Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Roman Empire , Knowledge , Matter and Energy

The Roman Empire , Knowledge , Matter and Energy

The Roman Empire fell due to population decrease shocks in 133 and 425 AD.


Consider the relationship equation:

Wealth = Knowledge x Energy x Matter … (1)

Wealth is our ability to manipulate our environment .
(This is to show relationships : test it by seeing if any of the above factors are zero , then the wealth is zero.)

Knowledge=(sum of previous knowledge ) plus (present knowledge) .
Sum of previous knowledge = society’s knowledge
Present knowledge = present generations knowledge , of which yours is a part .

Matter is raw materials .

In a society like Rome in 100AD , Knowledge and Matter are constant . New technologies are discouraged by vested interests . For similar reasons , prospecting or voyages of discovery do not take place or are suppressed . The only variant with a degree of freedom is energy .

The Energy equation for this agrarian energy civilization is then :

EnergyProduced = NbrFarmersAndAnimals x UnitProduction
EnergyUsed = NbrFarmersAndAnimals x UnitEaten + OverheadEnergy

Where OverheadEnergy includes the Army , Nobles , Civil Service and other deadheads , but also things like maintaining the environment .
UnitEaten = Average Energy per human or animal to keep going .

The Surplus Energy is then:

SurplusEnergy = EnergyProduced – EnergyUsed
= NbrFarmersAndAnimals x ( UnitProduction – UnitEaten ) – OverheadEnergy …(2)

UnitProduction is fixed by the agrarian technology of 100 AD

OverheadEnergy is fixed or increasing :

That is:
The Army needs at least 400 000 men to maintain the Empire . This is a fixed cost .

Civil government is based on the Decurion principle : the 100 top people in a municipality form an oligarchy from which the various other leaders are chosen . There are various rewards : Roman citizenship , wealth , social distinction , as well as duties : the Decurion is basically responsible for the taxes levied for the municipality . It is not only a civil , but also religious post , since it is administered by the Emperor as head of all organized religions . Tax is not only a civil duty , but due to the Emperor as a God and head of all the religions . Hence the extreme sensitivity of the Emperors to even a minor religion like Christianity . Essentially , Christians were denying the tax base of the Roman Empire . ( Cf Christ’s attempt to defuse this by “Render unto Caesar” ) . Early Christians didn’t pay their taxes , since it was levied in the name the God Emperor . As liturgical imposts ( a term for forced labour or duty (cf robot in Eastern Europe much later)) increased , the post of decurion was made hereditary and they were squeezed between the demands of a rapacious Emperor and the inability of the peasantry to pay . They defected to Christianity .

Later on , when Christianity became became more acceptable , the decurions evolved into the Deacons of the Church . Still involved with collecting money and status and enforcing secular law . Plus la change .

To get back to the main argument :
There were two massive shocks to the Roman population base : the plagues of circa 133 AD and circa 425 AD .

The first one was enough to do in the Roman Empire . The population of the Empire had increased to near or over it’s carrying capacity for an agrarian society ( ref “Atlas of World Population history” ) . About 7 Million for Italy ,whereas it could support about 5 million . The difference was made up by imports . However , the plague of circa 133 AD hit the whole Empire and it took a while for the effects to work through


SurplusEnergy = EnergyProduced – EnergyUsed
= NbrFarmersAndAnimals x ( UnitProduction – UnitEaten ) –OverheadEnergy … (2)

NbrFarmersAndAnimals are decreasing by about 35% due to plague .
UnitProduction is fixed by the agrarian technology of 100 AD .
OverheadEnergy is fixed or increasing .

If SurplusEnergy is more or less constant and positive , then it means that UnitEaten by the farmers and oxen must decrease : ie they starve and become even less efficient

If SurplusEnergy is negative , it means that the civilization is consuming its reserves . Living on its fat . Not sustainable in the long run , though the Roman Empire was so rich from despoiling two continents that even two thousand years later it’s remnants fill museums .

But they ran out of food . Taxes (payable in kind , not money ) were so onerous , that after paying them , the farmer did not have enough to live through winter . So they deserted the land or welcomed the invaders .

Since humans optimize on grandchildren , this effect was leveraged towards the end of the Empire . Population plummeted . Italy in 600 AD had 3.5 Million people compared to 4 Million in 400 BC .

A similar effect was seen in the Empire as a whole .

Diocletian saw the problem and tried to address it in typical command-economy style . He failed and retired in disgust . (One of the few Emperors who actually retired . ) An idealist faced with an insoluble problem .

Constantine realized that the solution was twofold : decrease the Army , decrease administrative controls and thereby decrease taxes . He made Christianity the state religion , thereby making all Christians eligible for taxes and the Church responsible for collecting them . He then withdrew the armies from borders and stationed them inside the main cities , hoping to save at least something .
In effect it was a negotiated surrender , similar to the South African transfer of power from white to black .

It worked too , until the plague and long winter of 425-430 AD .

Despair took the land and even the four horsemen had agterryers .

This is where the Roman Catholic Church saved civilization : not through knowledge , but through hope .

The cities could easily have dissolved back into a tribal mélange .
Cives : city !

Even large cities like Paris and Rome were abandoned and left to ruin . It was touch and go .

Cities are not an inevitable evolutionary waypoint . If Ghenghis Khan had exterminated the Chinese as he planned , then the whole of Eurasia , Africa and probably the Americas would now be a nomad society . The woods would be chopped out or burned out .
You could ride from Calais to Vladivostok without seeing a tree .

What is the relevance today?
If you look at the above argument , you can see that our society is vulnerable to three types of shock :
1. Population shock . This has already happened . Widespread use of deodorants (especially the types that use powdered aluminium ) has broken the non-logical bond between grandchild and grandparent . Since humans optimize on grandchildren , and the grandparents no longer feel viscerally (read hard-wired) bonded to grandchildren ( since they can’t smell them) , grandparents move away and spend less resources on the grandchildren . As usual , humans have it backward : the bonds are not broken because the grandparents move . They move because they do not gut-feel a bond and see no need for a non-logical expenditure of resources from which they cannot expect a return . Another way of looking at it is that the selfish genes don’t recognize the grandchildren because the recognition markers are short-circuited by the deodorants .
2. Energy shock.
In progress . The shock to the system is as to the square of the energy shock . This is because oil is used both in the production of food (tractors) and in the trade to obtain food . Most of the large nations (China , India , Pakistan) cannot feed themselves , but import food and pay with the proceeds from the sale of exported manufactured items . Every stage needs energy .
You can see where this leaves them .

3. Environment shock.
Things we took for granted ( like breathable air , seas that support fish , fish that you can eat , a bearable climate , an ecology without unbearable pests , etc ) and assumed at no cost , suddenly becomes expensive . This cost has to come from somewhere . Guess where .

But at the very moment when we start needing new knowledge , humans are promulgating patent laws on everything , stifling new ideas . The internet , instead of facilitating the growth of ideas , has turned into a monster where you cannot send an email to an unknown person . His filter will block you long before he has even seen your message .

All these factors seem to point to a massive depopulation in the near future .


No comments: