Quote of the Day: The Pillars of Civilization

 

We know that the pillars of civilization are cheap energy, meritocracy, Law and Order, and free speech and all four of those pillars are currently under attack. – Michael Shellenberger

I would add a fifth pillar: cheap and available food. But this quote is several years old. The assault on farmers may not have been as obvious then as the attacks on the other four.

All five pillars provide stability. It is hard to think clearly on an empty stomach. Cheap energy permits things to be done that would otherwise be too costly to entertain. Not just freedom to travel, but keeping your home warm enough to be comfortable. Meritocracy permits the most capable to advance to positions of leadership and trust rather than accidents of birth. Law and order provide the confidence to build and create. You don’t have to worry that your goods will be arbitrarily plundered. Finally free speech permits information to flow to provide the basis for sound decisions.

The loss of any one of these produces scarcity. The loss of any of these increases prices, pushing those at the bottom of society  (who have less income and wealth) to the wall, while the powerful retain their first call on what goods remain available. Lose two or more and crisis results – crisis from which the powerful are generally best insulated. They are the ones for whom civilization is most a luxury. It is those on the bottom of society for whom civilization is most a necessity, because a civilized society is the one most likely to permit them to advance out of poverty.

Make no mistake. In most civilizations those on the top are the ones who can most afford to be barbarians. For them civilization is a barrier to accumulating power. They are the one most likely to undermine civilization to increase their own power.

Will this mean their own lives will be diminished in terms of technology and luxury? Possibly. But the fruits of modern civilization, especially the one we enjoyed between the fall of the Soviet Union and 9-11, are so massive no single individual can enjoy all of them. Many of those at the top may decide the loss of potential future benefits do not outweigh the additional power they can gain through the ruin of civilization.

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  1. Lunchbox Gerald Coolidge
    Lunchbox Gerald
    @Jose

    Seawriter: In most civilizations those on the top are the ones who can most afford to be barbarians. For them civilization is a barrier to accumulating power. They are the one most likely to undermine civilization to increase their own power. 

    Well said. 

    I am reminded of politicians who want to defund the police, while augmenting their personal security.

    • #1
  2. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    “It is those on the bottom of society for whom civilization is most a necessity, because a civilized society is the one most likely to permit them to advance out of poverty.”

    Agreed, but not everyone wants Freedom.

     

    People whose lives are barren and insecure seem to show a greater willingness to obey than people who are self-sufficient and self-confident. To the frustrated, freedom from responsibility is more attractive than freedom from restraint. They are eager to barter their independence for relief of the burdens of willing, deciding and being responsible for inevitable failure. They willingly abdicate the directing of their lives to those who want to plan, command and shoulder all responsibility.”

    • #2
  3. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    These are all good points, but I would go back to even more basic principles for avoiding poverty: graduate high school, get married, then have kids (and stay married/don’t have kids with multiple partners). People with more money and education can, to some extent, smooth over the problems caused by not living life in the recommended order. Children raised in familial chaos are not going to thrive and succeed in a meritocracy. And yet wealthy and successful people endorse lifestyles that will result in chaos for most people. 

    *****

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    • #3
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I have a new post that refers to barbarism. I think you are describing a degrading process that will continue to debilitate the poor and support the rich. How could it not? Good post.

    • #4
  5. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Lunchbox Gerald (View Comment):

    Seawriter: In most civilizations those on the top are the ones who can most afford to be barbarians. For them civilization is a barrier to accumulating power. They are the one most likely to undermine civilization to increase their own power.

    Well said.

    I am reminded of politicians who want to defund the police, while augmenting their personal security.

    and those who installed barbed wire and 25,000 National Guard troops around the Capitol. 

    • #5
  6. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Lilly B (View Comment):
    These are all good points, but I would go back to even more basic principles for avoiding poverty: graduate high school, get married, then have kids (and stay married/don’t have kids with multiple partners).

    My grandparents’ generation came from Greece in the 1890-1920s. All of them did all of that. They graduated from school (even those who stayed in Greece), got married and stayed married and had children with one partner. The ones who stayed in Greece did all that right. They stayed poor. Never got out of poverty.

