Friday, October 18, 2013

In the Year 3513

Sometimes I can barely stand it. It’s exasperating, and it’s tragic. It’s the worst tragedy in the history of the human race. And since I don’t have a time machine, there’s nothing I can do to fix the mistakes of the past. I can only work on the present.

As best as I can figure, the human race is about 1500 years behind where it should be. We should be as advanced, right now in the year 2013, as we will be in 3513. And that might be an understatement. Maybe we should be as advanced as the year 5000.

Why aren’t we there? What has held us back? It’s not true government – not if government would stay minimal and unobtrusive and do its real job, protecting, as John Locke wrote, "life, liberty and property." Then there would be peace and prosperity, advancement and achievement. It’s when government goes beyond its proper boundaries and turns into what Albert Jay Nock called, Our Enemy, the State. The freedom-crushing, society-destroying, empire-building, rights-violating, war-starting, poverty-creating State. The State that always destroys, because that is its unalterable nature.

With the State opposed to Civilization (as it is always opposed to Civilization), it’s not just two steps forward, one step back – it’s 500 years forward, a thousand years back, then 500 years forward again. If the State is anything, it’s Sisyphus, the greedy king condemned forever to Hades, where he rolls a rock up a hill so it can roll right back down again.

Richard Maybury, in his book, Ancient Rome, notes there is a Roman grist mill near Arles, France that has 16 water wheels operating in tandem and a system of gears and grinders so complex it could produce enough flour for 80,000 people.

"This kind of engineering sophistication leads me to believe Roman civilization was on the brink of the Industrial Revolution 15 centuries before this revolution finally happened," he writes.

It wasn’t just that one flour mill that lends credibility to his beliefs. Roman buildings had central heating, plumbing, baths, glass windows, mosaic tile floors, and plastered and painted walls. Roman civilization had advanced engineering, mathematics, literature and philosophy.

A lot of what we have today, the Romans had thousands of years ago.

If the Romans really were on the verge of the Industrial Revolution – but failed – then the loss to us is incalculable.

What produced their advanced society? Enough freedom to create a prosperous, peaceful society. What destroyed them? The expansion of the State. Going from a Republic to an Empire, with its crushing taxes, inflation, regulation and wars. Citizens going from being adults to being children. Just as is happening in the U.S. today.

After the Roman Empire collapsed (as all empires collapse) Europe entered the Dark Ages for 500 years. It went backwards a thousand years. The majority of the population didn’t live any better in 500 A.D. than they did in 500 B.C.

This is a catastrophe that is still with us today.

The last time a culture succeeded in establishing economic and political freedom was in 1776. If you look around you, you’ll find that much that has been invented, has been invented in the last 200 years, because of that freedom.

Planes, trains and automobiles. Surgery with anesthesia. Computers and video games. Dentistry where you don’t have to get drunk and have your friends hold you down. TV, movies, CDs. Cheap, plentiful food and clean, free water. An 8-hour workday with weekends off, instead of break-breaking labor 12 hours a day six days a week, so you could live in a too-hot or too-cold hovel, barely have enough to eat, and die in your early 40’s. Vacations. RVs. Air-conditioning. Retirement. Dentures. The list unrolls and unrolls.

And what has the State given us? War, inflation, deficits, recessions, depressions, conscription, slavery, genocide. Widows and orphans. Fathers burying their sons instead of the other way around. The few times the State has done something right, it’s the same reason a stopped clock is occasionally right. If the State was a private business, it would always be fired.

And now the U.S. is following in the footsteps of Rome. History repeats. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," wrote Santayana. Scary, but true. As the empire grows, political and economic liberty is diminished at home. It’s as much a law of the universe as gravity. The end result if we stay on this road? It’s obvious. The only unknown is when. And if America – the "last, best hope" – falls, where in the world can political and economic freedom arise again? China, India, Russia? A Europe that is now rushing to embrace socialism and possibly fascism?

Where would we be now if early attempts at freedom and capitalism had succeeded permanently? If wars hadn’t slaughtered hundreds of millions of people and delayed the inventions they would have created? If 100 million to 200 million hadn’t died in the 20th-century in the rabid attempts of States to found Empires? We can only imagine.

Modern humans go back a long way. What if we had entered the Industrial Revolution in 2000 B.C.? There’s no logical reason we couldn’t have. People then were as smart as we are now. That’s what I mean by 3501 possibly being an understatement. Maybe we should be in the year 5000.

Even if we still should be in 3513, what would it be like? I’d bet we’d have cures for all diseases. We’d be growing body parts in tanks. Lose an eye or an arm? Okay, here’s another. The blind would see, the crippled would walk, and the deaf could again annoy listeners on AM radio.

