Natural Limits

To kick this post off, here’s a photo of the world’s largest dump truck, the BelAz 75710 made in Belarus.

I once read that a rubber tyre with a diameter larger than about 18 feet (5.4m) quickly becomes impractical. Similarly, even though an Airbus A380 is considerably larger than the Wright brothers’ flyer, nobody has built an aeroplane a mile long capable of carrying several thousand passengers. We’re probably approaching the limit on ship size, and although skyscrapers are getting ever-taller they’ll top-out eventually. My point is that there is a limit to things, and in these examples they are governed by the laws of physics and the physical properties of materials, air, and water.

Some things don’t scale, and even when they do, it’s not necessarily in a linear manner. I first went to Singapore when I was 23 and couldn’t believe how well-run the place was. My first thought was that everywhere should be run as well as Singapore, using the same methods. Now I’m a bit older I realise that running a city state of 5.6m people condensed into an island of 278 square miles isn’t the same as running a country of 70m people spread across 93,600 square miles. As societies grow from families to tribes to towns to cities to nation states, different methods of maintaining cohesion and control are needed at each step. In short, human societies don’t scale.

In my previous post I wrote about the behaviour of Pope Francis. Now if the Pope can’t be bothered defending the Catholic church and prefers to pander to people who will, once they have the numbers, kill his followers and burn his palace to the ground, it’s a sign that things have gone badly wrong somewhere. I cite this because it exemplifies what is going on in the western world today: every single major institution I can think of seems to be in the final throes of self-destruction, abject surrender to its enemies, or suicide. Many of these institutions have for centuries formed the foundation of western societies and have contributed substantially to their success, yet they are being destroyed by the very people who have been charged with their guardianship.

I’ve spent a while thinking about this and I reckon it has something to do with what I described earlier. Just as mechanical systems run into physical limitations beyond which they don’t work, there is probably a point beyond which human societies simply fail to hold themselves together and self-destruct. Human’s are odd creatures, and thrive when faced with hardship. The capacity of humans to overcome the most appalling conditions and adapt in order to survive is incredible, matched only by our ability to constantly seek to improve our lives. There is an optimum level of stress for humans: too much and we can’t function beyond the basics to stay alive, but too little and we become equally useless.

Insofar as western, Christian societies have gone most societal and technological advances appear to have come about as a result of people wanting to ensure Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are not only met, but permanently assured – particularly those at the bottom of the pyramid. These societies have become so wealthy that Maslow’s needs are now met by default for tens of millions of people. Furthermore, this has been going on so long that anyone born in western society who ever worried about these things is well over seventy. Anyone younger than that, generally speaking, has had the easiest ride in the entire history of mankind.

It is probably no coincidence that it’s these younger people who now seem so determined to destroy the foundations of the society they’ve been raised in. I found when I lived in under-developed countries that people there are completely unconcerned about the minutiae of politics; they are only interested in the important matters that directly affect them and their families. As an example, the only people in the entire world interested in transgender rights are white, western liberals. For everyone else, it is simply a non-issue. Russians were mainly interested in their salaries, their mothers’ pensions, and the price of a decent car. Nigerians were chiefly concerned about their salaries, job security, and the levels of violence and corruption in their country. People who come from places where the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are not assured tend to focus on important issues and ignore the rest.

So I have a theory. Just as a you can’t use a rubber tyre beyond 18 feet in diameter due to natural limitations, there is a limit to which human societies can grow in terms of wealth and comfort. Beyond a certain point, the bonds which hold the society together, which have been painstakingly constructed over centuries, get cut because people no longer realise what they’re for and the whole thing collapses. It might be that this societal limit is relative – either in terms of other societies around it, or perhaps the rate of change from earlier generations – but I am reasonably sure that such a limit nonetheless exists.

One thing I notice in the language of progressives is a hubristic certainty that their version of society, once shaped, will last forever because there is nothing left to discuss, as if their vision is inevitable. Personally, I don’t think we’ll see a whole lot of advancement from this point on; I don’t think we’re going to be looking at a future of interstellar travel and permanent luxury, but a world where everyone now needs to remember how much hard work, cooperation, and violence is required to get the bottom of that pyramid of needs met. Perhaps in time humankind will recover from the setback and rebuild, just as Europeans eventually managed to meet and then surpass the levels of sophistication the Romans achieved, but it may take centuries if not longer.

