I have been reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and although it is a mediocre work of fiction with limited literary value (sorry fans), it does shift one’s perception of our own time; and, indeed, makes our age seem wholly insignificant. The Galactic Empire of Foundation is a civilization that has existed for 12,000 years and according to the predictions of one scientist is doomed to fail for a 30,000 year interregnum, a prediction that has made the Empire squirm with unease. The source of this apocalyptic prediction is the study of “psychohistory,” a science of Asimov’s own invention whereby large bodies of people have inertia and follow historical trends that can be calculated and predicted. The larger the group of people, the larger the psychohistorical inertia. Even with the small scale variance of chance, in the long run a civilization will follow a predictable path–so claims the school of psychohistory.
It is hard not to see our current world in the same light. A world that had 800 years of Roman civilization, only to fall into a 1,000 year interregnum, emerging as it did in the 17th century with little knowledge, strength or civility which it has since had to learn. Of course, the Romans were not a perfect civilization, and neither is ours, and neither were any of the civilizations that fall outside the traditional western historical sphere, but I think it can be said for our present civilization that the psychohistorical inertia of mankind has rendered it incapable of truly altering its course, and it is so that we tumble deeper and deeper into the abyss. All through history we have feared the apocalypse, and looking back even 30 years we see the minutes of the Doomsday Clock tick ever closer to midnight as the Soviets played war games, and the surely predicted fall of civilization in the emergence of Islamic terror, financial catastrophe and skyrocketing prices in the stagflation of the 70’s. And now we find ourselves precariously in an even worse position, with the institutional levers of our economy collapsing and seemingly nothing that can be done about it.
Why is this the case? Psychohistory tells us that it is the responsibility of purely human emotion and instinct, for instance, fear. Fear people have of losing what little stability they possess in order to gradually cede more power to rulers. Fear rulers have of losing their power to the hungry and restless people. Fear the intellectuals and the journalists and the artists have to stand up and tell the truth, no matter the consequences. And fear of god: that almighty fear which has driven people to do stupid things and believe in them to the end. I don’t often look to FDR for inspiration or guidance, but his ominous calling to be rid of fear of fear was prescient. He of all people, a cripple with his own challenges, would know that people are not fallible. That death is inevitable. That we are always, always circling the drain.
In the lens of psychohistory, one sees not the European debt crisis as austerity vs. the Euro, or socialism vs. capitalism, or good vs. evil. One only sees the inevitable decline of Europe as a great power due to the folly of mankind. It is as sure as mathematics that the Eurozone will collapse, because its fate has been preordained from the beginning: A monetary union backing several disparate political interests with a history of brutal warfare. A fantasy of European socialism calling for borrowing a health and happy lifestyle at the expense of the working poor and the next generation, not to mention the immigrants whom Europeans spit upon. The legacy of nationalism that makes Europeans immune to self criticism or introspection.
In the lens of psychohistory, one does not see the American politics as anything more than a page in a play of history. We trade jabs about the relative power of corporations and unions, the responsibility of banks, the rights of the downtrodden, and of course, where our European and Chinese foes fit into the equation. But the equation spits out the same answer: We continue to borrow from our own prosperity and refuse to acknowledge our inevitable decline. Although America has been luckier than most; insulated from the baggage of the past, tucked away in a forgotten corner of the world, with an imperfect constitution that Americans just happened to have respected and supported this last quarter millennium, we continue to put faith in our leadership to right the ship even though Americans feel the inevitable pull of fate.
In the lens of psychohistory, what is Iran, with its petty, fumbling dictator and its all-but-certain nuclear weapon? Do we really think that the people of Iran have any less motivation, drive or ambition than the people of California? Do we really think that Iranians have any interest in destroying Israel, or the US, or anywhere else, rather than proceed forward with mutual cooperation, trade and respect? If the lesson of South Africa teaches us anything, it is never the people that are the problem, it is it the rulers. And what of the rulers? Why have we created democracies that ensure us that we empower rulers to cede the will of the minority to the tyranny of the majority? Or, what is worse, cede the tyranny of the majority to the special interests of the entitled minority? We have either dictators on thrones stolen at the point of a gun, or presidents on electoral thrones smoldering in their own hypocrisy. These presidents give us a false sense of security and guard us against the barbarians at the gates, while they pick our pockets and promise us guarantees they don’t have the money to pay for. Americans have it better than the Europeans, but how much worse are those false democracies elsewhere?
In the lens of psychohistory, all people are the same. We do not have any differences that are not determined by birth or circumstance. We all behave with the same motivations. We all fall in love and get screwed by society’s pressure. We all discover new things. We all fail to get recognition for our accomplishments and get castigated for our failures. We all don’t get what we deserve. We all don’t deserve anything. No one is special, and if there is anything I have learned in my travels, it is that people follow only one rule: Do by myself and my family. If I have extra time, help others. If I have a tender heart, go out of my way to do something nice for someone else. But at the end of the day, every person will follow the same rule: Me and my family. And when societies embrace that individual drive, they thrive. And when they deny that, they destroy freedom, happiness and prosperity. When a government provides an avenue to success through thuggery and murder, people will take that road.
Psychohistory tells us that we are hitting an inflection point, one which will push us over the abyss or lead us to the greatest period of wealth and prosperity the world has ever known. We do not know when the inflection point will hit. It could be with the Greek election on Sunday, or it could be at years end. It could be when that first nuclear strike from North Korea backfires and lays waste to the desolate deathtrap of the miserable Kimtatorship. It could be when Justin Bieber becomes elected president and, through momentous incompetence, fails to accomplish anything significant which might be the most productive thing he could do for our country. It could be the rising of the oceans that swallow up our greatest cities. Or, true to the mathematics of psychohistory, some unforeseen change in the human processing of external stimuli may occur, throwing off any and all predictions for better or for worse. A larger-than-life figure may appear, altering the course of humanity by defying the natural bounds of human fear and consciousness. Or an external alien force may puncture our self-contained system and introduce unknown variables of physics, science and culture that change our perceptions of ourselves and our humanity.