Greece, the EU, and civilisation

That’s the good thing about Europe. It doesn’t matter if we lose a country, lots more where that came from.

I’ve been reading Guns, Germs, and Steel recently after apparently independently inventing one of its conclusions. Jared Diamond argues the whole thesis far better than I could, but he doesn’t flesh out this particular sub-idea much, so I thought I might.

Right now Greece is exploding. They’ve just elected a government that borders on the delusional, they have impossible debts, they are likely to soon fall to either an EU backed civilian coup or to a psudo civil war. In sort, things right now are not great. It’s likely the Greeks will be poor for a long time.

Countries explode every now and again, it’s inevitable in any large complex system which can fail. And you hardly have to cast your mind to find examples. France in 1793, Russia in 1917, prohibition era USA, the Cultural Revolution in China. And that’s only focusing on recent history, we can think of the Crisis of the Third Century in Roman history or the An Lushan Rebellion in Chinese. What matters in civilisations is not preventing such things (that implies rather unpleasant amounts of stasis) but in dealing with it gracefully when one of the states that make up your civilisation explodes.

That is one of the great defining features of Europe over the last few millennia. You can’t destroy all of European civilisation in one explosion. Napoleon and Hitler were terrible for the lands they conquered, but Europe survived easily. Even the Romans couldn’t unite ¬†Europe enough for their loss to be devastating. When the Western Empire fell the East was still there, still flourishing. When the East finally fell to the Turks Italy was there happy to take up its bounty of books and skills.

Compare this to China, where their entire civilisation was overhauled by Mao’s insanity. Taiwan is an outpost of the old China, but one that was too small and weak to rekindle the old civilisation when the Great Leap Forward had devastated so much.

Had a Greek Mao arisen he would no doubt have destroyed Greece in just as effective a way as he destroyed China. But not the whole of Europe. The Scots would have survived. The Greeks who flead to the safety of Finland would have kept old Greek literature and customs alive. That would have made starting the old country up again after the explosion much more easy.

This is one of the big problems I have with projects like the federal US and the EU. Yes you can get much much more done like that. But you’re making the outcomes in far flung places correlate with each other. Which means the chance of a disaster happening to all of them at once slowly creeps up.

If the Greeks blow their economy up that’s sad for them, but the thousands of expats all over Europe can return and restore something like the old country afterwards. If the EU blows up its economy you’re suddenly reliant on the Swiss to get your whole continent out of trouble. And not even Swiss banks have that much gold.

By making the EU act as insurance against the failure of nation states you make it more likely that any given state will survive, but also more likely that all Europe will go up in flames. And I don’t think that’s a trade worth making.


One thought on “Greece, the EU, and civilisation

  1. Pingback: Why I will vote Leave. | Geek Ethics

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