Friday, October 29, 2021

The Great Dying: Ireland as a Distant Mirror


After a series of six posts on the "age of exterminations" (one,  two,  three, four, five, and six) I wrote that I was moving to different subjects. But then I stumbled into this video on the Irish famine of mid 19th century. It is so fascinating (in a certain sense) that I can't avoid sharing it with you. (note: the full movie was available on YouTube when this post was published. Now, only the trailer is available. It still provides a good idea of what the movie is about and watching the whole thing is strongly suggested)


You may know something about the great Irish famine that began in 1845. History tells us of millions of deaths, but the whole thing for us remains remote. We don't really realize who the victims were, how, why, what exactly happened. But I strongly suggest you to watch the 2020 movie "The Hunger: The Story of the Irish famine" (trailer). 

It is a hit to the stomach. After having seen this movie, I don't know how to describe it. A nightmare? A horror movie? A Flemish painting of the triumph of death? Munch's Scream multiplied by one million? Just imagine for a moment what it might have been like to live in those years for the Irish. No food, no money, no possessions, no power, no friends, and no hope. Even burying the dead became a daunting task: you can still see in Ireland the mass graves of the time where the bodies were thrown in thousands. The film doesn't mention cannibalism, but there are reports that it happened at least in two cases. Surely there were many more. 

What's really horrifying is how the British government treated the Irish. Think about it for a moment: the Irish were citizens of the United Kingdom, at least theoretically. You could define them as "second-class" citizens. But they were not treated as such. Not even as non-citizens, they were treated as not belonging to the human race. Do you remember the "Untermenschen"? The "subhumanity" of which the Nazis spoke? That's what it was. 

It's true that the Irish made their mistakes, but if they were as poor as they were it was because the English had exploited Ireland in a way that cannot even be described by the metaphor "to the bone" - they had exploited it all the way to the marrow, and then they had devoured that too. The Irish didn't even own the land on which they built their shacks. They had nothing but their potatoes. With the potatoes gone, they had no choice but to starve to death.

All in all, it wouldn't have cost the British government that much to save the Irish, or at least reduce the damage. The film shows how in the rest of Europe the loss of the potato crop did not cause major famines. It was because outside Ireland people were much less dependent on potatoes and because governments were acting seriously to manage the food emergency. But the English government did almost nothing. It is likely that many people in England thought that it was a good idea to "thin out" those lazy Irish. 

I said in a previous post that governments are the most dangerous thing in the world if you count how many people they have directly killed with wars and various exterminations. But the damage they have caused indirectly in cases like the Irish famine is also appalling. Today, governments have much more power than they had at the time of the famine. They have your digital money, they have electronic surveillance, they have drones, they have weapons, they have everything. And you, like the Irish of the  19th century, have nothing. Not even potatoes.  



Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Age of Exterminations (VI): The Great Famine to Come



The third horseman of the apocalypse, hunger, is traditionally represented with a scale in hand, symbolizing scarcity. Famines are not normally considered exterminations but, in many cases, they have been provoked by human actions. Today, we tend to see famines as a thing of the past, but there is a rule in history that what happened once may happen again, and it usually does. By a mere coincidence (or perhaps not), the same day when this post was published, President Putin said at the Valdai Club that  "
a number of countries and even entire regions are regularly hit by food crises. ... there is every reason to believe that this crisis will become worse in the near future and may reach extreme forms." There have never been nearly 8 billion people on Earth, and what the future will bring to them is all to be seen.
 
 
This is the 6th post of a series that explores one of the darkest sections of human behavior, that of mass exterminations. Previous posts dealt with the extermination of the witches in Europe, of young men during WW1, of elderly people, of the rich, of the useless, and now this one about famines as a weapon of mass destruction. From now on, I think I'll move to different subjects, although I may return to this one, a little depressing but surely fascinating.

Imagine you are an Irish peasant living in the early 19th century. You stay with your family in a mud or stone cottage. A single room under a thatched roof, no windows, no chimney, little furniture. You pay a small rent to your British landlord by working for him. You eat the potatoes you cultivate in a patch near your home and you warm yourself using the peat that you dig out nearby. You haven't seen much of the world outside your village, but that's the place where you live, where you were born, where you have your friends and family, and where you have your social life. You own nothing and you are perfectly happy.

But your happiness turns into chagrin in 1845, when you see your potato plants turning black and curled, then rotting. You can't know that it is because of a fungus that attacks the potato plant, but you know that soon you'll be running out of potatoes. By the end of the year, the great famine begins. 

You didn't imagine that being poor would mean being so wretched. Owning nothing means that you can't buy food or bargain for it. You have no power, no influence, no relevance to the British landlords who don't care about you and about your family.  And you have no weapons, nor the military training that would allow you to rebel against your masters. If you can't leave Ireland, you have nothing to do but wait for death to come. 