I might be wrong, but there is one thing I am absolutely sure of. Historians will look back on this era and prevailing opinions regarding matters such as immigration, religion, political violence, war, economics, taxation, redistribution, procreation, welfare, race, law and order, and politics and marvel at how we blindly assumed western civilisation would survive. I’d also make a tidy bet they too will talk about how the collapse was inevitable once we’d reached a certain level of wealth and comfort. I concede they might not use a dump truck to illustrate the point, though.

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28 thoughts on “Natural Limits

  1. The problem can be summed up simply: Socialism.

    It may be that if that bearded SOS Marx had never existed some other evil cult might have taken its place. But I doubt it. His shite was pitched at all the worst human vices: holier-than-thou sanctimony, envy, greed for the unearned, stupidity etc. And those who have assembled his doctrines into murder machines are amongst the worst psychopathic , twisted sewage the planet has ever offered.

    I don’t think our present problems have much at all to do with size or success.

  2. It’d be interesting to know how big you could make a plane though. There is that Ukrainan monster (>A380) that earns a living flying super-awkward cargo around, so the current limit on building a bigger passenger plane is the disappointing sales performance of the A380. Now that anyone can fly anywhere for a week’s average developed-world take-home pay, the limit is that perhaps we already have enough seats in enough planes to deliver all the flying anyone wants to do anyway.

    Also, a plane big enough that there is only one runway in the world that can take it would have rather limited applications. I digress.

    Societies have organised (in a sense anyway) on larger scales in the past – the British empire being the most notably successful example. It was, however, an elite-run society, with almost all of the societal superstructure-level decision making (including the engineers!) done by white imports to the colonies. Democracy wasn’t even much of an expectation back in Britain, for much of the time – just that some people got to choose between two sets of elites every 5 years. It broke up because the “one size fits all” approach stopped working when people wanted to govern themselves. That, maybe with as many as 2 exceptions, they haven’t done a better job of it than Britain would have done is moot – desire is all it took.

    Some young people have always wanted to destroy the foundations of society – you will surely remember some of the insanity that spewed forth from the Steve Biko Building on Oxford Road. What’s different now is that people are listening, rather than writing the drivel off as youthful excess from people who will start voting tory once they are in a proper job and have their own kids. Back then the drivel from the Steve Biko Building was a source for mild amusement and bemusement for most of the students, and beyond the campus no one took any notice at all.

    The right bears a lot of responsibility for this: for creating the impression that the whole world really is divided into two opposed political camps, by playing along and caring about “snowflakes” and the like, essentially allowing the more insane reaches of left identity politics to set the agenda.

    Not that the current left has any better ideas than the right – the obsession is really with rather narrow aspects of identity; as is the obsession of much of the right (just different identities). Both are rather thin bases for policy that actually affects the real world, and neither care much for the individual. Note how you are these days always either a Nazi or Libtard, depending solely on whether the person labelling is to the left or right or you. The irony being something both sides seem fundamentally unable to grasp, is that a more diverse society needs to let individals be, rather than putting them in a box to either claim or abandon.

  3. Societies have organised (in a sense anyway) on larger scales in the past

    Ah, I’m not talking about a size limit on society, I’m talking about a limit in terms of wealth and comfort. Sweden is proof that even a small society can self-destruct.

    Some young people have always wanted to destroy the foundations of society

    The problem is the young aren’t the problem, it is their parents’ generation that are peddling this crap. How old is Pope Francis?

    – you will surely remember some of the insanity that spewed forth from the Steve Biko Building on Oxford Road.

    Oh yes. The name of the building alone said it all.

  4. “In short, human societies don’t scale.”

    Dunbar numbers and Allen curves.

    Although, it turns out that they do scale; otherwise we wouldn’t have got to where we are today. Obviously. So the cohesion and control mechanisms are important. There’s a Chesterton’s Fence argument here about social norms and taboos; which boils down to “if you don’t understand it, don’t start fucking about with it” anyway.

  5. It may be that if that bearded SOS Marx had never existed some other evil cult might have taken its place. But I doubt it.

    I’m pretty sure the lunatics running the asylum now would have simply seized on something else. Marx talked about downtrodden masses slaving away in factories, unable to get rich. How is this relevant to the modern lefty? They’re just using it as an excuse, same as their supposed concern for the environment.

