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Update: 23 Sept 2007

"The balance between mouths and food will be
maintained in the future, as in the past,
by famine, pestilence, and war."
Thomas Malthus

"Man, not Earth, makes civilization."
"Total perspective is an optical illusion."
"Nature loves difference as the necessary
material of selection and evolution."
Will & Ariel Durant

Malthus and the Durants provide historical perspectives into civilization.

To begin, we examine some physical limits to civilization in contrast with societal behavior -- a clash between humanity and nature with America the largest abuser.

The biosphere we share is some 20 miles thick and spans the girth of the globe. It is not so vast that it cannot be disturbed, or even destroyed. Not since a bolide (mini asteroid) ended the reign of the dinosaurs, has the biosphere been presented a challenge like that of civilization. This human-made challenge is more chemical and biological than physical.

  • By burning coal, oil, and gas we release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are now driving a global temperature increase and acidification of oceans.
  • By releasing certain fluorocarbons into the atmosphere, civilization has altered the ozone layer that protects life from deadly ultraviolet rays from the sun.
  • By releasing other chemicals into the environment, civilization has introduced disease into numerous pockets all over the world.
  • By deforestation, wet lands reclamation, and processing chemicals, civilization is driving thousands of species to extinction.
  • By careless farming, top soil is eroding faster than it is naturally replaced over one-third of the earth's land surface.
  • By increasing population, the effects of the above are becoming more severe. Population is already overextended in that a major natural disaster (e.g. a minor bolide) could put a major fraction, if not all, of humanity six feet under.
  • By increasing the economic disparities among nations and peoples, the richest society has become less than willing to decrease its living standards for the sake of the poorest societies. The result can only be a widening of the gap with yet more violence stemming from the Humiliation and Alienation.
  • Civilization is removing 20% more resources from the biosphere than is naturally replenished. (If every person on earth lived at the level of the average American, the energy-removal rate would be 300% greater than its natural replenishment.)

These trends, along with potential for an atomic holocaust, has put the biosphere itself at risk. Life as we know it on earth is now vulnerable. To be sure, technology can change these equations. Just as surely there are physical limits. For some of those limits see Earth.

Population growth is a most important issue because livable space is limited by the fertility and amount of arable lands, greenhouse gas accumulations, earth axis precession, and the solar constant. The overall quality of life is limited by the available livable space and by the fertility of people as they use and misuse limited resources.

Malthus put it this way: "Population growth always exceeds the growth of means of subsistence." The allegory of the wine bottle is appropriate.

First you squeeze the grape juice into a vat; then you add yeast and sugar; microbes multiply exponentially consuming sugar and producing alcohol as a by-product. Eventually all microbes die in their own effluent; they do not have the means to eat each other.

Malthus was not so wrong. The biosphere is not so vast that the wine bottle allegory could never happen. Some commentators think we are there or on the verge already.

Thinking the biosphere's capacity will withstand every onslaught is the height of denial.
HG Wells

As a whole, humanity is made up of intelligent creatures. It is equally evident that politicians, especially extremists such as sociopaths, despots, dictators and plutocrats, put themselves ahead of humanity.

Many people see no connection here with terrorism. We do. The gaps in opportunities for people are too important to ignore. Hogging the resources only increases the gaps between the haves and have-nots as they compete for survival. Iraq is a prime example. This is a civilization issue of first magnitude. While this situation happens to be the way of evolution (the fittest survive) we and most people would like to think better of humankind. What is unique in Natural History is that now an organism has reached a level of intelligence that can change the gruesome course of current events. Armageddon in our time could send evolution back to the age of fishes (300 - 400 million years ago). Do we really want to leave the future of humanity in the hands of corrupt politicians and special interests? The choice is ours. For additional perspective see: Dynamic Equilibrium.

A millennium ago, lightning was accepted by everyone simply as God's work. Everyone believed in the Ptolemaic universe. Navigation was problematic at best. Sickness was simply God's will. We now know better about these things and we have found ways to deal with nature where we can live long and comfortable lives -- some of us anyway. Most of this know-how came from Europe, North America, and Pacific Rim countries. Our challenge now is to make the world safer and more peaceful for children everywhere.

