Why do civilizations or nations fall?  There are many specific reasons, but, in the end, they all boil down to one point – the inability or unwillingness of the majority of inhabitants to pay the price necessary to sustain that civilization or nation.

Sometimes, that inability is largely the result of factors beyond the control of the inhabitants. One can certainly argue that the fall of Angkor Wat, the Pre-Columbian Mayan civilizations, Mohenjo-daro, and the Anasazi cultures of the American Southwest were all due to massive changes in rainfall patterns than rendered physically impossible the continuation of those civilizations as they were then constituted.  That does not mean the inability to live in those areas, but the inability of that “civilization” to survive under those conditions.  A good example of that is the collapse of the Norse settlements in Greenland.  At the same time the Norse were dying off or leaving the Inuit were successfully moving in and thriving.

The classical Greek culture never reached the heights, at least comparatively, of the Periclean era for one simple reason.  The Greeks would never pay the price of political unity, or accept the need for a core of shared values.  This is borne out by the fact that until the modern era, and even perhaps now, Greece has never been united except by an outside conqueror – Philip and Alexander, the Romans, the Ottoman Empire. It wasn’t that the Greeks didn’t lack talent or ability, but they couldn’t harness either in a shared fashion.  Ironically, a huge factor in the success of the Roman Empire was the use of those brilliant Greeks.

 So why aren’t people willing to support their nation and civilization?  Because no one really values civilization per se.  We all want what we want, and so long as our nation/civilization gives us what satisfies our needs, we’ll support it.  When it doesn’t satisfy the needs of a significant majority, however… that’s where the trouble begins.  I’m seeing signs of this all across the United States, and the “range war” problem in Utah and Nevada is symptomatic of what is occurring. 

The ranchers of the southwest want to hold on to their way of life, a way of life that extends back some four generations. But that way of life was developed in the 1880s at a time when there were fewer demands on the land and greater levels of rainfall. As average rainfall has decreased, overgrazing became more common.  The federal government attempted to manage the land by reducing grazing allotments, and, frankly, little else.  The ranchers haven’t seen much active management by the BLM, but they have seen the government reduce their grazing rights in favor of protecting wild horses and the desert tortoise.  On the other hand, as I noted earlier, federal grazing fees are far lower than the fees on privately owned land.  The BLM has not lived up to its own plans in managing wild horses, and that upsets the ranchers because they believe that threatens their way of life.  The environmentalists believe that excessive grazing is destroying the environment, and that will eventually harm everyone. In Iron County, the BLM currently permits grazing rights for 21,000 cattle animal unit months [AUM], and one AUM refers to a cow and a calf.  But… there are currently slightly more than 2,000 feral/wild horses on federal and private lands in Iron County, 1,700 more than allowed under the wild horse protection laws, and the range won’t support both.  Nor does the $1.35 BLM charges the ranchers cover the management costs for just the wild horses.  But the political power of the ranch and farm lobby keeps the fees low, and from what I’ve seen, if the fees were higher, I suspect that the revenues would be diverted for more “urgent” federal programs.  So we have a threatened way of life, a threatened environment… and the majority of Americans are clearly not wanting to pay more for either… and particularly not to support ranchers who are in fact being subsidized by the government.  The ranchers don’t see it that way.  Believe me, they don’t!  That’s why almost a thousand of them turned up in Nevada last weekend, many of them armed, and why the BLM backed down and released the cattle they’d impounded because Cliven Bundy hadn’t paid over a million dollars in grazing fees.

If this were just the case here, it wouldn’t be so bad, but various types of protests are occurring across the United States because people aren’t getting what they want.  Many women are angry because Congress won’t support legislation that would make it easier for them to get equal pay.  Same sex couples want the same “marriage” rights as heterosexual couples;  religious groups see their “rights” and way of life being threatened and want those rights put into law, even if that disadvantages others who don’t share their beliefs.  Businesses want the right to maximize profits, even when that profit maximization denies workers affordable health care.  Workers want affordable health care even if that means their employer is less profitable… and may even close.

And… the thing is, that even though we have as far higher standard of living than two centuries ago, our wants have increased far more than the standard of living.  Yet, when enough of those wants aren’t satisfied, then we’ll end up losing our civilization because, collectively, we won’t pay enough to maintain it.

6 thoughts on “Civilization”

  1. Lawrence says:

    So why not implement a tag based hunting system for the wild horses to control the population? The fees so collected could be used towards future BLM maintenance of the area and those paying the fees (so far as I’m aware we’re never short of hunters no matter where you are in North America) will contribute to solving the problem in the short term.

    I’m sure some groups would protest what they would label the “wholesale private slaughter” of the horses. If enough justification is shown they could be provided an opportunity to manage the herds in conjunction with the concerned environmentalist groups referenced above to everyone’s satisfaction. If benchmark requirements established at the outset of such a plan are not met as originally established reversion to hunting tags would still be an option.

    As reference for my perspective, no I’m not a hunter, but I deplore waste and if one mans treasure is another mans junk…

    1. CRM says:

      Nice idea, but I don’t see it working for two reasons: Horses are too cute and charismatic for the public to support the hunting, and horses don’t have horns or antlers to make them attractive to trophy hunters.

      Unicorn hunting might work, but would probably go over even less well with the general public.

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    Why not a solution somewhat similar to this?

  3. Plovdiv says:

    So basically, civilisation is about to collapse? One could argue that there are ways of avoiding a collapse and evolving instead, but this requires a certain amount of collective will to do so, which seems sadly lacking from current American society, as an outsider. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong. On a completely different note, will we see another post on books/publishing in the near future?

  4. Steve R says:

    The problem is that we as humans are notoriously poor at predicting or valuing the future. Instead we tend to focus on the here and now as it’s much more concrete. Lobbyists backed by the businesses’ money push for laws that favor short term profits that benefit the rich. The poor have no power to change this unless enough express their discontent. Right now I can’t help but think we’re in a period of bread and circuses:

    This reminds me of an article citing a Princeton study based on policy that states the US in now an oligarchy:

    The solution to the BLM versus ranchers issue is simple: raise grazing taxes for the ranchers and divert a portion of those taxes to the BLM for managing the population of wild horses. Unfortunately the devil is in the implementation: no one wants to pay more taxes and culling the horse herd to a manageable number is seen as inhumane. Ironically if it were some other animal such as deer or coyote, I doubt many would blink an eye at such a proposal.

    Until we find a way to shift public opinion to future, long-term planning and gains (e.g. think of our children/grand children!) we’ll be mired in our short-term quagmire.

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