Author Topic: The New Middle Ages  (Read 2551 times)

Offline stalwart

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The New Middle Ages
« on: March 21, 2013, 12:33:01 AM »
A few weeks ago I came across a couple of articles dealing with the concept of declining state control in large areas of the world.  It was around the same time as the last interview with Glenn Tate and the concepts seemed to dovetail nicely.

I'm in a field of the military where I fortunately get to think about things like this from time to time as part of the job.  Thinking about and learning what the government could and would do in scenarios like this.

I attached links to an article that I think you'll find interesting (and an earlier article on the same theme that's only 6 pages).  It's a little long, so here's the gist of it: Nation states (in the Westphalian sense) will be increasingly unable to adequately meet the needs of their citizens in an increasingly complex world as the speed of informational change continues to grow along with resource scarcity.  This will lead to the increasing disorganization of states and the receding of some aspects of state control.  Something has to, and will, step in to fill any vacuum and this may be local gangs/militia, ethnic/religious groups, supernational entities (the EU), corporations, etc.  So you end up with citizens with multiple identities (I'm a Belgian, but also part of the EU, but also the Knights of Columbus, etc) and multiple overlapping layers of loyalty.  Sounds simple and fun right?

http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/display.cfm?pubID=867

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/61708/john-rapley/the-new-middle-ages

Anyway I thought this might be of interesting to folks, to know that part of military academia actually agree with parts of Glenn's scenario.

Offline Cedar

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Re: The New Middle Ages
« Reply #1 on: March 21, 2013, 01:49:41 AM »
Marking this since it is almost 1 am and want to read it when I have more of a functional brain.

Cedar

Offline JReed

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Re: The New Middle Ages
« Reply #2 on: March 21, 2013, 12:10:36 PM »
Stalwart, your post put me in mind of Walter Prescott Webb (1888-1963), a historian, who wrote a book called The Great Frontier, in which he described his Boom Hypothesis of Modern History.

In short, the middle age in Europe were a time defined by limitations of custom and well-defined classes, a subsistence civilization. With the opening of the almost vacant lands of Australia and the Americas, something new came about.  As a by-product of an individual's willingness to risk life and limb and to work hard, came wealth and freedom, unlike anything seen in Europe at the time.  Bottom line, the superstructure of Western civilization is founded on boom conditions.  But, says Webb, the boom is over.  (I quote and paraphrase Herrick Kimball at his agrariannation.blogspot.com)

"If there is no substitute boom-maker, or one that is much less effective than the Frontier was, then we are faced with radical changes indeed. The society we have would tend to go through a process of devolution and retrogression rather than evolution and progress. It would lose much of its dynamic character, just as a boom town does when fortunes are lost there and not made.... Rural life would tend to become more important, and city life less alluring. Theoretically, society might become somewhat medieval in character, and new ideals would have to be formulated to make that life tolerable."  (Webb)

This makes so much sense to me.  I hope it's not so, but I fear it is.


Offline MTUCache

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Re: The New Middle Ages
« Reply #3 on: March 21, 2013, 12:59:13 PM »
Stalwart, your post put me in mind of Walter Prescott Webb (1888-1963), a historian, who wrote a book called The Great Frontier, in which he described his Boom Hypothesis of Modern History.

In short, the middle age in Europe were a time defined by limitations of custom and well-defined classes, a subsistence civilization. With the opening of the almost vacant lands of Australia and the Americas, something new came about.  As a by-product of an individual's willingness to risk life and limb and to work hard, came wealth and freedom, unlike anything seen in Europe at the time.  Bottom line, the superstructure of Western civilization is founded on boom conditions.  But, says Webb, the boom is over.  (I quote and paraphrase Herrick Kimball at his agrariannation.blogspot.com)

"If there is no substitute boom-maker, or one that is much less effective than the Frontier was, then we are faced with radical changes indeed. The society we have would tend to go through a process of devolution and retrogression rather than evolution and progress. It would lose much of its dynamic character, just as a boom town does when fortunes are lost there and not made.... Rural life would tend to become more important, and city life less alluring. Theoretically, society might become somewhat medieval in character, and new ideals would have to be formulated to make that life tolerable."  (Webb)

This makes so much sense to me.  I hope it's not so, but I fear it is.

