Saturday, July 04, 2015

How Long Will "Independence Day" Survive? Author suggests these days are numbered.

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Biohistory: Decline and Fall of the West (book review)



I agreed to review this book because for sometime now I have sensed the demise of Western civilization but had no hard arguments as to how or why or when. I have now found them (or what I think may be them) in Jim Penman’s book, Biohistory: Decline and Fall of the West, published by Cambridge Scholars, Newcastle upon Tyne, U.K., 2015.

Penman, a Ph.D. [in History from Australia’s La Trobe University in 1983 and an Honorary Fellow and Guest Lecturer at RMIT University in Melbourne], is an Australian historian and social theorist. And in this book, he takes on the explanation of rises and falls observed in “civilization history” as well as predicting (with very little difficulty or hesitation) the collapse of modern Western civilization as we know it.  Penman is a very accomplished man but not necessarily in the academic circles where you would expect him to pop up now and again. This is a self-made man (he’s also CEO of Jim’s Group, Australia’s largest home services franchiser with over 3,400 franchisees in four countries, and growing at the rate of 200 per year) who has been using his spare moments (let alone his income) for the last 40 years to do research on his theory of Biohistory – the biological explanation for most of history, especially the causes of rises and falls of societies.

Penman’s theory is founded on the premise that a civilization fundamentally rises and falls based on the overall temperament of its populace. And temperament of a people is driven by many factors, not the least of which is the scarcity (or overabundance) of food.  Other factors are the amount of testosterone people have, the presence (or absence) of stress hormones, anxiety of mothers in one’s infancy, approaches to control and punishment at various pre-adulthood stages, and of course, the average age of puberty as well as the sexual activities or freedom of people.

His arguments as to how each one of these (and even more) factors impacts civilizations all make sense.  What is somewhat disconcerting (at least to a non-scientist) is the way he then explains anomalies by combining the various factors (high in one, low in another; early in one, later in another; etc.). No laity reader (at least not this one) can keep everything he says straight in order to be able to use the information provided as predictors in a different environment.

To his credit, Penman digs deep into both history and recent times for examples (both animal and human) from around the globe to give us solid proof that supports his theory.  He claims that what we need to consider is not genetics but rather epigenetics – the study of changes in organisms caused by modifications in gene expression rather than the alteration of the gene code itself.

Of particular interest also is his account of how religion impacts civilization positively to increase what he calls the C (civilization) factor – the epigenetics needed for a culture to rise.  But high C is not enough, he says.  Rising cultures need high V (aggression) to defeat their enemies and survive.  Considerable space is spent on how C and V rise and fall in a people, especially when combined with other factors such as timing, Lemming Cycles (you can discover these for yourself), war, recession and tyranny.  His parting theoretical shot at his formula is to stir in one more ingredient – the S (or stability) factor which has a lot to do with wanting to reproduce children to maintain the society, i.e. a civilization birth rate. It makes for fascinating reading.

With all the details out of the way, Penman reaches his three last chapters in the book. In one he deals first with “fundamentalists” (and no I don’t mean the Moral Majority type) and how they, all else being equal, have the greatest chance of survival.  He cites the original Israelite culture as found in the Old Testament and also fundamentalist (vs. liberal) Islam today as two excellent examples.  Then in the second last chapter he explains why the West is declining, and will continue to decline, with no easy way to stop it.  He even gives you a timeframe.  And you cannot argue with his arguments, especially if you buy any part of his theory.

It is his last chapter that threw me for a loop. Penman, very cautiously mind you, admitting that the only solution he has to offer as a means of stopping the current downward suicidal course of the West has its own downsides and will likely never easily be adopted, presents us with a picture of the future that makes Orwell’s 1984 seem more like a story about Cinderella. His solution – chemical supplements that bring about the desired epigenetics to help the rise and sustaining of a civilization.

Readers like me who object to that type of solution, and all that it conjures in ones mind, can well skip the book’s last chapter and still gain much to explain human behavior. I recommend it.

    -- Ken B. Godevenos, http://www.accordconsulting.com, Murrells Inlet, S.C. 15/07/04  

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