Humanity cannot change the laws of nature, but it can use them to save itself. In one very real sense, terrorism is simply an attempt to redress the imbalance brought on by uneven modernization. Our response to violence cannot be endlessly in kind. Rather, ways must be found for all people to share the biosphere equally and in such ways that are sustainable. Of course, that achievement involves resolving numerous complex issues. The various mythos - logos debates, imperialism with its economic disparities, Church / State in governance, and the interactions among these issues are prominent issues in our times. And it involves each of us individually, for most of us contain our animal selves by the thinnest of membranes. See The Lucifer Effect for how that works.

For example, bin Laden declared jihad (religious struggle or war) and Islam became the common rallying point for Muslim extremists everywhere. One of his main complaints was/is that the West is exploiting the lands of Islam. Profits from oil flow not only to foreigners, but to the local despotic rulers as well, not to the people. So despotic rulers are on bin Laden's list. The current picture for just one geo-economic sector is complex indeed.

While on the subject of bin Laden, he has now declared war on Musharraf. But we are so tied up in Iraq, we can not take proper adavantage to gain an ally in finding al Qa'ida's base.

Complicating the terror issue, Monotheisms stick together even as they fight among themselves. Bin Laden knew that fact; we didn't; or more likely, we chose to ignore sticky issues. By projecting into the Middle East our experience of burying Hitler, we actually bought another Vietnam. Iraq is even more hopeless as either a beacon of liberty, or a gas tank for America. Three factions are engaging in civil war even as each fights within itself.

Terror worldwide is diffuse and growing. This is a new kind of war, if war is even the right word. If somehow bin Laden and all of al Qa'ida were simply erased, there would simply be a brief respite in hostilities before terrorism renewed, more common and ferocious than ever.

Hitler had only one head; bin Ladenism has many. Bin Laden has become an "ism;" he provides a template. Individuals and individual cells follow the al Qa'ida examples. Disconnected, isolated and alone, they have begun doing their handiwork from South Asia to Western Europe. This is the vital lesson of the post 9/11 period. It is a lesson apparently lost on societal consciousness. Instead of spending billions to develop new energy sources, we spend billions sending our boys and girls to be fodder as they stir up ever more mutual hatred.

What is the message here?
Is it possible that extremists on each side need each other?

That is not only possible but also resonates with nature's way, wherein only the fittest survive.

To find peace, hearts and minds must be won. So far, military force has not done that -- after two millennia as a matter of fact. Of course the military (in defensive mode) plays an important role in national survival, but is that the only issue? A final political solution must begin with Iraq -- in proportion to its significance on earth. At best Iraq / Afghanistan are only the opening shots in a long period of peril ahead.

Peace on earth depends on a lot more than politics, governance, religion, science, or the arts, though all can contribute. Ultimate peace must also depend on that great separator, the thin membrane that holds our internal tigers in check, while at the same time recognizing and dealing with those who have no such membrane--or conscience that also must be backed up with balanced Internal and External Loci of Control. This social element is ubiquitous. It is what leads to schisms, whether religious, secular or economic. Single-sector responses to terror are hopeless in the long term.

There are no good ways to look around the next corner for history in the making. See Solutions Evident, Overview, and Peace Via Nature's way for the present state of our thinking.

Looking back is a sobering exercise, but it has lessons, the foremost being that humanity has not yet learned from the mistakes of its past. Imperialism spawned innumerable rebellions. WWI spawned WWII and disjointed the Middle East. WWII spawned the Cold War which in turn spawned global terrorism. Terrorism exists because it works. Terrorism exists wherever there is humiliation and alienation. Terrorism exists wherever there are Sociopaths itching for Power.

The latest chapters of history provide gems of wisdom and golden opportunities -- we need only discover how to win hearts and minds. We must, to save both ourselves and the planet. One thing appears certain: Shooting does not work. So why are we still shooting as we savage the biosphere?