  6. Although, it turns out that they do scale; otherwise we wouldn’t have got to where we are today. Obviously. So the cohesion and control mechanisms are important.

    Yes, but the control mechanisms have to change as the societies enlarge. That was my point, you can’t just take the control systems which work at a village level and apply them to a whole nation.

    There’s a Chesterton’s Fence argument here about social norms and taboos; which boils down to “if you don’t understand it, don’t start fucking about with it” anyway.

    Absolutely.

  7. I love a bit of end times eschatology to get in the mood for the new year. Its near time that we flee to the mountains.

    See also Luke 21:10-33 The Destruction of Jerusalem Foretold

    My money on this one playing out are:

    Antichrist – Erdogan
    Cyrus the Great – Trump
    Messiah (Jesus) – Putin son of Mary.

    WILL TRUMP HASTEN THE ARRIVAL OF THE MESSIAH? JEWS AND EVANGELICALS THINK SO

    Advocates for a Third Temple were supportive of Trump even before he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Wednesday. Evangelical Christians, who are staunch supporters of Trump, believed that a Third Temple would be built before the “end times” that would usher the second coming of Jesus Christ. Jewish tradition also holds that the Third Temple will be built during the time of the messiah.

    “A number of Christian leaders have been comparing Trump to the Biblical King Cyrus. They point out that King Cyrus was a leader called and appointed by God,” wrote Enoch Lavendar for Prophecy Newswatch.

  8. “Yes, but the control mechanisms have to change as the societies enlarge. That was my point, you can’t just take the control systems which work at a village level and apply them to a whole nation.”

    Um, not so sure about that. I don’t think the actual numbers matter so much – the CofE, or it’s attitudes, was still a fairly potent force when the Life of Brian was released, which is what? 500 years after it was established? What was the population growth over that period? I think that it’s the network structure that matters, and that has very definitely changed, but only in the last 15 years or so.

  9. I don’t think it’s to do with natural limits per se, I think it’s a natural ‘organisational entropy’ which exists in all human organisations. All organisations over a certain size have an inherent ‘productivity surplus’; a team of one or two can’t tolerate a single member dragging their feet, but someone could probably coast by doing no work on a team of five. Scaled up to the size of a company this manifests as empire-building, pointless procedures, terrible HR policies (like combining sick and vacation allowances). The consistent factor is that individuals are attempting to enrich themselves and raise their status at the expense of the company.

    What does this same principle look like when scaled up to a whole society? “The Ministry for Administrative Affairs,” self-maintaining bureacracies, politicians who say one thing on the campaign trail and do another thing when in office, hundreds of ‘non’-governmental organsations who receive almost 100% of their funding from the State, thousands of laws like this one:

    42 USC §264, 271 & 21 CFR §1240.75(b) make it a federal crime to drive garbage to someone in another state if you know they're just going to feed it to a pig without cooking it for 30 minutes.— A Crime a Day (@CrimeADay) December 17, 2017

    All of this valuable human and physical capital slaved to serve wasteful and sometimes destructive ends. For companies we have activist investors and bankruptcy courts to force the painful restructuring required. What would a similar process look like at a society-wide scale? The analogy to bankruptcy is clear, “there’s a lot of ruin in a nation” but eventually: total collapse in faith in the central government, a fail-back to older and more informal methods of cooperation and contract enforcement.

    Ideally we want instead a restructuring. It would be painful, but not as painful as total societal collapse: a major restructuring at a corporation would involve 25% layoffs, so almost 1.4 million redundancies across the public sector. But is this enough? This figure is from the restructure of Telltale, a company which makes Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style video games. At it’s core, it’s fundamentally a profitable business. The government has lost almost that many employees since Dec 2009; is it more or less effective than then?

    Moldbug suggests a clean slate, and start again: RAGE – retire all government employees. The argument is a compelling one — we may still have to pay retired government employees, but at least they could do no more damage.

  10. Ducky McDuckface on December 27, 2017 at 2:44 pm said:

    Yes, but the control mechanisms have to change as the societies enlarge. That was my point, you can’t just take the control systems which work at a village level and apply them to a whole nation.

    Um, not so sure about that. I don’t think the actual numbers matter so much – the CofE, or it’s attitudes, was still a fairly potent force when the Life of Brian was released, which is what? 500 years after it was established? What was the population growth over that period? I think that it’s the network structure that matters, and that has very definitely changed, but only in the last 15 years or so.

