thought experiment philosophy

Are we living at the end of an empire?

A thought experiment.

There is a nuclear war in morning. The capitals and major cities are all gone. You happened to have been visiting your aunt in Castle’elsewhere, a cute provincial town, and remained alive and well.

In the wake of the war, you realise that life will never be the same. There is an army barracks that remained unharmed down the road from your aunt’s house. The commanding officer is used to taking orders and is awaiting them. They aren’t coming. Your cousin just returned from the neighbouring Castle’nowhere and said that people have started looting the local shopping centre. Someone has to take charge and you’re not in the habit of relying on others. You win the trust of the commanding officer and now have an army at your disposal – although not much else.

What is the first thing that you do?

thought experiment philosophy

I would find food for the army. My particular Castle’elswhere happens to be in Ireland. We have milk and beef galore, and even some barley and rapeseed oil. Some artisanal cheese. Guinness and Jameson. But the ports are all in tatters and it will be a while until we will manage to import food. Scurvy is a real threat: there is no vitamin C on this island.

I am now Commanderina-in-Chief Martina and I have an army of malnourished men whose teeth will soon start falling out and their clothes are wearing thin. A man who used to grow a few carrots for himself arrives at my doorstep and explains that he can provide a steady supply of carrots, rich in Vitamin C. Let’s call him Captain Orange. Captain Orange is the only man in the country who had the foresight/luck/interest in growing carrots – and the ports are still closed, so he has no competitors. Captain Orange soon becomes a very rich and powerful man as he has something I need to retain my power. I make a deal with him that we should only supply a certain amount of carrots, enough to keep the army healthy and as for the general population we need to supply just over the scurvy-threshold because if we supply more that, it will weaken our power and if we supply less, there will be riots. Power, eh.

how does power work thought experiment

Back to the real world.

This got me thinking of the Googles and Facebooks – the multinationals in Ireland. The lads here aren’t the programmers/engineers that would be able to solve ubercomplex problems (I imagine they are mostly in California). They are human resources, corporate social responsibility, account managers, etc. In the event of such a near apocalyptic event, of what use are the official skills of the majority of these people?

During my short stint in a multinational, I used to always wonder how come there are so many people literally busy doing nothing, or something I simply didn’t understand. Making slides about making slides and trackers about other trackers.

The multinational is Captain Orange. They come to the government and tell them that they have what the government so needs to keep the population just over the (first world) poverty line: jobs. Not just in Ireland, but in lots of places. By moving to Ireland and paying let’s say 10,000 people wages to do nothing  corporate back/middle office jobs, they still save money on tax. By coming to other countries they will gain something else: the points isn’t that Ireland is a tax haven. The point is about solving problems. As Arthur Schopenhauer used to say, talent hits a target no one else can hit and genius hits a target no one else can see. Yes, we all know their product is phenomenal. But the real problem they solve, and the reason they have so much clout, isn’t what it seems. Genius, not just talented. The more enduring the problem and the more efficacious the solution, the more leverage you get.

The next thing I wondered about were our first world problems. Are we living in an age that’s analogous to the end of the Roman empire?

  • Tremendous centralisation and its cousin globalisation.
  • Society is tearing itself apart: different camps of Westerners seem to have more in common with other “tribes” than with each other (just think Clinton supporters vs Trump supporters). Diversity of thought is good, but this is diversity of non-thought. Most of these people aren’t pro x, y, z, they are anti a, b, c.
  • Research is mass produced for the sake of being published and isn’t really coming up with anything hugely new or even worthwhile.
  • The buildings of today look worse than the buildings of 100 years ago, even accounting for survivorship bias. Same with music. Same with art.
  • Lack of innovation. True monopolies: the two main credit card companies, call them V and M, are basically the same entity in their business practices, they interchange staff and outsource to each other in different countries. And they are also indispensable as far as the state is concerned. They aren’t the only example, of course. We neither incentivise innovation, nor do we have as burning a need for it. And then we wonder where the inequality comes from.
  • Changes in sexual behaviour: described pretty well by Gary Wilson

I am by no means saying that things are worse today than they were 100 years ago. But it is a different environment: where do we go from here?


On a recent walk, I took these two pictures from the same place:

decline of the western civilisation

The above pier was built in 1821. Look dreamy.

western civilisation coming to an end

The structure closest to us was built in the 1980s. Looks dystopian.

When they dig up our stuff in 5,000 years, what will they say?

36 thoughts on “Are we living at the end of an empire?”

  1. Oh. And another thing. Most of humanity spends time doing “nothing…” “Making slides about making slides…” as you so nicely put it. Which begs the question: what is NOT a waste of time?


      1. Yes, Dr. That is a good question, isn’t it? Something I’ve been pondering for awhile. But while you ponder, take a moment to read “Akira’s Darkness Rises III” on my blog. All my posts will be removed by tomorrow, Thursday 7/20/17. At leas you can find out what happened to the GlennFiddich. TTYL. Looking forward to more of your deeper, intellectual posts. Thanks!


      2. Ah gosh, I never made it to see what Akira does. I hope that poor soul made it 🙂

        As for the answer to your question (if there is such a thing) in my view is that you need to be doing something that agrees with your own principles. That’s all any of us can ever do.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. That was quite the variety of topics you espoused there Doc.

    The end of an empire (that of the West) would require that it collapse and the Orcish Hoards overwhelm us in some way. I don’t see that empire failing.

    The empire of capitalism, now that might be on the verge of some fundamental collapse. “Free markets”, consumerism, capitalism, dog-eat-dog, those surely won’t survive as the automation advances eliminate most labor (but not work) and 50% (and growing) of the humans on the planet have no means of earning a consumer’s wage.