With population pressures increasing, it will become increasingly difficult over the long term to avoid the Humiliation and Alienation that go with hunger and over-crowding. Developing nations will produce most of the projected population growth for this century. If the whole of humanity becomes involved, peace may be possible.

The confluence of population growth, terror, and nuclear weapons is the commanding imperative for all peoples.

Manifest Destiny
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When new nations come into being they often rally to a specific sense of purpose. Manifest Destiny is the phrase used by 19th Century American politicians to justify continental expansion by the United States in its formative years. The slogan Manifest Destiny provided a "mission" statement for many politicians as the new nation pushed native Americans off onto "reservations" entirely equivalent to the refugee camps of Palestine. A war with Mexico was fought during the same period.

The 1830 - 1850 decades have been called the era when America came of age. The new nation reached from sea to sea. The Indians were totally outmanned and outgunned, often victims of massacres and revisionist histories. The Mexicans were only somewhat better off, having the added burden of winning their own freedom from Spain. They lost Texas in the process of a dubious war instigated by the Americans.

Pioneers marched to Oregon, California, and other points West. As soon as their numbers grew in various settlements, they petitioned to become part of the United States. They were, after all, American citizens, and it was natural for them to want their new homelands to become part of the "old." A century later, Zionists duplicated a similar feat in Palestine.

The old order was yielding, and that felt threatening to many, especially slaveholders. Immigration added further stressful elements to social development. Immigration also brought bright and industrious new citizens in droves to the new nation. Changes new technologies brought were fundamentally and vastly important to society, though few sensed that at the time.

Manifest Destiny became a mindset where the American Constitution was considered God's gift to his chosen people. A strong belief in progress arose and it was believed to be providential by many. Bringing the new government to a vast area was viewed as America's rightful destiny. To some, it still is.

The 1830 - 1850 period was not just one of conquest; science and technology leapt ahead and the rotary printing press enabled cheap newspapers with greater circulation and spread of news. The ability to send messages by wires over great distances was little short of a miracle and this too spurred economic and social development. So also for advances in the arts and sciences, the cotton gin, railroads, steam power, automobiles. It was heady times.

There is nothing to stop an idea when its time has come and Manifest Destiny was such an idea, logic and morality aside. The Mexican War sealed the fate of much more than the Alamo. It affirmed the "superiority" of the United States, while leaving Mexico with something of a degraded self esteem with remnants recognizable to this day.

Extending American democracy westward to the Pacific became a "righteous" cause. But as Lippman said, it was "villainy clad in armor;" few others, except the Mexicans and Native Americans, saw it that way at the time.

As for the Mexican War, Ulysses S. Grant, who fought in it, had this to say:
    "I do not think there ever was a more wicked war than that waged by the United States in Mexico. I thought so at the time, when I was a youngster, only I had not moral courage enough to resign."

This is General Grant of Civil War and US Presidency fame. He too was an astute observer of the human condition, the Eisenhower of the Civil War.

As for our times, World Wars I and II moved the American frontiers both West and East half around the globe. These and similar more modern ventures served as precedent and motivation for the Neocon Manifesto.

Manifest Destiny is alive and well. America has supported and still supports Zionism. America has unilaterally gone to war in several places culminating in Iraq, its leaders all the while proclaiming God was on America's side. These statements are facts; they also are the modus operandi of our times, and they could even become politically correct if not the proclaimed order of the day.

From the terror viewpoint, our interest is in the mindset that existed then and how it has been revived today--the new American frontier is nothing short of world dominance -- according to the Neocon Manifesto. The enabling psychology, of course, was always there in the guise of the Authoritarian Personality, a leftover from our evolutionary heritage. Radical Authoritarians are basically street fighters, vying for dominance and survival where only the fit survive -- but never in peace for long. The Neocon's blind faith in their "God-given" dominance is our modern-day equivalent of Manifest Destiny.

A significant problem is that a genetic predisposition toward Authoritarianism is not consistent with either a peaceful world or democracy with equal opportunity. Although many peaceful eastern and western societies have dealt with their in-born genetic capacity for violence; we Americans have not.