In the years from 1845 to 1852, Ireland lost a quarter of its population as an effect of the Great Famine (the An Gorta Mór). In a few decades, Ireland's population was reduced to 4 million, half of what it had been before the famine. 

Was it an extermination? Yes, if you define the term as the death of a large number of people caused by human action (or inaction). And there is no doubt that the Irish disaster was not just the result of the chance arrival of a fungus that liked Irish potatoes. Ireland was heavily populated, certainly, but not much more than most European countries. So, what happened? 

For some, the fault lies squarely with the Irish who merrily went on having children without realizing that the population was growing beyond the limits of what their island could continuously support. For others, it was because of the evil English who refused to help the Irish when they were starving. Some even claim that the extermination of the Irish had been planned in advance. They call it the"Irish Holocaust."

It is unlikely that there ever was a plan to depopulate Ireland, the British had no reason to do that. But it is true that they behaved abominably with Ireland and not just at the time of the famine, although not worse than other colonial powers did with their subjects. Ireland never was a British colony, but it was treated as a colony. The land was exploited to the utmost possible level and the Irish were despised and considered only as cheap manpower -- of which there was an excess. When the famine came, the British government did very little to help, sometimes acting in ways that worsened the situation. So, yes, the term "extermination" is appropriate, even though nobody had planned it. History is a great wheel that rolls onward and crushes whoever it finds on its path. It was the destiny that befell Bridget O'Donnell, one of the many victims of the famine, of whom we have a drawing showing her with her starving children.
 
 

 

Now let's examine our times. Remember that if something happened once in history, it can happen again, and it usually will. We have been already told that in the near future "we will own nothing and we will be perfectly happy." This may not be a bad idea in itself, but if you think of the destiny of the Irish peasants, then it is ominous. Even more ominous is the fact we completely depend on fossil fuels for our agriculture, and it is guaranteed that their production is going to decline in a non-remote future. Could we face the same destiny of the Irish of the 19th century? After all, we live on an island, too, just much larger.  

When discussing these matters, it is traditional to be pelted with rotten Irish potatoes for being "catastrophists", but the question is legitimate and the fact that some predictions turned out to be overpessimistic, such as those by Paul Ehrlich in 1968, doesn't mean that a great global famine could not happen. But to avoid past mistakes, we need more detailed models of the future. One of the first studies that dealt with the global population trends was "The Limits to Growth" study of 1972.



 
You see, above, the results of the "base case" scenario calculation, the one which used the data that were considered the most reliable and accurate at the time. You probably know that the study was widely considered overpessimistic, then demonized and consigned to the dustbin of the wrong scientific theories. It was not. But it may have been overoptimistic in its projections for the world's population. 

Note how, in the calculation, the world population decline starts around 2050, some three decades after the start of the crash of the industrial and agricultural systems. Why is it that the population keeps growing while people are starving? Unlikely, to say the least. 
 
It is hard to quantify people's intentions to have children or not have them, so the modelers used past data on birthrates as a function of the gross domestic product (GDP). It was equivalent to "running in reverse" the demographic transition that took place in the 1960s when natality had collapsed in many regions of the world in parallel with an increase of the GDP per capita. The result was that the model assumed that a contraction of the GDP caused people to have more children. 

These assumptions were later reconsidered and different results were obtained in 2004. 


Now, the population starts declining around 2030, less than a decade after that food production starts collapsing, and that looks much more reasonable. Yet, even this curve has problems: would you really believe that in the midst of the great turmoil of the global collapse the result would be such a gentle decline? 

More likely, all the four horsemen of the apocalypse would enter the game and generate a disastrous general crash. This is called the "Seneca Effect."  You see the typical shape of the Seneca Curve in the figure: decline is much faster than growth.

Models such as the one used for the "Limits to Growth" cannot reproduce a really sharp Seneca Curve because they do not consider the many possible "tipping points" that may affect the world system. But the historical data tell us that the Seneca shape is the typical behavior of population collapses. Here is an example with the data for the great famine in Ireland (From Ugo Bardi's book "The Seneca Effect.") You can clearly see the "Seneca Shape" of the curve, with a sharp decline following growth. 
 


Here is another example, Ukraine, as shown in an article that I published on "The Journal of  Population and Sustainability," 


The Ukrainians didn't really starve after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, but they suddenly became much poorer than before. The result was a lower quality diet and a collapse in the health care system. Add to that the general decline of the quality of life, then you can imagine that the Ukrainian population started to decline for two combined effects: the rise in mortality, and the fall of natality. Note how similar the curve is to that of Ireland. Other former Soviet Union countries show this kind of curves. It seems to be a general trend: when a serious disaster hits, the population starts declining almost immediately afterward.

