Despite the worst fears of at least one of my daughters, I am in fact a happy chappy. You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you read most of the posts on this blog, or my contributions to the comments pages of the Daily Telegraph or, indeed, many of the posts on my (real me) Facebook account. How could anyone who so rails against the world, as I have a tendency so to do, possibly be happy? Well, it’s important to draw a distinction between a bloke taking a view on the goings-on in the world around him and, by contrast, a man able to enjoy the world for what it is. Whilst I feel moved to fume about the state we’re in, I’m also deeply moved by life, the universe and everything; I’m just not that great at showing it.
I am, after all, the Moray Firth’s very own version of Star Trek’s Mr Spock who once said, “Nowhere am I so desperately needed as among a shipload of illogical humans.” Quite. My family frequently refers to me as Mr Spock, particularly on those occasions when I seek to reduce conversations to valid reasoning – as is the requirement for the disciplines of mathematics and philosophy; disciplines that fascinate me (being, as I am, a physicist by university education). This tends to infuriate my wife and children – and probably quite rightly so; it’s an illogical reaction on their part.
I’m also reminded of the words of Howard Zinn, an American historian, author, playwright and social activist who once said, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” Zinn also said that he wanted to be remembered as, “somebody who gave people a feeling of hope and power they didn’t have before.” You see, I love my country and I have great hope for it and for the empowerment of my children. How could that not be the case for a man who spent 20 years of his life being prepared to fight for his Queen and country and, on occasions, actually fighting for them? The problem, as I see it, is that those charged with being the custodians of our national pedigree – the British political class – are making such an ocean-going mess of their mission that to be a dissenter, like me, is indeed to be a patriot. We cannot and must not trust our future solely to the hands of the incompetent, mendacious, venal crew that now purports to be our governing elite.
So, my intention in the next post or two is to explain that other side of my nature, that side of me which sees hope for the future, which gives power to my children and their generation to survive and thrive notwithstanding the jerks (the politicians) who would no sooner wreck this nation for their own ends as look at you. One of the enduring themes of ‘Moraymint Chatter’ is that view of politicians espoused by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – a view that I share – who said of politicians, “Don’t believe them, don’t fear them, don’t ask anything of them.”
So, this is the long-awaited post (well, long-awaited by my daughter, Mary, anyway) whence I start to indicate what I think we’re supposed to do about the state we’re in. When I say, “the state we’re in” I’m referring, of course, to the collapse of complex society. That’s the great thing about having spent 20-odd years in Her Majesty’s armed forces: you never really lose your sense of black humour. One can talk matter-of-factly about the collapse of complex society in one breath before effortlessly moving on to extol, say, the joy of mathematics in the next breath (of which more in a moment).
Our complex society is indeed about to change, dramatically, even if it doesn’t collapse precipitously (“Phew, thank God!” I hear you say). The changes have already commenced, but we’ll come back to that presently. The dramatic changes I’m referring to will occur over the next 30 years, otherwise known as “a generation”. Put another way, the experiences of my children’s generation – the generation of my daughters Victoria and Mary and perhaps your own sons and daughters – will be nothing like the experiences I’ve had over the past 30 years or so.
My life has been characterised more than anything else by economic growth and everything that flows from it. It’s dull stuff I know, but it’s important to recognise the enormous significance of this phenomenon that we tend to take for granted: economic growth. I’ve lived through an era when if, like me, you’ve been fortunate enough to reside and work in an advanced economy, in a complex society, then – unless you’re one of the most unfortunate in our community (and there are many of those, regrettably) – your wealth has doubled within a generation.
That’s what compound economic growth of 2.5% per year means; it means – by dint of the ‘Rule of 70’ – that one’s wealth is doubling every 28 years or so, that is every generation. Divide 70 by the annual rate of change and that’s the rate at which the change doubles. Divide 70 by 2.5 and you get 28; in other words over 28 years your wealth doubles if the economy grows by 2.5% per year – which it has, on average, in the UK since around the 1950s. The truth of mathematics is a modest joy of mine. Ignore religion – it’s bollocks; investigate mathematics, physics and philosophy to comprehend the real beauty and truth of the cosmos; but that’s another story. Daughter Mary Moraymint, by contrast and quite rightly, would say study art to comprehend the real beauty of the cosmos and that would be another great story too.
So, what are the leading indicators of the dramatic changes to which I refer? Well, let’s not beat about the bush; instead let’s start by heading over to The Royal Society of London which is “a learned society for science and possibly the oldest such society still in existence, founded in November 1660.” Earlier this year the Royal Society published an earnest and academic paper entitled, “Can a collapse of global civilisation be avoided?” The paper’s conclusion was, er, no not really (I precis). The paper’s abstract stated:
“Environmental problems have contributed to numerous collapses of civilisations in the past. Now, for the first time, a global collapse appears likely. Overpopulation, overconsumption by the rich, and poor choices of technologies are major drivers …”
Interestingly, the authors’ conclusions are consistent with those of another academic doomsayer, Joseph Tainter, who in his own study, “The Collapse of Complex Societies” stated that “collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilisation will disintegrate as a whole.”
OK, so that’s clear then; global civilisation is on the way out. However, what are the closer-to-home, more down-to-earth indicators that something is up? Can we discern indicators of the Big Screen Scene, of global civilisational collapse? Is there anything indicating that all this doubling of personal wealth every generation might be drawing to a close, might be winding down, might indeed be about to go into reverse? Well, you’ll be pleased to know that I don’t intend in this post to dwell on all that bad stuff; I shall publish a separate post later on leading indicators of the collapse of complex society (“Phew, thank God!” I hear you say, again).
What Are We Supposed To Do?
For now, I want to focus on what my daughters Victoria and Mary should do based on the principal ‘Moraymint Chatter’ assumption that we’re at the leading edge of the collapse of complex society. If you doubt this assumption and are quite content to assume that all that is going on around us at the moment in terms of the daily references to soaring energy costs, to our interminable economic problems, to the ever-increasing national debt, to the insane trials and tribulations of the dysfunctional, soft-tyranny that is the European Union, to climate change (is it, or isn’t it?), to the unfettered and uncontrolled movement of aliens through our porous borders and – by so doing – availing themselves of our collapsing education, health, social and welfare systems, to our housing crisis, to the mismatch between rising prices (inflation) and slower rising wages (we’re getting worse off), and so on and so forth – if you think that this is all poppycock and of no great significance then on you go. Move on; nothing to see here; our complex society is all set to thrive over the next generation. If you believe this then don’t bother reading on.
If, on the other hand, you find yourself asking, “What are my children supposed to do about the state we’re in?” then wait patiently please for the next post which I shall publish presently.
Meantime, this evening, as a measure of Moraymint’s joie de vivre you may wish to know that Mrs/Dr Moraymint and I are enjoying a bottle of Tesco’s Finest’s Chateauneuf du Pape in front of a roaring log fire, with the dogs sleeping fitfully. Bliss. Soon, however, we must address the question of what we’re supposed to do about the state we’re in. We’ll start to answer that question in the next post …
. Professor Paul Ehrlich, Professor of Biology and President of the Centre for Conservation Biology at Stanford University, and Adjunct Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney. His research interests are in the ecology and evolution of natural populations of butterflies, reef fishes, birds and human beings.
. Erstwhile Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico.