Monday, September 14, 2015

Fortress Europe: a wall to keep foreigners out?





"..... the buffer zone has disappeared. The geographical transition from civilization to barbarism is now no longer gradual but it is abrupt. To use the appropriate Latin words, which bring out both the kinship and the contrast between the two types of contact, a limen, or threshold, which was a zone, has been replaced by a limes or military frontier. Across this line, a baffled dominant minority and an unconquered external proletariat now face one another under arms; and this military front is a bar to the passage of all social radiation except that of military technique - an article of exchange which makes for war and not for peace between those who give and take it. ..... the cardinal fact (is) that this temporary and precarious balance of forces inevitably tilts, with the passage of time, in favour of the Barbarians." From Arnold Toynbee, ""A study of History." (image above from Wikipedia)


The more I look at what's happening in the world today, the more it seems to me that we are following an already beaten path: we are going along the same way that the Roman Empire followed a couple of millennia ago, only faster. For every event that takes place today, you can find a parallel event that led the old Empire to its end. So, the present refugee crisis in Europe has a parallel in the crisis of the 1st century AD that led the empire to lock itself inside a set of fortifications. Is that the destiny that Europe faces today? Are we going to build a wall to keep the invaders out? A look of what happened to the Romans may tell us something about this point.

It all started in 9 A.D., when three Roman legions were destroyed by a coalition of German tribes in a battle in the forest of Teutoburg. It was an epochal defeat, a sign that something was badly wrong with the Empire that, up to then, had easily defeated every enemy. And, as a consequence, the Romans panicked.

You probably know the story, told by Suetonius, of Emperor Augustus walking at night in his palace, asking the dead general who had led the legions at Teutoburg, "give me back my legions". But that was only a symptom of a general fear that the Barbarians would soon march all the way to Rome.

Fear often leads to overreacting, and there is no doubt that the Romans overreacted. It would take four centuries after Teutoburg before Rome was besieged and taken by a Barbarian army. But, at that time, fear reigned in the Empire. A few years afterward, the Romans invaded Germany again with no less than 8 legions; without accomplishing much more than demonstrating that there was no way for them to conquer and subdue the Germans.  Then, they changed their strategy: if the barbarians couldn't be defeated, they could at least be kept out of the empire.

Border fortifications around the Roman Empire had been existing even before the battle of Teutoburg, but, after the battle, they were greatly expanded and strengthened. The final result was the system of border fortifications around the Empire that we call today "limes" (even though the Romans didn't use that word). A series of walls that started at the Northern border of Britannia and circled the whole Empire, even though not continuously.

Were the fortifications useful? For one thing, it is true that they kept the Barbarian armies at bay for a few centuries. But it is also true that they must have been atrociously expensive. So much that, eventually, the economy of the Roman Empire became engaged in only two activities: cultivating grain and maintaining the border fortifications. Unfortunately, we lack the data we would need in order to quantify these expenses, but I think it can be proposed that the border fortifications were such an economic burden that they were a major factor leading to the eventual demise of the Empire.

The fortifications had another problem; perhaps even bigger: in the effort of keeping the Barbarians out, the Romans had locked themselves in a no-win situation. They badly needed slaves for their agriculture and soldiers for their armies, and this manpower, during the late years of the Empire, would largely come from Barbarian people. But how would Barbarians came in if the borders of the Empire were closed? The wall, in principle, should have kept Barbarian armies out, but let Barbarian workers in. However, the Romans never could convince the Barbarians that it was a good idea for them to come into the Empire to become slaves in the name of the free market. It is possible that the walls were not only too expensive for their purpose, but even counterproductive as they kept out manpower that the Empire desperately needed.

Over time, it became impossible for the Empire to maintain the fortifications and, with the beginning of the 5th century, they were abandoned. According to Gibbon, it was in the winter of 406 AD that the frozen Rhine made it possible for a large number of Barbarians to cross the river and to march into the Empire unopposed in a crisis that resembles very much the flow of refugees pouring into Europe today. A few years later, in 410 AD, Rome was sacked for the first time in the Imperial age by the Visigoths. Then, in 455 AD, Rome was sacked again by the Vandals and, this time, it was truly the end of the Western Roman Empire. For a few decades afterward, some individuals still claimed the title of "Roman Emperor"; but nobody was paying much attention to them. The walls had not helped Rome to survive.

Is this what's going to happen to Europe in our times? Are we going to make the same mistake the Romans made and ruin ourselves by building an expensive wall to stop invaders from entering
Europe?