    The ones that came here – even the ones who had to sleep in the street initially because they couldn’t afford a room when they got here? They did okay. All became prosperous. All became homeowners and their children all graduated from college. One of my grandparents went from being an impoverished peasant to a college professor.

    What was the difference? The ones who stayed in Greece lacked the pillars of civilization. There was no meritocracy. Food and energy was expensive.  They lacked free speech. Law and order was what the local strong man declared it to be.  The ones that moved here had the benefits of all five pillars. 

     

    • #6
  7. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Seawriter: We know that the pillars of civilization are cheap energy, meritocracy, Law and Order, and free speech and all four of those pillars are currently under attack. – Michael Shellenberger

    I would have thought that free speech was the exception rather than the norm in the history of civilizations.  

    • #7
  8. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Lilly B (View Comment):
    These are all good points, but I would go back to even more basic principles for avoiding poverty: graduate high school, get married, then have kids (and stay married/don’t have kids with multiple partners).

    What was the difference? The ones who stayed in Greece lacked the pillars of civilization. There was no meritocracy. Food and energy was expensive. They lacked free speech. Law and order was what the local strong man declared it to be. The ones that moved here had the benefits of all five pillars.

    Yes! And of course getting married and staying married to raise children are not sufficient to produce success. I have examples in my own family of people who have had lifelong marriages without much economic success as well as people with multiple marriages and blended families who have been pretty successful financially. The economic policies and specific industries involved matter a lot. I think the pillars of civilization you highlight are all part of the culture and make a huge difference in how hard people work and how much they succeed.
    Maybe people would be better at securing the other pillars if they maintain strong families? 

    • #8
  9. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Lilly B (View Comment):
    These are all good points, but I would go back to even more basic principles for avoiding poverty: graduate high school, get married, then have kids (and stay married/don’t have kids with multiple partners).

    My grandparents’ generation came from Greece in the 1890-1920s. All of them did all of that. They graduated from school (even those who stayed in Greece), got married and stayed married and had children with one partner. The ones who stayed in Greece did all that right. They stayed poor. Never got out of poverty.

    The ones that came here – even the ones who had to sleep in the street initially because they couldn’t afford a room when they got here? They did okay. All became prosperous. All became homeowners and their children all graduated from college. One of my grandparents went from being an impoverished peasant to a college professor.

    What was the difference? The ones who stayed in Greece lacked the pillars of civilization. There was no meritocracy. Food and energy was expensive. They lacked free speech. Law and order was what the local strong man declared it to be. The ones that moved here had the benefits of all five pillars.

    Thank you for sharing your observation based on experience.

    Our nation provided so much abundance for people who came here. This is not to suggest that many people did not continue to live a life of hard knocks after arriving on our shores.

    However many of those  people were able to create better lives, if not for themselves, but for the children and the generations to come.

    But America’s relative affluence over the last 70 years has created a society in which so many people refuse to  look ahead – not even to examine what is coming for our society in the next 15 months.

    Some of us already realize that over the last 6 months, American farmers paid out at least twice the amount of money for the fertilizer needed for growing crops. This means that people already tightening their belts on account of inflation are in big trouble. People who have been able to escape the ravages of inflation up to now may soon discover that this July or August, it might be better to skip that vacation and invest in sacks of beans and rice and what not.

    In Europe, from tiny Netherlands to Ireland and across Italy, France and now even England, the public has started to protest big time.

    Farmers are the drivers of this new protest movement. They use the tractors, dump trucks and other vehicles to block off major roadways with dumped loads of manure. Our traditional media does not report on any of this.

    Those protests are needed here as well. We lost over a half million farms recently – smaller well managed farms where the livestock was not fed truckloads of Skittles but actual grass and corn. Fertilizer and fuel costs are hitting the remaining farmers quite hard.

    My assessment: America’s holomodor is at hand.

    • #9
  10. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):
    My assessment: America’s holomodor is at hand.

    America’s farmers are armed. TPTB  might try,  but they will pay in blood if they push too far. Another saying of my Greek ancestors was “Better to die on your feet than live on your knees.” I think a lot of American farmers feel the same way.

    • #10
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