What a glorious delusion

Complex societies have collapsed many times before. It has not always been a bad thing. As James C Scott points out in his fascinating book, Against the Grain, when centralised power began to collapse, through epidemics, crop failure, floods, soil erosion or the self-destructive perversities of government, its corralled subjects would take the chance to flee. In many cases they joined the “barbarians”. This so-called secondary primitivism, Scott notes, “may well have been experienced as a marked improvement in safety, nutrition and social order. Becoming a barbarian was often a bid to improve one’s lot.” The dark ages that inexorably followed the glory and grandeur of the state may, in that era, have been the best times to be alive.

That’s like saying the Black Death was a good thing. Sure, living standards improved in the wake. As 60% of the previous population survived to enjoy 100% of the capital of the society. Great, so being a free living barbarian is fun.

If you survive, if you don’t count the experience of those who don’t.

18 comments on “What a glorious delusion

  1. Dunno why speccy, weedy guys who look like they’d die within a week of Waitrose closing down would view the potential collapse of modern industrial civilisation as anything other than an unmitigated disaster.

    Maybe George Monbiot hopes a muscly, gasoline-fancying warlord named Lord Humungus will let him join his harem, or something.

  2. Joining the Rotherham Rape Gangs would, I am sure, be enormously fun for the right sort of man. It would be a little tough on the pre-teen girls of Rotherham though. However as the police refuse to do anything about said gangs, it is inevitable that people will join them. Why not? They are the real power in the land.

    In fact I would say significant numbers of British women have joined them already. Ironically. They know that White men are too effeminate to defend them and so they want a more vibrant husband. Fair enough.

    But the weak are the people who will suffer the most.

  3. “If you survive, if you don’t count the experience of those who don’t.”

    It’s like the whole needing to break eggs to make an omelet delusion.

    Firstly, omelets are not made for the benefit of the eggs.

    Secondly, in the context in which that statement is usually made, where’s the omelet? Plenty of broken eggs around though.

  4. Mr Scott has presumably observed the millions fleeing the Chinese empire under Mao and his successors to join those whom the Chinese considered “barbarians”. In Hong Kong they did indeed achieve/receive improved nutrition, security and social order.

  5. Sounds like the sort of thing they used to say about East London: that life was better when Ronnie and Reggie were running the place.

  6. I wonder if the current destruction of civilisation in Great Yarmouth will be a good thing in the end.

    I thought UKIP would sort it all out….maybe they will when everyone forgets about that bimbo texting.

  7. Well, yes, it would be the end of several empires if Trump has his way.

    Goodbye to all the bent hangers-on, the idle government employees and the corrupt politicians (Hi Hils!)

    Then George names all the institutions that someone on this side of the Atlantic should flush down the toilet: the fraudsters BMA and New Scientist. Any science magazine that tells you “science is settled” should be thrown in the bin. Presumably, had it been around in the ’20s, it would have started a “Save Newton” petition against dear old Albert. Bye bye modern physics, courtesy of the New Fake Scientist.

  8. Steve nails it.

    Monobigot is the loser who once wrote a column all about his weedy inability to deal with a couple of Pikey chancers who stole Mono’s pal’s expensive camera.

    All of a sudden he’s Conan?*

    *Not the American TV wanker last spotted sea-gargling just off the one safe spot in Haiti–although he and Mono are probably interchangable–the other Conan.

  9. I thought the article was going to be about Sweden after the opening paragraph”it’s a good question, but it seems too narrow: “Is western civilisation on the brink of collapse?” the lead article in this week’s New Scientist asks. The answer is, probably. But why just western? Yes, certain western governments are engaged in a frenzy of self-destruction.” – but no it’s all Trumps fault. – BORING

  10. Isn’t ‘barbarian’ just code for ‘not taxed to the hilt by some remote State in order to pay for its excesses’? Ie leaving ‘civilisation’ might be an immensely liberating experience?

  11. I wonder if he gives names of the people who joined up with the Huns or Genghis Khan or the Saxons or…..in order to “improve one’s lot”

  12. I seem to recall an American coloured physicist in the 1930s who emigrated to the USSR to improve his lot. The fact that I can’t find anything about him rather spoils the theory

  13. “The freedman … exposed, in true and lively colours, the vices of a declining empire of which he had so long been the victim; the cruel absurdity of the Roman princes, unable to protect their subjects against the public enemy, unwilling to trust them with arms for their own defence; the intolerable weight of taxes, rendered still more oppressive by the intricate or arbitrary modes of collection; the obscurity of numerous and contradictory laws; the tedious and expensive forms of judicial proceedings; the partial administration of justice; and the universal corruption which increased the influence of the rich and aggravated the misfortunes of the poor.”

    Gibbon, on Romans who went to live under Hunnish rule

  14. Sure Gibbon was writing about ancient Rome, or predicting the oppressive and useless 21st century UK government?

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