If something similar were to happen at the world level, we would see it in just a few years after an economic or political crash. It is perfectly possible that it is exactly what's happening with the current crisis that sees a series of factors combining to bring the system down: health care collapse, food supply disruption, climate change, soil erosion and mineral depletion, financial crisis, and more. They are all pushing toward a global population crash that could start in the coming years. 

Could we call this population crash an "extermination"? That will depend on what governments will do. Surely, it is unlikely that they are planning a future famine, but how would they react if one comes? They might try to do their best to help, but they may also do nothing. Or they may well decide to actively push toward strengthening the crisis as a chance to eliminate people they do not like. 

If you are among those people who are not useful for the state (like the Irish peasants in mid 19th century) or, God forbid, a burden for the ruling elites, then you face hard times ahead. Your situation will be especially worrisome if you will be one of those "happy" people owning nothing, or at most electronic money that the government can erase at will. To say nothing about the electronic surveillance methods that leave you no chance to do anything they don't like or to go anywhere they don't want you to go. 

And, yes, it is perfectly possible that the coming crisis will appear in the form of an extermination by starvation: the third horseman on his dark horse. 


President Putin 's complete sentence at the Valdai Club conference: "Furthermore, a number of countries and even entire regions are regularly hit by food crises. We will probably discuss this later, but there is every reason to believe that this crisis will become worse in the near future and may reach extreme forms." Maybe he reads this blog?

A longer post of mine on the Irish famine subject was published on "The Oil Drum" in 2008. 






Monday, October 18, 2021

The Age of Exterminations (V): Suicide as a Weapon of Mass Destruction

Regina Lisso, 21 years old German girl, photographed in 1945 after killing herself by ingesting a cyanide capsuleShe was unlucky enough to find herself in the crosshairs of a major propaganda effort where the Allied and the German governments collaborated to convince Germans to commit suicide. It is hard to convince people to kill themselves, but we cannot exclude that it could be tried again in some indirect forms. 


This is the 5th part (one, two, three, and four) of a series dedicated to exploring a dark area of human behavior: mass exterminations. Here, I examine perhaps the darkest part of it: when the victims can be convinced to submit to be killed or even to kill themselves by lies and propaganda.  

During the last two years of WW2, the German and the Allied governments found themselves in an unholy alliance. Both wanted the Germans to fight like cornered rats up to the very last moment, but for different reasons. The Germans were trying to postpone their defeat, the Allies wanted the destruction of Germany's military and industrial base. You can find this story told in some detail in my book "Before Collapse" (1). 

A side effect of this weird bipartisan effort was the rise of perhaps the first psyop in history that tried to convince an enemy population to commit mass suicide. In 1945, the British printed and distributed in Germany a propaganda postcard written in German and supposedly issued by the Nazi government. It provided detailed instructions on how to hang oneself (postcard "H. 1321") (2). Even more weirdly, the Germans collaborated with the allies in pushing German civilians to commit suicide. Possibly, they were possessed by a mystic intoxication about glorious death but, more likely, the German government reasoned that mass suicide was an easy way to get rid of unproductive people, mostly women. The result was the wide distribution of cyanide capsules to the population. One of those cyanide capsules was used by Regina Lisso, a 21-year-old girl who had no reason to die, but who was caught in the madness of the propaganda storm (5). Other Germans used different methods: hanging, drowning, guns, and more. 

Nevertheless, induced suicide as a weapon of mass extermination turned out to be scarcely effective. There are no reliable estimates of the total number of victims in Germany, mainly because of the chaos of the last months of the war, but also because everyone wanted to keep a veil of silence on the story after that the war was over. From what we know, it seems that a few tens of thousands of people chose to kill themselves. Not a negligible number, but only a minor fraction of the German population, at that time over 60 million.

The poor results of the joint Allied/German suicide psyop in 1945 do not demonstrate that much larger effects cannot be obtained. In history, there have been cases where the casualty rate was 100%. An example is the fall of the fortress of Masada in 73 AD, where the Jewish defenders chose to kill themselves and their families rather than surrender to the Romans. A modern example is when, in 1978, more than 900 followers of the religious leader Jim Jones killed themselves in an apparent case of mass poisoning. 

In both cases, there were no survivors left to tell how exactly things went, but it is clear that, in Masada, the defenders killed each other rather than committing suicide. In the case of Jones' followers, it may well be that many of the victims, if not all of them, were gunned down rather than poisoned (3). It seems to be easier to convince people to engage in a consensual suicide pact rather than killing themselves directly. It is perhaps because they hope to have a chance to escape death at the last moment. It happened at the siege of Jotapata (Yodfat) in 67 AD when the commander of the Jewish forces (Ben-Matityahu, later known as "Flavius Josephus") escaped the suicide pact of the defenders and defected to the Romans.

