Studying the demise of historic civilizations


By Luke Kemp
19 February 2019

Studying the demise of historic civilisations can tell us how much risk we face today, says collapse expert Luke Kemp. Worryingly, the signs are worsening.

Great civilisations are not murdered. Instead, they take their own lives.


This article is part of a new BBC Future series about the long view of humanity, which aims to stand back from the daily news cycle and widen the lens of our current place in time. Modern society is suffering from “temporal exhaustion”, the sociologist Elise Boulding once said. “If one is mentally out of breath all the time from dealing with the present, there is no energy left for imagining the future,” she wrote.

That’s why the Deep Civilisation season will explore what really matters in the broader arc of human history and what it means for us and our descendants.

So concluded the historian Arnold Toynbee in his 12-volume magnum opus A Study of History. It was an exploration of the rise and fall of 28 different civilisations.

He was right in some respects: civilisations are often responsible for their own decline. However, their self-destruction is usually assisted.

The Roman Empire, for example, was the victim of many ills including overexpansion, climatic change, environmental degradation and poor leadership. But it was also brought to its knees when Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 and the Vandals in 455.

Collapse is often quick and greatness provides no immunity. The Roman Empire covered 4.4 million sq km (1.9 million sq miles) in 390. Five years later, it had plummeted to 2 million sq km (770,000 sq miles). By 476, the empire’s reach was zero.

Our deep past is marked by recurring failure. As part of my research at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge, I am attempting to find out why collapse occurs through a historical autopsy. What can the rise and fall of historic civilisations tell us about our own? What are the forces that precipitate or delay a collapse? And do we see similar patterns today?

The first way to look at past civilisations is to compare their longevity. This can be difficult, because there is no strict definition of civilisation, nor an overarching database of their births and deaths.

In the graphic below, I have compared the lifespan of various civilisations, which I define as a society with agriculture, multiple cities, military dominance in its geographical region and a continuous political structure. Given this definition, all empires are civilisations, but not all civilisations are empires. The data is drawn from two studies on the growth and decline of empires (for 3000-600BC and 600BC-600), and an informal, crowd-sourced survey of ancient civilisations (which I have amended).


Click/pinch to enlarge. Here’s the full list of the civilisations displayed above. (Credit: Nigel Hawtin)

Collapse can be defined as a rapid and enduring loss of population, identity and socio-economic complexity. Public services crumble and disorder ensues as government loses control of its monopoly on violence.

Virtually all past civilisations have faced this fate. Some recovered or transformed, such as the Chinese and Egyptian. Other collapses were permanent, as was the case of Easter Island. Sometimes the cities at the epicentre of collapse are revived, as was the case with Rome. In other cases, such as the Mayan ruins, they are left abandoned as a mausoleum for future tourists.

What can this tell us about the future of global modern civilisation? Are the lessons of agrarian empires applicable to our post-18th Century period of industrial capitalism?

Collapse may be a normal phenomenon for civilisations, regardless of their size and technological stage

I would argue that they are. Societies of the past and present are just complex systems composed of people and technology. The theory of “normal accidents” suggests that complex technological systems regularly give way to failure. So collapse may be a normal phenomenon for civilisations, regardless of their size and stage.

We may be more technologically advanced now. But this gives little ground to believe that we are immune to the threats that undid our ancestors. Our newfound technological abilities even bring new, unprecedented challenges to the mix.

And while our scale may now be global, collapse appears to happen to both sprawling empires and fledgling kingdoms alike. There is no reason to believe that greater size is armour against societal dissolution. Our tightly-coupled, globalised economic system is, if anything, more likely to make crisis spread [. . .]


via Studying the demise of historic civilizations

Surgeons admit that mammography is outdated and harmful to women



Breast cancer

Every year, millions of women flock to their doctors to get their annual mammograms, a breast cancer screening procedure that involves pressing a woman’s breasts between two metal platforms to scope out tumors. But surgeons everywhere are starting to question the controversial practice, which studies show isn’t even an effective screening tool, and is actually harmful to the bodies of women who receive it.

