End Of Civilization
By Dave Eriqat
13 March, 2006
had a mild epiphany the other day: it’s not President Bush who’s
living in a fantasy world, it’s most of his critics who are. I’m
no apologist for Bush – I neither like nor dislike him. He’s
no more significant to me than a fly buzzing around outside my window.
So permit me to explain my reasoning.
People look at Bush’s
invasion of Iraq and see a miserable failure. But a failure to do what?
Democratize Iraq? Eliminate Iraq’s WMD arsenal? Reduce global
terrorism? If those were, in fact, the reasons for invading Iraq, then
the invasion would have to be classified as a failure. But what if the
real reason was to secure Iraq’s oil supplies, perhaps not for
immediate use, and perhaps not even for use by the United States? Then
the invasion of Iraq would have to be judged a success, a “mission
accomplished,” so to speak.
Or take Bush’s seemingly
irresponsible handling of the domestic economy. How can any sane person
fail to understand that cutting revenue while increasing spending will
produce deficits, and that those deficits cannot increase in perpetuity?
Sooner or later that accumulated debt has got to have consequences.
Bush appears to be acting as if there were no tomorrow. But what if
there really were no tomorrow, financially speaking? In that case, the
reckless economic policies of today would not only be irrelevant, but
might actually be shrewd. I mean, if one knows that he is not going
to have to pay back his debts tomorrow, then why not borrow money like
crazy today? In fact, if civilization is coming to an end, then why
not use all that borrowed money to stock up on guns and vital resources,
such as oil?
Now, I’m just one person.
And I’ve been closely studying economic, environmental, and energy
issues for only a few years. And I’m no expert. Yet I’ve
come to the conclusion – and I don’t want to be a “Chicken
Little” here – that civilization as we have known it for
the last century is doomed. Our wasteful manner of living – heck,
the sheer size of our human population – is unsustainable. Everywhere
you look you can see signs of strain on the Earth, from spreading pollution
of the air, water, and land, to disappearance of life in the seas, to
depletion of natural resources. Something’s got to give. Things
simply cannot continue as they have.
If I can see this, I would
guess the United States Government, what with its thousands of full
time experts, probably can too. Now, if you are the government (and
I don’t mean Tom “I am the federal government” DeLay),
and your experts tell you that civilization as we know it is doomed,
what do you do? Well, for starters, you do not tell your population
of sheeple. That would precipitate panic and result in premature doom,
which would consume the government along with everything else. Above
all, government seeks to survive, so you would maintain the facade of
normalcy for the benefit of your population while you use what time
you have left to prepare, as quietly as possible, for the inescapable
What will matter in this
future? Commodities, principally energy, food, and water. Everything
else is secondary. Money is far down the list in importance.
So how would you, the government,
prepare for a future world in which commodities are king? By securing
today as many of those commodities as possible. Hence, the U.S. government’s
binge of military base building throughout the commodity-rich regions
of the world. What would you not worry about? Money. The only concern
you might have for money is to prevent its premature demise. Hence,
the smoke and mirrors used to paint a pretty but false portrait of the
economy. Some will argue that the government needs more than just energy,
food, and water to survive. True, but by controlling the bulk of the
world’s key commodities, everything else can be procured, including
human labor and loyalty.
In preparing for the future
demise of civilization you would also seek to increase the government’s
power as much and as rapidly as possible. Why? To maintain control over
those increasingly precious resources, and equally important, to control
people – especially your own people – by force, if necessary.
Viewed in this light, the government’s aggressive pursuit of power
during the last five years makes perfect sense. Ironically, President
Bush got it right when he reportedly referred to the now totally eviscerated
United States Constitution as a “god damned piece of paper.”
That’s really all it is anymore.
So what fantasy world are
Bush’s critics living in? The fantasy world in which civilization
can continue as it has in the past. That we can continue to improve
the standard of living of everyone in the world if we just return to
a more sharing and egalitarian way of life, like that which we enjoyed
between World War II and the mid 1970s. This is a fantasy. The Earth
has finite limits. We are finally starting to grasp that fact with respect
to oil. But oil depletion is merely the first in a series of coming
crises ensuing from the finite confines of our planet. The fundamental
problem – and I’m not a Malthusian – is that there
are simply too many people for the Earth to sustain. This is why fish
are disappearing from the oceans, why the supply of oil is unable to
keep up with demand, why the globe is being deforested, why animal and
plant species are going extinct, why water wars are in the offing. Perhaps
if people were wiser and more willing to share, and implicitly, less
greedy, we could sustain the more than six billion people on Earth,
but, alas, such idealism does not describe human beings.