So, psyops cannot turn suicide into a weapon of mass extermination. Even in the worst situations, rather than killing themselves, people will engage in desperate attempts at fighting back. That was the case of the Japanese kamikaze pilots, or the Native Americans in the 19th century with their cult of the ghost shirt

Nevertheless, there could be creative possibilities for a "soft" elimination of large numbers of consenting people. One way could be not letting them know that they are being killed. Alternatively, they could be convinced to kill themselves in ways that they don't recognize as "suicide." Both methods require deception, but that's not a problem: deception is part and parcel of the very concept of "Propaganda."

We all know the story of people quietly walking into gassing chambers after having been told that they were going to have a shower. It is an example of the strategy of deception used in Nazi Germany to eliminate that fraction of the population defined as "Lebensunwertes Leben," ''life unworthy of life.'' It included not only Jews and other ethnic minorities, but also "Aryan" German citizens affected by malformations or just considered a burden for the state. 

In Germany, regular medical doctors used barbiturates to kill children and gas chambers to get rid of adults. Neither the victims nor their families were told of what was being done. Officially, the victims were hospitalized to receive medical treatment, and, later on, families received notice that, unfortunately, their relatives had not survived the attempt to cure them. The number of ethnic Germans killed in this way is estimated as around 300,000. Much smaller than that of the Jews and other ethnic groups exterminated, but still not negligible. 

These deaths were not suicides, but there was a certain element of voluntary acceptance of the procedure and it is hard to think that people would not at least suspect what was going on. The human mind is pliant, and probably everyone, including the victims, was doing their best to believe that it was all done for the sake of their health. Hence, they offered no resistance and even collaborated with their exterminators. 
 
In our times, we have methods to get rid of people with their consent that were not available in Nazi Germany. In terms of "substance abuse," we have a wide choice of substances that shorten one's life expectancy and that are willingly ingested by people. In some cases, they are forbidden, although obtainable illegally (heroin, cocaine, and others). Some are marketed but advertised with severe limitations (alcohol and tobacco). In other cases, they are heavily advertised and widely available (junk food). We need also to mention that some medical treatments are widely recommended as good for your health, but nobody really knows if they really are (4) and in some cases, it is discovered only later that they are very bad. Maybe you remember the case of Thalidomide, but there are many more in the history of medicine. Surely, there will be more cases in the future.

Although effective, these substances are slow and messy ways to get rid of people and they may generate negative side effects, for instance criminality and handicapped people that are expensive to care for. For instance, cocaine taken every day will shorten a person's life by about 10 years, too slow to be interesting for would-be exterminators. It is at least unlikely that the diffusion of heavy drugs in our society is the result of an evil plan of extermination, although some agencies of the deep state may well have a role in their supply and distribution. 

At this point, the question is whether the stress on our society could accumulate to a level in which we would start doing the things that were done in Germany during the Nazi period, that is to exterminate people singled out for some physical factor, religious belief, or ideology. And there is no doubt that our society is heavily stressed although, probably not so heavily as Germany was in 1945 (not yet, at least). 

Of course, the reaction to this hypothesis normally comes with the sentence "It can't happen here" and clearly, we are not seeing our governments distributing cyanide capsules to the population. Nor we have evidence that doctors are willingly killing their patients. But a basic rule in history is that if something happened once, it may happen again. 

So, never underestimate what psyops can accomplish, nor how evil the people in power can be! And if they were to start reasoning like the German government did in 1945, they have a number of options that we can only hope will never be put into practice.  


_________________________________________________________

Notes


(1) All traces of the infamous "H.1321" postcard exhorting the Germans to commit suicide seem to have disappeared from the Web, but it can still be found at the "wayback machine"



H.1321 (and H.1380). This card, produced in March 1945, is entitled "Instructions for suicide by hanging." Seven suggestions are listed. The text is written in a ponderous and unusual style of German that required frequent use of a dictionary. The text starts on the back of the card (all text, no image) and is printed in red giving the impression of being typewritten.



"If you want to avoid useless suffering pay attention to the following instructions:


1.) Choose a strong cord, about the strength of a clothes-line. A thin one cuts and hurts.

2.) Tie the knot of the bow in a way that the bow will not tighten the cord. The cord must go unhindered through the bow.

3.) Grease the bow and cord well to achieve a sleek fastening of the noose.

4.) Avoid getting strangled before jumping, or you will have to struggle longer.

