Monday, September 16, 2013

Decline of Rome Parallels America

Rome did not fall in a day or a month or even a year but over decades. The decline of America has been underway for decades as well.  Rome reached its zenith under Augustus and it seems America reached its zenith under Eisenhower.  In fact most Romans were unaware that their society was in decline because one of the major problems they faced was so many outsiders clamoring to join the empire.  Today in America this is generally referred to as the “immigration problem” due to our porous borders.  Thousands of people are pouring across our borders seeking a better life, safety, work, and better conditions for their families.  For the most part these “illegal immigrants” are not well educated and have few skills.  This was true of the Roman Empire as well.  From the time of Caesar there had always been a problem with “Germans” crossing into Imperial territory.  This was never considered more than a small problem and as long as these immigrants worked hard and minded the laws no one cared.  But by the third century the Franks, the Saxons, the Vandals, the Ostrogoths, and the Visigoths where crossing into the Empire.  These people had few skills outside of their skills in battle and found it hard to assimilate into the structured Roman world.  The people illegally crossing into America today have become a flood and come from countries across South America and other parts of the world.  These illegal immigrants come with little education, few skills, and little knowledge of English, which makes assimilation into American life difficult and places a strain on the government programs.

But the Germanic tribesmen only became a problem for Rome long after the decline of Rome had begun.  With few skills the German warriors flooded into the Army and slowly began to transform the Roman Legions from a highly disciplined fighting force fighting in ranks to one using the German formations more suitable for their long swords and individual heroics.  The formidable American Army is not being weakened by an influx of foreign immigrants but it is being weakened by politicians establishing unrealistic rules of engagement.  The reality is armies are killing machines whose purpose is to crush the enemies of the state through all means possible.  But beginning with Viet Nam the politicians began to constrain the military for political reasons.  The Americans could not attack known Viet Cong supply routes or targets that would impact the civilian population.  The result was a humiliating defeat.  This same process is currently being applied in Afghanistan where the military is limited to military targets which are virtually impossible to distinguish form civilian ones. This politically correct control of the military impacts morale but reduces the effectiveness of the military in its operations.  Eventually the Roman Legions could no longer protect the empire and today the American military can not point to any victory since WW II.

Nevertheless the Roman Legions remained a formidable fighting force until the very end and the American Army remains a formidable fighting force even when being managed by poorly trained politicians.  But the decline of Rome was a combination of things just as the decline of America is the result of many things, religion being one of them.  Ironically the Romans like the Americas were very tolerant of religious beliefs.  While at various times the Romans did persecute the Christians that had many causes and was temporary.  While the Romans were tolerant of all religions the Christians were not which caused problems for the Roman government.  As Christian influence grew so did their intolerance.  Something similar is happing in America today except it is the Atheists who are waging war on Christianity with similar levels of intolerance.  This conflict between Christians and Atheists is also causing problems for the Government as the courts are increasingly being forced to decide on the rights of each group.  Frequently the courts are deciding in favor of the minority which causes unrest and reduces the credibility of the courts.

Once again the parallels with Rome can be seen.  The Roman courts were corrupt and for sale.  The Court system in America isn’t corrupt – at least not to the extent that the Roman courts were, but the American Court system is becoming increasingly politicized.  The courts are interpreting laws and the constitution in line with political polls or Supreme Court decisions.  However, the Supreme Court Justices are increasingly political appointees who “interpret” the constitution according to popular political positions.  Whether these decisions and interpretations are right or wrong is irrelevant because too often they are unpopular and do not represent the people.  The result has been the creation of the "right to not be offended" so the community as a whole must modify it's practices to accommodate the individual.  Once the law and the courts lose credibility with the majority the whole society becomes unstable.  This unrest is already visible in America today.

Perhaps one of the similarities between Rome and America lies in government and taxes.  Rome had a huge empire with all of the associated costs.  They had a large bureaucracy and a standing army of over a million men.  Like all governments Rome had to maintain (and pay) all of the troops, the administrators, maintain the roads, buildings, plus fund public works.  Like all governments these things were paid for out of tax revenues but as the Empire expanded the tax revenues were inadequate.  Of course the solution was to raise taxes on the wealthy.  This worked for a while but very soon they discovered that as the taxes increased the revenues went down.  Ironically later efforts to reduce the taxes did not translate to greater tax revenues because the wealthy were no longer wealthy and many had simply disappeared. 

The American tax system is more sophisticated than the Roman but the objective has always been to shift as much of the tax burden as possible to the wealthy.  This has worked for decades but the reality is it has worked because the government operates on borrowed money and a fiat currency and has not relied completely on tax revenues.  As the total number of taxpayers declines and the demand on the tax revenues increases the reliance on borrowed money and the printing press cannot be sustained,   Just like Rome the American government must maintain the infrastructure plus a military that is larger, more expensive, and more complicated than Rome’s.  These things cost money and the long term solution cannot be the printing press, but greater productivity and a good trade balance.

So is America in decline?  Is America following the pattern of decline suffered by Rome? Did America reach it’s zenith in the 1950’s?    America certainly has more technology and wealth than any other country but are we happier as a people?  Are you happy?  Obviously this is a matter of opinion but no one really knows that they are living in a golden age until it has passed and all that remains is the glow as it recedes into the past.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

God -- The Bible -- Science


What follows are my opinions.  They are not intended to prove anything and certainly not intended to offend anyone.  I view myself as a Christian but many of my Christian friends would disagree due to various doctrinal conflicts.  I don’t think God is exclusive to any specific religion and  is present in all religions.  It is not my intent to prove that God exists but rather to ask the Atheist to prove that He doesn’t.

What follows is my simple comparison of the Bible’s description of the creation to what science currently believes.  The important thing here is that while the Bible requires faith it is the same for science because neither can prove their positions.

God--the Bible – and Science

The atheist doesn’t believe in God but he believes in science and challenges those who believe in God to prove He doesn’t exist.  But when challenged to prove that God doesn’t exist the atheist cannot offer any scientific proof.  In fact Richard Dawkins – the High Priest of Darwinism – when challenged to explain how the complex DNA and RNA molecules came into existence as a random event he admitted he could not explain it.  Instead he said “it must have happened because we are here.”  The idiocy of this statement is lost on the atheist whose faith is in science.  But to believe that some random combination of chemicals could produce these complex molecules would lead to the logical conclusion that they could have just as easily combined into a birthday cake.  So it seems that science requires the same level of faith as faith in God requires.

Allowing for some poetic license it seems that the Bible describes the Big Bang or “First Cause” pretty well.  The Bible says that God created the heavens and the Earth and the Earth was without form and void..  Science tells us that all energy was created with the Big Bang and was a swirling incredibly hot cloud of particles that eventually coalesced into the stars and the earth.  Then God separated the waters from the waters and divided the waters from under the firmament from those above the firmament.   According to what science believes the energies released began to coalesce into mass laden molecules and ultimately into the stars and planets.  Given some latitude for poetic license the Biblical description of the second day seems to track science.

On the third day God gathered together the waters into one place and let the dry land appear and the seas.  This seems to track the scientific belief that the Earth was formed out of the swirling mass of particles into our planet which was  incredibly hot and surrounded by gas.  As the Earth cooled the gases cooled and formed the seas and atmosphere.  The Bible and science seem to agree up to this point but then the sequence of events begins to diverge.  The Bible claims the next step was the creation of grass and trees  but the fossil record shows no plant life of any kind in the Cambrian or Pre-Cambrian beyond something akin to pond scum.  The Cambrian fossil record shows an abundance of sea life but grasses and plant life first appear in the Ordovician period.   In fact the sequence of events between the Bible and the fossil record greatly differ from this point on, but it is the sequence not the actual events.  The Sun and the Moon are created after the Earth but science claims that the Sun was created first and the Moon after the Earth.  The first life appears in the Cambrian Seas and the Bible and science agree on this point but the Bible claims that flying fowl were created at the same time but once again the fossil record doesn’t show any flying animal until much later. 

This brings us to the sixth day which roughly equates to the Devonian period when land animals first appear.  The Bible lumps the rest of creation into this sixth day ranging from the creation of the first land animals to the creation of man.   The fossil record shows the evolutionary history of the Earth in much more detail than the Bible but roughly they parallel the development of life on Earth.    The huge difference comes with the creation of man.  The Bible is very clear that God created man in His image while the scientists point to the fossil record that shows a path from primitive apes to modern man.  This fossil record for mankind has some questionable entries and assumptions but even so the record is very clear that man did not appear fully formed as we know him today.  To accept the Biblical explanation would require God to look somewhat like Michelangelo’s version of God which would mean that God is tangible, Heaven is tangible or at least a physical place, and that Hell exists.  Furthermore, once God is accepted as real then Satan must be real as well.  