The one thing that has enabled
the human population to grow to the immense dimensions we see today
is oil, the resource facing the greatest challenge from depletion. As
the oil supply diminishes, in the absence of herculean efforts to use
oil more efficiently and fairly, large numbers of human beings will
die off. Before then, soaring prices for oil will probably destroy the
economies of the countries most dependent on the stuff, if not the entire
intricately linked world economy. This is what I mean by the end of
civilization. Of course life will go on. But it won’t be anything
like what we’ve been accustomed to. Life will be more like that
of the Middle Ages, in which a few wealthy lords controlled all the
resources and possessed all the power, and the rest of the people –
the lucky ones, anyway – were veritable slaves under these lords.
In many ways that state of affairs exists today, but it’s unseen
by all but the most observant individuals. The future I’m talking
about, though, is considerably more spartan than what the worker bees
I believe that what we’re
witnessing today is the inception of a titanic and protracted competition
for survival: between countries, between civilizations, between governments
and their people. Moreover, I believe the Bush administration is the
first to recognize this competitive future, which explains its fundamentally
different – seemingly feckless – behavior compared to past
administrations. Bush’s favored courtiers, which include corporations,
are profiting today and will become the new nobility in the coming New
Truth and Distractions
The governments of the world,
and the U.S. Government in particular, don’t want their people
to know the truth. Governments usually end up seeing themselves as entities
distinct from their people, and usually end up competing against them.
That is true of almost every government on Earth today, and is especially
true of the U.S. Government. Keeping the truth from people helps a government
achieve its goals, for if the people knew the truth they might demand
that the government start actually serving them.
One way to keep the truth
from people, aside from today’s favored approach of simply suppressing
it, is to feed them a steady diet of compelling distractions.
Elections are one such distraction.
Elections arouse peoples’ passions and keep them entertained for
weeks or months. Elections even give people the illusion of participation,
when, in fact, elections mean absolutely nothing in a country like the
United States, which is run by money. Of course, elections are run by,
and legitimized by governments.
Sex is another good distraction,
both sex scandals and sex-related social issues. Look at how much mileage
the media got out of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandals. By comparison,
sexual abuses by the government’s own schoolteachers outnumber
those by the church, but we hear nary a word about them because they
reflect negatively on the government, and the media cooperates in keeping
this quiet. Sex between consenting adults, which ought to be nobody’s
business except the participants’, also consumes our attention.
Look at how much attention people pay to homosexuality. Why is that
anybody else’s business? It’s not, obviously, but it’s
a great distraction from important things, such as the government’s
reverse-Robin Hood economic policies. The same with abortion. Abortion
is a personal matter for the people involved. It’s none of society’s
business. But government stokes the flames of debate about abortion
and it consumes peoples’ attention. Sexually transmitted diseases
– diseases in general – are also good distractions and have
the added benefit of instilling fear in the population.
Crime is a perennial distraction.
Even when the crime rate is falling, the government seems to hype the
crime statistics, making it seem as if you’re putting your life
at risk by merely setting foot outside your front door. Of course, “crime”
breeds prisons, and prisons empower the government. Given the benefits
of crime to the government, it comes as no surprise that the government
creates crime by criminalizing harmless behavior such as using drugs
or hiring a prostitute.
Religion is also a distraction.
Domestically, the fashionable debate today revolves around the separation
of church and state. There really ought not be any debate. The United
States Constitution is unequivocal: the United States Government shall
not recognize any particular religion. End of story. It does not say
how states may address religion, but it does say that all powers not
prohibited to the states belong to the states. In my opinion, then,
if a state wants to recognize a religion, it may do so.
The “clash of civilizations”
is perhaps the newest distraction, and a completely contrived one at
that. The Muslim-Christian antipathy that exists today is both a religious
and a cultural distraction. Decades ago, when we were affluent, we were
taught to celebrate cultural diversity on our planet. Today that same
diversity is touted as the explanation for the “clash of civilizations.”