Right now, walls don't seem to be in the plans, also because European didn't experience an equivalent of the defeat of Teutoburg (yet). So, it seems that the European governments are seeing the refugees from abroad as cheap manpower that Europe desperately needs - just like Rome did, long ago. But it is also clear that the situation can't remain the way it is for a long time, with millions of refugees pushing at the borders of Europe, chased away from their lands by a combination of wars and climate change. At some point, someone will start panicking and call for a defensive wall.

Modern Europe has seen already a wall separating it in two halves, the one that was called "the Iron Curtain". Also that wall didn't bring good luck to those who built it, whose economy collapsed among other factors also under the weight of maintaining the walls. A new wall to keep North Africans and Middle Eastern people out would probably cripple Europe forever. Will it be built? We can't say, right now, but one thing that we learn from history is that we never learn from history









36 comments:

  1. Ugo
    Brilliant.
    You make a powerful discussion point IMHO. And that is a great quote from Toynbee.

    I am aware that these days we (Europe or at least the EU part) are subordinate within a wider political/military network with ‘global reach’. As part of a quasi-imperial reaction the EU border with Russia has become a hostile frontier again. Buffer zones no longer function and civil wars have been triggered both here and elsewhere round the EU border. The EU does not appear competent to take decisions, nor to commit enough resources to secure sufficient prosperity and political security in buffer zones beyond its border. Nor is the EU in a position to achieve a necessary alliance with Russia.

    You have probably seen this downloadable as a pdf file: The shape of the Roman world” (Scheidel, 2013). I found the map of time-costs (numerically calculated) for the Roman military network a particularly stunning addition to the big picture as the precarious balance of forces tilted during Roman history.
    http://historyoftheancientworld.com/2013/06/the-shape-of-the-roman-world/
    quotes:
    “The speed of military power projection is a critical variable in structuring political/military networks ….
    “The impact of cost constraints becomes apparent only in the most fundamental processes of state formation: expansion and disintegration.”

    Large scale migration does not appear controllable by military means.
    best
    Phil

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  2. History does tend to repeat itself, but on the broadest level, not in the exact details.

    And while there are indeed many parallels between the Roman situation and Europe's now, there are also many differences.

    1) The ``barbarians'' were in fact not that many -- they were a nuisance with their raids, but they were not going to swallow the empire demographically, at least in the beginning of the confrontation (it later happened to an extent, but that was when the empire had already basically collapsed). Certainly when the walls were built the empire had a much larger population than that of the region between the Rhine and Ural.

    Compare that to what we have now -- the ``catchment'' region for migrations is the whole of Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and even countries like Bangladesh. That's some 1.5 billion people at the moment, to become 3 billion in the next 2-3 decades. There is a possibility that at some point in the future things might get so bad in Europe too that if the means of transport are available, the flow from Sub-Saharan Africa will redirect to South America, but that's clearly an even worse scenario.

    2) We don't know whether the empire was overpopulated - it might well have been (note that it is possible for it to have been overpopulated ecologically while still facing a shortage of labor), but not to the same extent that Europe is now. Cut off the fossil fuel inputs, and in the case of countries like Britain, the food imports too, and watch what happens. So the decline in population in Europe is something to be welcomed and encouraged. The last thing needed is to bring in people from other severely overpopulated places (to the point that some of them have already collapsed), whose environmental footprint will only go up after they move (that they want that to happen is why many of them are moving to begin with).

    3) The barbarians by and large recognized themselves as an inferior culture to the Greco-Roman world. There are good reasons to think this is not the case with many of the current migrants. We have extensive experience with that over the last few decades -- there has been some ``integration'', but also a lot of non-integration -- so we know the outlook is not good.

    Note that by cultural superiority I do not mean ``culture'' in the sense of religion, art, customs, etc., but there is still a very real sense in which European culture is superior -- the overall scientific understanding of the world and environmental awareness are much stronger there, Nowhere near strong enough to make a difference, but still much stronger than they are in the Muslim world at the moment. I have yet to see a person with a beard, an Arabic/South Asian accent, and an extensive knowledge of the Quran, who discusses the relationship between civilization and the environment in anything remotely approaching the proper framework. Such people might exist somewhere, but they're certainly an extreme rarity.

    So if Europe gets swallowed up by such migrants, the net effect for humanity will be profoundly negative (not that by that point there will be much that anyone could do).