Since the Bible was written people have believed that if God created man in his image that when they look into the mirror they see an image similar to God.  But science tells us that everything in the universe is energy and that the Big Bang created all of that energy.  That would lead to the conclusion that God is energy and that when He created man he created man as an energetic image – which we know as our soul.  Our physical bodies are mere shells – containers for our souls while we serve our time on Earth.  Certainly it would be asking too much for science to accept this explanation because it would require accepting God, but viewing man ‘s soul as the image of God then the creation story in Genesis seems to closely parallel the scientific view of the creation.

As I said at the outset these are just my opinions and I have no proof of anything.  I simply looked at the Bible and compared it to various scientific articles and descriptions and found what I saw as parallels.  You may or may not agree.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Democracy And The Modern World

The modern world really began with the end of the Victorian Age and WW I.  This signaled the end to the power of the nobility and the rise of the common man.  The aristocrats survived but they are nothing more than quaint anachronisms and are irrelevant today.  The end of WW I brought great social change across the Western world but it also signaled the rise of the Bolsheviks, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Nazi’s, and even what became Communist China.  These all represent populist movements intended to right the wrongs of the past socially, politically, and economically.  The history of the twentieth century is littered with the enormous cost in human lives brought about by the failures of these movements.  But the echoes of these movements continue into the twenty first century and the social and economic problems which these movements meant to solve remain and are growing with the growth in population.

The globalization of markets made possible by technology and the speed of communications has spread global capitalism or at least the concept of individual worth  which has highlighted the unequal distribution of benefits and wealth that characterize capitalism.  In effect there are more rich people it the world today but there is also a larger and growing underclass of the working poor.  This isn’t as obvious in the developed western countries but it is very visible in the large cities in South America, Asia, and Africa.  This population of underpaid and frequently unemployed is a destabilizing influence and forms a ready source for radical terrorists, which is readily visible throughout the Middle East and Africa.  Throughout the twentieth century the poor were largely isolated geographically and technologically but that has changed in the twenty first century.

It is estimated that by 2010 thirty percent of the world’s population will have communication access through the internet and cell phones and that number will continue to grow.  This spread of technology will not and historically has not led to stability, but instead has been a destabilizing influence most recently demonstrated by the Islamic based violence around the world.  History shows that the invention of the printing press led to the religious reformation but also to the wars, controversies, and religious schisms that followed.  The current spread of information access is repeating this historical pattern.  We are witnessing the rise in violence triggered not by oppression but by the freedom of speech via communications not easily controlled by governments but readily available to the general population.

Policy makers – especially in the industrialized countries, are focused on bringing democracy to many of these countries currently under the thrall of dictators and religious zealots.  This policy of “democratization” is based on the assumption that this is a solution, but historically political freedom has unleashed the violence we are witnessing in Egypt and across the Middle East and North Africa.  These large populations of uneducated underpaid, and unemployed are unstable and as can be seen from the violence in these areas, easily manipulated by ethnic, religious, and power driven leaders.  The historic reality is that dictatorships can actually serve the people better than representative governments.  Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordon are examples how a dictator who truly acts in the interest of the people can be more effective than an unstable and unworkable representative government.  Sadat and Hussein could not have made peace with Israel without the dictatorial power they possessed.  The current policy of democratization of countries is unlikely to yield stable governments but more likely to contribute to rising violence.

Some believe that if Egypt and Syria made peace with Israel the violence in the Middle East would cease or at the very least decline to a manageable level.  This is a false hope that rests on the premise that Israel itself is the casus belli but if Israel were to vanish the problems and carnage would remain.  The root cause of the problems in the Middle East is not Israel but the power struggle between Islamic factions and Israel is merely an excuse.  None of the Islamic states cares about Palestine or the Palestinians because they have never been willing to accept them as immigrants.  Instead they use the conflict with Israel for their own political ends, which are religious, ethnic, and struggles for power.  Therefore, democratization of Islamic states is unlikely to stabilize them and the reality of this can already be seen in Egypt.  The Mubarak dictatorship was overthrown and a democratic government elected which immediately failed because the newly elected leaders moved immediately to install a religious dictatorship.  It is unlikely that a democracy is the solution in the Middle East and in Egypt a military backed dictatorship may be the best solution.