The Low Point of Civilization?

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Reply Fri 26 Sep, 2008 12:43 pm
I thought this was a very fascinating theory by Rhys Carpenter, archeological historian. Within his book Discountinuity of Greek CivilizationClimate change. Apparently there is evidence to suggest that there was a shift and contraction of the polar icecap (around 2000 B.C.E. i.e. ) When this shift in the polar icecap occurred, the longitudal climate of the middle Mediterranean shifted northward. The stable and very hospitable climate of Greece, eastern Anatolia, southern Italy, etc which were all part of this climate zone suddenly dried up, the good weather, rain, moving northward. Drought and famine pushed civilizations such as the Mycenaean's into other climate zone, such as northern Egypt or eastern Europe. It was around that time that the Egyptians noted the appearance of the "sea peoples," Greeks and others pushed out of the middle Mediterranean by this shift in climate. There are also many other accounts of this occurring besides the Egyptians.

But this is the interesting part. Since this initial shift in the polar ice cap, which threw ancient civilizations a wicked curve ball, there has been a 400 year cycle of high points and low points in western civilization. The picture below illustrates this cycle.

http://i36.tinypic.com/2n71atu.jpg

I'm sure there are more point to put in, but this is a rough account from what I can think of offhand. But notice where we are right now.

Are we at a low point in civilization?
 
jgweed
 
Reply Fri 26 Sep, 2008 02:01 pm
@VideCorSpoon,
One would question I think, a cycle that puts the period 400 BC (or BCE---the date is precisely the same) in a "low point" of civilisation; around that time lived Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and indeed the period (500 to 300 BC) is often referred to as the "golden age of Greece."
Again, since the pioneering work of Charles Homer Haskins, the view of the 12th Century as a period of significant and dynamic change, as grown in historical circles, that in many ways was as significant as the traditional period we call the Renaissance.
Lastly, the period 1800-1900 or so seems much closer to a high point of civilisation than it does to a low point, from an economic, scientific, and cultural perspective.

I am not sure that the neat 400 year cycles, while they might indeed indicate temperature differences, prove much when looked at historically.
 
madel
 
Reply Fri 26 Sep, 2008 02:55 pm
@jgweed,
I think there are definitely things worth questioning about this theory...and I would just simply need more information about the premises behind the theory to really decide much myself.

For example, what is determining "good" versus "bad" civilization...? Population? Education level of general populace? Amount of "peace-time"? Etc.

Moreover, I question the timeline given anyway. In just a quick bout of research, it appears that the Renaissance was not anywhere near its peak at 1600...it appears it was about over. What this means to me is that the graph given may be hand-picking its "time periods" for juicyness and convenience.

On the whole, an interesting theory, and I'd be interested in looking at it in a more scientific way, but it seems like the way we're looking at in this thread at least (and how may or may not have been done for the theory itself) uses inductive rather than deductive reasoning.

I *am* interested in the potential effects of climate change on particular parts of cultures, but we'd have to break it down further by geography to get a better picture: some places get warmer, some colder, for example, and these differences would mean differences in reaction. Actually, it would be really interesting to examine it in a comparative manner.

That's my simple assessment at the moment.
 
VideCorSpoon
 
Reply Fri 26 Sep, 2008 03:40 pm
@madel,
Jgweed,

Athenian plague. The Peloponnesian war caused a mass influx of people to Athens. The high concentrations led to a widespread epidemic, killing more the half of the Athenian population. This in turn led to an economic meltdown of the city and the surrounding areas. Led to an overall weakening of the Greeks in general and opened the doors to the Macedonians.

Socrates and Plato maybe important now, but not as much then. Aristotle came a little later (but still in the same general time frame). He was the tutor of Alexander the Great. The Golden age of Greece was actually followed by the silver and the bronze age, outline by Hesoid. The bronze age was around the time of the Mycenaean's, almost a thousand years prior to even the earliest pre-socratic. So the Golden age was prior even to that. The Golden age moniker is the Greeks way of glorifying their own past (at the time).

The theory is more involved with pivotal moments that influenced civilizations the followed. I would think that 1800-1900 was not as pivotal and influential to life in general, only to respective countries.

Madel,

There may be a digital version of The discontinuity of Greek civilizationhttp://i36.tinypic.com/21l8x79.jpg
As the climate in the middle Mediterranean got hotter, the civilizations along the Mediterranean failed, moved upwards or southwards. In the first post, I mentioned something about the invasion of the "sea peoples" of Egypt. These were the migrations of peoples from the Mediterranean or Anatolia. It was (in this theory) becuase of this climate change that they left their lands for more moderate climates.