5.) Secure a full jump. This guarantees a break of the neck instead of getting strangled. Climb a chair or a table and fix the noose high enough (use a hook in the ceiling or wall), so that your feet will hang free after the jump.

6.) Put the neck through the noose. Make sure that the knot and bow are behind the neck, not in front of the throat.

7.) Jump courageously. If you want to be sure, then jump as high and bold as you can to fall down near your jumping location,”

The rest of the message appears on the front of the postcard, typed vertically at the left side.


“as if you wanted to make a joyful jump from the diving board into the water. The stronger the leap, the safer the break of the neck.


Don't hesitate!

The Horst Wessel standard is calling!

Hail Hitler!"

___________________________________________________________________________

(2) From Ugo Bardi's book "Before Collapse"

By September 1943, after the surrender of Italy, it must have been clear to everybody on both sides that the Allies had won the war, it was only a question of time for them to finish the job. So, what could have prevented the German government from following the example of Italy and surrender, maybe ousting Hitler as the Italian government had done with Mussolini? We do not know whether some members of the German leadership considered this strategy but it seems clear that the Allies did not encourage them. One month after Italy surrendered, in October 1943, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, signed a document known as the “Moscow Declaration.” Among other things, it stated that:

"At the time of granting of any armistice to any government which may be set up in Germany, those German officers and men and members of the Nazi party who have been responsible for or have taken a consenting part in the above atrocities, massacres and executions will be sent back to the countries in which their abominable deeds were done … and judged on the spot by the peoples whom they have outraged. … most assuredly the three Allied powers will pursue them to the uttermost ends of the earth and will deliver them to their accusors in order that justice may be done. … <else> they will be punished by joint decision of the government of the Allies."

What was the purpose of broadcasting this document that threatened the extermination of the German leadership, knowing that it would have been read by the Germans, too? The Allies seemed to want to make sure that the German leaders understood that there was no space to negotiate an armistice. The only way out left to the German military was to take the situation in their own hands to get rid of the leaders that the Allied had vowed to punish. That was probably the reason for the assassination attempt carried out against Adolf Hitler on June 20th, 1944. It failed, and we will never know if it would have shortened the war.

Perhaps as a reaction to the events in Germany, on September 21, 1944 the Allies publicly diffused a plan for post-war Germany that had been approved at the Quebec Conference by the British and American governments. The plan, known as the “Morgenthau Plan,” was proposed by Henry Morgenthau Jr. secretary of the Treasury of the United States. Among other things, it called for the complete destruction of Germany’s industrial infrastructure and the transformation of Germany into a purely agricultural society at a nearly Medieval technology level. If carried out as stated, the plan would have killed millions of Germans since the German agriculture, alone, would have been unable to sustain the German population of the time.

Unlike the Moscow declaration that aimed at punishing German leaders, the Morgenthau plan called for the punishment of the whole German population. Again, the proponents could not have been unaware that their plan was visible to the Germans and that the German government would have used it as a propaganda tool. President Roosevelt's son-in-law Lt. Colonel John Boettiger stated that the Morgenthau Plan was "worth thirty divisions to the Germans."⁠ The general upheaval against the plan among the US leadership led President Roosevelt to disavow it. But it may have been one of the reasons that led the Germans to fight to the bitter end.


_________________________________________________________________ 

(3) The story of the "mass suicide" in Jonestown is far from being clear. There were no survivors so that the interpretation of what actually happened is mainly based on a tape with the last speech of Jim Jones, where we hear him exhorting his adepts to kill themselves. This is one of the first cases where a catastrophic event is explained on the basis of the near-miraculous survival of a tape where the evil guy of the story accuses himself to be the perpetrator. Another suspicious detail is that we know that the victims of cyanide poisoning normally die gasping for air, face-up, with their mouth open in a characteristic "grin" that you can see in the pictures of Regina Lisso. Instead, in Jonestown, nearly everyone died face down, and in none of the very few photos we have where we can see the face of the dead we can detect the typical features of people dying of cyanide poisoning. Very few autopsies were performed and it is likely that we'll never know exactly how these people actually died, but the hypothesis that they were gunned down cannot be excluded.


(4) The complexity of modern medicine is so high that even medical doctors may be at loss at understanding what they are recommending. For instance, a large number of Americans are taking statins or other cholesterol-lowering drugs, and their use of statins is aggressively promoted. But is there evidence that statins significantly increase people's life expectancy? None at all, and statins have non-negligible side effects. So, why are people taking statins? Because their doctors told them so. And who told that to the doctors? At best, they read some scientific papers in a hurry and they got the impression that statins are a good thing. Or maybe they were convinced by the advertising of statin producers. Possibly, they know that statins are ineffective, but they won't take the risk of not prescribing them. In short, people take statins because everyone takes them. Fortunately, at least, there is no evidence that statins kill.