The public is told that mammograms are the only way to catch breast cancer early, but a review of eight scientific trials evaluating the procedure, found that mammography is neither effective nor safe. After looking at data on more than 600,000 women between the ages of 39 and 74 who underwent the procedure on a routine basis, researchers found that many women are misdiagnosed. Many of these same women are consequently mistreated with chemotherapy, resulting in their rapid demise.

As published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, the review concluded that mammography causes more harm than good, because many more women end up being misdiagnosed and mistreated than those actually avoiding the development of terminal breast cancer. Thus, the procedure known as mammography is an outdated scourge that belongs in the history books of failed medical treatments, and not at the forefront of women’s medicine.

“If we assume that screening reduces breast cancer mortality by 15% and that overdiagnosis and overtreatment is at 30%, it means that for every 2000 women invited for screening throughout 10 years, one will avoid dying of breast cancer and 10 healthy women, who would not have been diagnosed if there had not been screening, will be treated unnecessarily,” the authors concluded.

Group of top medical experts admits mammography does more harm than good

One year after this review was published, a second one published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) came to a similar conclusion. A team of medical professionals that included a medical ethicist, a clinical epidemiologist, a pharmacologist, an oncologic surgeon, a nurse scientist, a lawyer and a health economist, decided that the medical industry’s claims about the benefits of mammography are essentially bunk.

They found that for every 1,000 women screened in the U.S. over a 10-year annual screening period beginning at age 50, one breast cancer death would be prevented, while a shocking 490 to 670 women would have a false positive, while 70 to 100 would undergo an unnecessary biopsy. Between three and 14 of these women, the study found, would also be over-diagnosed for a non-malignant form of cancer that never even would have become “clinically apparent.”

This study out of Switzerland corroborates another out of Canada – the 2014 Canadian National Breast Screening Study – which concluded in lockstep with the others that mammography screenings do not reduce mortality rates from breast cancer any better than a simple physical examination. In other words, the procedure is completely unnecessary, and in many cases exceptionally harmful.

And on and on the list goes, with data out of Norway and elsewhere confirming that mammography isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. U.S. data spanning the course of nearly 40 years shows that more women are over- or misdiagnosed with breast cancer because of mammograms than are successfully early-diagnosed with breast cancer in such a way as to protect against metastasization. This represents an exceptionally poor track record that calls into question why mammography continues to be used when it clearly doesn’t work [. . .]

via Surgeons admit that mammography is outdated and harmful to women

Coalition Collapse: Bolsonaro’s Generals Reject Venezuelan “Adventurism”


Brian Mier

Generals Santa Cruz and Augusto Heleno warn US is trying to use Brazil as bait to trigger conflict in Venezuela and serve as a buffer during a military intervention.

After pretending that the relatively unknown opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido was the legitimate president of Venezuela failed, the Trump administration engaged in a second coup attempt in Venezuela on Saturday, February 23rd. After a week of threats, with US troops and a bitter Mike Pence nearing the Colombian border, Venezuelan hired guns lit their own aid trucks on fire and blamed the Maduro government. It was a massive PR stunt and papers like the Guardian and WAPO lied to their readers about everything from the size of Richard Branson’s bogus coup-aid concert, to the origins of attacks on US food trucks. In an intelligence gaffe reminiscent of the Iraqi war days, the US seems to have overestimated the level of support for Guaido among both civilians and the military. The anticipated outpouring of popular support to facilitate the entrance of Trump’s energy biscuits to the nation never materialized. In the aftermath, a flummoxed looking Guiado appeared on TV in Colombia begging the Americans to bomb the country he just fled. Meanwhile, there were rumblings on the border with Brazil.

