Tag Archives: decline

The U.S. in the role of Byzantium in a neo-medieval geopolitical balance…interesting.

You have to go back a thousand years to find a time when the world was genuinely western and eastern at the same time. Then, China’s Song dynasty presided over the world’s largest cities, mastered gunpowder and printed paper money. At around the same time India’s Chola empire ruled the seas to Indonesia, and the Abbasid caliphate dominated from Africa to Persia. Byzantium swayed and lulled in weakness both due to and despite its vastness. Only in Europe is this medieval landscape viewed negatively. This was a truly multi-polar world.

Parag Khanna, “Future Shock? Welcome to the New Middle Ages,” Financial Times, December 28, 2010 (link to non-paywall version)

Hypothesis: the Roman Empire just became too complex to afford sustaining itself anymore.

According to Tainter, societies become more complex as they try to solve problems. Social complexity can include differentiated social and economic roles, reliance on symbolic and abstract communication, and the existence of a class of information producers and analysts who are not involved in primary resource production. Such complexity requires a substantial “energy” subsidy (meaning resources, or other forms of wealth). When a society confronts a “problem,” such as a shortage of or difficulty in gaining access to energy, it tends to create new layers of bureaucracy, infrastructure, or social class to address the challenge. Eventually, this cost grows so great that any new challenges such as invasions and crop failures cannot be solved by the acquisition of more territory. At that point, the empire fragments into smaller units.

Joseph Tainter, The Collapse of Complex Societies

Mission accomplished, again?

There’s no difference between this declaration that the mission is over and declaring “Mission Accomplished.” This so-called withdrawal is utter nonsense. There are still 50,000 troops in Iraq. “Combat” versus “non-combat” semantics don’t change that fact. Troops are still at risk and the costs continue. As with the oil in the Gulf, things aren’t gone just because you officially say that they are.

Just as hard to stomach is NBC’s tone of self-congratulation for breaking the news. In fact, it’s not breaking news at all. It actually “constitutes official Pentagon announcement.” What is this, the Korean Central News Agency? Xinhua?

1936 and 2010

Now that capitalism was passing into a decadent phase, and many of the grooves along which they had rolled so happily were worn down to nothing, they were broken and beaten, and their ability to choose the broad outlines of their daily lives, to make political decisions, was now less than it had been originally. It was inevitable that the children of such muddlers, who would themselves be muddlers, would support any system which offered them new opportunities for profitable obedience, which would pattern society with new grooves in place of the old, and would never be warned by any instinct of competence and self-preservation if that system was leading to universal disaster.

Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (Penguin Classics) (Paperback) [Kindle Edition]

I suppose that’s what you get for reducing writing to “content” in the first place.

“There’s a new kind of clutter littering Web pages. It’s not just the obnoxious ‘Refinance your mortgage’ ads plastered atop and alongside articles. It’s also not just the animated nonsense that floats by as you’re trying to read. It’s the article itself.”

Richard Ziade on the increasingly prevalent disposable content, as posted by marco

Killing Creativity

Part of the problem with creativity, and what’s killing creativity, is the flattening of the distinction between creativity and innovation. Earlier this month, Newsweek, a magazine in its financial death throes, made a tiny stir in the business innovation community over “The Creativity Crisis.” Yet, fundamentally, the article itself betrayed an absolute misunderstanding of what it means to create. Creativity is not a “product,” not just the raw material used to stoke a commercialization engine. It’s not a natural resource like coal or fresh water. The typical rhetoric around creativity assumes an output always already reduced to nothing but instrumentality. Destroyed in this flattening is any distinction between the recombination of elements, and incremental improvement, and creativity as the true bringing into being.

Throughout the Newsweek article, it’s creativity as consumption, the “creativity” of buying a cake mix and adding an extra egg. This sense pervades wide swaths of the creativity porn one finds among consultants and bloggers looking to give you “Ten Ways To Be More Creative Now” and the like. All of that babble of people selling ways to be more creative (like being more popular, more attractive, a better housewife, a better employee) just pulls us further away from what it means to make, to make things out of the texture of being, to go into being and bring something back. Perhaps the “crisis” merely comes from the fact that such false creativity is running out of things to cut and paste, with only so many remakes to make, and only so many iterations of derivative to sell.

In short, these so-called creativities are merely creativizations of mediatized components. If only they actually were in “crisis!” The notion behind them takes utterly unthoughtfully at face value what Heidegger calls the “enframing” (Ge-stell) of the technological, reducing all beings to nothing other than their availability and manipulability. Such a view drags creativity into the realm where “everywhere everything is ordered to stand by, to be immediately on hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for future ordering.” And further, again, via Heidegger, “radically endangers the relation to the essence of truth.”

There is, as always, room in the market for innovation; raw materials and prior works all equally veins to tap for economic growth. But to muddy the issue of fading innovation with a sloppy view of creativity—that serves no end at all.