How will history remember 2023?
Published: Thu, 01/05/23
If history is still a thing 500 years from now will students be studying how Megan Markel brought down the British Monarchy? Will the premiership of Liz Truss be a popular subject for Phd research? Who knows? What historians will note is that the first quarter of the 21st century marked the end of the two centuries in which the world population expanded eight times between the Napoleonic wars in the first quarter of the 19th century and the end of NATO and American dominance in our time.
The really interesting question for future historians will be: What happened as the population peaked? How quickly did the population decline again? How was that decline managed and what kind of civilisation survived the the drastic, and probably very rapid, demographic change? How did the global corporations which had amassed such power, wealth, and influence, during the period of unprecedented growth in population and associated wealth, respond to the death of their golden egg laying goose? How did ordinary people cope with aging populations and the reverse of the growth which they had grown up taking for granted?
What will the population of the world be in 500 years time? I don’t know, but I would expect it will be a lot lower than today, and perhaps intentionally managed so that humans can live in harmony with the planet. Neither do I know the answers to the rest of the questions I have listed above. All I do know is that the next generation is going to be living in a very different world to the one I grew up in.
Think of it this way: Over the past 12,000 years the population of the world grew slowly and quite steadily up to about one billion people two centuries ago. Things changed at a correspondingly gradual rate and the vast majority of the population made their living from farming and similar forms of primary production. Then, quite suddenly there was a century of industrialization and technological development during which the population doubled. Then, in a single lifetime (about 95 years) the population increased another 4 times to eight billion. This demographic quadrupling enabled not only further technological advances, but the creation of the British NHS, universal education, old age pensions and the welfare state, well resourced police forces, social work departments, and many more professions and services which do not actually produce anything essential. As the demographic mountain grew it got higher and the summit was able
to support ever expanding government services, ever more sophisticated technology, and ever greater financial commitments including government debts, mortgages, and pension commitments. Then the demographic mountain started to erode away, rather like those extraordinary rock formations in places like Arizona where erosion has turned massive hills into tall and slender pillars of rock. For a time the summit remains in place even as the mountain surrounding it disappears. One day the tower, which was once a mountain, becomes so top heavy that it simply collapses under its own weight.
Every time I listen to the news I hear about the trials and tribulations of the NHS, the education system, the transport network, and many other institutions and systems which are struggling to continue as they once did. The complaint is always that the government does not put in enough money. However, money is not really the problem since governments can borrow whatever they want and the banks can print as much as they can lend. The problem is demographic in that the people who once might have wanted to be doctors, nurses, or teachers simply do not exist any more. The demographic which did increase 50 years ago is the one that is now largely too old to work or breed, and I am pretty close to being part of that demographic myself. The second half of the 20th century was quite a ride and the good times actually ended a while ago, we just didn’t notice until now, and a lot of people still haven’t yet.
Will automation and AI save us? Distributing information from one computer to another via the telephone network has been done for about 70 years now. On the other hand robots that can undertake physical tasks still have quite limited capabilities. Very large scale production lines can be largely automated. However, if you just want to make a few hundred of a widget it is probably not worth the trouble of building and programming a robot. The self-driving car is by no means perfected and we are a very long way from building an android which could provide care in an old people’s home, if indeed creating such a machine is even possible.
A much smaller demographic mountain will mean a much lower and smaller summit. The smaller summit will support much less advanced technology than we are currently used to, Government, corporations, cultural, and financed institutions will likewise be much smaller and more limited in their scope of service and operation.
Only a very few people understand highly advanced technology. Shrink the total pool from which to draw the boffins and some advanced technologies could soon be lost.
Declining demography might not be all bad news. There will be more space for those who want land to live on and for raising crops and animals on a full, or part time, basis. The greatest challenge will be becoming more self-reliant, like our ancestors were. We will have to take more responsibility for our health and well being, for our own security, and that of our families and communities, and for taking care of our own needs. We will not be able to depend upon a NHS to heal us, police to protect us, or government to take care of us from the ‘cradle to the grave’. We will have to know and understand the principles of self-reliance and take charge of our own lives, just as our ancestors did until quite recently. We will also have to respect and cooperate with the natural cycles of the universe, something mankind has vigorously resisted in recent decades.
This coming year I want to consider the implications of living with a declining demographic. I do not believe that there is much we can do to fight this cycle, or if it would do any good if we tried. However, we can adapt, and we can prepare the next generation to be much more self-reliant and aware of basic principles of surviving and thriving, than my generation needed to be. We need to take responsibility for our own destinies and we need to understand the essential principles of defense, maintaining health and well-being, building, practical crafts, doing business, growing food and many other things. We also need to practice as many of these things as we can.
The camp in July will be a great opportunity to explore the theme of preparing to live with declining demographic. On the 25th February there will be a day in Salisbury when we will look at Stav principles of martial arts training, the health and well-being benefits of training, self-defense, and the five principles as advanced strategies for protecting a whole community. Please see http://iceandfire.org.uk/salisbury250223.html
PS This lady is American and she is talking about the US health care system but I doubt the situation is substantially different in the NHS or the health care systems of many other countries https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rdbfY9795U
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