Thursday, February 3, 2022

Systems collapse Madison Avenue style.

Like many people today, I worry about the state of the world and the actual survival of our planet. This is not just pyrotechnics on my part, or paranoia, or panic. It's witnessing what seems like the collapse of belief, truth, facts, enlightenment and community.

It seems to be happening all over, not just in the United States. I have a fair number of friends in the UK who seem to curse Boris Johnson in every tweet, email and posting. With good reason.

Last night, I forged ahead in yet another giant history book, this one called "The Greeks: A Global History," by Roderick Beaton. It's work reading a book like this. It's no beach read. But if you have a mind--or cultivate your mind--so you can find parallels to the present, you can have a sense of today with thousands of years of examples to inform your current perspective. I don't read history, and a lot of it, to impress my wife with my Jeopardy! skills. I read about the past to learn more about the present and myself.

Last night I read about a mysterious time period that took place around 1200 BCE to 900 BCE. That's about 2900 to 3200 years ago. Older even than the Ogilvy people Mark Read got rid of for hearkening back.

Around that time, civilizations from Crete, to Greece, to Persia to the Levant and throughout the world essentially regressed. Where they had been building homes and temples and infrastructure for many centuries, humanity left the world of art and architecture and re-entered the world of mud and wattle huts. We left the world of artistry and craft and went backwards to a mere non-aesthetic functionality.

Beaton writes, "...the modern theory of ‘systems collapse’, that has been devised to explain how this and other world civilisations came to disappear, is one that we will encounter again, in the rise and fall of later civilisations in which Greek speakers had an important part to play."

Systems collapse is not Verizon introducing 5G Ultra with seven exclamation points and then dropping three calls in four. It's worse than that.

Beaton explains the "process" of systems collapse this way:

"A good example of how this might have worked in practice can be seen in the fortifications of the Mycenaean palaces. Up to a certain point, it must have made sense to the rulers to mobilise vast resources and command huge workforces in order to bring more of the palace’s essential functions and personnel within the area protected by the walls. 

"Later, when the perceived threat became more acute, it still seemed worth the effort and expense to enclose access to the water supply within the circuit. 

"But what do you do when the next threat appears, and this time the cost of meeting it is greater than the system can bear? 

"At this point, following the theory of systems collapse, competing sections within society begin to doubt that their own interest is best served by the system that supports all. The mechanism of collapse now sets in.... "

It's not a stretch, I fear to see the pattern above and apply it to America. You need only take a train from New York to Boston or to Philadelphia. It takes longer in 2022 to travel the distance than in did in 1852. That's if it doesn't snow. 

My guess is that "competing sections within society begin to doubt that their own interest is best served by the system that supports all." You can apply that definition to almost anything in the modern world. It seems, to be even darker than usual, another way of summarizing Charles Murray's thesis about the US "coming apart." We have a small elite society that wants nothing to do with those who aren't elite and works to not pay for anything that doesn't pay them back. They can call it Libertarian. But that's a kind word for un-Christian selfishness.

I just now read an article about Martin Sorrell and S4 Capital in the Wall Street Journal. It's behind a barb-wired paywall, but try anyway. My guess is that the greed that helped destroy the ad business (one year, Sorrell paid himself $100 million and allegedly used company funds at a whorehouse) is a form of systems collapse.

Looking at the Mycenaean wall example above, it's all too easy to find an advertising/holding company parallel. The area covered by holding companies has expanded and expanded--like the area cover by walls. Then, of course, the value of many of the new agencies within holding companies' walls was found to be shaky. But we own them, so let's adjust. So agencies were consolidated, torn-apart and thousands of people were axed. The trouble, however, too many providing too spurious a service remains.

Of course, the moguls will keep supporting the system as long as they benefit. When the revenue spigot dries up because the essence of what they're selling has been so devalued, they will move on to the next fatted calf.

Though the ad industry has no trade-press to monitor its decline and fall, my guess is that many of the large conglomerate agencies have much-reduced payrolls in order to hold onto ever decreasing margins.  When there's no more payroll to cut, our well-tailored whore-mongers will be gone like a fart in a hurricane.

The system--giant holding companies squeezing every dime from their dwindling number of clients and low-wage employees--will perish.

Something new will come.

But we'll be in the dark a long time.

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