Plutocracy is the new American norm; privileged classes reign in ways similar to the feudal barons and lords of yesteryear. Plutocratic behavior fosters the Alienation and Humiliation felt by have-not nations and oppressed peoples. These feelings radicalize people, fuel terrorism.

The moment societies in conflict begin to deal effectively with these human conditions will be the moment we begin to roll back the tides of terrorism. One place to begin is with understanding the tight linking between Monotheism and Violence. Another is to recognize that today's tactics could boomerang tomorrow as Mamdani and Tuchman so ably point out.

If we truly believe in democratic principles,
we could also start behaving democratically
as a nation instead of the world bully,
however benevolent we claim to be.

We are not moving toward peace. Instead, we pursue plutocratic interests by overt and covert means everywhere. We covet petroleum and are fighting to control its source instead of moving toward enlightened means for living within the means of our biosphere. For more on the political barriers, see Neoconservatism, The New American Century, and Eroding Liberty.

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Modernization has its roots in the Golden Age of Greece. The fourth century BCE was the "birth period" of modern science. Many elements of this golden era remain deeply embedded in modern societies, their literature, arts and sciences.

From My Journey:

    "Anything that Greeks didn't invent, they thought of. Indeed, Greek science brought dramatic progress in many scientific fields, even if it was more theoretical than practical. That's why many Greek theories in physics, math, astronomy, and medicine hold, in one form or another, even today. Others were not disproved until the late 16th century, simply because the reasoning behind them was logic and methodical thinking ('Who am I to disprove Socrates?'). And don't forget the Hypocritical Oath that all doctors today follow. That's yet another example of solid Greek philosophy that is still shaping our moral values."

    One of the leading features of Greek culture, and of the later Hellenistic world in the Middle East and North Africa, was the attempt to explain the physical world in purely rational terms. Greek science, which brought dramatic progress in the fields of medicine, physics, astronomy, and mathematics, required a strict methodology based on logic, which could extend empirical data gained from observation into more general laws about nature's workings. More than Asian scientists of the classical period and later, the Greeks insisted on generalizing. More than modern scientific practitioners, they favored the deductive approach over the inductive.

    Greek and Hellenistic science built on the work of many outstanding figures, but it was most deeply indebted to Aristotle (383-322 BC), who formulated logic into a discipline while gathering and categorizing a host of observations about nature. Aristotle accepted the notion that the spherical earth was the stationary center of the universe and that all the planets and stars moved uniformly in perfect circles around it. His errors here were accepted in Western science until the sixteenth century, so powerful was the example of Greek thought. But while Aristotle's facts were wrong in detail, his argument was exceedingly important, for it showed the power of the rationalist concept; this feature became a heritage for the Enlightenment and the scientific age."

    [From Documents in World History, Volume I - The Great Traditions: From Ancient Times to 1500, 1988, by Peter N. Stearns, S.S. Gosh, J.P. Anglin and E.P. Grieshaber.]

If one word captures the essence of modernization, it is rationality and the Greeks made the most of it. Their advances in the the Golden Age are little short of miraculous. Given the context of their times, the Greeks matched what Galileo and Newton did in theirs.

Modernization seems a given to people of the Americas, Europe, and the Pacific Rim Countries. The Arabic world has experienced it quite differently. In 1750, their culture was agrarian, as it largely remains today. The industrial revolution began in Europe; capital investment began to pay huge dividends which created yet more capital investment. Caught in their agrarian ways and still governed by Islam, the Muslim world was slow to respond. When it did, the modernizations were superficial -- without the cultural sea change in the mores of governance, business, and education that modernization requires.

In the process of trying to catch up with the industrialization of the West, Muslim states began trading raw materials for cheap finished goods. The unintended effects of that were multiple. Local industry was stunted, even ruined. Agrarianism became a lifesaving fortress of last resort. Education focusing on religion and the good earth was slow to pick up on the new arts and sciences. Education lagged behind the non-Islamic world more and more seriously with time. Schisms split the religion time and time again, as it did Christianity. But the Koran provides more guidance in the areas of violence and war. Behavior is everything. Daily prayer rituals bring people closer, even as they tend to limit free thought of the Greek variety. Islam has always had and still has a tough time with modernization.

