Discussion: The Decay of an Empire

As some of you may remember I am a big Isaac Asimov fan.  There was a passage in his book “Prelude to Foundation” that struck me as similar to what we might be facing here in the U.S.  I have found Asimov’s observations about society very astute.  Keep in mind this is in the future and in relation to a galactic empire.

Seldon:  Surely people don’t sit around and say “We’re decaying.  Let’s let the Expressways fall apart.”

Hummin:  No they don’t.  It’s not a purposeful thing.  Bad spots are patched, decrepit coaches refurbished, magnets replaced.  However, it’s done in a more slapdash fashion, more carelessly, and at greater intervals.  There just aren’t enough credits available.

Seldon:  Where have the credits gone?

Hummin:  Into other things.  We’ve had centuries of unrest.  The navy is larger and many times more expensive than it once was.  The armed forces are much better-paid, in order to keep them quiet.  Unrest, revolts and minor blazes of civil war all take their toll.

Seldon: But it’s been quiet under Cleon.  And we’ve had 50 years of peace.

Hummin:  Yes, but soldiers who are well-paid would resent having that pay reduced just because there is peace.  Admirals resist mothballing ships and having themselves reduced in rank simply because there is less for them to do.  So the credits still go – unproductively – to the armed forces and vital areas of the social good are allowed to deteriorate.  That’s what I call decay.  Don’t you?

It struck me that this is, at least in part, what we are seeing here in the U.S.  Of course it’s not the whole story, but it made me think about how institutions, not just the military can grow fat.  Once we build up an institution in a time of need, we rarely shrink it back down.  In fact what usually happens is that the government just works to justify the bloat.  I think this phenomenon might even be true for private industry as well.  The blog I re-posted on my blog last week is kind of along these lines.  Capitalism has its benefits, but as corporations (sort of representation of a bloated private entity) grow they begin to have to justify their continued existence and work to convince people that they need whatever they are selling.

We hear phrases like “too big to fail” and maybe it’s all true.  Maybe there is nothing to be done about it, and maybe that’s why empires are bound to fail.  But I tend to lean towards the idea that a lot of it is based on the conceit an empire has in itself, but maybe that too is inevitable.  I mean how can one easily learn humility when they’ve been on top for so long?  Doing so would require an admission of mistakes, and empires are terrible at admitting those.


As an aside –  to give you an idea of why I like Asimov so much, I wanted to share the Afterword he wrote for his novel “Currents of Space”:

The Currents of Space was written in 1951 and was first published in 1952.  At that time, comparatively little was known of the astrophysics of nova formation and my speculation concerning “carbon currents” was legitimate.  Astronomers know much more now and it seems quite certain the nature of the currents of space have nothing to do with nova formation (though, as it happens, the analysis of interstellar clouds of dust and gas has become far more interesting now than ever I imagined in 1951).  This is too bad, for my speculations concerning the currents of space were so clever (in my opinion) that I feel they should have been true. Still the Universe goes its own way and won’t bend merely to pay homage to my cleverness, so I can only ask you to suspend your disbelief in respect to nova-formation and enjoy the book (assuming you do) on its own terms).

The beginning of the sentence starting with “Still…” is my own emphasis in bold.  Wouldn’t it be nice if more people thought like this?

8 thoughts on “Discussion: The Decay of an Empire

  1. There is always an inertia to change, especially when a lot of powerful/ influential people benefit from the system you want to change
    It requires someone with a whole lot of will power to see the change through

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Good idea John. Yes I imagine we could learn a lot from history, and yet it seems hard to get any sort of political leader pay attention to history. lol Trump especially. He is a very “in the moment” kind of guy. lol