This is a really rough argument on my part of the very extensive work of Carpenter. My account is 5% of a bigger picture.
 
madel
 
Reply Sat 27 Sep, 2008 01:06 pm
@VideCorSpoon,
I think I will just need to read the book...I'm skeptical. I do think it's an interesting theory, and I'd bet money there are indeed very strong correlations to *at least* parts of the theory, if not most of it...I just don't know enough about the methodolgy behind the theory to judge it much. Too many questions.

I think it will indeed be the next book I pick up, however Smile Interdisciplinary studies...?! Yes, please!

Smile
 
EmperorNero
 
Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 07:59 am
@madel,
VideCorSpoon;25951 wrote:

Are we at a low point in civilization?


I think so. Look at the bright side, we are on the way to a high point.

VideCorSpoon wrote:
Socrates and Plato maybe important now, but not as much then.


Also note, that great thinking is usually done in times of demise.
 
manored
 
Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 10:12 am
@VideCorSpoon,
I think it depends much from the point of view, both my country and the world are getting better for me but many people think the opposite.
 
VideCorSpoon
 
Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 10:36 am
@manored,
See, I find the whole concept of these cycles so interesting because of the recent "green" movement and the notion of global warming. Like Carpenter asserts, the primary reason why Greek civilization fails is because of these periodic climate shifts. The Mycenaean civilization essentially falls because of rampant drought and fires which destroyed a majority of the palatial system the civilization depended on. And the same can be said for the upside, during the Doric "invasion" or the invasion of the "sea peoples."

But I suppose there is something to be said about the specific instances in which I mark the high and low points. There were just as many high points than low points during the marked low points in the diagram. But in the larger context of historical and geo-influential events, it is something to think about. Especially considering the fact that these instances of the climate getting increasingly hotter and colder are documented. Heck, I saw something on the history channel a while ago about the medieval "mini ice age" which is said to reappear every few thousand years. Perhaps why there is such a derision in the academic community on global warming. It is not the whole fact that global warming is happening, but that it is a natural cycle of earth (but you got to admit that we help out just a little.)
 
EmperorNero
 
Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 11:28 am
@VideCorSpoon,
The whole green thing just seems silly to me. And global warming is nothing but a unscientific myth.
I somewhat admire the people that came up with it and now profit from it.

Quote:
Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.


MichaelCrichton.com | Aliens Cause Global Warming
 
Aedes
 
Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 11:50 am
@VideCorSpoon,
VideCorSpoon wrote:
Are we at a low point in civilization?
Compared with where we were from 1900-1950, we're without question doing better. We still have genocides and pogroms, but we don't have Auschwitz, Kolyma, Nanking. We still have battles, but we don't have the Somme or Stalingrad.

The world is rife with problems, asymmetries, and suffering, but by many measures they are less superlative than they were in the first half of the 20th century.

We also have gotten to the point where social justice is a more commonly held value than it has ever been in history (on a global scale).



As for his graph (from your first post), it's probably not painting an accurate or representative picture. I mean it's strange that Charlamagne would be placed at a high point in civilization. Charlamagne was perhaps the beginning of the recovery from the fall of Rome, but he was by no means a high point (and his children and grandchildren's rivalries led quite directly to Europe's modern national partitioning, rather than any kind of hegemony). The low point of Christian civilization corresponded to the high point of Muslim civilization and probably Mayan civilization as well. The high middle ages corresponded to a great high point in African civilization (at least centered around modern Mali). It's a big world -- not everyone is going up or down at the same time.
 
EmperorNero
 
Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 11:55 am
@VideCorSpoon,
Aedes;59637 wrote:
Compared with where we were from 1900-1950, we're without question doing better. We still have genocides and pogroms, but we don't have Auschwitz, Kolyma, Nanking. We still have battles, but we don't have the Somme or Stalingrad.

The world is rife with problems, asymmetries, and suffering, but by many measures they are less superlative than they were in the first half of the 20th century.

We also have gotten to the point where social justice is a more commonly held value than it has ever been in history (on a global scale).


I don't think thats what we mean by low point. Political and sociological changes are not directly influenced by climate.
I would even make the argument that we become "worse" as humans in times of plenty.
 
Aedes
 
Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 12:56 pm
@EmperorNero,
EmperorNero wrote:
I don't think thats what we mean by low point. Political and sociological changes are not directly influenced by climate.
Political and social changes are most definitely influenced by climate, though one can just as easily argue that there are political and social substrates that make a certain society more vulnerable to climate change.

Quote:
I would even make the argument that we become "worse" as humans in times of plenty.
Well, the point is that movements towards "good" and "bad" do not occur uniformly throughout the globe at the same time, and extremes of good and bad don't correlate with some other "natural" extreme.
 