As a result, Islamic culture was essentially closed to outside views as the world passed it by. The Taliban ban against educating females is a primary remnant of this mentality. Museums in Islamic nations still focus on the Middle East and the world of Islam. There is little interaction with the non-Islamic world, though the internet is changing this.

Museums in Islam, focus on Islam. This is in dramatic contrast with museums elsewhere, where Islamic culture is on display for the local consumption. Another remnant of an agrarian culture is polygamy (and even occasional slavery,) where the agrarian families needed all the children and other help they could get simply to till the land by archaic means. Cultures die hard, so polygamy survives in our day. Life span is still short for many of these unfortunate folks.

Education could always be had (by males), and too often it was for the privileged or favored few. Today, one can train for most any career in some Islamic countries. But much too often, a new graduate cannot find a job of any kind except menial labor. Many caught in that trap emmigrate at first opportunity. Human capital remains largely unused in too many Middle Eastern nations, and the female half is generally unavailable for religious or cutural reasons. Modernization remains slow in the lands of Islam.

Meanwhile, Europe, America and certain Pacific-Rim countries moved forward at ever increasing pace, a pace made explicit by Moore's law. Moore was a cofounder of Intel and was first to observe that computer capability doubles every eighteen months or so. But in fact, that same law format holds for all technologies in societies free of religious constraints governed by democracies with market economies that educate all their peoples. In fact, Moore's law, with different parameters, holds for technology in general from the Stone Age forward. Moore did not invent it; he gave it popularity by recognizing explicitly how capability increases with knowledge in the modern age. It has always been so. For example, yeasties in the wine-vat allegory above also double their numbers in given periods -- until they run out of sugar.

Empires have been a historical, largely European, way of life, and the lands of Islam suffered the fate of colonization by Europe. With that came feelings of second-class citizenship. Many Muslims are still caught in this belief system. After 9/11 many believed that they were simply not capable of pulling off a well coordinated and effective attack on the United States.

Japan escaped a similar fate after WWII and was able to modernize at its own pace. But the Japanese had to lose a devastating war before they became "civilized" in the western democratic sense. Japan had no religious or other cultural impediments to modernization. They were merely isolated.

Technologically, Islam is still falling ever farther behind -- bin Laden is a product of these conditions. But his cause is exciting to the disillusioned Muslim youth. Through radicalized mullahs, bin Laden offers such youth fame in this world, and for the martyrs, 72 virgins in paradise in the hereafter. Females are not offered the equivalent!

Never mind that bin Laden employs dreams, ordinary random events, and omens for his own guidance. Never mind that the modern world has passed him by; he is terribly insightful and efficient at what he does. On tape he declared that he grossly underestimated his own technical prowess. He neglected to say that he grossly over estimated his own ability to marshal the whole of Islam to his cause. But that could still happen, see Making of a Prophet. Those already radicalized rallied to him and new streams follow in martyrdom.

But most observers, even those steeped in history, failed to recognize bin Laden's immediate legacy, perhaps because it is happening in our, and his, own time! His legacy is a template for jihad - a jihad justified by Qutb, a template that terrorist cells can use completely independently of any network or even any advanced training. See Terror Scope for more on this critical development. This feature redoubles the difficulty in dealing with terror. It is ironic that a man can be eclipsed by his own legacy (template for terror), but that may well be bin Laden's fate. Of course, that event will be fodder for the scribes whose business it is to create prophets.

War in the conventional sense is no longer even a metaphor for terror, except perhaps in economics. Yet we now spend more on the military than we did during the Cold War! And to fight what? We do not even know where to strike, and rarely do we know exactly who the terrorist is. And there is nothing to "hold" even if we did. We "hold" Afghanistan and Iraq, but at what price? And what exactly do we hold? Recruiting is now easy for the terrorists, difficult for us. If that isn't irony, what is?

New candidates for terror are being turned out daily by radical mullahs in Pakistan and other Islamic nations. There is no sign yet of any shortage of terrorists and suicide bombers. In fact, terror intensity continues to increase as our support for Zionism and occupation of Iraq drag on. And the Taliban may yet win back Afghanistan!

