Journey Into The Underworld: 4

I’m on holiday. I’m on vacation from my day job of thinking about smoking bans and the EU and Donald Trump and all the rest of it. Instead I’m in Cuzco. Or Luxor. Or maybe Gunung Padang. Think of me as exploring ancient megalithic sites, pushing uphill through dense forest, assaulted by mosquitoes. Or more likely sitting in a bar somewhere, with a beer and a cigarette, thinking about pushing uphill through dense forests…

Yesterday I arrived at a world in which almost all plant and animal (and human) life was constrained to the tropics. I was considering a similar idea over 15 years ago,  where I imagined stone age humans were similarly constrained, before they became technologically innovative enough to live at higher latitudes,

My current idea is a bit different: I think humans were constrained to the tropics by ice sheets that extended all the way from the poles, and on which life was impossible. They could only advance north as the ice melted. But what caused the ice to melt?

I was interested by an article about ice ages on Judith Curry’s blog a month ago. The author thought that dust deposition on the ice sheets were what caused them to melt:

Eventually, the Ice Age reached its ultimate depth of cold, CO2was depleted to less that 200 ppm, desertification generated large sources of dust, and winds transferred the dust to the ice sheets. This tipped the scales of the energy balance, and now the ice sheets rapidly ablated as the albedo decreased.

His idea was that as CO2 levels dropped, plants died, and the land they had covered became a dustbowl. But wouldn’t the same thing have happened as the climate became drier, and plants got insufficient water?

In my simulation model, the ice had advanced south in a chain reaction of falling air temperatures bringing more snow cover, and lower Earth albedo, and yet lower temperatures. So now I added a steady sprinkling of windblown dust onto the snow, that would slowly reduce the albedo (reflectivity) of the ice from a high value of 0.9 down to a low value of 0.3.

And when this happened, the ice would begin to slowly retreat northward, and the mean planet air temperature would begin to rise. And that is exactly what happened, with the Earth’s mean temperature slowly rising back to nearly its initial temperature. The ice first advanced, and then retreated. The only surprise was that when it had advanced and retreated, it then advanced again. But this was because the old, dust-covered ice had eventually more or less all melted, and had begun to be replaced by fresh new ice, repeating the original cycle, and then gradually stabilizing.

But I was using a constant dust deposition rate at all latitudes. If the amount of dust in the atmosphere had risen as the planet got colder, then the dust deposition rate would have slowly risen as the ice extended southwards, reducing the available unglaciated areas where water could evaporate. And since this area was mostly in the tropics, dust blown up from there was more likely to be deposited across the ice nearest the tropics than the ice nearest the poles. So that’s another option to explore.

But the outline mechanism is fairly simple. First the ice advances, and its bright white snow caused the planet’s temperature to drop. On this colder, drier planet, dust levels rise, and dust deposited on the ice causes the ice albedo to fall, and air temperatures to rise, and the ice to start melting. The ice then retreats until most of it has melted, whereupon the cycle repeats.

The only problem with this cycle is that it looks at the moment like the ice advances much faster than it retreats. And in the last ice age, it was actually the other way around, with the ice advancing slowly, and finally rapidly retreating.

Are there other possible sources of dust than windblown dust from deserts? Increased vulcanism is one possibility. And ice ages might well lead to an increase in vulcanism. And this might happen because the blanket of ice on the surface of the Earth acts to slowly raise its surface temperature, causing magma to rise, and become more likely to erupt.

This could generate immense amounts of volcanic ash which would carpet the ice, quickly reducing its albedo, and causing rapid melting, and a quick end to the ice age.

And as the ice retreated, and humans moved north, there would appear a series of new civilisations, first in Egypt (24º N), then Mesopotamia (30º N), Crete (35º N), Greece (38º N), Rome (42º N), as these new lands were colonised.

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Journey Into The Underworld: 3

A couple of days back I showed one contemporary idea of how the world looked at the last glacial maximum, 20,000 years ago:

But after managing, using a simple simulation model, to advance an ice sheet all the way to latitude 26º (and beyond), I’m now considering a world that looks more like this:

In fact perhaps the oceans above 26º should be covered with ice as well. But I don’t yet know how to model convective heat flow in water.

In such a world pretty well all plant and animal life would be constrained to the region between the tropic of Cancer and the tropic of Capricorn. And this region would have been much cooler than it currently is. And with much of the Earth’s oceans covered in ice, and so with reduced scope for evaporation, it would have been a drier world than today.

The ice would not of course have extended to exactly 26º as I’ve shown it. In some places it would have not extended so far, and in other places farther. And high mountainous areas such as the Andes in South America would have been glaciated. So this map will need to be edited.

But more or less any geologist or glaciologist looking at this map would probably say that such a world is impossible, and that anyway it was never actually like that.

But according to my simulation models, such a world actually is possible. And it’s one in which the ice extends rapidly from about latitude 75º in a kind of domino effect, with the air in one cold latitude spilling into lower latitudes, lowering air temperatures below water freezing point, with rain turning to snow, latitude by latitude, as the ice marched south.