    Thus, considering all of the above, turning the continent into a fortress seems to be making a lot more sense now than back then. The time to uphold humanitarian values was many decades ago when it was the time to drastically reduce fertility in the Third world and to do something about climate change in the developed world. Now it's a bit too late.

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    2. Georgi Marinov is right. The population growth in middle east and africa has been extreme. This growth was made possible by modern medicine and agriculture. Unfurtunately, this was not complemented by a modern view on family and women. Without a wall european culture will disappear in europe within 100 years, if we assume business will continue as usual.

      The problems in these countries, from which people are fleeing, are caused by overpopulation. Other causes like climate change is of at least one order of magnitude less important than overpopulation. The three year long drought in Syria before the civil war would of course have been much less harmful if the population where only half as big. The population in Syria has increased by almost a factor five since 1960.

      In Sweden, where I live, the non-european population are a significant part of the population nowadays. We have had huge immigration, particularly the last 10 years. Unemployment is huge in this group, that is non-european immigrants that arrived during the last 10 years. This contradicts your analogy with the need of slaves in the roman empire. We also have quickly increasing problems with integration. In some suburbs you get harassed if you for instance are a secular moslem woman or a homosexual. Furthermore, there is gun shooting and people throw hand grenades (around 30 hand granade explosion in Malmö this summer. Malmö is the most immigrant dense of the bigger cities in Sweden).

      I think your historical analogy is basically wrong. The demise of europe will be caused by european humanism, democracy and our low child birth as compared to the child birth in the areas surrounding europe. The humanism and the democracy motivates the mass migration. Here is a norwegian documentary on this theme which I recommend.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPu6-iZQgaI

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  3. "So, it seems that the European governments are seeing the refugees from abroad as cheap manpower that Europe desperately needs - just like Rome did, long ago."

    Rome's economy was built on taking the energy that was embodied in other cultures and using that to power their economic engine. Ours is not. Modern economy is built on the embodied energy of fossile fuels.

    Taking in refugees does not increase the energy available for the European societies, it in fact decreases the per capita resources available. Europe also has no shortage of manpower since millions of Europeans are unemployed, as will most refugees be. It is true that the elites see the migrants as a source of cheap labour.

    However, this is because most of their costs will be covered by the state from the public treasury. In effect that is a way of breaking labour bargaining power with the help of a state subsidy. None of the migrants produce a net energy gain for the European societies.

    What resource it is that Europe will not have if it does close the borders? Open borders would mean less energy, raw materials, fresh water and arable land per capita, so that is a burden. Technologically Europe does not need help, and even if it does it is capable of trading for technologies. Total population is also not an issue since most of Europe is already above ecological carrying capacity. So please define what essential resource Europe will lack if it does not allow the migrations.

    There is also a comparison to the Iron Curtain, a wall meant to keep people in, not out. That is the difference between a fortification and a prison.

    As far as limiting movement goes, it is not the same today. Ancient Germans could forage and loot to keep themselves fed. You can't move millions of people and feed them unless the receiving country voluntarily feeds you.

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  4. I'd like to throw in an aspect of hope: education and informational integration is rapidly increasing, maybe with the exception of those regions in the disarray of wars.
    Many of those coming now can only do so, because their economies created somehow the means for the - not inexpensive - travel. Which has not been the case only a couple of years ago.

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  5. I would like to add the dimension of time. The time between the disaster in the German forest and the sack by the Goths is 401 years. Counting back from today, 401 years give us 1614 -- long before the rise of the new world. Counting forward, 401 years gets us to 2416. If civilization based on democracy and capitalism were still going then and we hadn't been enslaved by robots, my guess is that we'd all be thrilled. During the time between Teutoburg and Alaric, Rome has long periods of prosperity, a near collapse in the 3rd century, multiple massive re-organizations, and even a chance of pulling it all back from brink toward the bitter end.

    This is where I always get confused. We are running out of oil and resources, there are far too many people, we really have messed up the climate and there really are about 1.5B poor people who are a long walk and a short boat ride away from Europe. These are all simple, irrefutable facts. The notion that climate change helped cause crop failures and the unrest in the middle east and that it helped put all those poor people on the road to Europe seems very believable to me. As is the idea that more carbon means more crop failures and more civil wars and more people streaming toward Europe.

    All of that, and the fact the walls don't work when the people on the other side want to get through them.

    But what isn't clear is how quickly all of this happens, and what we do between now and then. I think the question of time also applies to Peak Oil. We are going to run out of oil and other resource at some point. Yes, but when is that point, and what is ingenious homo sapiens going to do between now and then?

