On the fall of Rome, part two

This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper. T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men” Last week, we took a (very brief) look at how and why the Roman empire in the west fell, or rather faded away. The executive summary is that while there were certainly external pressures, the empire’sContinue reading “On the fall of Rome, part two”

On the fall of Rome, part one

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Percy Bysshe Shelley, “OzymandiAs” Those who worry about the impending collapse of our industrial civilisation often compare it – the United States in particular – to the Roman Empire. Even pieces like this one which attempt to deny the parallelContinue reading “On the fall of Rome, part one”

On resilience

When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade. Anon. After last week’s discussion of efficiency, it’s time to talk about its complement: resilience, literally the quality of springing back, like a rubber ball. It’s a broader and vaguer concept, with none of the satisfyingly crisp arithmetic we can bring to bear on efficiency, but IContinue reading “On resilience”

On putting people into boxes

Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. President George W. Bush There is much talk nowadays about polarisation, in politics and in society more generally. This is often blamed on social media, and the algorithms that tend to show you more of the same rather than anything likely to challenge yourContinue reading “On putting people into boxes”

On being overwhelmed

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. Wilkins Micawber in Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist This is where we are: we have a wide range of urgent problems which all need to be solved, and the resources toContinue reading “On being overwhelmed”

On the collapse of civilisation

We’re doomed! – Private Frazer There is much talk on the interwebs about the imminent fall of civilisation. There’s an entire subreddit devoted to it, whose membership has increased dramatically over the last twelve months, not that I would necessarily recommend it. I’d like to spend this week’s post unpacking this idea of civilisational collapseContinue reading “On the collapse of civilisation”

On the Covid-19 pandemic

As I write this, England – which is the bit of the UK I happen to inhabit – is about to enter a second lockdown, prompted by the spread of the Covid-19 virus. It’s been an interesting experience, this pandemic. Of course we’ve had plenty of them before – many originating as this one didContinue reading “On the Covid-19 pandemic”

On technology

Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal. – Albert Einstein The word technology covers a vast array of things, from movable type to firearms, the internal combustion engine, steam power, the wheel, the transistor, powered flight, anaesthetics, symbolic logic, the lever, nuclear energy, digital computers and windmills. It is,Continue reading “On technology”

On fear

No power so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear. – Edmund Burke I don’t know about you, but I’m quite scared a lot of the time. I’m talking lying-awake-at-night scared. There seems to be a lot of it about at the moment. People fear the unknown. InContinue reading “On fear”