EmperorNero
 
Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 01:26 pm
@Aedes,
Aedes;59647 wrote:
Political and social changes are most definitely influenced by climate, though one can just as easily argue that there are political and social substrates that make a certain society more vulnerable to climate change.


I don't think that the holocaust or the war in Iraq had much to do with climate.
What is meant by high point, is that societies thrive because of changes in climate, crops grow better, and warmer weather creates opportunities, change and progress.

Aedes;59647 wrote:
Well, the point is that movements towards "good" and "bad" do not occur uniformly throughout the globe at the same time, and extremes of good and bad don't correlate with some other "natural" extreme.


I'm saying that this does not discredit the theory, because it does not make the assumption that climate does have to influence good and bad behavior of humans.
 
hammersklavier
 
Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 02:08 pm
@EmperorNero,
This theory sounds interesting. I'd love to see more materials, evidence, etc., the author uses to back it up, though, before I decide to believe it or not.
 
Aedes
 
Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 02:16 pm
@EmperorNero,
EmperorNero wrote:
I don't think that the holocaust or the war in Iraq had much to do with climate.
But it would be a wild oversimplification to even say that Hitler caused the Holocaust. For instance Stalin caused a famine in the Ukraine that killed millions of people in the 1930s, but his propaganda machine blamed the Jews for the famine. When the Nazis invaded the Ukraine in 1941, the Ukrainian population was already so anti-Stalin and anti-Jew that many of them participated in the enormous massacres of Jews (and many went so far as to become guards in the camps in Poland). So while Hitler bears supreme and central responsibility for the Holocaust, it was a near infinitude of complementary conditions that made it happen -- it wasn't him alone.

Without taking a good look at it academically, though, (I don't pretend to know the answer to this), I can at least entertain that the popular uprisings and revolutions of the late 1910s-1930s had to do with poverty and marginalization, and these may well have had to do with environmental conditions (and one can accept this without ignoring all the other influences, i.e. the rise of fascism and communism, the global depression, etc). That doesn't make them directly causal, but that's not really the question here.

EmperorNero wrote:
What is meant by high point, is that societies thrive because of changes in climate, crops grow better, and warmer weather creates opportunities, change and progress.
But the difficulty here is in deciding what is really a high point. If Islamic civilization and Mayan civilization had their high points at the low point of Christian civilization, then how do you possibly label that historical era? West Africa had a high point of its civilization in the 12th-14th century, and it's probably having a low point now... but are we even counting places like Africa, the Pacific Islands, the peoples of the Arctic, etc when we judge high and low points?

EmperorNero wrote:
I'm saying that this does not discredit the theory, because it does not make the assumption that climate does have to influence good and bad behavior of humans.
Climate almost certainly influences behavior. Climate change led to a westward migration of rats in Asia during the 14th century, and this coincided with seafaring commerce on the Mediterranean -- and this led directly to the Black Death. Human migrations and political upheavals and economic transitions certainly are influenced by climactic conditions.

But it's probably not fair to blame a warm or a cold climate on a good or bad 'point' in civilization, as if there is some direct correlation between global temperature and human social sophistication.

It's change (of any kind) that leads to low points, because that's what creates dysequilibrium. And you CAN blame the crises of the 20th century on dysequilibrium. Read "War of the World" by Niall Fergusson for much on this.
 
EmperorNero
 
Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 03:04 pm
@Aedes,
Aedes;59654 wrote:
But it would be a wild oversimplification to even say that Hitler caused the Holocaust. For instance Stalin caused a famine in the Ukraine that killed millions of people in the 1930s, but his propaganda machine blamed the Jews for the famine. When the Nazis invaded the Ukraine in 1941, the Ukrainian population was already so anti-Stalin and anti-Jew that many of them participated in the enormous massacres of Jews (and many went so far as to become guards in the camps in Poland). So while Hitler bears supreme and central responsibility for the Holocaust, it was a near infinitude of complementary conditions that made it happen -- it wasn't him alone.


Agree.

Aedes;59654 wrote:
Without taking a good look at it academically, though, (I don't pretend to know the answer to this), I can at least entertain that the popular uprisings and revolutions of the late 1910s-1930s had to do with poverty and marginalization, and these may well have had to do with environmental conditions (and one can accept this without ignoring all the other influences, i.e. the rise of fascism and communism, the global depression, etc). That doesn't make them directly causal, but that's not really the question here.


Good point, sounds reasonable. Also, I often hear that the winters during and after world war II were harsh.
But there would have to be more of a quick shift to have these quick effects. We're talking 400 year cycles.

