I believe we are moving towards a new dark ages. But my dark ages is much more profound than simply an economic power relationship between the lords and the serfs. The Pax Americana will eventually collapse – the people they have oppressed will revolt, and the powers they have supported will collapse. As with the other dark ages, there will be a fragmentation of political, religious, and financial power – corporate and religious leaders will claim more and more territory, but this territory will overlap so much that they will be powerless. Information will become less centralised, and less authoritative. Various scientific and religious worldviews will compete for acceptance until noone knows what to believe.
But I don’t think any of this is going to be bad.
I look forward to a new ‘dark ages’.
The last ones finished when the church finally became powerful enough to influence the kings, and the kings finally controlled enough of Europe to want to dominate even further, and the intellectuals decided to forget the last thousand years and revive the greek and roman arts. They called it the ‘dark ages’ because they wanted to believe that nothing worth thinking about had happened since Rome fell. We call it the dark ages because the universities and kingdoms and monasteries were all independent, so documents were not copied or sorted or catalogued or carefully kept, which makes it very hard for us to work out who really lived where, or what anyone really thought.
I don’t think the roman empire was that much fun for anyone who wasn’t a roman citizen. I don’t think the holy wars or the hundred years war were very progressive (the stability and political structures which ended the dark ages facilitated the crusades). I don’t think it was worth replacing the independent Benedictine monasteries with the hierarchical Franciscan and Dominican orders. I don’t think the power and control of the Roman orthodoxy, and the final schism between the eastern and western churches, was better than the local forms of worship, no matter how much of the old religions they included.
And, this time around, I don’t think that a reduction in the US-British ‘peacekeeping’ effort will be much loss to those living in turmoil. I don’t think that the collapse of the big Christian denominations will make much difference to those seeking the way of God. I don’t think a global corporate feudalism will be any worse than the current autocracy of the west. If the global village fractures and disintegrates into millions of exclusive subcultures, we might have to give up intel and coke and the one holy catholic church and the cia, but i won’t miss any of them. If science stops progressing, travel becomes more difficult, and people have to manage with local goods and services, it might just make it harder to make money and easier to make friends. I think that if our cities started shrinking again, and our economy became more agrarian, we might rediscover the earth and the air – and the sunrise and the full moon.
I’ve just found a great piece at mindfully.org. Lots of great stuff about the rise and fall of Rome, followed by this:
There are, no doubt, lessons here for the contemporary reader. The changing character of the native population, brought about through unremarked pressures on porous borders; the creation of an increasingly unwieldy and rigid bureaucracy, whose own survival becomes its overriding goal; the despising of the military and the avoidance of its service by established families, while its offices present unprecedented opportunity for marginal men to whom its ranks had once been closed; the lip service paid to values long dead; the pretense that we still are what we once were; the increasing concentrations of the populace into richer and poorer by way of a corrupt tax system, and the desperation that inevitably follows; the aggrandizement of executive power at the expense of the legislature; ineffectual legislation promulgated with great show; the moral vocation of the man at the top to maintain order at all costs, while growing blind to the cruel dilemmas of ordinary life— these are all themes with which our world is familiar, nor are they the God-given property of any party or political point of view, even though we often act as if they were. At least, the emperor could not heap his economic burdens on posterity by creating long-term public debt, for floating capital had not yet been conceptualized. The only kinds of wealth worth speaking of were the fruits of the earth.
And on his Be-Attitudes blog, Dave Andrews has written some excellent history about St Francis and St Clare, and Elizabeth of Many Castles, and what that means for Australia.