    Reading the Post Carbon Institute posting on Effetto Risorso, they are trying to make the point that peak oil is now and that we are heading into the choppy years (to put it nicely) of decline. But for me, it's like trying to call the peak of a market bubble. Bubbles definitely exist, but they are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to call with any accuracy. Experts can be wrong by years, even when their fundamental logic is correct. And that's just a financial market. Peak oil is much more complicated, making it difficult to be accurate with predictions of even wider timescales. Decades? More?

    The Post Carbon Institute acknowledges that they did not foresee the amount of oil and gas that is being collected with fracking. They would say that their fundamental logic is still right, regardless of fracking (and they would predict that fracking will taper off quickly and create financial instability -- and they might be right). But that does not detract from the fact that fracking has put a lot of affordable gas and oil on the market and that immediate decline from a lack of affordable energy has been pushed back by some amount of time. I think fracking has also increased the chances the climate change will cause more damage than a lack of affordable oil.

    I guess that's why I keep coming back to technology, and what we are going to do between now and when the shit really hits the fan -- when something becomes untenable; be it drought, crop failure and Europe overwhelmed by immigration, a lack of affordable energy taking down the economy (and civil society with it), or superstorms and storm surge wiping out our major cities.

    I have no idea -- which is why I never try to predict bubbles, currency exchanges or the stock market. Perfect analysis leads to bad results all the time; at least for me.

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    1. You have a good point, James. I noted in my post that everything seems to be going faster for our empire in comparison to the Roman Empire. Rome took about 800 years to peak and some 400 years to collapse (and the Eastern Empire lasted another millennium).

      In our case, the "fossil empire" has probably peaked in less than 300 years if we take mid 18th century as the start of the fossil fuel era. So, everything is bigger and moving faster. But why exactly? I don't know. Anyhow, if we were to follow the same "Seneca curve" as the Roman Empire did, we would have at least another century before the last American Emperor leaves the ruins of Washington to fade in the sunset. But that would be just the culmination of a terrible period of wars and decline. Which is what we are already seeing, after all.


      Or maybe the future will be completely different and Emperor Obama XVII will be crowned in the new Imperial capital built in Syrtis Major on Mars.... :-)

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    2. "So, everything is bigger and moving faster. But why exactly?"
      I'm betting on the concept of "metabolism" generalized to physical systems. The candle that burns brighter burns faster...

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  6. Replies
    1. +10! (and watch for an upcoming post!!!!)

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    2. Ugo Bardi wrote...

      "+10! (and watch for an upcoming post!!!!)"

      In the mean time everyone should read the opinion on Paul Craig Roberts about 9/11: http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2015/09/10/911-fourteen-years-later/

      Or it is too "complottista" for your tastes, Ugo? ;-)

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  7. With all due respect, I think that this blog post lacks the high quality I'm used to reading here. Except for an extremely tiny minority of highly intelligent and educated elite scientists and engineers, I am not convinced these workers are needed in an increasingly automated and impoverished, and jobless Europe. I do not think this post paints a sufficiently objective picture of the consequences of these flows of refugees nor I think the solutions implied are effective and positive for Europeans. The problem of resource crisis we face might be even more difficult to convey to politicians if we get carried away by our political ideology.

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  8. There is another difference between today and the last days of Rome. The "barbarians" had by that time acquired a lot of Greco-Roman culture, and learned to respect it. Many of them also shared the same religion as the Christianised Roman population. That made their conquest tolerable, and allowed for a reasonable modus vivendi.

    That is not the case today. The "migrants" are in reality a barbarian invasion, and that probably says all you need to know. But they are invaders implacably hostile to Western culture and values, and who once they settle will work tirelessly to replace our culture with their own. As we can see happening even now in the more immigrant infested countries such as England and Sweden. In just 20 years, for instance, Sweden has gone from being a civilised country in which rape was vanishingly rare, to a hellhole that has the second largest incidence of rape in the world.

    The elites largely do not - dare not - admit this to themselves, and so conditioned is the native population to the idea of the rule of law, that they do not push back even when those laws are clearly being used to effect the destruction of their societies, and, eventually, their civilisation. Dark days ahead, I fear.