Aedes;59654 wrote:
But the difficulty here is in deciding what is really a high point. If Islamic civilization and Mayan civilization had their high points at the low point of Christian civilization, then how do you possibly label that historical era? West Africa had a high point of its civilization in the 12th-14th century, and it's probably having a low point now... but are we even counting places like Africa, the Pacific Islands, the peoples of the Arctic, etc when we judge high and low points?


Yes, I had the same thought.

Aedes;59654 wrote:
Climate almost certainly influences behavior. Climate change led to a westward migration of rats in Asia during the 14th century, and this coincided with seafaring commerce on the Mediterranean -- and this led directly to the Black Death. Human migrations and political upheavals and economic transitions certainly are influenced by climactic conditions.

But it's probably not fair to blame a warm or a cold climate on a good or bad 'point' in civilization, as if there is some direct correlation between global temperature and human social sophistication.


Yes. Climate influences behavior. But we can't imply from this or that behavior that a theory of climate is incorrect.

Aedes;59654 wrote:
It's change (of any kind) that leads to low points, because that's what creates dysequilibrium. And you CAN blame the crises of the 20th century on dysequilibrium. Read "War of the World" by Niall Fergusson for much on this.


Interesting, I check it out. But I believe the decimating 20th century was mostly caused by better killing technology.
 
Aedes
 
Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 03:50 pm
@VideCorSpoon,
Technology along with sufficient population to raise immense armies. But ideology had a lot to do with it too. Hitler expressly scorned any rules of war on the Eastern Front. The Commissar Order led to the summary slaughter of millions who in a normal war would have been left alone.
 
EmperorNero
 
Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 06:53 pm
@VideCorSpoon,
VideCorSpoon;59618 wrote:
See, I find the whole concept of these cycles so interesting because of the recent "green" movement and the notion of global warming. Like Carpenter asserts, the primary reason why Greek civilization fails is because of these periodic climate shifts. The Mycenaean civilization essentially falls because of rampant drought and fires which destroyed a majority of the palatial system the civilization depended on. And the same can be said for the upside, during the Doric "invasion" or the invasion of the "sea peoples."


I find this doesn't even close to being rocket science. Maybe we don't hear about the theory a lot because it doesn't fit the narrative, but it all seems so clear and intuitive to me.

I wonder why cycles of 400 years, and how accurate that is.
 
Aedes
 
Reply Thu 23 Apr, 2009 07:41 pm
@VideCorSpoon,
I was at a tropical medicine meeting a year or two ago, and someone from Harvard gave a seminar on the impact of global warming on tropical diseases, with particular attention to malaria and chikugunya fever.

But even in this case, where there are comparatively few variables (the main ones being temperature and mosquito-human interactions), the data are overwhelmingly scant. That's not to say it's not true; but to demonstrate that the climate in this particular cycle is directly leading to an increase in tropical diseases requires such an amount of unmeasurable data that it mitigates any solid conclusions.

I provide this example because when you look at how nebulous the concept is of a high or low point in global civilization (comparing across eras no less), it seems like there is so much potential selection bias to prove a point that the thesis can never be solidly supported.
 
charles brough
 
Reply Fri 24 Apr, 2009 10:29 am
@VideCorSpoon,
In a book I wrote a long time ago, "the Cycle of Civilization," I came up with a 500 year cycle but made no pretense it was precise or that it was not made of a number of other cycles that it, in turn, was a combination of.

But the idea of weather or climate change causing the rise and fall of civilizations is just one of a dozen conflicting theories which, all put together, still do not explain civilizations and their rise and fall. The climate/weather one goes back at least to Elsworth? Huntington, a good half century ago. We hear it every once in a while, still.

In a close study of world history, I observed that each civilization experienced periods of their own rise and fall before the final collapse and the conversion to a new religion. In each civilization, women took more authority because society was becoming shaky. In each, tolerance and humanism were more prevelant and social problems more extreme. In other words, stress was building up and society was in decline. Finally, in each case, religious reaction developed as though in an effort to hold things together and prevent total collapse.

Certainly, weather and climate have an effect on the speed and timing of all this, but it does not explain it. The decline has also been attributed to the problems with urbinization, but cities can work well for many centuries, then decline. Congestion is always a problem, but not the cause of the decline and collapse of civilizations. The great man theory does not explain it nor does the influence of "God." It is not caused by the presense or absense of plagues and other diseases nor the exploitation of the environment. Every civilization does end with environmental problems, but only because the civilization loses its ability to handle them. Its decline causes the environmenal problems that collapse it.

The growth of human culture, numbers and civilization's rise and fall are all generated by the natural selection process underway always between religion-based societies over their territories and resources. It is a complex subject and well worth discussing. . .
 
 

 
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