Granted, different cultures are, well, different. But that doesn’t
mean that conflict must ensue, and for decades there was no conflict.
Clearly, the flames of cultural conflict are being stoked. By whom?
The governments of the world and the media. For example, just look at
how European media companies and European governments colluded recently
to provoke Muslims with those silly cartoons. Cultural conflict not
only distracts the masses, but it provides governments with a credible
justification to increase their power, for instance, to regulate headgear
worn in schools and restrict immigration. Of course, “terrorism”
is ancillary to this clash of civilizations and serves to intensify
anxiety in the population. How many acts of terrorism are actually perpetrated
by governments? It’s impossible to say, but it’s definitely
more than zero, a lot more. So why does a government perpetrate an act
of terrorism? To create a distraction, to increase its power, or both.
One thing all of these distractions
have in common is collusion – intentional or incidental –
between the government and the media. The government seems to be involved
in all of these distractions to varying degrees, ranging from merely
exaggerating the importance of some distractions to actively orchestrating
others. And none of these distractions could successfully distract the
public without the zealous participation of, and amplification by, the
media. One might argue that the media is naturally drawn to report sensational
news, as a moth is drawn to light, and most of these distractions qualify
as sensational. But I don’t think it’s purely coincidental
that the media relishes these stories when there is so much overlap
between the agendas of the government and the corporations that comprise
Both entities seek to dominate,
exploit, and control the “little people.” And the little
people, being xenophobic, uneducated, and fearful, are easily manipulated
in a formulaic manner to help undermine their own welfare. Simply look
at their support for Bush, a leader who has systematically attacked
their standard of living, not to mention their liberties. All Bush had
to do was push a few buttons labeled “religion,” “sex,”
and “culture” to get them to react like Pavlovian dogs.
And all this button pushing was, of course, happily assisted by the
We humans like to think of
ourselves as so much more sophisticated than “lower” animals.
In affluent times and places we can afford to worry about silly things
like what movies will win Oscar awards, whether our body looks good
at the gym, or where we will take our next family vacation.
But our existence still depends
on this fundamental equation: survival = food + water + shelter.
In leaner times, like those
we’re heading into, the above equation becomes sharply apparent.
Food production today is
highly dependent on oil. Oil powers our farm implements, oil and natural
gas are ingredients in commercial pesticides and fertilizers, and oil
transports food to market. Today food travels as far as 10,000 miles
from where it’s produced to where it’s consumed, which would
be impossible without oil. Oil vastly increases agricultural productivity.
So it’s because of our largess of oil that the human population
has been able to grow as large as it has. One might say that humans
eat oil. We can, of course, produce food without oil – barring
such evil manifestations as crops that are genetically engineered to
require the use of petroleum-based pesticides – but without oil
food production will be much lower.
Water is a resource we take
for granted. We act as though there is no limit to the supplies of water,
and that there are no repercussions to our profligate consumption of
it. We’re building cities in places without adequate water supplies
– Phoenix and Las Vegas come to mind – and we’re using
up vast reservoirs of non-replenishable “fossil” water,
such as the Ogallala Aquifer in the American Midwest. Just as we’re
failing to plan for economic “rainy days,” we’re failing
to regulate our water usage to prepare for a literal lack of rainy days.
We seem to think that the replenishable water supply patterns will remain
unchanged, an especially optimistic expectation if the Earth’s
climate is truly in the midst of major change. But the water situation
is even worse in some other places than in America. Water delivery is
partly dependent on energy, just as food production is. It takes energy
to pump water from the ground, to transport it to where it’s consumed,
and even to treat it. Of course, food production is vitally dependent
I hardly need mention the
importance of oil except to say that for the first time in history,
the demand curve is passing the supply curve. Moreover, the supply curve
will soon be heading downward and we’ll find ourselves perpetually
chasing this ever dwindling supply downhill. When demand merely exceeds
supply the price of oil will increase. But when demand exceeds supply
and the supply starts to diminish, then prices will really go up, enough
to destroy economies or render impractical the transportation of food
and water to some places. But the gap between supply and demand means
more than just higher prices. It also means shortages. Those who can
afford to buy oil will usually have their needs satisfied, albeit at
higher cost. But those who cannot pay the price will do without. Occasionally,
even those who can afford to buy oil will be forced to do without because
from time to time there simply won’t be any oil to buy on the
global market, at any price. Imagine going to your local gas station
and seeing a sign out front reading “Sorry, no gas.” Imagine
going to your local grocery store and seeing empty shelves because the
trucks that deliver goods to the store had no diesel fuel. Imagine having
to bundle up in two layers of sweaters inside your house because you
have to make half your normal allotment of home heating oil last the
entire winter. These hypothetical scenarios will become reality and
will occur with increasing frequency as time goes on.