(5) A commenter raised the question of whether Regina Lisso was really dead, since she looks relaxed, even beautiful in death. It is correct to doubt about anything that comes from a government and that picture was taken by a photographer working for the US army. But the setting, the posture, and all the details in the photo look just right. There are not so many photos of the bodies of people who killed themselves using cyanide in Germany, but in most cases we see them lying face up, their mouth open, sometimes just a little, very much in the same posture of Regina Lisso. It also makes sense that it was a real photograph because the idea that a young and beautiful girl had killed herself to escape her "liberators," the US army, had no propaganda value for the Allies. 



 
Regina Lisso committed suicide together with her mother and her father, and the three of them are shown in several photographs easily found on the Web.  


Monday, October 11, 2021

The Age of Exterminations (IV). How to Kill the Rich

In our times, the Knight Templars have gained the fame of exceptionally good warriors. That may be more than a little exaggerated because when the time came to defend their leaders, arrested by the King of France, they vanished into thin air. Yet, the history of the Templars is interesting as a case of the periodic exterminations of the financial class in history. Could something similar happen to our modern financial tycoons, the Internet barons, Gates, Bezos, Zuckerberg, etc.? We cannot say for sure, but we cannot exclude that, either. The recent "incident" that shut down Facebook for a while may well be the harbinger of a reckoning to come.


"A house filled with gold cannot be defended." Lao Tsu, the Tao Te Ching

"All political power comes from the barrel of a gun." Mao Zedong




The Monastic order of the Templars (Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Salomonici), was founded in 1119 as a military force to defend the Christian holdings in the Holy Land. In time, the order evolved into a financial structure: the Templars became bankers and they developed a sophisticated money transfer system that helped pilgrims and warriors to move to and from the Holy Land and to transfer money from Europe to Palestine and back. They have been termed "the first multinational corporation" in history. 

As you may imagine, the Templars were rich, despite the term "pauperes" (poor fellows) in their name. They had land, castles, palaces, and, of course, plenty of gold and silver. The problem was that, with the loss of the last lands controlled by the Christian crusaders in the Holy Land, at the end of the 13th century, they had become useless: no more crusades, no need of a banking system to finance them

At that point, the Templars attracted the attention of the king of France, Phillip IV, in dire need of money, as kings normally are. In 1307, he ordered the arrest of all Templars and the confiscation of their properties.  Most of the leaders were burned at the stake after that they had confessed under torture all sorts of evil misbehaviors: spit on the cross, deny Christ, engage in indecent kissing, worship the devil, and other niceties. 

As exterminations go, this one didn't involve large numbers: we read of 54 executions in France in 1310. Probably there were more in other countries, but the total cannot be higher than a few hundred. Nevertheless, it had a big impact: it is said that the fame of Friday the 13th as an unlucky day originates from the date of the arrest of the Templars: Friday, October 13, 1307.

The question is, of course, can it happen again? How about our class of hyper-rich, the "100 billion dollar club," that includes well-known names such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and a few more? They are clearly going to become trillionaires in the near future. But a house full of gold is hard to defend, as we read in the Tao Te Ching. Could our Internet barons follow the destiny that long ago befell another class of financial tycoons, the Templars?

As usual, the key to the future is in the past. Examining the destiny of the Templars, we may understand the factors that may lead to the extermination of a powerful (but not enough) financial guild. 

First of all, why were the Templars exterminated? I argued in previous posts (onetwo, and three) that certain categories of people can be exterminated and their possessions confiscated when they are 1) wealthy, 2) clearly identifiable, and 3) militarily weak, The Templars clearly satisfied the first two rules but not necessarily the third: after all, they were a military order. Yet, when the King of France descended on them, they didn't even try a military reaction. It may be that the prowess of the Templar Knights was much overrated: they were more like a private police force for a financial organization, not a real military force. But it may also be that it was exactly the presence of this force that hastened their downfall. Sometimes, a little military power may be worse than none at all, since it invites a decapitation strike. This is probably what happened to the Templars, exterminated just to make sure that they would not become a threat. 

The story of the Templars is just an example of a power struggle that has very ancient origins. One of the earliest written texts we have was written by the Sumerian priestess Enheduanna who complained with the Goddess that her temple had been desecrated by a local warlord. Enheduanna does not say if the warlord was after the temple's money, but we know that, at that time, temples were also banks, a tradition that remained unchanged for millennia. For instance, as late as during the first century AD, we have the record of a local leader who raided the temple of Jerusalem and attacked the resident bankers, most likely in order to finance an armed insurrection against the Roman governor. 