    The empire of enlightement’s progress? Yeah, that one too may be ready for collapse. Remember, 50% of the world’s population — right now — have IQ’s less than 100. That’s 3.7 BILLION people. That in concert with the dogma droned into such folks could easily push many countries into ultra-right fanaticism (Hey! That sounds familiar.) thereby collapsing much of what we progressives have tried to build over the last few centuries.

    Personally, I’m convinced a CME is in humanity’s future cards. A pair of massive CMEs (those we barely missed in 2012) would end all empires.

    So, stick around Commander Martina, you’re leadership skills will soon be needed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, many argue that Europe isn’t what it used to be. I guess you are based in the US Over here, things are much more progressivist compared to the US, I think, though it seems you guys pay no less tax.

      As for the IQ point, it’s always the same portion of the population by definition, isn’t it? The population is growing of course, so I guess that makes a difference.

      What is a CME? Coordinated market economy?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. On Sunday (7/23/2017) on the opposite side of the sun a massive solar flare erupted (X class probably) accompanied by a huge magnetic plasma wave. These things happen quite often. It’s just chance that we haven’t been nailed by one in the last 150 years.


  3. Martina, you should read Toynbee’s A Study of History. He has said much the same thing, and in the process converted history into a science. (Only, he took 15 volumes to cover it. There is a 3-volume condensation, which took me all of one summer to read.)
    The main difference between the Roman Empire and the Multinational Empire is that we now have more destructive technology, covering every bit of the planet. They only converted the Sahara from their breadbasket into a desert. We are doing much better: have entered the 6th extinction event.
    Yes, the empire is ending, and when it goes, the bacteria and moulds will rule, for maybe 10 million years until complex life has evolved again. We are liberating all the methane that ended the Permian period, and that resulted in 96% extinction.
    But it’s all right. The students are burning down this school, but there are billions of other schools in the universe. Maybe I’ll meet you in one.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This was very nicely presented and quite an experiment. I wonder what each of us would do? Are any of us prepared for real disasters? Interesting blog post, Martina. ~Robin


    1. I am currently reading Jordan Peterson’s work – he’s a modern day psychologist/philosopher – and he argues that for most of us if we had lived in Nazi Germany, we would have been Nazis. Now that’s an interesting statement/thought experiment, isn’t it? Thanks for stopping by, Robin!


  5. Amazing post and fabulous food for thought . Thank you, by the way for popping in and following my little blog 😊


      1. Thank you Martina. It is beautiful, yes- how nice that you spent time there 😊Thank you for reading and commenting – I thought no one would read the recipes and I was basically posting for posterity! 😂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. That article was EXTREMELY right leaning – didn’t realize that… It had some insightful things to say, but in the end was just a “we need more guns made by US corporations” speech…

      — “This is a war, then, between US-led capitalist globalization, and anyone who resists it.” —

      Interesting to see how the corptocracy thinks about such things though.


    2. I am quite conflicted on the notion of states. On the one hand, having been born in the USSR right before its collapse and now living in a country that is less than 100 years old, I don’t have much faith in states. On the other hand, I don’t see an alternative. I find this race for supremacy so off-putting, but then again someone will end up being an overlord, so their argument is that it may as well be them. Oh well.


  6. Hear, hear! Thank you. Your bullet point statements are spot-on. I work with both multinational organizations, and national/ regional organizations that have adopted multinational “best practices- standards” (group think). Stifles innovation.


  7. I must admit, as a westerner, I often wonder if I am living to see the end of the west. We currently have a president who potentially colluded with the Russian government, has fired an active F.B.I. director who was investigating his ties to Russia, is currently threatening another director who is continuing the investigation, and labels any news organization that opposes his political views or report on his misconduct as fake news. The U.S. is more divided than ever. I feel our so-called democracy is being threatened, and if we are not careful, we can fall under a dictatorship. I also feel that the U.S. has lost a significant amount of global influence because of our president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accords. The east has a huge opportunity to take center stage on a global scale and hurt the American economy. I also feel our president’s negative views towards foreign governments and trade is slowly shutting doors left and right. When I think about it, the U.S. might have had its run, and like all empire it is destined to fall. Our end will not come from an invaders conquering us. The U.S. will collapse within itself.


    1. I don’t live in the US, so it’s very interesting to get your views. Out of interest, what new sources do you currently regard as being high quality?

      The US doesn’t operate alone of course – Europe is very much attached (forming what we call the West) and yeah, I am very curious where it is all going.


      1. I am probably not a good source, because I will be honest. I have disliked Trump since he became the face of the birther movement, so my view is skewed against him.

        But …

        The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times are the most award winning news organizations of the U.S. They do makes mistakes, but they seem to get the first scoop on almost everything. I follow them on youtube.

        However, I personally prefer the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) since they are a non-profit news organization. PBS is mostly funded by states, colleges, and public schools districts.

        If you like news and comedy, I have gotten into watching The Late Show with John Oliver, The Late Night with Seth Meyers, and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, but they do lean left. A professor I visit frequently got me into watching them, and he is a registered Democrat.

        I recommend you stay away from Sean Hannity and especially the Breibert News Network, who has no journalistic integrity in my eyes.

        You should know, I have nothing against the Republican party and Fox News in general. I was raised watching Fox News, and I am an independent voter who dislikes party affiliations, but Hannity is too far right for my taste.

        I hope this helps.


      2. You know, I think the diversity of news sources has led to us being swamped with anything we want. It’ s confirmation bias on steroids. If you are looking for something – you will find it, albeit it may not be real. I guess we constantly need to reexamine our sources


  8. Thanks for the comparison! Can’t say I know much history myself, but I do love learning the circumstances and beliefs of past ages. I’ve done some looking into the idea that history is cyclic, have any thoughts on that?


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