And if geologists don’t believe that the world was ever covered in so much ice, it would seem that it is because they have found no evidence of the presence of ice at latitudes lower than 51º N (in the UK). And this evidence is in the form of moraines and drumlins and scour marks on the ground over which the ice sheets moved. And these ice sheets were believed to be several kilometres deep in places. But is absence of evidence elsewhere ever evidence of its absence?

If it is entirely plausible that a sliding ice sheet a couple of km deep would create moraines and drumlins and other features on the ground beneath it, is it likely that ice sheets that were only tens or hundreds of metres deep would have the same effect? Surely it must be the pressure exerted on the ground beneath the ice sheets that must cause most of these effects? And this pressure is proportional to the depth of the ice.  So it seems plausible that there is some threshold depth of ice below which it has little or no effect on the ground beneath it.

And do all ice sheets move? It seems entirely plausible that ice sheets should move on convex sloping ground: the base of these ice sheets are very often likely to be at 0ºC, with liquid water flowing under them, and so liable to slide in one mass. But what of ice sheets that stand on flat ground, or lie in concave hollows, or lie over undulating terrain? These might hardly move at all. And so it seems entirely plausible that while ice sheets moved in some places, they did not move in others. In Britain, the terrain grows more mountainous the further north one travels. In Scotland and Wales there are mountains, in northern England high hills, and in many places in southern England there are flat plains (e.g. Norfolk, Suffolk, Wiltshire, Somerset). It is currently believed that there were ice sheets covering much of Scotland and Wales and northern England, but none in southern England, because there is no evidence in the form of moraines and drumlins. But could this not have been because there were ice sheets over much of southern England, but they were largely motionless? And the same applies to the extensive plains in much of Europe, and to the steppes of Russia, and in many other places.

Let’s do some back-of-envelope calculations of the likely depths of ice sheets that extended from the poles to the tropics. About 71% of the Earth is covered with water, and sea levels have risen 120 m since the last glacial maximum 20,000 years ago. We also know that there are about another 66 m of ice remaining in the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland and elsewhere. So that’s a total of 186 m of water/ice. And this would cover the whole of the Earth to a depth of 132 m of ice.

But during an ice age it’s unlikely that the ice would be of equal depth everywhere. It would be more likely to be thicker at the poles than the tropics, because its much colder at the poles than the tropics, and the ice will have existed longer at the poles. So let’s now distribute the 132 m of ice so that it has a depth of twice this amount – 264 m – at the poles, and a depth of 0 m at the equator, with proportionate depths in areas in between. If the Earth’s surface is divided into 8 equal latitudinal zones, with 0 m of ice in the equatorial zone, and 264 m of ice in the polar zone, then the depths of ice in the 8 equatorial zones will be:

Latitude  0.00  7.10  14.5  22.0  30.0  38.7  48.6  61.0  90.0
Ice depth m. 0.0  37.7   75.4   113    151    189   226   264

So between the latitudes of  22º-30º (Luxor, Egypt 26º) there will be 113 m of ice, and between the latitudes of  30º-39º (Babylon 32º) there will be 151 m of ice, between the latitudes of  39º-49º (Rome 42º) there will be 189 m of ice, and so on. Using 264 x sin(lat) would probably give the exact values at every latitude.

This ice is not very thick. But that’s because it’s spread over much of the surface of the Earth rather than in kilometre-thick sheets in far northern latitudes. And it doesn’t matter how deep the ice is. All that matters is what its albedo is – how much light it reflects. It doesn’t matter whether it’s 1 km thick or 1 cm thick. Its thickness will only determine how rapidly it melts.

And when this not-very-thick ice melts, it will probably leave hardly a trace of its former existence, except perhaps in the beds of streams and rivers that once flowed under it.

Tomorrow I’ll consider what happens when the ice melts, and what most likely causes the ice to melt.

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Journey Into The Underworld: 2

Yesterday I sketched out how I’d constructed a heat flow simulation model of a core extending from the centre of the Earth to its atmosphere at its surface. Today I’d like to explain how I used this model to estimate how far ice sheets were likely to extend from the poles during an ice age.

One of the things that I found with my model was that the air temperature at the surface of the Earth was almost completely dependent on the albedo of the Earth, which is the amount of sunlight that it reflects. Albedo varies from 0 to 1, and when the albedo has a low value, most of the sunlight is absorbed at the surface of the Earth, and serves to warm it up. And when the albedo has a high value, most sunlight is reflected, and the Earth doesn’t warm up much. The albedo of the Earth, as a whole, is about 0.3,

Knowing this, I ran my model to find the air temperature at the surface over a range of latitudes and albedos, and created the table below:

In this table the first column has the solar heat gain in Watts/square metre on the Earth’s surface at different latitudes, with the highest gain at the equator, and the lowest at the pole. The remaining columns give air temperatures at different latitudes for albedos ranging from 0 to 1. I’ve highlighted the column under albedo of 0.3, because these provided my initial air temperatures, with no ice anywhere on the surface of the Earth. Given water freezing point at 273ºK (0ºC), it can be seen that air temperatures are below freezing point above latitudes greater than about 75º N, while they are very hot (nearly 60ºC) at the equator. The initial mean air temperature over the whole planet is 316ºK (43ºC).  So given current estimated global mean temperature of 287ºK (14ºC), I start with quite a warm Earth.