We’d have space stations. Colonies on the Moon and Mars. Maybe we’d be out among the stars. "Star Trek" wouldn’t just be a TV program (I’d like the phasers, but I’d pass on the transporters, thank you). Maybe we would have developed unlimited sources of power, straight from the fabric of the universe. Maybe we’d have personal force-fields to protect us, powered by something the size of a walnut. The only limits are our imagination and creativity.

And we should have all of this right now.

Personally, I’m a bit more modest. I just wish I had a flying car. One of the first stories I ever read was Robert A. Heinlein’s "Waldo." One of the characters gets in his car, starts it...and flies to the Moon. I looked at my parents’ VW Bug, looked at the full moon, looked at the car again, and thought, "Darn." I was maybe 12.

Today, every time I look at the Moon, I wonder what it would be like to hop in my car, travel there for the weekend and hit golfballs.

As I said, sometimes I can barely stand it.


Glen Filthie said...

"What produced their advanced society? The only things that can create a prosperous, peaceful society – political liberty and economic freedom."

Jesus, Bob - the Romans were the biggest slavers going. Their senate was corrupt as hell, and about the only advantage theirs had over ours is that it was a great place for politicians to murder their rivals.

It is a truism that people get the gov'ts they want and deserve...and forgive the pun...but Obama proves that in spades.

mothersmurfer said...

It is my most horrifying fear that as we are on the cusp of the next great technological revolution, the Singularity (for lack of a better term), we will fumble it due to the interference of the governments. I think we are approaching that tremendous leap in technology that will solve the problem of material scarcity. I also think that the deplorably short-sighted thieves that currently have political power will do everything they can to prevent the research, invention and spread of the technologies that will free us from want. I don't want our species to suffer another 1,000 year Dark Age before climbing back up that long ladder.

The only solution, of course, is to elevate me to Emperor. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Societies prosper as long as the elites share a common set of values and are focused on the growth of the society instead of their personal agendas. Once they start infighting the societies growth will stall until conditions change and a new set of elites appear.

Aurini said...

@Glen Filthie

Despite what the culture portrays, Slavery has not been "Conan: The Barbarian" consistently throughout all times and places. Slavery is simply another type of economic relationship - and potentially far more dignified than the "Welfare for votes" currently going on in America.

There have been instances where slavery was horrible, there have been others where it was very civilized. Certainly, the premise of it goes against my core values, but to paint it with the brush of "evil" ignores historical subtlety.

Unknown said...

A lot of slaves were teachers. Tell the truth, I would have preferred being a well-treated slave and teacher in Rome than live as a degraded, ignorant person on welfare.

Glen Filthie said...


The problem with slavery is that it eventually produces a weak and ineffectual ruling class.

The other problem with it is obvious - sure, it wouldn't be bad if you were an 'upper class' slave in ancient Rome. If you were a lower class menial slave - life sucked balls and then you died - often slowly and painfully. You could be bought or sold into that, or be born into it - and there is no moral or ethical way to defend a system like that.

As for me, I think of myself as a man, not property. It is my belief that it is not good for people to live as slaves or masters.

Ian B said...

The Roman civilisation kept going until 1453. Only the Western half fell, not the Eastern half, which was the centre of cultural gravity from Constantine onwards. No industrial revolution.

Lots of reasons are given; lack of incentive (slaves, instead of machines). But the main problem was no science and, particularly, a conceptual absence. They had no concept of energy.

They built some ingenious machines for their time, and some great monumental architecture. But they never realised that motion and heat are different aspects of the same thing; Energy. They never converted one form of energy into another. They took motion (water) and drove other motion with it (grinding wheels). They took heat, and distributed it, and warmed themselves in an advanced manner with it (I bet underfloor heating was a prerequisite for all those probably hugely exaggerated orgies). But they never took heat and turned it into motion, because that was outside their conceptual framework.

Hence, no engines. No engines, no modern industry. They just about had the metallurgy to build a low pressure boiler. Never did. Never would have.

We are where we are because of one, and only one, innovation; the heat engine and we have that because of one, remarkable, concept. Energy; a concept no other society before us ever thought up. What kind of crazy fool would think to put a fire on a wagon to make it move?

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Glen - below a certain IQ, people are incapable of independent living. Millions of people would starve to death without government transfer payments.

If there were no welfare, slavery would return as an institution. For most welfare recipients, their only bargaining chip for dignified employment would be a pledge of lifetime servitude.

Unknown said...

As creepy as it sounds, some people are natural slaves.