Gloom and doom go only that far. A number of commenters, or authors such as Machiavelli, entertained pretty abysmal considerations on humanity and its future.
In the case of Machiavelli, pessimism was understandable: he rode two horses condemned to decline and fall, namely the Republic of Florence (which was turning into a plutocracy), and Caesare Borgia, Cardinal at 18 years of age, who later resigned his church position in an attempt to seize power in Italy, a place where Spain had invaded the south (freed centuries prior, by the Franks, from the Muslims), France was trying to hold onto Naples (but lost because the Spanish general in command was too good). Most of the peninsula was covered by forts and domains which had feuded for centuries.
Nowadays, we have grounds to be optimistic. I will explain why below. However with a caveat: history is now flowing extremely fast, as we are approaching a technological and computational, thus theoretical singularity.
There are three reasons why civilizations collapse: invasion, ecological collapse, plutocracy.
I use all the time analogies with Rome’s Decline and Fall, yet on a much grander scale than Edward Gibbon. I root firmly the Decline and Fall as starting in 200 BCE, with the rise of plutocracy. There are a lot of deep analogies between what happened then, and what is happening now.
Yet we also enjoy major differences with Rome. To avoid Rome’s fate, we have to cultivate these differences. (And our gaze turns towards the European Union.)
Rome was a quarter of humanity, and Roma was ALL the civilized, and Republican influence zone. Yes, China, India, Persia, and well before Egypt, were civilized. But only the only drowned and expired Sumerian cities could pretend to have a high Republican index: Sumer invented the bicameral system still in use today. Persia did not, China did not, and, as far as I know, neither did India.
But Rome, like the top Greek cities, was a Republic. However, most Greek cities crashed and burned within a century or so. Rome built a huge empire, and lasted so long, it’s not clear it ever stopped. Although it declined, and fell, it got up again, as the Franks engineered and observed. Thus Rome founded the present political system
Persia was advanced enough to seriously bother Greeks and Romans, it was only or equal civilizational level for a fleeting moment under Darius, and in the late Sixth Century (thus, 1,000 year later). (This is my own observation/theory, sure to rile up some out there!)
All the neighborhood of Rome was vastly inferior. Although the Celts were superior in ocean going ships and metallurgy, and even captured Rome in the Fourth Century BCE, their abominable religion was quite a drag. Actually, it was such a drag, the Celts embraced Greco-Roman civilization even before Julius Caesar showed up with his ten legions.
The Persian religion, Zoroastrianism was very advanced, arguably more so than Christianism (which copied many of its elements, in particular the obsession with truth and the logos, thanks god). The Middle East got tied down by the instauration of “hydraulic dictatorships” all over. The Persian/Iranian/Mesopotamian ensemble was a vast military mess which never recovered imperially, thus politically, from the People of the Seas invasions.
Now the situation is quite different.
First, the USA is a EUROPEAN COLONY.Rome was not a colony; it was initially occupied by Etruscans, themselves one of the People of the Sea. But, at the same time, the Etruscans civilized Rome. Rome also got civilized by the “Magna Grecia”, the Great Greece of Southern Italy, stating in Nea Polis (Naples).
Second, the mother ship, Europe, gave birth to a gigantic empire. It’s not just that European colonies control the Americas and Australia. France, the USA and Britain Exclusive Economic Zones, EEZs, covers much of the world’s exploitable oceanic depths.
Although weakened by its own crazies (Prussia/Germany/Nazis, Mussolini, Franco, Lenin/Stalin and their subordinates), plus major American plutocratic maneuvering, and in a bad state presently, Europe not quite done yet. After all the good guys (French Republic and British pseudo-monarchy) won. Now the French Republican systems, and monarchies to the same effect, cover Europe. Germany is sister republic to France, in particular.
Third, the Roman Republican system spread way beyond Europe and her colonies. China and India, and most of the rest of the UN have actually adopted (and adapted) many of WESTERN civilization’s better sides. However, China is still a dictatorship, and (partly) India a mess.
Another difference with Rome starts with a similarity: Rome got in a huge ecological crisis, starting around 100 CE. The Romans could not understand what was happening. They said:”The world is getting old”. Well, what was happening is that Romans had exhausted the soils, and the mines. However we know what they did not: tremendous technological progress can enable to change exploitation regimes.
Thus, the fourth difference with Rome; a huge CO2, GHG, Climate Crisis is incoming, but everybody knows about it, and fixes are in sight. A crisis is an opportunity as the Chinese would say.
Hope? People have to learn from history, and that means, the real history. Hyper maneuvering by USA plutocracy happened in much of the Twentieth Century, and is still ongoing right now. People can’t understand that, as long as they don’t realize that, without American plutocracy, Hitler just won’t have happened. At least, not happened as catastrophically as he did.
But there is hope that people, thanks to the Internet, realize that they have been manipulated in both what they know, and what they can hope to achieve. In particular, Direct Democracy is in the best position to succeed ever. The Athenian Republic found difficult to achieve Direct Democracy, because it did not have the Internet. The average Athenian voter was one day’s travel away from the voting booth. Nowadays, the average voter has her, or his hand on the voting device, namely the smartphone. No more excuses.
Objections can be raised. The preceding was a partial answer to several commenters on this site, John, Aaron, GlouconX, Eugen… The latter jumped on Machiavelli to object to Direct Democracy; however, Machiavelli was not just an author and philosopher. Like Plato, and especially Aristotle, he was a vested ACTOR of the disasters he described, and thus deeply biased, all the way to the greatest depths of the human soul. People who have interest to be stupid, will be stupid. Be it only to forget the fools leading us by the nose. Direct democracy is the answer to stupidity.
However, there is snow outside and further comments will be delayed until enough snow will have been mastered by the imperialistic author of these lines. Hey, it may be the last snow ever, let’s enjoy a cold El Nino, while it lasts! Non-Linearity is ready to ambush us. Let’s build memories while we can, be it just to be melancholic later… being of many minds is what intelligence is about.