Temples and warlords remained in an uneasy relationship with each other during the Roman Empire, but a few centuries later, raiding Pagan temples became the normal way to finance the Roman armies, a tradition started by Emperor Constantine 1st ("The Great") during the early 4th century AD. Less than a century later, Emperor Theodosius 1st ("The Great") was the last emperor who still could find Pagan temples to raid for their gold and silver. Then, no more temples, and no more Roman Empire

And then, there was the time of the Catholic Church in Europe, which never officially acted as a bank, for a period even forbidding to charge interest on loans to Christians. That left the Jews as typical targets for raids and extermination, a tradition that continued for a long time. But the Church was nevertheless an economic powerhouse thriving on the donations of the faithful and on various economic activities, including owning vast swats of land, various kinds of manufacturing, and even employing prostitutes and managing brothels. It was a juicy target for the military leaders in Europe and the case of the elimination of the Templars was just the harbinger of much worse to come for the Church.  

During the 16th century, it was the turn of King Henry VIII to destroy the Catholic monasteries in England and confiscate their properties (a few monks and abbots were exterminated in the process). Later on, in France, a substantial part of the French revolution had to do with confiscating the Church's properties and beheading a substantial number of monks and priests. The wave of confiscations ended only when, in 1870, the Pope lost his last stronghold, the city of Rome, to the army of the king of Italy. This final battle, fortunately, didn't involve exterminations. 

Now, back to our times. Just like the last Roman Emperors had run out of Pagan temples to raid, our governments have run out of Churches to depredate. But some elements of the power game remain the same: if once temples were also banks, today banks are also temples. You can see that very well if you live in the US, where no respectable bank would renounce temple-like columns on the facade. 

But the question is not architectural: our society is possibly the most monetarized one that ever existed in history and the people who run our financial system yield immense power. That power, though, makes them attractive targets for another kind of power: the military one. Think of our Internet barons, Bill Gates and his ilk. By getting rid of a few tens of them, the government could cash in at least a trillion dollars in a single sweep. That is an amount of the same order of magnitude as the US military expenses in one year. Could that happen for real? 

Of course, right now, it is hard to imagine a court that sentences Mark Zuckerberg to be burned at the stake after having confessed under torture of consorting with the devil and other unholy behaviors. Yet, things that happened once in history can always appear again. 

It will all depend on a balance of factors: power, wealth, control, technology, and more. Something drastic could happen, for instance, if the US government were to find itself in truly dire financial straits. Then, the temptation of using military means to solve the crisis could become strong. After that all is said and done, as president Mao Zedong said, the origin of all political power is the barrel of the gun. Is the recent shutting down of Facebook a signal of a battle being already being fought in the ethereal "Metaverse" regions? Only time will tell.  
 



Sunday, October 3, 2021

The Age of Exterminations (III). Why you Should be Worried. Very Worried


 Disclaimer. I am no prophet and I have no crystal ball. I am just trying to find patterns in history. And I think many historical events can be explained simply on the basis of the tendency of people to try to make money whenever possible, even at the cost of doing the most evil things imaginable. That sometimes leads me to making rather somber predictions, as in this post, the 3rd of a series on mass exterminations (part one and part two). Sorry about this, but think that I may well be wrong -- and I hope so! (above: a hospital in Chernobyl in 2018: is that the destiny of our health care centers?) 


The extermination of social subgroups is a relatively recent phenomenon in history but, unfortunately, it seems to have become more and more frequent in recent times. Often, as in the case of the witch-hunting age, extermination is the result of a perfectly rational attitude that develops in societies under heavy stress. When a social subgroup is relatively wealthy, can be identified, and can't offer significant military resistance, there are good chances that its members will be exterminated and their assets confiscated. That was what happened to the people branded as "witches" in Europe during the 16th and 17th century in Europe. Another classic case was that of the Jews, a few centuries later.  

At this point, considering that our society is surely under heavy stress, the question is: which subgroup could be the next target for extermination? I asked this question to the readers in a previous post of this series, but almost nobody could identify the right target. Now I think I can propose the answer:

The most likely target for the next extermination round are middle-class retirees. 

Retirees satisfy all the requirements: They are identifiable, of course, they are old! They are often relatively wealthy and, more than that, they cost a lot of money in terms of health care. Finally, they can hardly put up serious military resistance. Exterminating the middle-class elders would be both easy and profitable

Let's make a few calculations. In the US, there are nowadays about 46 million retirees living on social security. The US spends about 7% of its GDP on pensions, that is, about 1.5 trillion dollars per year (about $30.000/person/year). That's more than the about 1 trillion dollars that the US government spends for the military budget, bloated as it is. 