A pro-cameraman friend working as a freelancer for an oil-billionaire-owned media company was up on Brazil’s border filming a small group of angry-looking Venezuelans throwing rocks at the guards. As he posted photos and commented about them in the social media, the Brazilian aid caravan arrived on the scene, consisting of two flat bed pickups with a few hundred kilos of powdered milk. Too small to light on fire, the confused mob continued to throw rocks. I asked my friend if he thought this was all a PR stunt. “It is definitely a PR stunt, but people are also going hungry in Venezuela,” he answered. In country where millions of people have descended into hunger since the 2016 coup, the best “humanitarian” gesture that President Bolsonaro could come up with was 2 pickup trucks. It did not appear to be a very wholehearted attempt to give the support that he had pledged to John Bolton, after saluting him at a lousy breakfast/photo op in late 2018. Hearing about the shipment, Nicolas Maduro immediately offered to pay for it. Why couldn’t Bolsonaro muster at least one semi-truck to provide a decent photo op for Trump’s media allies? What was really going on?

According to Folha de São Paulo, as Trump’s ultimatum approached, Bolsonaro’s governing consensus broke. House leader Rodrigo Maia, Senate leader Davi Alcolumbre, Supreme Court Minister Dias Toffoli, cabinet ministers and a group of military generals met with the President to deliberate whether the Brazilian government should support US attempt to depose Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Despite Bolsonaro‘s promise to not allow US troops to enter Venezuela from the Brazilian border, they were unable to establish consensus on support for Trump’s publicity stunt, with Rodrigo Maia siding with the Generals opposing the idea.

Without totally ruling out a future intervention, Generals Santos Cruz and Augusto Heleno warned that the US government was trying to use the Brazilian military as bait to trigger armed conflict, and serve as a buffer between US and Venezuelan troops. Bolsonaro’s civilian ministers of Foreign Relations and Defense, along with Senate President Davi Alcolumbre supported engaging in the “humanitarian” exercise. The result of the impasse was a compromise: two pickup trucks full of powdered milk on the border and a handful of people throwing stones for the photographers.

Then, arriving in a meeting of Mike Pence’s Lima Group on February 25th, Brazilian Vice President, General Hamilton Mourão announced that Brazil’s military is not going to intervene in Venezuela. “We believe in diplomatic and economic pressure as the best way to reach a solution,” he said, “without adventurism.”

Brazil has not engaged in a war against any of its South American neighbors in 149 years. As the generals break from Bolsnoaro on the issue of Venezuela, many are beginning to ask who is really running Brazil?

via Coalition Collapse: Bolsonaro Allies Reject Venezuelan “Adventurism”

Red Cross denounces unsanctioned use of its emblems to smuggle US aid to Venezuela


Security forces block the Francisco de Paula Santander bridge between Colombia and Venezuela © Reuters / Marco Bello
RT | February 23, 2019

The largest international aid organization has demanded that activists at the Venezuela-Colombia border not use the insignia of the Red Cross, which isn’t participating in what Caracas has dismissed as a US “propaganda show.”

The Red Cross learned that some “people not affiliated” with the agency are trying to disguise themselves as aid workers to smuggle cargo for Venezuela’s opposition across the closed frontiers.

“They might mean well but they risk jeopardizing our neutrality, impartiality & independence,” the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

Earlier, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza stressed that the UN and the International Red Cross are not participating in the “propaganda show” staged by the United States. “It is clearly an action with political objectives, it could never be described as a humanitarian action,” he said on Twitter, accusing the governments involved in the US plot of violating the principles of the UN charter.

The government of Nicolas Maduro has sealed off the borders with neighboring Colombia, Brazil and the Dutch island of Curacao, trying to prevent US shipments from entering the Latin American State. Caracas denounced the ‘aid’ as a highly-publicized attempt to foster division and chaos, and possibly to use it as a cover to smuggle arms to the country’s opposition.


via Red Cross denounces unsanctioned use of its emblems to smuggle US aid to Venezuela

Using Antisemitism Accusations to Undermine Mass Movements



By Eugene Schulman | CounterPunch | February 22, 2019

A short essay on my thoughts about the Yellow Vest movement in France (now spreading to other parts of the world) and the coincidental (alleged) rise of anti-Semitism. I use the term ‘essay’ in its French meaning of the verb ‘essayer’: to try out, or try on, i.e., I am trying my theory on you.