What’s going to happen
when people have to vigorously compete for food, water, and energy in
order to survive? I think it’s going to get vicious. My opinion
of humanity holds that in the face of such adversity, it will be every
man for himself. Countries will compete against countries. States will
compete against states. Cities will compete against cities. Governments
will even compete against their citizens. Civilization, in the sense
of the word “civility,” will be no more. Perhaps genetically
engineered terminator seeds, depleted uranium, and exotic diseases are
secretly intended to reduce the human population to alleviate resource
Clearly, the U.S. invasion
of Iraq is one of the opening salvos in the coming resource wars. And
the U.S.’s belligerence toward Iran is undoubtedly due to Iran’s
possession of vast oil and natural gas resources. Bear in mind that
a country need not seek control of vital resources with the intention
of consuming them. The country that controls resources can use those
resources either as a lever to compel other countries to behave a certain
way, or to buy other resources or finished goods, such as weapons and
integrated circuit chips.
The End of Money
The 1970s was the apotheosis
of the “American Dream.” Wedged between the preceding decade
of civil unrest and the subsequent decade of recessions, rapidly rising
homelessness, and mass layoffs, the 1970s was a comparatively idyllic
decade. It certainly had its problems – stagflation, for instance
– but even while living during that time I felt it was a special
decade. Life was good; people were happy, friendly, and mellow; TV shows
and movies were cheerful; civil liberties were at their peak; government
power was at its lowest ebb; the country was affluent and at its peak
of industrial prowess. It’s not a coincidence that the tallest
buildings in America were built during the 1970s. Those buildings were
icons of American industry and power. Although the Vietnam War raged
during the first half of the 1970s, it was in the process of winding
down and came to an end by the middle of that decade. The cessation
of the Vietnam War was as much a reflection of the peoples’ desire
to “live and let live” as it was a military defeat. Military
conscription also ended in that decade, and even the cold war cooled
off because of détente.
Unfortunately, what we didn’t
realize at the time was that we would never again have it so good. The
1970s represented a “tipping point,” to use the popular
vernacular, for the American Dream. That was when globalization really
started to take off and when the serious decline of American industry
began, the steel and auto industries being among the first casualties.
Interestingly, the 1970s was also the decade of peak oil production
in the United States, after which point we became increasingly reliant
on imported oil, which greased our downward slide. What I didn’t
realize until writing this was how crucial a role President Nixon played
in creating this tipping point. Nixon opened the door to trade with
China, a major player in today’s globalized economy. Nixon disassociated
the U.S. dollar from gold, facilitating the destruction of wealth through
unrelenting devaluation of the dollar. Nixon launched the war on drugs,
a precursor to today’s war on terror (or is it the war of terror,
I can’t tell?). Both the drug war and war on/of terror consume
wealth in order to serve the imperial ambitions of the U.S. Government,
but contribute nothing to the country’s production of wealth.
The 1980s was a decade in
which previously accumulated wealth was systematically extracted, mainly
through the mechanism of “Merger Mania.” The 1980s was a
decade of marked industrial and economic decline, which was masked to
a large extent by releasing into the economy some of the wealth squeezed
out of these mergers, as well as by the massive accumulation of debt.
The transformations of the 1980s also introduced a new component: the
injection of foreign wealth into the country. Many of the assets sold
in the 1980s were purchased by foreigners, especially the Japanese,
a trend which accelerated toward the latter half of the decade, highlighting
America’s economic decline. The 1980s also marked the inception
of the mythical “service economy” theory to justify the
profitable exporting of American jobs. The economy is like a pyramid.
