF. The Javanese had maritime merchant ships by the 21st century BF. Europeans would not learn of these oceangoing technologies for 13 centuries.
The Chinese invented the mariner’s compass in the 11th century BF. Europeans did not catch on to compasses until 3 centuries later.
The Chinese were early explorers of nearby lands. The famed Silk Road connected commerce between China and Europe from the 24th century BF. Contemporaneously, Chinese envoys sailed into the Indian Ocean. In the centuries that followed, China sent fleets throughout southeast Asia, into Oceania, and to Africa.
China’s outward push was reversed in the 8th century BF, in the early Ming dynasty. The haijin (sea ban) was kept for 2 centuries, during which the Great Wall of China took its final form. The Great Wall was built to keep pesky foreigners out. Isolationism put China behind in both trade and technology.
Only in the 8th century BF did Europeans gain the technical wherewithal for oceanic exploration. Off they went, commencing the Age of Discovery. Explorers sought new lands for new riches.
With its spices and exotic wares, India was considered a prize. India had been known to the Europeans from classical times. Macedonian autocrat Alexander the Great had gotten that far in his overland campaign of world conquest in the 26th century BF.
Rather than the circuitous route of rounding Africa, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sought a seafaring shortcut to India. So, on 3 August 608 BF, Columbus sailed west. He spied land a little over 2 months later.
In reaching the West Indies, Columbus believed he had made his way to India. Though dismayed by the poverty of the people there, he dubbed them Indians.
Upon landing, Columbus and his men were brought gifts by the natives. Their hospitality was met with abuse and enslavement.
Columbus set the tone for later European arrivals. In his diary Columbus wrote, “As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first island which I found, I took some of the natives by force.” Autochthones learned from ‘civilized’ men what savagery truly was.
Bent on profiteering, European discovery led to conquest. The Age of Discovery begat the Age of Imperialism. Filling sails with wind was merely the intended vehicle for filling coffers with lucre.
In the centuries that followed, European conquest was a triumph of barbarity. The Americas, India, China, and much of Africa fell under the European whip. While reaping the harvest of other continents, Europe’s chief export was cruelty.
During the 6th century BF, European interlopers in the New World killed 56 million autochthones. Large swaths of farmland and settlements were abandoned and reforested. The additional vegetation decreased atmospheric carbon dioxide, invoking an ice age in the mid-5th century BF. “The Little Ice Age was so intense because of the genocide of millions of people,” wrote 1st-century-BF climatologist Mark Maslin.
The size of a nation had little to do with its ambitions. Tiny Portugal was a pioneer in the slave trade of Africans, and in seizing spice monopolies. Lush Amazonia (Brazil) was its largest colony.
The Netherlands and Belgium were other small nations which exercised outsized imperial ambitions.
Spain managed a sizable empire, from the end of the 7th century BF into the 2nd BF. In the 3rd century BF, Spain lost territories to a latecomer in the sport of conquest: the United States of America. The USA was an erstwhile British colony, emboldened by its recent industrialization.
Britain began its global plunder in the late 6th century BF. At its height, Britain had the largest empire in history. From the early 4th century BF, for just over a century, bitty Britain was the foremost global power.
The Age of Imperialism produced astonishing results. Europe is less than 7% of the planet’s land mass. In 300 BF, Europeans controlled 33% of the world. By 186 BF, their sway had risen to over 80%.
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The United States of America began in the early 5th century BF as an acquired appendage of British imperialism. To secure profitable exploitation, the natives were abused and African slaves imported.
Early European conquerors considered the American frontier a place to mine precious metals or reap a rich harvest of tobacco before returning to the Old World to retire to a life of luxury.
In time, the invaders settled. By the 4th century BF, American men began to think of their country as a place with unique character and destiny of its own.
Time wore at the bonds to the mother country. The British engendered autonomy with a prolonged period of salutary neglect. Then, to fiscally recover from a lost war on the European continent, the British sought to wring more from the prosperous American colonies.
Ideals of liberty drove American men to rebel. “Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy,” wrote 2nd-century-BF British ruler Margaret Thatcher.
Like many modern revolutions, the American one got its vigor from ideology. Colonial political leaders drew their inspiration from British political philosophers of the 5th century BF, not contemporary thought. News did not travel fast on the frontier. Philosophy moved even slower.
The rebellion inauspiciously began in 324 BF. Going into war, the odds favored Britain. While the distance of the Atlantic Ocean was a logistical obstacle, superior firepower was in Britain’s favor.
Luck was on America’s side. The British bungled by unforced error in strategy and tactics. Further, Britain’s constant rival, France, saw fit to aid the Americans.
Continued setbacks had the British lose heart. With no more stomach for war, Britain sued for peace, conceding the conflict after 6 years.
