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January 11, 2011

Comments

Fred

Last time I looked the US still had 5,000 or so strategic nuclear weapons. I believe that counts as 'power'.

Phil

within a matter of months, weeks, and eventually days

Galba, Otho, Vitellius, that's what I say. (Can't remember what happened next, though.)

chris y

Unfortunately, this only gives the Chinese from 2008-2033 or thereabouts.

Won't really matter though, as most of the world will be uninhabitable after 2033. Look for the long term dominance of the Democratic Republic of Ninavut (2033-as long as they damn well please).

Phil, what happened next was Vespasian, who stabilised the gig for the next 150 years (there was one military coup in 92 CE, otherwise more or less prosperous continuity under a dictatorship riding an economy based on massive military expenditure). Plus ca change and all that.

Alex

Isn't this the premise of a Ken MacLeod novel?

ajay

Yeah, I came to the same conclusion about recent leaders of the Conservative Party: Thatcher lasted 1975-1990, Major lasted 1990-1997, Hague lasted 1997-2001... roughly halving each time, you see. Plot it out and it looks like a nice decay curve. You could run the numbers and work out how long it would take until the average Tory leader lasted less than a day (2038) and how long until the party would have run out of adult British citizens who hadn't already been leader (2062).

Unfortunately this also predicted that David Cameron should have resigned on 15 June 2007.

Phil

So basically you're saying that David Cameron is Vespasian.

Richard J

I'm personally waiting for the tax on urinals.

chris y

So basically you're saying that David Cameron is Vespasian.

I hope he's not. Vespasian was an elderly war hero who looked like a retired boxer. But he had in common with Cameron a strong inclination to cut public spending everywhere except the armed forces, and he gained a reputation as a very effective administrator by doing so. So if the analogy holds, we're stuck with Davey for the next 16 years, and then he'll be canonised.

ejh

Not really. The point about Vespasian is that the civil war came before him.

Richard J

But who would his two (mainly useless) sons be?

Richard J

Oh, right. Nick Clegg and George Osborne.

BenSix

You know how in computer games success becomes more difficult as one progresses through the levels? Well, let's assume that Nick Bostrom is right that we're living in a simulation. Maybe the Akkadian Empire was "beginner" and we've been approaching "expert".

JamesP

Except that traditionally in Civ-type games, the difficulty curve is the other way round - the hardest part is the beginning, and by the time you have all the toys at the end, it's a bit of a doddle.

I must read more Ken McLeod. I've only read THE NIGHT SESSIONS, which I thought was ace.

ajay

He pops up in comments here sometimes; perhaps he knows which of his books Alex is referring to?

BenSix

Hrm - but does the player get tired of building new empires and look for silly ways of blowing up the...whole...game...

Oh dear.

Matthew

"Unfortunately this also predicted that David Cameron should have resigned on 15 June 2007. "

31st October 2006 (the nice chart is missing though)

http://mattysarchive.blogspot.com/2005/12/its-cameron.html

Dan Nexon

Book in 1932? You could totally get a contract for that in 2010!

ajay

Matthew: IIRC it depends whether you assume it's a decay curve or a quadratic...

Alex

ISTR when I extrapolated this it showed that everyone would get sick of Dave about two weeks after the elections.

Ken MacLeod

The decay curve of empires isn't a premise of any of my novels, but the idea does sort of resonate with one of them, The Sky Road. The 2060s strand of that has (in background) lots of small to medium-sized states that run their wars in simulation to save themselves the trouble, and then abide by the results, until ... well, the other strand of the story is set centuries later, in a new civilization that has some very strange notions about what ours was like. (That bit's mostly set in and around Lochcarron, where people are like that already independent in their thinking.)

Richard J

Coo, it's like that bit in Annie Hall.

Marshall McLuhan

This man knows nothing about Ken MacLeod or his work.

Alex

I was thinking of somebody else's (James Nicoll's?) gloss of The Fall Revolutions, a book which in fact I have not actually read. It is, indeed, like the bit in Annie Hall with Marshall McLuhan. With the added spice that I haven't actually seen the movie either.

ajay

That bit's mostly set in and around Lochcarron, where people are like that already

OK, that bit made me laugh.

Nanoassemblers Galore!

Ken MacLeod

'The Fall Revolution books' is the retrofitted collective name for my first four novels. Just to confuse matters, there's a book-club omnibus of three of them, titled The Fall Revolution. Tor Books in the US has recently reprinted the first two as a single volume called Fractions and the second two as Divisions.

Occasionally people look online for a title, 'The Light Company', which I once had in a book proposal, never actually used, but still appeared as forthcoming on Amazon. An advance online listing of a real book, Cosmonaut Keep, had an outline that was part of the original book proposal but never got written. A freelance reviewer for SFX made the mistake of reviewing the book he imagined from the outline rather than the one that was published (and that he presumably had a copy of). The editor of SFX was not impressed when this came to his attention.

And this is just me, in just a dozen years. Bibliography is harder than it looks.

Anyway, back to the Fall Revo and the life-cycle of empires. These books came out of the early-to-mid 90s and the Soviet collapse, when it was maybe too easy to think that 'what we thought was the revolution was just a moment in the fall'.

ajay

These books came out of the early-to-mid 90s and the Soviet collapse, when it was maybe too easy to think that 'what we thought was the revolution was just a moment in the fall'.

And when it was still possible (in The Star Fraction) to use "war with Iraq" as a shorthand for "a rapid and overwhelming victory by a vastly technically superior force"...

ejh

I knew a chap once who told me that on receiving an advance he would never look at the outline he'd submitted again

BenSix

I've done the same...

Oh, wait, no. I submit outlines and never receive an advance to look at...

Laban

"he had in common with Cameron a strong inclination to cut public spending everywhere except the armed forces"

Have you forgotten 'Carriers 2, Harriers 0' - we'll have two big ships with no planes on them for the next 20 years, air bases closing all over the UK. But, re declining empires, Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers reckons that financial overstretch caused by military overstretch is key to decline - in which case Cameron's cuts are probably 100 years too late for the UK. 'While the point of becoming a great power is to be able to fight major wars, the way to remain one is not to fight them'


I like The Fate of Empires, by Sir John Glubb ('Glubb Pasha'), soldier, historian and Arabist, who died in 1986. I found it here and OCR'd it into text. Published by Blackwell in 1978 (in total opposition to the then zeitgeist), it appears to be unobtainable - can't even find a copy on ABE Books.

He divided the life of an empire into the Ages of the Pioneers, of Conquest, Commerce, Affluence/Intellect, and had some great quotes :

"While the empire is enjoying its High Noon of prosperity, all these people are proud and glad to be imperial citizens. But when decline sets in, it is extraordinary how the memory of ancient wars, perhaps centuries before, is suddenly revived, and local or provincial movements appear demanding secession or independence. Some day this phenomenon will doubtless appear in the now apparently monolithic and authoritarian Soviet empire. It is amazing for how long such provincial sentiments can survive."

"The heroes of declining nations are always the same—the athlete, the singer or the actor."

"Perhaps the most dangerous byproduct of the Age of Intellect is the unconscious growth of the idea that the human brain can solve the problems of the world."

Laban

Wrong link - the Glubb pdf is here.

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