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    1. Sweden is crazy now. We have an political elite that refuses to realize that we cannot possible swallow any more immigrants. Instead we increase the number of migrants coming here. Already last winter we lacked places where people could live. Now the government plans to build baracks. At the same time integration has not been working for decades and there is increasing problems with radical islam in the suburbs. Furthermore, the school system is entirely collapsed. The political elite refuses to see any of this, they pretend they are working to improve the situation but everything they do makes it worse. Even worse, there is actually a big and loud part pf the population supporting this. If you are not with them you are a "rasist". The problem is that the swedish well-fare state has created a huge amount of well-fare broilers, that is people that believe that the state is almighty and that expect the state to solve any problem.

      There is also a big and quickly growing part of the population voting for the "sweden democrats", they are the only political party that want to decrease immigration. But people are afraid of being associated with them openly since you get a really bad social stigma if you do. This leads to a situation where mostly people who has not much to loose gets engaged in the party. This is often not the most clever and competent people. It's probably a good bet that Sweden will be in a real mess in a near future. Maybe we will then serve as a warning example for the rest of europe, if its not already to late.

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    2. Robert, your assertions seem badly researched and appear tendentious. It is worth looking at discussions of evidence. The book The Fall of Rome by Bryan Ward-Perkins, who teaches history at Oxford University, discusses evidence for population and other decline after Roman governance and organisation broke down irretrievably in the Western Empire.

      Ward-Perkins provides for example a telling pair of 'before and after' maps of a large area north of Rome City. The traces of people and settlements, (mapped by showing what they left behind,) go from densely populated to almost zero. Of course, as W-P says, (I paraphrase), the follow-on people might have lived in wood and straw structures and eaten from wooden plates and drunk from leather mugs and we would not know they had been there. (In Britain, the follow-on Anglo-Saxons did just that, and their remains are few to discover.) However, W-P does a comparison with Syria (there you go, eh?) where substantial Roman economy persisted across the Eastern Mediterranean, and the evidence of prosperity is on the ground. A substantial population in that region with resources built contemporary substantial churches and dwellings.

      Across early mediaeval Europe, however, the bones of cattle tell a story of diminished agriculture. The cattle got even smaller than domestic cattle in the earlier Iron Age and were very different from those in the Roman period. This is a good book by the way, but not exactly reassuring for the squeamish like me.

      best
      Phil
      PS Your assertions about countries such as mine ‘infested with immigrants’ appear to owe more to fanciful manipulation of statistics than realistic assessment. Life has never been safe, particularly for women. Sweden has collected probably more statistics, with their accompanying disclosure of social conditions, than anybody else over more than 200 years and in recent decades has made a strong bid for among other things, more gender equality. That seems to have led to more disclosure of violence and sexual violence. We see something similar in my own country where sexual harm to children is now being disclosed often 30 or more years after the offences. These latter disclosures particularly highlight institutions which attracted ‘abusers’ as staff who took advantage of their power in relationships.

      It is difficult but necessary I think to see our ‘civilisation’ and its 19th and 20th Century explosion of population, and our urbanisation and wars and migrations, in perspective. As one small example, Britain has not fed itself from its own soil since around 1850.

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  9. Georgi Marinov, so what if Europeans understand the science and environmental consequences? What have they done about it that has made a difference? Mostly feel good green washing and arrogant self assessments like you are doing. Knowing has not made one bit of difference in the destruction of the biosphere. AGW, ocean acidification and the 6th mass extinction are all progressing every year in spite of the awareness and daily doses of scientific papers and press releases. I gave up listening to empty promises and cheerleading. I just look at aggregate numbers that go up every year. Canadians understand the science too , but we have also done nothing that makes a difference and have a denialist government (luckily there are only 33 million of us). Same for the Americans and Australians and emerging countries. I'll grant that Europeans have made more of an effort, but it's too little. No one is willing to give up what it would take and I do not think you we see them give up rationalizing that it is possible. We can't even let go of the growth mentality let alone give up all the unnecessary stuff. Whats it going to take? Another peer reviewed paper with a dire warning at the end? More disasters to go with the ones we can't keep up with now? More refugees? No we will keep doing what we are doing and keep reacting to the crises as they arise. And we will keep pretending that one of these days we are going to get serious. That's just how we evolved - nothing personal. I empathize for everyone in Europe, locals and refugees, over this - it must be highly stressful. I think there is a good chance I will see American refugees up here in Canada in the not to distant future. Maybe even war refugees the way they are losing it down there - insane.

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    1. I clearly said that the scientific understanding among Europeans has not been strong enough to make difference

      However, it at least exists. The majority of the population doesn't have, it's a minority of people, but they exist. And some fraction of the majority is at least receptive to the ideas, not to all of them (draconian population control does not have many adherents), but still.