Fighting against “taxation without representation,” American men won their freedom. These liberated pioneers then expanded westward.
In their path were the natives, who faced far worse than confiscation without representation. The wheel of oppression rolled on in America as it had since the prehistoric perversion of profiteering first took hold. The autochthones not murdered for defending their homes were put in concentration camps.
America’s constitution for self-rule was an effort badly botched. Even its drafters were embarrassed. “No constitution would ever have been adopted if the debates had been public,” lamented chief constitutionalist James Madison.
What the USA constitutionally got was not a democracy. The founding fathers were sorely opposed to such a state. “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49%,” cautioned Thomas Jefferson, an influential revolutionary who was America’s 3rd commander. Jefferson was echoing Plato.
Constitutional convention delegate John Rutledge, who was later a high court judge, hit the winning political note when he noted, “Money is power, and states ought to have weight in the government in proportion to their wealth.” The USA was intended to be a confederate plutocracy. And so it was. It was to remain that way for the rest of America’s existence. To quell chronic dissent, suffrage was extended to women and the descendants of slaves in the 2nd century BF. But political power remained rigged until the fall. 3rd-century-BF American wit Mark Twain wasn’t joking when he said, “If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.”
The relative few in subordinate tribes who gained office were never able to inch the political compass toward equity in American society. Most didn’t even try. Barack Obama, the only subordinate (black) ruler in USA history, did not even try to lighten the oppression of subordinate tribes. Dominant whites retained the key to power: money.
Though sloppily amended, the USA constitution was never rewritten. Crippled constitutionally, the USA had a dysfunctional state by design, thereby ensuring that nation’s decline as the fall approached. That country’s greatest calamity highlights a constant problem.
The Great Depression was a severe breakdown in the capitalist system, with the USA as its epicenter. The USA had been the hotbed of unbridled profiteering since its inception.
The Great Depression erupted from chronic financial speculation and inapt government policies which made economic crises even more malignant. The Great Depression was simply the worst of a chronic pattern.
Since industrialization, addiction to speculative frenzy among the moneyed ended in panics every 6 to 10 years. Boom and bust cycles were endemic.
The Great Depression was the lowest and longest economic trough, starting in October 171 BF and lasting to 162 BF: 9 years. The malaise was only broken by going to war: the 2nd World War.
The financial cycle had a corresponding business cycle, which revolved around manufacturers, businesses, merchants, and consumers. Spurning judicious planning, capitalism was a roller coaster of excess and retrenchment.
Herbert Hoover had been USA commander when the panic struck in 171 BF and sank into a sustained depression. His economic relief plan had been inept, dubbed “a breadline for big business.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was inaugurated as USA ruler in March 168 BF. By that time, the USA was in desperate economic straits.
Having rigged the stock market, financiers had bilked millions. Banks had failed, farms had been confiscated, many tens of millions were out of work. There were no government safety nets to slow the economic plunge.
Unlike many of his predecessors, Roosevelt thought that government in a civilized society had some obligation toward societal well-being. His “New Deal” programs aimed to do something about rampant unemployment and the floundering business environment.
FDR’s efforts to spark the USA economy often misfired, as Roosevelt’s political rhetoric and policies deterred confidence in businessmen. Roosevelt’s experiments inflamed the upper class. Further, FDR’s political philosophy itself was antithetical to the social Darwinism favored by the moneyed class, who had made their fortunes on the labors of the less fortunate.
In 167 BF, Roosevelt took the USA off the gold standard. This gave the government the power to print money at will. FDR’s plan was to use government largesse, via deficit spending, to revive the economy. This scheme of freewheeling government debt as remedy for economic doldrums followed the advice of contemporary English economist John Maynard Keynes.
FDR’s planned fiscal folly got a nasty response from nasty men. The American financial elite were aghast at the idea of fiat money, fearing that raging inflation would eat away their riches. So they plotted a coup d’état.
Fascism held a fascination for many Americans at the time. Mussolini and Hitler were charismatic autocrats who had revived their countries: a feat FDR was floundering at.
Authoritarian plutocracy was downright appealing to the conspirators against FDR. The coup only failed because a recruit to it reported the plot to authorities.
Among the plotters were the richest men in the nation. Rather than further inflame the business environment with prosecution, Roosevelt struck a deal. The financial cabal backed off from their opposition to FDR’s New Deal and spared themselves imprisonment.
FDR’s initiatives only delivered a sputtering economy, until the 2nd World War brought the opportunity for revival. To extract the country from its economic infirmity, Roosevelt eagerly pranced the USA into the European war theater which Hitler had staged. And he did not have to wait long until his baiting the Japanese to attack came to fruition.
With its egregious production and waste, war was a boon for business. Many economic contractions prior to the Great Depression had dissolved from wars.