Forming the foundation of this pyramid is the one true source of wealth:
natural resources – the free wealth given to us by the Earth and
the Sun. Mining for minerals and energy, agriculture, fishing, and forestry
are the source of all other wealth. Above this foundation are industries
that utilize its products. These second level industries consist primarily
of manufacturers that take raw materials and produce something of greater
value. Above the manufacturers are companies that serve them, including
law firms, advertising agencies, shipping companies, airlines, hotels,
restaurants, and even entertainment. As wealth moves up this pyramid
a little wealth, constituting salaries and savings, is retained by each
level in the pyramid. The myth of the service economy, the darling theory
of the 1980s, is that a country could retain the top of the pyramid
and outsource the base of it. During the last three decades we have
transfered much of the base of this economic pyramid to countries such
as China and India and indeed, initially, the money kept flowing to
the top of the pyramid which remained in the United States. But after
a while, a new top of the pyramid began to form in those countries where
we had shipped the base of the pyramid. Witness today not only the exodus
of high tech jobs to China and India, but that in those countries pure
service companies, such as advertising agencies, are also starting to
The 1990s was a period of
greatly accelerating globalization and economic decline for the United
States, aided and abetted by such treaties as NAFTA, GATT, and the WTO.
Again, this massive decline was masked by the illusion of wealth that
persisted during the huge stock market bubble of the latter half of
the 1990s. Like merger mania before it, the stock market bubble attracted
a lot of foreign wealth. A bit more previously accumulated wealth was
extracted from rising human productivity here in the United States during
Finally, the 2000s so far
represent an era massively dependent on inflows of foreign wealth. With
our previously accumulated wealth now exhausted and little means left
for fundamental wealth production, about the only thing keeping the
U.S. economy afloat these days is consumer spending and deficit spending
by the government, both of which are financed by growing mountains of
debt, which is owed to foreigners. The United States has largely been
reduced to a nation of people that sell each other hamburgers, with
foreigners paying the checks. Asset sales to foreigners continue as
well, the failed Chinese bid for Unocal and the not-so-failed Dubai
bid to run some of our seaports being prominent recent examples.
During the last thirty years
in America two persistent trends are clear: the steady depletion of
existing wealth and decline in the means to produce new wealth; and
the steady rise of an imperial U.S. Government.
Today, the economic imbalances
in the United States economy are so vast that I cannot see how they
can be corrected gracefully. Even more astonishing to me is that people
keep buying financial instruments like U.S. Treasury bills. Do these
investors really believe they’re ever going to get their money
back? The national debt is so large that paying it down is nearly impossible,
especially since there is no political will to either increase taxes
or reduce spending. Obviously, the U.S. Government knows it cannot pay
down the national debt, which is why it covertly relies on dollar devaluation
to reduce the value of the national debt.
It’s only a matter
of time before the majority of investors in dollar-denominated financial
instruments open their eyes and stop buying those assets. When that
happens the dollar is doomed. The government’s only recourse when
it cannot borrow money will be to print dollars, which will only accelerate
the dollar’s demise, possibly even inducing hyperinflation along
If oil prices skyrocket because
of the global supply and demand relationship and harm the U.S. economy,
that could accelerate the dollar’s demise as well. I personally
don’t see how the dollar can avoid substantial devaluation, either
slowly or rapidly. I hope the decline is gradual.
All of the world’s
government-issued currencies are in similar straits. None are firmly
backed by finite, physical resources, such as gold. Consequently, all
currencies have the potential to suffer from devaluation, even more
so since the economies of the world’s countries are so intricately
linked together. If one currency abruptly collapses, especially an important
one like the dollar, they could all come crashing down.
Additionally, faith in the
world’s currencies depends in part on globalization. The willingness
of an investor in Japan to buy American dollars depends in part on the
investor’s expectation of a continuing economic relationship between
Japan and America. But in an era where global trade is increasingly
challenged by oil shortages, faith in other countries’ currencies
will diminish too. Countries will increasingly prefer to conduct international
trade using universal mediums like gold instead of currency.
If currencies such as the
dollar become worthless, even local trade may be conducted using gold
or other precious metals. Such trade may, in fact, have to be conducted
in black markets, since financially distressed governments will probably
seek to confiscate all gold and precious metals from their citizens.