      The contrast with the pronatalist, expansionist, Allah-will-take-care-of-it-all-so-go-forth-and-multiply, I-did-not-come-from-no-monkey, the-Quran-is-the-inerrant-word-of-God, etc. attitudes towards the world in much of the Muslim world is stark. There are exceptions (the Iranians realized they had a problem and did something about it), but it's still a major difference.

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  10. Reading this reminded me of a song about the absurdity of building these kind of walls...
    Anais Mitchell - Why We Build The Wall



    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3BXl-GNrjk&spfreload=10



    Why do we build the wall?
    My children, my children
    Why do we build the wall?


    Why do we build the wall?
    We build the wall to keep us free
    That's why we build the wall
    We build the wall to keep us free


    How does the wall keep us free?
    My children, my children
    How does the wall keep us free?


    How does the wall keep us free?
    The wall keeps out the enemy
    And we build the wall to keep us free
    That's why we build the wall
    We build the wall to keep us free


    Who do we call the enemy?
    My children, my children
    Who do we call the enemy?


    Who do we call the enemy?
    The enemy is poverty
    And the wall keeps out the enemy
    And we build the wall to keep us free
    That's why we build the wall
    We build the wall to keep us free


    Because we have and they have not!
    My children, my children
    Because they want what we have got!


    Because we have and they have not!
    Because they want what we have got!
    The enemy is poverty
    And the wall keeps out the enemy
    And we build the wall to keep us free
    That's why we build the wall
    We build the wall to keep us free


    What do we have that they should want?
    My children, my children
    What do we have that they should want?


    What do we have that they should want?
    We have a wall to work upon!
    We have work and they have none
    And our work is never done
    My children, my children
    And the war is never won
    The enemy is poverty
    And the wall keeps out the enemy
    And we build the wall to keep us free
    That's why we build the wall
    We build the wall to keep us free
    We build the wall to keep us free

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  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    2. "spiteful scum"?

      There is only one thing I am intolerant of, and that's demonstrably false ideas. I have nothing against people from other cultures (in fact, I am not too fond of that of Europe). But what is wrong and harmful (Islam in this case) is wrong and harmful and there is no place for hiding such things that in a rational discussion.

      And it has to be a rational one - there is no place for emotion here. Nature has no emotions, morals, or any obligation to give us warm and fuzzy feelings and make sure that no horrible and unjust things happen to anyone. So pictures of dead kids might be heartbreaking, but they're also a fact of life, and if you want to meaningfully address the problem, it helps to get a level-headed, rational understanding of the situation. Emotions mess up with that.

      If there is one almost certain thing about the trajectory of the world for the next couple of centuries, it is that at some point population will have to be brought within the carrying capacity of the planet (which by that time might be a lot less than it is now).

      This can only happen through a combination of a decrease in fertility and increase in mortality. The increase in mortality is the nasty stuff you see in Syria and if you want to avoid it, that is, make its contribution to the lowering of the population zero, you have to work towards decreasing fertility accordingly. How are you going to do that while also being tolerant towards cultural practices that boost fertility? It makes zero sense.

      So if you are for tolerance and against "xenophobic" "spiteful scum" like me, you are in fact working for a lot more violent death in the future (note that most of those deaths will happen out of your sight, at least until the proverbial pile of feces hits the fan in the more "civilized" parts of the world too -- everyone got worked up about the dead kid on those shore, but most of the atrocities are happening in Syria, and it's only the twisted minds who frequent LiveLeak who get to see some of them in detail).

      The other basic fact that does not fit very well with our high moral principles is that if we have a given number of people, and a large fraction of them will have to disappear somehow due to ecological reasons nobody can do anything about, and if within that group of people only a very small subgroup understands why all of this is happening, that subgroup absolutely has to be given priority of passage through the bottleneck. Because if they don't (and usually they don't), any chance of avoiding the repetition of the cycle (and yet more violence, dead kids and raped women) after that is gone.

      The last thing anyone who knows me can accuse me of is being some sort of right-wing racist or xenophobe. However, the refusal of the left to face reality, which is for all practical purposes just as strong as that of the right, it's just that the left goes in a different direction when disconnecting from the real world, only ensures that precisely the bad things that they loudly proclaim to be against, will be happening in vastly greater amounts in the future.

      I'd rather be a spiteful scum than play my part in this.

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    3. So, let's do this. First of all, I apologize for having publish a comment that contained an insult to another commenter. Second, let me remove the offending comment. Third, let me ask to the person who sent it, to resend it without the offending term.