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Quite possibly our ability to prop up the dying empire may outlive us tenfold for a couple of reasons. First of all, as bad as things are, it’s still better that a good chunk of the world. It’s a relativity game while others may be happier, we have the money and the world constantly looks to the US whether they like us or not. If fact, many of the foreign bloggers here know more about what’s happening than I do, and they don’t even live here. If I were wrong this whole game would’ve collapsed decades ago. Secondly, we all know, worldwide that our money system is a fraud, perpetrated on everyone, by everyone, and the only reason it works is fear AND it’s no worse than the rest of the world fraudulence.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh I certainly didn’t mean to imply that there would be some sort of sudden collapse. I even think that generally more modern infrastructure allows for a slower fall, and part of that is the global economy which helps. Even in Asimov’s work the decay of the galactic empire was something happening over 100’s of years. I think Britain in some way is a good example…clearly since the height of their empire they have gained some humility on the world stage and maybe have prevented a more destitute future, although I suppose some might argue that the decline continues. Brexit being the latest example of a sort of a misguided nationalism. I don’t know. I think in some ways, to prevent decline one does have to turn one’s attention inwards a bit and take care of people in your own country and maybe Trump has tapped into a bit of that. But I think one can go too far as Trump seems dedicated to ruining relations with allies and straining trade relations to the point where it may be a long term harm to the U.S. and benefit other rising powers in the world. The message from both sides of the political aisle is that America is the greatest, and I suspect that as long as that continues to be the attitude here this will lead to a less than honest discussion about our weaknesses and strengths.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Conceit of Empire. Bam.

    Okay. So. Asimov! I used to gobble up everything he wrote that I could get my teenaged hands on. To be fair, Kafka was also one of my favorite authors 😉 Haven’t read this particular Asimov offering; happy to be reminded of his brilliance and foresight. No surprise.

    After 9/11 happened, I saw Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911. Really had to consider that event an inside job. Still wonder about that. Was truly incensed when TSA took hold, thought, ‘this is the beginning of the end’ with regards to any sort of liberties I might have previously enjoyed. Because you know, big as it is, it will never be dismanteled. At least by this government. And suddenly every developed country in the world seems to have its own version of TSA. And bit by bit, we find our freedoms curtailed in other arenas. I mean, the Bill of Rights amended overnight during the Bush II Admin? The rationales given simply don’t wash, at least in my opinion.

    Perhaps TSA has its benefits, given the degradation of the environment and the inevitable wars and refugee crises that follow famine and lack of water and other necessary resources. Rob people of dignity and the means to survive and yes, a few will radicalize and become righteously pissed off enough to hijack jetliners. Sigh.

    As for banks getting away with murder and government needing a shakedown of monumental proportions, I cannot disagree with the ‘too big to fail’ theory. Still, being a child of the ’60’s, I sure would love to witness the dismanteling of some of these behemoths. Humility is too greatly undervalued. Aloha, Swarn.


  4. Swarn,
    You have an impressive memory. I ponder your statement about “being on top so long, humility is not easily learned” They are the people we hear about, whether that be a TV or computer news or some actually still get paper news. We focus on them, at least some do!
    The greatest are the ones who do not make the news often if ever and still make phenomenal contributions. e.g. Warren Buffett. Bezo is very calculating and his companies give a good deal to their employees, and UPS, Dang they have hung in there and the one I call for any delivery!
    There are many who have the excellence of leadership: Power is accompanied by humility to find the resolutions, the resolutions from the input of those whom are hired for their expertise in cooperative collaboration.
    This is what my father taught me being a diplomat and commander, all were welcome to approach and speak to him.
    Asimov was brilliant in his sight, even though he wrote fiction it contained great truth for he saw humanity as it never changed.
    This later statement is the saddest of affairs, if humanity ever changes, does humanity increase in value? And where is our focus in hearing about the beneficial individuals?
    As I started you have Swarn an excellent memory for what Asimov wrote, I have only one memory of the man. He spoke at Yale (LONG AGO) and I saw above the stage and fell in love with a witty most humorous old man!! That is my memory. Thanks for your writings

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you MicheleElys. I almost hate to disappoint you, but I certainly didn’t transcribe what I did from memory. 🙂 I really launched into Asimov only about 6 or 7 years ago and read almost all of his novels. Thank you for sharing your memory of seeing him. My wife (and I) are jealous of that experience. We’ve both talked about how we would have loved to meet him in real life.

      I also think your dad’s advice is spot on.


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