The bottom line is that government-issued
currency will be a thing of the past. So how will the government continue
Acquisition of Resources
Without money or credit,
government can only continue to exist through force. The United States
government is particularly well endowed in this regard and has demonstrated
its willingness to use force to acquire resources, and not as a last
Iraq’s oil is the first
such resource to be acquired by military force. Iran’s oil and
natural gas may well be the next. In the long run, the energy-rich regions
of central Asia will also attract the hungry gaze of the U.S. Empire.
Of course, other powerful, populous, and hungry countries, such as China
and India, will also have designs on these energy-rich regions, which
will probably result in significant wars. Oil from the Middle East will
probably become so valuable that countries will have to provide a military
escort for every tanker carrying oil across the ocean.
Domestically, energy will
be controlled by the government. It will satisfy its needs first, corporations
will have their needs satisfied second, and the populace will be forced
to ration whatever is left.
Food is also critical to
the government, comprised, as it is, of people. So it’s logical
to assume that the government will at some point take control of food
production. As with energy, the government will satisfy its own food
requirements first, and the populace will be left to ration whatever
If water becomes a scarce
or unreliable resource, then we can assume that the government will
take control of that as well.
In a future where money has
no value, the only way a government can retain people is by providing
them with food, water, and shelter. In fact, in a future world where
resource competition is the order of the day, people will probably covet
a government job – as a bureaucrat, a laborer, or a soldier –
simply because it will mean three square meals a day and a roof over
Of course, government needs
more than just food, water, and shelter. Government needs weapons, vehicles,
computers, communications gear, and myriad other manufactured items.
Some of these things are manufactured wholly in other countries, or
depend in part on components from other countries. Without money the
government cannot buy these things. But it can trade precious resources,
such as oil, water, and food, for them. Some critical factories, such
as domestic weapons plants, may be taken over wholesale by the government
for security reasons.
Government cannot operate
on resources and material alone. It also needs labor. Some of that labor
can be “purchased” in exchange for resources. But in order
for the government to operate “profitably” it will have
to employ slave labor, that is, labor it doesn’t have to pay so
We already have such a precedent.
Many of the two million people already incarcerated in this country
are veritable slave laborers. They “earn” anywhere from
twenty-five cents to one dollar per hour, often working for major American
corporations. But in some cases these poor prisoners are then charged
room and board for being in prison, thus wiping out their minuscule
income. In effect, since they are being forced to work without making
any net income, they are slaves. It does not challenge the imagination
to envision future slave laborers working in factories manufacturing
everything from machine guns to computers, or working on farms to produce
food, returning each night to sleep in their prison cells.
The United States military
is currently exploring ways to utilize civilian prisoners to satisfy
the military’s labor needs. It’s only a matter of time before
they come up with a justification for doing so.
Once the framework for utilizing
slave laborers – all nice and legal, of course – is established,
it’s quite easy to increase the pool of potential laborers, if
necessary. The government merely has to criminalize more behaviors.
Caught driving your car on the “wrong” day? Three months
in prison loading ammunition cartridges. Caught possessing gold coins?
Six months in prison assembling computers. Caught saying “subversive”
things over the telephone to your aunt? Five years on a prison farm
– for the both of you – tending crops. Of course, prison
sentences will likely be accompanied by asset forfeiture, that is, if
you have anything the government wants. There is already a precedent
today for asset forfeiture too, even for minor offenses such as hiring
a prostitute or having a marijuana cigarette in your car. Heck, simply
walking through an airport today with “too much” cash on
your person might result in it being confiscated.
Although this essay has mainly
been a description of the United States and its future, much of it is
applicable to the world as a whole. Some other countries may well face
worse times ahead because they lack the natural resources and/or military
might that the United States possesses.
The goal of this essay is
not to propose solutions to the many problems facing us, although there
are solutions, but to explain the seemingly irrational behavior we see
around the world. Viewing the world today in light of the foregoing
essay, Bush’s actions are understandable, even though I don’t
endorse them: the competitive pursuit of resources, the rolling back
of civil liberties, the carefree handling of the economy.
Copyright 2006 by Dave Eriqat