      From now on, I'll try to enforce a policy of "no personal offenses whatsoever allowed." (and no racist or xenophobic comments, either)

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    4. Note that I was not offended by that comment (if I was, I would be contradicting what I said about keeping things level-headed and emotion-free).

      I am just disappointed that this is the reaction so I replied because of that. But not because I took personal offense,

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  12. Sorry, Georgi, I must have missed the "strong enough" part. My ex was a very devout Christian who had some of that "Jesus will take care of it mentality" and it was frustrating as hell. Especially since I'm a lifelong atheist. That's also why I find the whole thing troubling and I predict you will see the same religious fundamentalism in the US as they continue to unravel. I really do not know what to do, but I think it will end badly. I have become a big picture determinist after years of study and observation. Jay Hanson is looking like he might be bang on.


    http://www.dieoff.org/

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    1. Jay Hanson is the measuring stick for how serious you are about your environmental/resource concerns. The way his websites have been designed does not help his cause, but what was true 10 years ago remain true today: people can in these discussions can be quite well divided in two groups - people who fully agree with the core of his conclusions and people who have not come anywhere close to refuting them...

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  13. Ugo discusses the walls built during the Roman Empire in our recent Vidcast.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7I4baR7YiIw

    RE

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  14. I didn't want to talk about this, but it looks like it's better to do it now than later.

    A major issue going forward will be assigning blame. As the system falls apart, there will be all sorts of crises in which apparently innocent people will suffer horribly, and accordingly there will be a lot of finger pointing and assigning blame. And all of it will be completely counterproductive because in reality the blame will always be collective, and when it gets shifted to some small subset of people, this will only mask the real reasons for why certain things are happening, and will prevent any possibility of meaningful action.

    Who is to blame for Syria?

    1) External factors? Yes, they played some role. And they also played a major role 100 years ago when the borders were drawn. But that's not everything.

    2) Climate change? Yes, that played a major role. Who is responsible -- largely the West, however, the developing world (including Syria itself) can only blame the West for it if it was itself an example of having conscious achieved sustainability, But it is the complete opposite of that -- its major goal is to get in a position where it will be able to pollute and wreck the environment just as much as the West. This it has absolutely no right to claim the moral high ground.

    3) I remember how for several years prior to the Arab Spring, people in the Peak Oil corner of the internet were discussing the ELM and specifically using countries such as Egypt, Yemen and Syria as examples. So who is responsible for Syria turning from a net exporter into a net importer? Partly nobody -- you can't blame physics and geology, partly the Syrians government, which did not plan well for that. But also the population -- how many people in Syria do you think realistically would have said "Keep it in the ground for later" based on a good understanding of Peak Oil?

    4) Overpopulation? Nobody can look objectively at the situation and not identify this as major reason for the crisis -- it's just such a classic Malthusian situation, in which a region has long ago stopped being able to feed itself, the population is exploding, and then natural disaster happen, and this leads to whatever tensions already existed in it erupting to the surfaces and a war. Who is responsible for that? Every single Syrian parent that had more than two children.

    5) Religion? Yes, definitely a factor. Who is to blame? Certainly the radicalization of Islam was caused by external forces, but I have hard time seeing how anyone would radicalize the Jainist into a condition similar to that of ISIS. So in reality every single Muslim in the world, including those in Syria, has to share the blame for that, because it is their collective absurd beliefs that make this possible.

    So to sum it up, we have external factors playing geopolitical games, which triggered the crisis, and we have corrupt and incompetent elite in the country, which played its role in creating the conditions, but none of those forces would have been able to bring the collapse of the system if it wasn't for the groundwork that was laid by pretty much every person in that society, through their religious beliefs and attitudes towards fertility.

    So do individual people deserve to die drowning in the sea or by mortar shells in the streets of their home towns? On a personal level, no. But their individual actions, when taken together over a long period of time, made it if not inevitable, at least very likely. I know that's a tough one to swallow, but that's how it is. Our turn to suffer the consequences of our everyday actions and absurd beliefs will come too one day.

    Note that if we focus on just one of the many factors involved, usually the one that we already love to hate, and ignore others (usually the ones that would force us to take a long hard look at our own behavior), we will fail to understand the entirety of the situation.