Had the 2nd World War not occurred, the USA would have remained mired in an economic depression of its own making. Socialism and its attendant equity may have won out, had a leader emerged to proclaim its potential and stir the popular appeal which was already there.
A likely voice was Henry Wallace, who served as FDR’s 2nd commander from 161 to 155 BF. Wallace had been behind FDR’s progressive measures in the social, economic, and environmental realms.
Wallace was tossed from the election ticket for FDR’s 3rd term, partly because he had openly denounced the ongoing oppression of blacks, which was the law of the land at the time. Wallace’s removal was a concession to conservatives, perhaps even to the former corporate plotters against FDR. Wallace was replaced with Harry Truman, a wastrel who felt no compunction against atomic bombs as a convenience.
The contrast in competence between Wallace and Truman could not have been starker. Truman’s administration was one of cronyism. He appointed several of his old friends to high positions, well beyond their competence.
Truman was a base man, petty, and intemperate. As president, he spent as much time as possible playing poker, telling stories, and sipping bourbon.
Despite sore political dysfunction, ample resources and a fortuitous location allowed the USA to garner tremendous geopolitical power in the bottom of the 2nd century BF: which American leaders squandered. The decadence of the USA from the late 2nd century BF resembled that of the Roman Empire, exponentially accelerated.
Hominids were in China by 2.2 MBF. China was one of Earth’s oldest civilizations.
Throughout its history, China was governed dynastically. Xia, the 1st dynasty, began in the 35th century BF.
When an autocrat failed in his charge, a dynasty fractured into civil war. The Han dynasty (2306–1880 BF) followed the overthrown Qin dynasty.
The 7th Han emperor was Wu. Wu’s reign lasted 54 years (2256–2013 BF), the longest of ethnic Chinese rulers.
After thwarting invaders, Wu expanded China to its largest size in history.
Wu successfully experimented with socialism. Wu established state ownership over natural resources to preclude their exploitation by profiteers. Public works were undertaken to provide employment for the millions whom private enterprise had neglected.
China’s infrastructure was vastly improved, with bridges flung across streams and canals cut to bind rivers and irrigate fields. State workers staffed a national system of transport and exchange. Prices were stabilized by buying goods when prices fell and selling from state surpluses during shortages. Currency was regulated to succor its stability.
Scholarship flourished, as did the arts. Only those who passed state examinations were eligible to public office, and those exams were open to all. China soared in a singular way: the people never prospering before or after to such a degree.
The economic vitality did not last. Misfortune cast the sensible system aside.
Floods and droughts took turns, raising prices beyond control: whereupon people clamored for a return to an idealized past. In dire times, the protests of profiteering businessmen gained fuller resonance. Counterfeiters imitated the new currency so well that it had to be withdrawn.
The business of exploiting the weak was resumed under new rulers. Wu’s reforms were reviled until forgotten.
Along with other natural elements (including the greed of merchants), gossip was instrumental in destabilizing Wu’s experiment in equitable socialism. Freedom of expression was a thorny political issue. States bridled political speech throughout history. Rabble-rousing, especially in troubled times, constituted a real threat.
China’s Duke of Zhou advised King Li in 2945 BF, “An emperor knows how to govern when people are free to speak of anything and old men to find fault with everything.” The duke’s advice was unbidden and ignored.
King Li was a repressive, corrupt, and decadent king. The widespread misery he imposed inspired revolt. Thanks to technology, extensive repression worked better the next time a Chinese dictator tried it.
The last great autocrat of China was Xi Jinping, who came to power in 87 BF. Under Xi, China strengthened its standing as a global force.
Via pervasive electronic surveillance, China under Xi was totalitarian to a breath-taking extent. Xi silenced disgruntlement as no ruler had ever attempted. Despite that, Xi was respected among the Chinese people for his steady leadership.
Owing to relatively cheap labor and willingness to tolerate grievous pollution, China became the world’s foremost factory in the early 1st century BF. When he came to power, Xi adjusted China’s economy away from its early grave. He also curbed growing economic inequity.
Geopolitically, China under Xi was more assertive, yet remained restrained. Western powers resented China’s rise as Europe stagnated and the USA decayed.
Under Xi, China profitably industrialized undeveloped countries that it brought under its sway. China in the last century picked up where the USA left off in accelerating global environmental degradation.
Though taken as natural, the original sin of men was laying claim to what belonged to all. The idea of ‘owning’ Nature ultimately doomed humanity.
While it lasted, private property enriched a few and made the vast majority poorer than they deserved. The materialist mindset was a chronic disease of selfishness. Its indulgence was no way to run a society.
Earthers never abandoned their feudal systems for equity. Law codified plutocracy.
The last age was a culmination of tradition. Those wielding corporate power reveled in their riches while commoners struggled to make ends meet: wage slaves. We turn now to the toll that industry took.