    I think you’re both right. Certain social structures have a ceiling at dunbar-number levels. You can’t take a social structure that works for villages and apply it to a society. You can take a social structure that works for a society of a million and apply it to a society of tens of millions.

    Communism is a great example of the opposite. The ideal family is basically communist– the parents have greater ability and so work the hardest, the children have the greater need so receive the most. I don’t need to tell you how badly this scales. I used to believe you could kinda make it work at the kibbutz-scale, but I recall learning recently that most kibbutzim have accepted private property.

  11. More than reaching some kind of natural limit, it seems to me that western institutions and nations are being deliberately deconstructed by their own elites, presumably because deconstruction suits their interests better than the status quo does. Globalist neo-feudalism, in which the United Colors of Benneton-hued peasant masses huddle up in their mud huts outside the walls of Lord Zuckerberg’s estates, is the glorious future that our masters have in mind for us.

  12. “The problem can be summed up simply: Socialism.”

    Socialism will be judged by historians as the true death cult.

    “So the final conclusion would surely be that whereas other civilizations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions, and then providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense. Thus did Western Man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down, and having convinced himself that he was too numerous, labored with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer. Until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keeled over–a weary, battered old brontosaurus–and became extinct.”
    ― Malcolm Muggeridge

  13. JerryC has it right. The modern establishment wants its nations to be like Brazil or some other South American place, with it as the “men of always” ruling a religiously and ethnically balkanised set of serfs. The rulers don’t care if one lot of serfs is ruining the lives or usurping the land of another lot, their own daughters will never be at risk.

  14. But there is no natural limit to the dreams of socialists, even if socialism itself is morally, spiritually and economically limited to the point of fatality.

    There is no limit to the ‘good’ socialists ambition to devour themselves, until of course they finally eat their own bellies. So there’s that to look forward to.

  15. I agree with the “Socialism is wrongs” posters, but there is also a fundamental issue that Western societies face. Having solved most (if not all ) of the serious problems that confront the population: disease and sanitation, absolute poverty, war ( by making it too expensive to wage ) – we end up having to solve stuff on the margins, about which the majority don’t care. Included in this are transgender rights, same-sex marriage, womens’ football. Or we are forced to invent problems that do not exist in order to keep politicians employed: climate change, far-right terrorism, Vietnamese nail parlours and so on. So we end up with nonsense like “safe spaces”, “refugees welcome”, “Israeli apartheid”, “tory cuts”, “Islamophobia” where logic and common sense cease to play a role. It also helps spawn movements such as Brexit or Jocko and Catalan independence almost as a form of creative destruction ( I am an ideological Brexiteer and in this case believe in destructive destruction, but for many who voted Leave the problems that they perceived could really have been erased if Cameron had done his job properly ). I could go on, but it’s all part of the same trend and you lot are smart enough to fill in the gaps.

    Even technologically there aren’t many things left to solve: a method of killing bacteria without them gaining resistance and some form of energy generation that works everywhere, all the time using an abundant resource that will never run out, I guess are the top goals. But generally speaking we have enough coal, oil and uranium to last the us until such a solution comes along…

  16. As an engineer I understand the role of negative feedback. What happens if it gets too hot? The thermostat switches off the boiler. Biology is the same but on a vastly larger scale. Now ask where is the negative feedback if the bureaucracy goes off the tracks? The bureaucrats have short circuited any possible means of control. You can’t stop paying them and the politicians are powerless. They have also created the bureau of bureaux in the EU which will cement their control even further. This is why you need a king, to cull them back from time to time.

  17. Once life becomes too comfortable, you need to get people to actively get out and seek discomfort for them to be better, balanced people.

    I’m in the early days of writing a book on this which is really about intentional suffering. By early days, just working on some themes and structure, not many words written so far! There is a parallel with weight lifting here, you intentionally suffer to get better.

    There is also a lot of evidence that when people go into stressful situations forearmed with the intention to suffer, they learn & develop much more quickly too.

    This is also the true poison of safe spaces, protected people are small and weak.

  18. @David

    Yes, stress can produce positive results in most species. But if you have say reached your station in life should you continually seek it out for the remainder of your life?

    This is the question.