Wow... I'll have to check that book out. Sounds fascinating.

I can definitely see that pattern in the last 200 years. The Enlightenment was brought about by a new-found world. Science and discovery leapt to the forefront of society as colonization and commerce became the road to wealth and power. The theories and developments of that era brought on the Industrial Revolution, where new sources of energy and materials brought technology, automation, speed to the forefront. Building on this again we found ourselves in the Computer Age,  where ideas and design can make a fortune overnight, and things like Intellectual Property, Copyrights, and software compatibility are more important than the living wage of the people performing the work...

I do think that we have reached a point of diminishing returns. Any further advancement in technology doesn't make our lives any better. It makes things easier and faster, but not better. As things have become more inter-connected we're discovering that it's not making things stronger, it's making them more fragile. We, as humans, are getting less satisfaction out of the creations we've made, and it may be that we're at a point in history where we need to take a few steps backwards (by choice or by force, it will happen eventually).

I can definitely see that... I'm just not sure how a medieval society would have looked different with cell phones.  :P

Offline stalwart

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Re: The New Middle Ages
« Reply #4 on: March 21, 2013, 01:50:38 PM »
MTUCache and JReed, I agree with both of you.  The Economist had an issue from a few weeks ago with a picture of a toilet on it and the headline - "Will we ever invent anything this useful again?".  The idea was that the rate of real innovation and revolutionary breakthroughs and changes has actually been slowing down.  We just haven't noticed that much because, well, there's an app for that....

For example, smartphones are great, but are the really revolutionary?  They seem more like just the most current refinements made to computers and DARPANET from the 70s. 

I like the Boom conditions idea, the most recent being Information Technology that started in the early/mid 90s and has mostly run its course now in terms of improving productivity.  So if innovation is slowing down and Boom conditions are dissipating, what does that mean for a global economic system that needs constant growth?

It means a reduction in growth and trade, so a reduction in government revenue, and therefore a state that's less able to meet its citizens needs and exercise full sovereignty over its territory.  A new middle ages.

I always find it fascinating when multiple and disparate lines of thought all point toward the same conclusion.


Offline markl32

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Re: The New Middle Ages
« Reply #5 on: March 21, 2013, 04:35:53 PM »


Space, the next frontier (boom).  Hopefully it comes soon enough.  Ocean Depth provides a pre space hold over "just enough boom" to hold us over 'till the space boom. 

I guess the glass is half full today. 


Offline Frugal Upstate

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Re: The New Middle Ages
« Reply #6 on: March 21, 2013, 05:02:47 PM »
:popcorn:

Offline stalwart

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Re: The New Middle Ages
« Reply #7 on: March 21, 2013, 08:00:21 PM »
We may be seeing the beginning of a new age of space now that private companies are getting involved cargo and passenger hauling, but I'm skeptical.  What can actually be REASONABLY exploited from space within our lifetimes?  Maybe a little bit of off-world mining but not much else and not enough to compare to the New World in the classical sense.

Undersea exploitation will continue to be refined, offshore deepwater drilling will continue to go deeper as will some undersea mining operations.  But again, not enough to make up for otherwise decreasing innovation.  What else will you really get from these undersea operations?  The fishing grounds are already being harvested to the edge of collapse and are a source of tension all across Asia.

Maybe I'll be wrong (I didn't think the shale formations would end up being as big a deal as they are) but I don't see either of these two options being revolutionary enough to allow us to grow out of our problems.

Offline JReed

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Re: The New Middle Ages
« Reply #8 on: March 22, 2013, 10:39:27 AM »
I have to agree with you, Mark, that space exploitation could mean a new boom age, but, if Webb is right, only if it could be done in the same way our American frontiers were settled:  by individuals who were able to acquire the rights to property, cheaply or for free,  if they would put in the work to develop it. Given the limitations of our gravity well, I don't see that happening in our lifetime.

On the optimistic side, if we recognize what is happening now, that the boom is over and new social conditions necessarily apply, we can position ourselves to avoid the down side of it all.  I think the prepper mind-set will be to our advantage.  Perhaps the back-to-the-land movement, by all kinds of people (non-preppers), is an unconscious recognition that we individuals need to be ready for anything.