I accuse the Macron government, in its frustration over failure to bring an end to the Yellow Vest uprising, of raising the issue of anti-Semitism in order to discredit the movement. By accusing the movement of stirring up anti-Semitism and blaming it for the recent desecration of Jewish cemeteries and shops and other iconic symbols suddenly appearing in Paris and other cities around France where the movement has been most active, the government hopes to instill fear in the public, who until now, polls show, has been by a large margin, favorable to the movement.

It seems not to be a coincidence that, until this moment, incidents and accusations of anti-Semitism in France have been barely noticeable or non-existant for quite some time. It would seem the Zionist community and its lobbies such as Crif, feel neglected, so they have sent out reconnaissance soldiers such as Daniel Cohen Bendit, Bernard Henry-Levy, and Alain Finkielkraut to stir up the masses. All of these soldiers, and many others of their ilk are solidly in line with the ruling elite represented by the new ‘Jupiter’, Emanuel Macron, and his cronies who are following the leadership of U.S. dictate to make the 1% even smaller. I don’t have to go into detail to justify this claim. There have been many articles in both mainstream and alternative (such as this site) media, explaining in detail this case. Thus, all the more reason for the Yellow Vests to protest. That this protest seems to be working is what has got the Macronistas so upset and induced them to begin to get dirty by playing the anti-Semitism card.

It is time to recognize that if anti-Semitism is increasing in our societies, the Zionist are as much to blame for its rise as Jew hatred. This latest incidence has been manufactured by the ruling powers, including the Jewish/Israel lobbies, themselves, to distract us from the real causes of today’s societal breakdown in France.

via J’Accuse!

From the Ground in Venezuela, 22 February 2019



Les Blough
Axis of Logic in Venezuela

Today, most of the world knows about the US led war on Venezuelan democracy, economy and sovereignty that began with a direct assault a couple of weeks ago when the US refused to acknowledge our President Nicholas Maduro, elected last May by an overwhelming majority of the voters while attempting to install Juan Guaido as self-declared, unelected president of Venezuela. Several European countries and some right-wing governments in Latin America followed in lock-step with the US; many countries throughout the world however continue to support Maduro as president. Until this openly belligerent act by the US, Guaido was a deputy who won his seat in the National Assembly with only 26 percent of the vote and known only by 1 out of 5 Venezuelans, mainly for his participation in the deadly guarimbas in 2014 and 2017. As a member or the outlawed National Assembly* and the opposition’s most violent political party, Voluntad Popular** he was trained by the CIA in the US and Europe along with 6 others in tactics for destabilization and regime change.

The US declared 23 February as the day that “humanitarian aid” now warehoused on the Colombian side of our border, will be forced across the border from Colombia backed by the US military using civilians as human shields. The Maduro government and military is blocking entry of this “humanitarian aid” on our side of the border as the US has a long history of using this means to invade other countries and on numerous occasions their “humanitarian aid” containers have contained arms as a Trojan horse for the US funded rebels to foment civil war and overthrow governments. Again, more details about this are published on Axis of Logic and there’s no point in repeating them in my report today.

22 February: My friend of many years, a university professor and I were planning to take the 10 hour road trip in my car today to the Colombian border to witness for ourselves what’s about to pass today, tomorrow and Sunday but we learned late last night that a tunnel on the autopista near Valencia about 2 hours west of here was blocked by the opposition. Deputies (congressmen) from the opposition the political party, Voluntad Popular (Popular Will),* members of the defunct National Assembly** are present at the blocked tunnel.