Muslims are people like everyone else; they know how to think for themselves--when allowed to. But even intellectual Muslims may feel intimidated by the Mullahs not to mention tradition.

Civilization as we know it is at a crossroads. Violence expressed by terrorism is following Moore's Law. To save themsleves, at some point societies the world over must say "ENOUGH," then join hands and do something about it. That means grass-roots action:

  • citizens gathering together to arrest known terrorists in their midst;
  • citizens agreeing on the separation of mythos from logos (Church from State) in governance;
  • citizens devising means to prevent the ascendance of extremist personalities to the halls of power;
  • citizens insisting on equality for all and an end to humiliation and alienation by others.
  • Above all, it means citizens banding together to give each child an internal Locus of Control .
  • Limiting family size to zero-out population growth with a world population comfortably less than the sustainable maximum to allow for natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the Indonesian tsunami, and worse, all in accord with Natural History.

Some of these things are happening today. Whether they gather steam or fizzle Armageddon-style and revert nature back to the age of fishes depends on us.

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by Keith Rosenberg

    We humans seem to want people like ourselves around to associate with a kind of village mentality and one that many organizations take advantage of. It is pretty seductive to think that if everyone thinks, fantasizes, and believes alike, that all problems will go away. The assumption is that having a single creed in the global sense of the word will create peace and stability. History does not support that assumption.

    This works to the advantage of extremists who find comfort around their own kind. In this way militants find one another, feed on their circular thinking in mutual support, and come to extreme views in their zeal to "convert" everyone else. The Nazis created a creed based on race and made no bones about it. The Communists have a socioeconomic creed that only works if backed by dictatorship. In Northern Ireland, the IRA wants Catholic rule, just as the Republicans want Protestant governance. The Taliban wanted its extreme creed for the entire planet. The KKK less than a century ago was still hanging black people at will in the name of white supremacy. Violence, hate and terror are primary methods for "converting the infidels." Never mind that that is an oxymoron.

    The United States is in the midst of creating a pluralist society. This started as much by accident as by design, but it is now recognized that that is what we are doing. We have come a long way but it is not yet written that we will surely succeed. There have been a few pluralist societies in the past, but most eventually came to naught. The Roman Empire, for all of its flaws and practice of slavery, was probably the most pluralistic society of its time. Anyone could become a Roman with a little luck. Even slaves did occasionally. The British Empire was going towards pluralism, but being based on force, it came apart. The remnant UK is making strides towards Pluralism. Israel is more pluralistic than its neighbors which is one more bone of contention that the Islamic Jihad and Hamas have with Israel.

    The most striking example of a nation that is based on the Western economic and political model but does NOT have a pluralist society is Japan. In this case, we see a society beginning to recover from the brink of economic ruin. The Japanese culture is not religion based, but it still has many of the trappings of extremism in their economic belief system. Keiretsu is no longer an obvious economic god. But its ghost still has all the trappings of monopolies, bringing downsides to the small innovative companies while benefiting the big guys. Like the America system of justice, the Japanese legal system can disfavor foreigners. A full recovery requires Japan to continue following the policies of their forward-looking leader.

    Globalization is threatening to monotheistic societies, it brings pluralism in thoughts, beliefs and actions. Nevertheless, pluralistic societies are the modern models for success and progress. Nations that provide equality of opportunity to all their citizens regardless of race, religion, or birthright are the nations that progress economically, in the arts and letters, and in science and technology as well. Freedom goes with pluralism and freedom is the greatest motivator humankind has yet discovered.

Will freedom continue to march forward or will extremism force a nuclear holocaust that could reverse a half billion years of natural history?

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The negative birth-rate effect is true only in develped nations. There are correlates other than technology. What about education, wealth, and women's emancipation? Whatever the cause(s) in developed countries, In sub equatorial Africa and most of Islam, it is another matter altogether; there are simply too few social restraints of any kind.

Posted by RoadToPeace on Monday, March 20, 2006 at 21:22:26

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