Freeloaders: An Addendum

So what did I mean by my assertion that philosophers are freeloaders?

Consider society as a pyramid.  Those who grow the food and gather the raw materials needed to sustain the basics of human life are at the bottom – not because they are the least important but because they are the foundation upon which everything else is built.

Next comes the tradesmen – the movers of goods, the artisans and engineers, the teachers.  Those who take the materials and turn them into things which improve life and pass knowledge on.  The important thing here is that these people are actually using the knowledge of past generations for immediate practical benefit.  They are however not immediately necessary and thus add strain upon the base of the pyramid – i.e. without, say, 10 farmers you cannot have one factory worker or bespoke ethical vegan butcher – it makes no sense to mass produce squeaky dog toys if you cannot eat.

The final tier is the leadership, the thinkers and the artists.  The products of this class have no immediate value.  The Illiad for example is a magnificent text, but confers no immediate benefit to society in terms of what you can eat, build or take comfort or convenience from.  The same is true for thinkers, philosophers and scientists:  These people can make great leaps in human understanding, but this understanding often means little for the man on the street.  Take William Harvey, for instance:  in 1628 he published a groundbreaking work that we now take for granted:  That blood circulates around the body.  In modern society we take that for granted, it has given doctors and biologists new ways to save lives and improve them.  At the time, however, medical technology was nowhere near the point where that could help – in fact, given the hygiene standards of the time, it was just as likely to cause death from infection as blood loss if intrusive surgery was performed.

In simple words:  the engineering had not developed at the same rate as the science.

The people at the top of the pyramid contribute the least to society, but have the most impact on the direction that a given society is heading.

So yes, to the people at the bottom, the people at the top are freeloaders getting rich off their labours.

To a societies’ descendants, the people at the top are the pioneers, leaders and key figures that define their identity.

It’s simply a matter of perspective.

(As an addendum to the addendum, this model is grossly oversimplified but I think it serves to illustrate my point well.  As time and society progress, however, the pyramid will become top-heavy as technology replaces people.  What effect this will ultimately have remains to be seen).

The Eagle has Landed: The Dream of a United Europe

So this seemed like as good a place to start as any, given its current relevance and controversy.  Over the next several posts I will be looking at previous attempts to unify Europe, their relevance to the European Union, and perhaps providing some arguments in favour and against the so-called Superstate.  I’ll also attempt to scry the future of the Union, using previous examples to predict where it’s heading and what, if anything, could be done to change or endanger this.

The next few posts then will be split into different topics as follows:

The Eagles of Europe:  Ambition, Grandeur and Failure

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The Roman Empire:  (AKA Your land and people are Roman, you’re just too stubborn to have realised it yet).  Arguably the most famous example of a United Europe, under its motto Senatus Populusque Romanus (The Senate and People of Rome) the Empire stretched from the North of England to the banks of the Nile.  But for all of its ambition and (occasionally) good intentions, the Empire crumbled: its Rulers dead, its once invincible legions crushed and Rome, the Eternal City, in ashes.  Whilst this is far too large a topic to cover in a few hundred-word blog posts, I will attempt to explain the hows and the whys, making some comparisons with today’s society.

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The Holy Roman Empire:  The First Reich (AKA there’s nothing you can’t do with a little ambition and a Pope).  Whilst the Third Reich is, understandably, reviled for its actions in the first half of the 20th Century, the word Reich itself is simply German for “Empire” or “Regime”.  Whilst perhaps not as widely well known or understood as the Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire is perhaps the first example of a Federal Europe, with its many Princes and Electors chafing under the Emperor, who strove for centralisation and the transfer of powers from the Electors to himself.  Again, this is a very large topic and I do not have a firm enough grasp of all of the subtleties to do it any justice, but I will attempt an explanation of this most curious of Empires, and what we can learn from it in modern day Europe.

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The First French Empire:  The lands and territories controlled by France during the regime of Napoleon Bonaparte (AKA Not all stereotypes are completely true).  If the French Empire was successful in one thing, it was its ability to bring people together to oppose it.  The British, Prussians, Russians, Austrians (and so on and so forth) formed a Grand Coalition to attempt to curb the territorial ambitions of the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, and for many years were ineffectual in this.  However, years of British naval blockades, overextension, the Russian winter and unfortunate defeats in the Iberian peninsula led to its ultimate defeat, culminating in the decisive Battle of Waterloo.  Whilst I could wax lyrical about Ships of Oak and Men of Iron, the Age of Naval Adventure and Empire, I will be looking at the ambition behind the Empire:  what it hoped to achieve, its ideals, its supporters and opponents and why this too failed.

Monetary Union and You:  The Electric Boogaloo

Economics and finance are not my forte, and not really my cup of tea.  However, any examination of a Unified Europe must take this into consideration.  I will examine three key currency unions, their pros and their cons:

The Florin:  Originating from the Italian city state of Florence, this was the de facto dominant currency in Europe for much of the Middle Ages.

The Latin Monetary Union:  The first formal attempt to introduce a unified currency to Western Europe.

The Euro:  The most successful formal attempt to introduce a unified currency to the nations of Europe, the currency remains divisive and has introduced as many problems as benefits.

The European Union:  Herald of Peace and Prosperity, A Dying Attempt to Create a Fourth Reich or Something in the Middle?

This final section will take everything from the previous sections and attempt (badly) to create a cohesive whole:  where is Europe today compared to these examples from the past?  What can Europe learn from them?  Is it headed the same way or in a completely different direction?  Can lessons be learnt from the past, or are we trailblazers in an age of enlightenment, free speech, repression and fake news?

I’m not entirely sure myself yet, but I hope that by the end I will have some idea, and that you reading (if indeed you are) will at least glean some entertainment if nothing else.

Thank you for reading.

Here Goes Nothing…

So here we are, then.  In a way I suppose I could have started writing this sooner, or perhaps just given up on it as an idle fancy, something that would be nice but as a postgraduate astrophysicist I would never seriously have time to entertain.

But…

And there is always a but.  Whilst the scientific fields encourage freedom of thought, to investigate with objective logic the universe around us, it so often ignores what it is that makes the very same universe so interesting:  Ourselves.

We live in a universe of impossibilities; indeed the more impossible something appears the more likely it is to happen.  From gravity to matter to stars to all of the different elements that make life possible, there’s no real reason why any of it should have happened, and especially not in the way that it has.

By the same stroke our modern world is also an impossibility.  From the grandest of empires to our thirstiest of ancestors thinking that that cow looked really appetising, there is no reason for most of our World to be the way that it is.  Whilst the most fundamental building blocks of our society have been lost to time (fire, agriculture, music etc.) most elements of our society only really exist when there’s enough food and security for freeloaders like politicians, philosophers and poets to exist.

This, then, is the aim of my blog:  to briefly look at and discuss some of what I regard the key periods, societies and individuals of Europe from the last 2,000 or so years and their impact on society today; hopefully with some humour and pizzazz thrown into the mix.

I hope you enjoy.