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    1. Georgi Marinov said...
      "5) Religion? Yes, definitely a factor. Who is to blame? Certainly the radicalization of Islam was caused by external forces, but I have hard time seeing how anyone would radicalize the Jainist into a condition similar to that of ISIS. So in reality every single Muslim in the world, including those in Syria, has to share the blame for that, because it is their collective absurd beliefs that make this possible. "

      I totally agree, but with a caveat: the 10+ year of imperialistic American military interventions in the ME area greatly accelerated the radicalization of the wide population, that, deprived of any chance of hope, turned to the "normal" refuge of the hopeless: religion.

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  15. If history repeats, then the past probably had the same problems as the present/future(considering our efforts to understand the economic & social factors of Roman Empire life are hampered by lack of information).

    So as Christopher posted,
    >The demise of europe will be caused by european humanism, democracy and our low child birth rate;

    so the demise of the roman Empire was caused by easy living & anti military desire(by the above slave/serf city dwelling classes), the continually increasing focus on self rather than the collective in the later years of any civilization, and the low child birth rate.

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  16. Thinking about this a little more, and extended the wall analogy -- probably to the breaking point -- Roman had a second set of walls build during the crisis of the third century from Aurelian forward. They acknowledged that the vast frontier walls were not workable, and they built walls around Rome and the other major cities throughout the empire, and they built up their cavalry to be more mobile and flexible. By acknowledging that they could not keep the Germans, who by now had larger populations, better technology and a better understanding of Roman tactics, from crashing through the frontier, they started to control the damage the happened when they did get through. Barbarians would break into the empire, but there wasn't much to steal, as they couldn't siege the city walls. Plus, when they started to head back toward Germany at the end of the summer, the Roman army could come out from behind the walls and punish them, and get their stuff back.

    The model worked for a couple hundred years. At least until the Huns came along.

    This could be somewhat relevant, given that Europe is struggling with not only European wide borders, but also with Schengen, movement within Europe and individual states building their own walls. I hear politicians talk about how we need extreme measures for extreme times (we aren't suspending Schengen to kill it; we're suspending Schengen to save it), and how we need to address the root causes to get things back to normal, and it doesn't take a lot of imagination to see Europe broken down into small entities with lots of small walls.

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  17. I send you these personal ideas about your interesting post:

    The roman expansion in the times of the republic,was driven for the fear to an invasion of the gauls, and the end of the expansión was driven for the shortage of countries whose conquest would be profitable. The disaster of Teutoburg, only accelerated this policy with respect to Germany.

    Nowaday in the EU there are a excess of manpower, that lead to restrictive inmigration policies.

    The syrian "refugees" that are going to the EU are really inmigrants that are heading to Germany, in a flux managed by the West.

    The Syrian people ,according Tonybee, must be called inner proletarians.

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  18. At least back in the days of Rome and the Ming Dynasty, they built decent walls. All the Hungarians can afford to drop down is a few miles of Razor wire fencing.

    Even utilizing fossil fuels, Caterpillar Back Hoes and Daiwoo Front End Loaders, to build any kind of reasonable wall that couldn't have a hole blown through it with an RPG would first off cost a fortune and second it would take a decade at least to build it. You think the refugees are going to wait around a decade while this is built?

    For a while they will drop down razor wire and put troops patrolling the border on horseback. However, the refugees will get weapons, and it will become a free for all like on the Mexican border.

    It will only stop when the folks trying to migrate realize that things are no better where they wanna go then where they are.

    I give it a decade before Europe is in the same general state of Civil War as the MENA countries.

    RE

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  19. 1) I have never liked Arnold Toynbee and various aspects of his interpretations of history and several of his categories. There is evidence that he was a Western intelligence asset with ties to the Royal Institute for International Affairs, Chatham house and etc. 2). Who are the invading " barbarians"? Perhaps we should not forget that the U.S. , the Europeans, NATO or their proxies have created an arc of devastation stretching from Libya to Pakistan wrecking several countries, societies and structures and infrastructures all along the way. Libya, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen come to mind . The "barbarians" from these countries are now flooding into Europe after barbarians from the U.S. and Europe with their Tomahawks, F-16's , Tornados, Typhoons, Mirages, F-35's and etc. etc and etcetera , totally wrecked their countries with assorted pretexts. Even highly "social democratic" countries like Norway participated in the destruction of Lybia. It will take decades -if ever- for these countries to be physically rebuilt and generations for the social and psychological scars to heal. I think all this is just slightly ldifferent from the Roman Empire example outlined in this post .

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    1. You're focusing too much on the negative connotations of "barbarian". There's no doubt as to which is which when considering power flows and culture accumulation.

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Who

Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014)