Assuming that you could remove just 10% of the retirees, it would mean saving some 150 billion dollars per year. But, in practice, much more than that if you take into account the health care costs. For instance, summing nursing care facilities and home care for the elderly, we are talking of something close to 300 billion dollars per year, and that does not include hospitalization costs.  The potential savings are truly huge: hundreds of billions of dollars. 

Of course, exterminating the elderly cannot be done using the same demonization techniques used in the past against the witches and the Jews. Old people are parents and grandparents and their offspring won't normally like to see them burned at the stake or gassed in extermination chambers. But extermination takes many forms, and it is rarely explicitly proclaimed. After all, it never happened in history that you could find a sign with the words "extermination camp" at the gate of an extermination camp. During WWII. for instance, the Germans were told that the Jews were just being relocated, not that they were being exterminated. In other cases, the people being exterminated were glorified as heroes

So, what form could the extermination of old people take? It would be done using well-known propaganda techniques, the main one being to state the exact opposite of what is being done. In other words, when the idea is to kill some people, propaganda will convince everybody that the plan is to do them a favor (do you remember the "humanitarian bombs" dropped on Serbia?)

In practice, the weak spot of the middle-class retirees is that they need medical assistance and that they cannot normally pay the skyrocketing costs on their personal saving. So, they could be gently removed from the state budget by degrading the public health care system while saying that it is being modified in order to protect them. A clever way of doing it would be to focus so much on curing a specific single disease that the result would be a decline of the care for the illnesses that mostly affect aged people: cardiovascular diseases and tumors. A parallel measure to intensify the effect would be to degrade the quality of the food available, making it become less nutritious and contaminated with all sorts of pollutants.This method would not affect the elites, who can pay for good health care and and good food, but it will hit directly those who live on pensions.

Now, let's take a look at the current situation. In 2020 the average life expectancy in the US has declined by nearly 2% for a total of 600,000 extra deaths, most of them old people. So, we are talking of some 20 billion dollars saved just in terms of pensions. But it is much more than that considering the saving in health care costs. These numbers are not large in comparison to the US GDP, but not peanuts, either. And what we are seeing is just the start of a trend. 

At this point, it is customary to start screaming: "conspiracy theory!" It is true that, in most cases, pretended conspiracies are based on nothing. The world is so huge and complicated that it is unthinkable to see what happens as the result of a group of evil people collecting, say, in the basement of Bill Gates' mansion in Seattle. The mechanism that leads to collective events is collective: society as a whole is a complex network with a certain ability to process information. It does that without being "conscious" of what is being done: there is no plan, no specific objectives to reach. But often society moves as a whole in a specific direction. 

In this case, Western Society seems to perceive the problem created by an excess of elderly people, and it is moving to solve it. It is brutal, yes, but only individuals have moral restraints, society as a whole has none. Every decision taken individually affects all the other decisions, and we are seeing the results. It is nothing new in history where, typically, everything that happens, happens because it had to happen.

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This said we have arrived at a worrisome (to say the least) conclusion. Most readers of the "Seneca Effect" blog are middle-class Westerners (maybe Mr. Gates reads my blog? Unlikely, but who knows?). And sooner or later we are all going to become middle-class retirees. Of course, we are not going to be "exterminated" in the literal sense of the word. That is, no firing squads, gas chambers, or the like. But we will have to live on a progressively poorer diet and we won't have the same kind of free health care that our parents and grandparents had

What can we do about that? The answer is, unfortunately, "very little." Of course, you'll do well in following a healthy lifestyle, exercise, try to avoid the worst kinds of junk food, all that. A sane mistrust in doctors and their unhealthy concoctions may also help a lot. But you have to face it: the life expectancy of the people who are alive today is going to drop like a stone. It will be a classic example of a Seneca Cliff. 

But is it so bad? I don't think we should take this as a reason for despair. At least, we'll avoid the sad trap of overmedicalization in which so many of our elders fell. When my father was 87, he had a heart attack. I remember that while we were waiting for the ambulance, he said, "I think it is time for me to go." He was not happy, but I think he understood what was happening to him and perhaps he savored the idea of being reunited with his wife, who had died the year before. But that was not to be. He was kept alive for five more years, every year worse than the previous year, until he was reduced to a vegetal, his mind completely gone, kept alive by tubes and machinery. Being humiliated in that way is not something anyone would desire. When it is time to go it is better to leave this world in peace. If possible, at home. 

Since this blog takes inspiration from the words of Lucius Annaeus Seneca, at this point I might suggest to you to read Seneca's "De Brevitate Vitae" ("on the shortness of life"). Seneca was not so great as a teacher of wisdom and he made some egregiously unwise mistakes (with Queen Boudica, for instance). But when his time came, he died an honorable death. The death of a true stoic