So this morning my friend and I decided the better part of wisdom was to cancel our trip. For any uninformed reader’s perspective, the autopista is comparable to a 4 lane interstate highway, crossing the country east and west. It’s the only viable route between Caracas and the Colombian border. Thus blocking it prevents wheeled movements of troops and military equipment from traveling from Caracas or the biggest military base in Maracay to go the the frontier. So the reader may logically wonder why the government doesn’t simply move these people out and open the tunnel. Again, the reader may ask but surely the Venezuelan military has the force necessary to remove these people. Certainly it does but during this coup attempt blocking the tunnel amounts to a military tactic by an armed element of the opposition with a history of violence designed to create a confrontation with the Venezuelan military and the US is itching for such action which could at least result in a battle that would produce dead and injured to ignite what would be billed a the onset of civil war with accusations of a “dictator” cracking down on civil disobedience. More about that below [. . .]

via From the Ground in Venezuela, 22 February 2019

Colombia’s Largely Ignored Humanitarian Crisis and Human Rights Violations


The north of Santander, department located to the east of Colombia on the borders with the State Táchira of Venezuela has as capital the city of Cúcuta. February 23 this city will be the epicenter of a humanitarian aid media prefabrication which aims to create the psychological and political conditions for a military aggression against Venezuela

We wonder why this “humanitarian aid and concern” is not addressed to the population of Norte de Santander, which has alarming figures regarding a humanitarian crisis that no one sees, which of course is not politically profitable to the Latin American right, thus bordering on contempt for humanity. The thesis of humanitarian interference is cynical and hypocritical; it is only applicable to governments and states that are not in the plebeian orbit of the empire.

Let us examine the picture of this humanitarian drama in Norte de Santander:

In recent decades, this region, and in particular its capital, has served as a laboratory for the State’s counterinsurgency strategy, which combines the state constitutional military forces and private mercenary armies known as paramilitaries, which depend in terms of command, communication, control and logistics on the commanders of the military brigades in the territory. Under the doctrine of depriving fish of water, the counterinsurgency has deployed terror against the civilian population.

The most outrageous fact against the dignity of humanity has been the existence of crematoriums in the city of Cúcuta where leaders of opposition to the political regime were burned and disappeared, regarding this event one can judge the versions of the paramilitary perpetrator called the Iguano, who coldly narrates the facts.[1]

The statistics of the human rights tragedy endured for decades in Norte de Santander are detailed in the statistics of the Single Registry of Victims, which we present below:

Violation of human rights in Norte de Santander 1984 to 2018

  Amenaza Desaparicion forzada Desplazamiento Asesinato de líderes Tortura Total general
1984 1 92 143 218 20 474
1985 6 16 125 75 222
1986 8 20 150 75 253
1987 19 24 199 113 355
1988 14 16 208 143 381
1989 15 33 247 179 2 476
1990 47 38 297 176 558
1991 31 12 257 186 6 492
1992 36 27 299 188 2 552
1993 21 30 284 175 510
1994 47 29 302 182 2 562
1995 57 31 317 179 4 588
1996 39 38 342 245 5 669
1997 39 50 378 237 15 719
1998 70 56 459 236 8 829
1999 95 82 616 289 12 1094
2000 95 110 652 335 17 1209
2001 103 127 733 359 17 1339
2002 129 141 882 419 32 1603
2003 121 129 814 376 27 1467
2004 95 91 920 293 17 1416
2005 60 76 892 264 6 1298
2006 64 52 915 257 7 1295
2007 66 81 895 256 4 1302
2008 58 31 789 205 4 1087
2009 71 39 576 162 3 851
2010 63 46 520 155 2 786
2011 103 41 525 135 3 807
2012 185 45 545 172 8 955
2013 172 14 631 114 11 942
2014 202 8 606 70 5 891
2015 177 6 673 46 2 904
2016 221 2 589 76 1 889
2017 210 4 523 63 1 801
2018 270 4 645 71 990
TOTAL 3010 1641 17948 6724 243 29566

[. . .]