Visualizations of Empires growing and competing

April 18, 2024 by Joshua
in Visualization

I write in my book about how imperialism arose from people needing more resources than where they lived provided—that is, from living unsustainably—and that others wouldn’t trade for. Scroll down for videos that illustrate the pattern happening in history. There are many more videos like them, but I like these.

I’ll give some context from my book first.

I quote a book from a professor where I went to business school, Bruce Greenwald, friend of Warren Buffet, on competitive strategy:

Competitive advantages still have to be managed. Complacency can be fatal, as can ignoring or misunderstanding the sources of one’s strength. An elephant’s first priority is to sustain what it has, which requires that it recognize the sources and the limits of its competitive advantages.’ He lists four top strategies to manage those competitive advantages:

  1. Reinforce, protect, and extend existing advantages
  2. Distinguish where it can profitably grow or might be undermined
  3. Focus on policies that maximize profit
  4. Spot competitive threats that require strong countermeasures

These strategies applied where surpluses appeared and had to be defended. Areas like the Fertile Crescent and river valleys around the world saw unsustainable cultures grow, conflict with each other, and become more aggressive. As they kept growing, they increasingly conflicted with other aggressive, growing, unsustainable elephants—that is, dominant culture.

Their conflicts led them to develop weapons and political structures to win, then beliefs, stories, and cultures to rationalize and justify taking over. When two elephants competed, both could survive, one could defeat the other, or both could die. Whatever any single outcome, some elephants may have died, but others grew to empires dominating beyond river valleys to large swaths of East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, these unsustainable cultures kept needing resources beyond their borders. They had few options: to collapse, become sustainable, or keep expanding. Countless unsustainable cultures have collapsed. Some unsustainable cultures have become sustainable, but rarely, since they would fear becoming ants that elephants would stomp.

The third option—to keep expanding—means plundering the abundance in Sustainable Free Abundant cultures. Success at this plunder would restore abundance to the unsustainable culture, but only temporarily if it stays unsustainable. Then it will exhaust that abundance, resulting in a bigger unsustainable culture with the options as before. If it keeps plundering, it will accelerate the cycle.

This practice has a name: imperialism. When imperialists take the other culture’s land, it becomes colonialism. When they take their labor, it becomes slavery. They all result from unsustainability, which requires growth, and Greenwald’s strategies to maintain dominance. In Haidt’s metaphor, dominance hierarchies forming and evolving into slavery changed people’s elephants. Before unsustainability people were egalitarian, interacting voluntarily, following their intuitions. Over time, more and more rings were put in their trunks, depriving them of more and more freedom, coercing them more and more. PAID culture is a giant mesh of people’s elephants tugging each other by their rings toward fulfilling the need for what their food surplus left them needing, often minerals, fuel, and labor. Meanwhile, everyone’s PR-firm-on-steroids riders did more than rationalize and justify their actions. They trumpeted “growth is good” and “we’re civilizing barbarians,” not seeing that they were abandoning stewardship.

imperial soldiers

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