    I am on leave now and the adrenaline has stopped pumping and it’s a kind of uneasy period for me, half relaxed but never quite as I know that I will be back on the treadmill next week. Not that motivated right now about another year of hustling, knifing and all the rest that comes along with it. I did set some targets earlier in life and one of them was to get out of the fast lane by 55, maybe it’s time for me to consider a different type of positive stress.

    By the way I have a couple of bonsai plants that I have severely tortured throughout their short (just over a year) life and the results are encouraging. One was looking nice and cheerful with many new shoots in the mid-summer sun this morning, I have just cruelly pruned it back to its bare bones.

  19. Bardon o

    “Yes, stress can produce positive results in most species. But if you have say reached your station in life should you continually seek it out for the remainder of your life?”

    I don’t think there is any single answer here. Nothing wrong with rest on ones laurels for a while. People can go through different phases, but I think it’s generally better to be looking for something that expands you most of the time.

    A few years ago I would have said I had found my station in life, I was quite happy to be a safe pair of hands in the project world, always being the one to get the call from people with fear of a major failure on their hands. A lot of ego can get invested in that, but I’ve tied of it now and really am looking to get into the top tier.

    It also applies to ever aspect of people’s lives.Just dealing with grief can people people for their whole lives if they don’t have the robustness already in place.

  20. I quite like the bonsai metaphor, I was going to kintsugi (golden repair) as the catch line, breaking a bowl so you can make it something deeper that just a bowl. The world will break you in someway regardless, so you may as well just get out and do it yourself….

  21. ” Russians were mainly interested in their salaries, their mothers’ pensions, and the price of a decent car.” – As a result, now that all of these are rather scarce, they are mostly interested in vodka and murdering people in other countries to pay the mortgage. But watching enough TV ensures they never start suspecting there might be a connection.

  22. Interesting post. IMAO Western civilisations’ suicidal tendencies are due to a a combination of the ‘poorhouse to poorhouse in 3 generations’ effect across society at large (first gen makes the money, second is frugal, third blows it), the legacy of WW1 (deaths of the bravest of the generation and the idea that Western civ. wasn’t worth saving among the survivors, whose influence has been amplified down the generations) and as others have mentioned the baleful effects of statism.

    One thing I would disagree with you though is your comment ‘I don’t think we’ll see a whole lot of advancement from this point on’, there is plenty of interesting stuff being worked on such as 3D printers (which could lead to the next industrial revolution- personnel production), spaceflight, energy storage and generation, biotechnology and so on. Overall I’m also more optimistic that things can be turned around (on my good days, other times I’d agree we are heading for a fall…)

  23. there is plenty of interesting stuff being worked on such as 3D printers (which could lead to the next industrial revolution- personnel production

    Oh, there is plenty of potential. But look at the attacks the statists and suicide-cultists are unleashing on the gig economy? I’m not so sure the little guys will survive intact the destruction of society’s foundations.

  24. Most of the stuff which gives right minded people (readers of this blog) fuel for end of times speculation, can be described as first world problems.

    I think that in so many areas we are approaching peak idiocy, and as things start to crumble as a result, the right thinking members of society (in this case white van man and the brexit voting class) will step in.

    Undoing the damage will take a little time, but I am cautiously optimistic that it will happn.

    Hopefully we won’t fall as far as Gibbons Rome.

  25. I think the fundamental problem is the after effects of two world wars.

    Civilization in the western countries during the Edwardian era was one of unparalleled confidence. A century of growth had seen massive strides in wealth, the growth of the middle classes, a vast improvement in the lives of the poor. Medicine was revolutionised, Railways and steamships shrank distance.

    The ancestor of today’s elite leftists had a core of the same paternalist attitude as they do today, but they didn’t hold the west as something to be ashamed of, rather as something to aspire to. (Think of the Toynbee family). We would bring the 3 C’s to Africa and abolish slavery in the process. They didn’t think of it as exploitation. Even Marx thought Colonisation was a necessary step on the path to Socialism. Intellectuals and artists (with rare exceptions) thought the west was the exemplar and leader.

    However, two world wars stopped that process. The culture became ashamed of itself. You can see that in the 1920s and beyond. That’s why we are in a mess. Modern Culture tells us that nothing we have done is good or noble, or worth preserving. The mainstream is determined by the culture and the culture is gone.

    Now anything of value in the west is a result of the patriarchy, toxic masculinity, cultural appropriation etc etc.

    This will only change when there is another shock – a shock that makes people think what they have is at serious risk.

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