Reading up on The Archdruid Report’s latest blog – a musing on why people keep wishing for apocalypses or breakthroughs when neither is hurrying to make themselves known – I’m reminded in many ways of the Roman Empire collapsed in the West, especially in Britain.
The first collapse was the Western Empire – the section that included Spain, France (aka Gaul), Britain and Italy. Rome wasn’t spared, indeed preparations were made for the possibility that Rome would fall, including the establishment of an eastern Roman capital at the site of old Byzantium (to be known as “New Rome,” oddly enough). Still, the defenses along the Rhine held up until 405ce (0r 406ce), when the Germanic peoples finally broke through and started pillaging the Western Empire.
Probably the most interesting part of this is what happened to the British Isles. Namely, the moment the Germans broke through Britain was abandoned by the Romans. In short, everything went along (although slowly growing worse)…until it didn’t.
The troops were there…until they disappeared and never returned. Coins ran the economy…until none were minted and they were hoarded. Books were copied and read…until suddenly no one could afford the time to read them, at which point they were burnt as fuel. Pottery was made in Britain…until it wasn’t and the locals were forced to rely on their hordes and what they could get/make. Jesus Christ was Lord…until the Germanic Gods brought men from over the sea, proving themselves truly Gods. The barbarians stayed north and on Ireland…until there was nothing to hold them back.
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Sometimes change is like that. Indeed, things can go on for long periods of time while miniature apocalypses go on around everything. Rural areas become emptied until the cities around them can’t be supported, then the cities start emptying out…or maybe the cities empty out on their own. Education becomes harder to keep up, standards drop yet fewer and fewer people (even relative to a dropping population) embrace education as it becomes less and less useful. Services become crappier and crappier, yet more and more depend on them and cling to them for dear life. Religions (and branches of religions) water down their beliefs to grab more believers, yet the holy places are more and more empty and useless, occasionally being reconstructed for other purposes.
Eventually the small collapses lead to larger, then systemic collapses. The whole, which was easily defended for so long, suddenly becomes indefensible…and when the hole opens the rest falls, as all the defenses were placed at that opening. And while everyone knew things were going wrong, no one had any idea how to fix things…or indeed, how bad things were.
Many may not have seen things as wrong, or may have adapted to the situation and consigned the working past to memories of better times. Still others will have limited their memories of the past to gauzy images of mythology – all the better to handle a present that wasn’t up to now-forgotten standards and a future that looked dodgier every day.
And then…maybe not in one day, but relatively suddenly, things change.
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Now, here’s the thing: people know when things are about to fall apart. Even if the falling apart doesn’t happen in a lifetime, people can tell when things are about to fall apart.
Like the conservative and evangelical Christians. By the mid-seventies they were beginning to see the attractions of the books of Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelations, going so far as to create detailed stories as to how the book was to play out. Never mind that they had also believed in the Rapture (they’ll be taken away so as to not suffer from what the world was going through) and thus didn’t need to know what was in those books….
By now, the Christians have been joined by many groups – New-Agers who embrace 12/21/2012 as the zero-point in history (some hope for renewal, but the end of the world would be embraced as their fear is being stuck in the hell known as the present physical plane of existence), Alternative health nuts (everything from the mainstream is, by definition, wrong, everything heard from the neighbor is right, and this whole edifice better fall soon), Peak Oil Radicals (Oil will end, it will end soon, and with an extremely sudden dropoff/stop), Islamists (they get to make the world submit before God comes), Islamophobes (We’re warring against the Muslims, as the only kind Muslim is lying through their teeth about what they want) and other groups.
Evidently waiting for the end is a grind on people.
I wonder what swept through Roman Britain from 380AD through 410AD (when they were told that they were on their own by Emperor Honorius), whether they listened to Revelations and the Roman Mythologies for hope. I’m pretty sure it was much like what’s going on now around me.