[ExI] Really? and EP

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Mon Apr 20 06:45:39 UTC 2009

BillK and Keith discuss the causes of war.

BillK wrote:

> On 4/18/09, Keith Henson wrote:
>>  Extropians are concerned with the future.  We therefore need models of
>>  what is going to happen.  The technological singularity is a simple
>>  model of exponentially increasing computation.  At some point in the
>>  not so distant future a typical desktop computer will exceed the
>>  processing capacity of a human brain.  This is a relatively simple
>>  model...
>>  An area with a growing population and a limited and irregular
>>  production of food is a formula for disaster.  The disaster could take
>>  the form of famine, but is more likely to result in human conflict.
>>  (Rwanda, Darfur).
> Agreed. But Europe doesn't fit into this scenario.
> Food shortages are much more likely to occur first in poor countries.


> The basic EP scenario, hard times = war, doesn't apply for every war.

Maybe we all agreed on that, too!

> Alexander the Great didn't conquer the known world because Greece was
> starving. He and his army did it because they could. They wanted the
> power and the glory and the plunder.

Suppose that we really do want an *explanation*.

Question: would it suffice (using a time machine) to ask them?
I.e., what if we could overhear Alexander and his courtiers?
(Remember---we do have a lot of historical documentation
to go by, I just don't know it.)

But the question is complicated. Consider, for example,
the Crusades. I'm pretty certain that they *only* talked
about retrieving the holy lands from the infidels, and
probably talked about glory and plunder, too. But that
may not suffice for an *explanation*.

We need to also consider that at this time the Viking memes
(and people!) were rampant in western Europe, and that
the birth rate was high, i.e., there were a lot of "second
sons" ready and eager to take part. So one other underlying
cause---not discussed by them, in all probability---was
how the project did fit easily into their lives, and the
lives of a lot of people they knew.

But never underestimate the power of memes! For example,
the reasons that at times spread from mind to mind.

> The British Empire didn't spread around the world because Britain was
> starving. They (and other European countries) did it to plunder third
> world countries that were unable to resist greater force of arms.

That's put a bit too harshly, though basically true.

Their merchants wanted trade, their kings and ruling classes
liked the money brought in from trade. They also liked the
prestige that went along with it. It also became necessary
to beat out the Dutch and Portuguese traders, and at the
same time highly desirable to *control* the terminal points,
partly to ensure peace. (Wars in far away India, for example,
would dampen profits.)

(Later they found that they could impose very profitable
monopolies on the regions controlled, your greed, power,
glory, and plunder.)

But the urge for Empire remained very strong through the
first half of the XX century, even though it was not very
profitable any more. By this time, the Germans, the French,
and the English were greatly enamored of maps that showed
giant territories in Orange, Green, and Red, respectively.
Prestige ended up (in this case) trumping profit!

> The same reasons apply to all the great empire expansions. If you were
> powerful enough to start with, then greed for more power and plunder
> and capturing slaves drove the expansion.

Not in *all* cases! Keith is indeed right about *some*
cases. But WHY, for example, did white Americans
want so much western land in in the 19th century?

(1) if we were to ask them, most would say that
they wanted a better life out west, and a better
standard of living. (2) one underlying factor may
have been to "be the first" and gain personal power
and prestige (e.g. why did enough lawyers suddenly
flock to California after 1846?). There may be other
reasons for the westward expansion, but I cannot
believe that anticipation of dire conditions or want
of food were a part of the causation in this case.


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