The following two paragraphs are meant to be a response to Andrew Tanner’s reply to my comment on Monday Military Musings, but it won’t show up. I tried posting it four times, twice as a response to him, once as a response to myself, and once as a new comment, but it never showed up. This seems to happen a lot when I try to leave comments on other people’s blogs, and I doubt it has anything to do with their settings.
“I was joking, as I do almost every time I give my two units of currency on the subject of cartoonish military spending. I’m well aware that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a slow process. However, that reminds me of yet another book: The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival, by Sir John Glubb. There’s a link to a .pdf of the book buried in the comments of this review video. It’s not available anywhere else, as far as I know.
This reminds me of the “battleship vs. speed-boat” mentality that I learned about in one of my business classes. Basically, the speed-boat can change course easily, but the battleship must blow up whatever is in its way. If you can’t blow up the iceberg, tuck your head between your knees and kiss your arse goodbye.”
Well, since I have to post this as an article, I have an opportunity to elaborate. Battleships are both symbols of and analogues for empires, both political and corporate. They are large and powerful, but slow and un-manoeuvrable. Obstacles to them must be either run over or blown up. Most obstacles will suffer this fate, but nothing is too big to fail. Eventually, the battleship will encounter an iceberg that is too large to avoid or destroy. What then?
The analogy that my professor told the class about was purely to do with business, not history or politics. Speed-boats are analogues for small companies that have flexible business plans, and can change rapidly with the market. Icebergs are not a problem for speed-boats. Large corporations, mired in bureaucracy, cannot change course easily, and the larger they are, the worse it is. However, they have the power (or so they think) to force the market to change according to their pre-determined course. This, by the way, is the key difference between capitalism and corporatism. When capitalism goes too far, and the corporations are in control of the market, rather than the other way round, then it isn’t capitalism anymore. These days, speed-boats need to be fast enough to avoid not only the icebergs, but also the harpoons that battleships use to drag them in, especially when already sinking. It seems that when battleships go down, everything in their vicinity gets sucked into the vortex that is generated. Perhaps someone with a background in psychology can answer the following query: are empires malignant narcissists (“why should the world exist without me”)?
While the world is probably going to see many more empires rise and fall even after the American Empire is long gone, I suspect that most will not live up to the 250-year average that Glubb mentioned. I’ve already seen it with the rise and fall of tech empires such as Fakebook and Twiddle. This is why I avoid large companies like the plague. Once upon a time, things moved slowly enough that empires provided a sense of security to their subjects, but no longer. There is a wall of ice on the horizon, and all the battleships are headed straight for it. I will not find myself aboard one when that collision happens. This is why I am trying to build my own business online. I’ll keep it small, so that I can keep adapting to new demands, just as I have done thus far on Shapeways. The only opportunities working for others that interest me are start-up companies.
And now for something completely different. For those of you reading this who don’t already know, I’ve said my piece about aircraft carriers, so I will end with what I can tell you about the fall of the Soviet Union, and maybe that will give you some more insight into where I am coming from. This is adapted from a conversation that I had on BitChute with a Lithuanian communist, which you can view here. If you choose to read it, you should know that The Elder Millennial is also Russian.
Marxism/Leninism is not sustainable, hence the need for a police state in order to maintain it. This is how Stalinism came to be. Then along came Trofim Lysenko, who tried bringing the joys of socialism to plants – which didn’t work. I’ve mentioned in the past, though I can’t remember where [Edit: I found it – Random Thoughts, Collection 1], that science is the enemy of all ideology. Politicians will occasionally use science to prop up their agenda, but more frequently will silence it. Charles Darwin’s books were banned in both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union for this reason.
As if the widespread famines that resulted from Lysenko’s idiocy weren’t bad enough, during the Great Patriotic War, Stalin had to face the reality that merit was more important than holding to Marxist ideals. Model party members and close personal friends, such as Kliment Voroshilov, ended up getting shoved aside in favour of more capable (but less politically interested) military leaders. Lysenko himself got shut into a proverbial broom closet for most of the war, but he was let out and didn’t get the sack until after Stalin’s death. His brand of Lamarckism was finally disposed of in the 1960s, and Darwin’s books were un-banned shortly thereafter. Then there was the decentralisation of the economy in 1965, known as the Kosygin Reform, re-introducing the idea of profitability. The final nail in the coffin was Perestroika, the restructuring of the economy in order to make socialism work better for the Soviet citizens. The ownership of private business was even made legal in 1988. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union also gave up its monopoly on political power, only to lose the next election. You know the rest, the USSR and CPSU were both dissolved in 1991, and socialism/communism remains almost universally unpopular in Russia to this day. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of Russians who can’t function without the nanny state – in fact, I know one personally.
So there you have it, the long process of chipping away at Marxist ideology until there was nothing left. I still like to joke about single events toppling the Soviet Union, of course. Much like everything else in this farce that we call politics, I can’t help but make fun of it.
One thought on “Of Battleships and Speed-Boats”
Thanks for the reply on Bracing Views! Sorry the tech glitches keep striking, I seem to go through waves where I can’t get anything to work. And I’ve grown up pulling computers apart and taking them back together. I honestly cut/paste anything I type into a notepad document for recovery if a page fails…
There’s a fascinating body of theory – systems theory, with Niklas Luhmann being a great thinker on the social systems side and HT Odum repping the ecological systems side, that I think if adapted describes the rise and fall of Empires extremely well. Empires can be described as organisms, with social structures substituting for cells and organs. Trick is, social organisms are constructed by people, who build institutions (rules of behavior) to manage repeat interactions between individuals and between groups. So they are prone to the typical human political nonsense of empire-building, of gaming the system to benefit one group over another.
Really, an Empire is a sort of social parasite, where a few people have managed to establish a cancerous node of power, that they seek to grow over time because in the long run, power and wealth are the same thing, and everybody (especially Europeans, it seems) loves wealth. It takes root in a host Nation-State, corrupting and consuming it even as it expands to consume more.
Until the metabolic load of managing all the internal structures that are required to sustain accumulation becomes too great, forcing the system/organism into crisis. Often to be attacked and consumed by another, that seeks the same accumulation opportunities.
I think this basic process does a better job of either capitalism or marxism in describing how societies go bad. Concentrations of power are the great danger. But then again, I’m fond of anarchism, so I would think that…
Also, yes, carriers – particularly supercarriers, are completely obsolete. In modern warfare, anything that can’t hide, gets killed. And the sheer economic logic of cruise missiles vs. aircraft carriers is compelling – hence, China’s emphasis on short to mid-range missiles (ballistic or cruise).
The one thing I like about an aircraft carrier is the disaster relief capabilities. But you can get that with a smaller hull, like the Wasp-class.