The air temperatures in this table are for motionless air above the surface. They are the air temperatures for a planet with no wind. But the Earth’s atmosphere has winds which are made up of moving air masses, usually in spinning high or low pressure systems. And these spinning masses of air act to exchange air between latitudes, with cold northern air being brought down to lower latitudes, and warm southern air brought up. And it seems that in the northern hemisphere, the wind speeds are at present lowest at the poles and equator, and highest at about 45º N.

So I now wrote a new and very simple simulation model which took air at the motionless air temperatures of each latitude, and exchanged some of it with air at higher and lower latitudes. This created a new set of air temperatures at each latitude, made up of mixed air.

And I assumed that where these new air temperatures rose above water freezing point at 273ºK (0ºC), any precipitation would fall as rain, and otherwise as snow. And so in those latitudes where it was raining, the albedo of the Earth’s surface would remain at 0.3, and where it was snowing, the albedo would jump to 0.9. And using my table, new air temperatures at each latitude could then be found.

So starting with an ice-free Earth, I then went through a process of air mixing to find a new set of albedos and air temperatures, and then repeated the process over and over again, so that air temperatures and albedos kept changing.

And the very first thing that my new simulation model did, when it found that air temperatures above latitude 75º N were below freezing point, was to cover them in snow, and so sharply reduce the air temperatures above them. And at 75º N a change of albedo from 0.3 to 0.9 entailed a fall in air temperature from 270.7ºK to 166.8ºK – a fall of over 100ºK. And because the adjacent ice-free latitude had a temperature only slightly above water freezing point, the two adjacent latitudes only needed to exchange a little air for the lower latitude’s air temperatures to be pushed below freezing point, while the higher latitude would remain well below freezing point.

So the predictable result of introducing air mixing was that the ice-covered areas began to extend southwards (and northward in the southern hemisphere, which I assumed to be its mirror image). There was a domino effect, whereby as one latitude fell below freezing point and became covered in snow, the adjacent lower ice-free latitude would rapidly follow it.

The only question remaining was: how far would it get, given different peak wind speeds and different amounts of air mixing? Here are the results I got, with peak wind speeds of 10 m/s, which would allow winds to cross up to 7 degrees of latitude in a single day:

degree of mixing….  1.00  2.00  3.00  4.00  5.00
lowest ice latitude..  56.0  40.o  30.0  26.0  34.0

So with a low degree of air mixing, the ice cap extended from the pole to latitude 56º. And with higher degrees of air mixing, the ice cap extended as far as latitude 26º, although with yet higher amounts of mixing its maximum extent was at higher latitudes. And in fact, if there had been perfect mixing of air over the entire planet, given an initial mean planet temperature of 316ºK, there would have been no ice anywhere, not even at the poles. As it was, pretty much the only thing that prevented the whole planet freezing were the low air speeds at the equator, which reduced air mixing there.

The maximum extent of glaciation was as far as latitude 26º. And given an initial ice extent to 74º (roughly what the Earth is right now), the change in the Earth’s appearance is dramatic (In the image at right, blue areas are ice-free latitudes, not water).

Now it’s currently believed that the furthest southern extent of glaciation was to about 51º N in the UK. And in my model this would correspond to a low degree of mixing: about 1.3. And perhaps during the last ice age, winds were indeed fairly light, and there wasn’t much air mixing between adjacent latitudes.

But could the Earth have been covered in ice from the poles all the way to the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn? My model says that it could easily have been, given sufficiently high winds to move large masses of air between latitudes.

So tomorrow I’ll consider such a world. It’s a rather strange one.

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Journey Into The Underworld: 1

In a world where lots of people think that the world is experiencing Global Warming, I’ve been thinking all year about ice and ice ages. For according to the Vostok and EPICA ice cores, it was only 12,000 years ago that the Earth emerged from an ice age that had lasted for 100,000 years. How did humans survive during such a prolonged ice age?

I used to work, 4o years ago, building heat flow models, and so I’ve constructed a computer simulation model of heat flow up a core of rock that extends from the centre of the Earth to the top of its atmosphere, 6371 km long, and 1 metre square at the Earth’s surface.

Heat flows conductively from the centre of the Earth to its surface, and radiatively from the surface of the Earth into the atmosphere and to outer space (and from the Sun to the Earth).

The first idea I had was that a layer of ice at the surface of the Earth would act as insulation, and warm the rock beneath. And according to my simulation model, this did indeed happen. The rock beneath the ice cooled at first, and then warmed up.

My second idea was that if the rock beneath the ice warmed up enough, it would start to melt the overlying ice. And according to my simulation model, this is exactly what happened when the subglacial ice temperature rose above 273ºK, the melting point of ice.

And my third idea was that if all the ice melted, the insulation would disappear, and the hot rock beneath the ice would cool down again. And in this manner there could be a cyclic series of ice ages as ice was melted away by hot rocks, and then deposited again on cold rocks. And according to my simulation model, this could indeed sometimes happen.

And my fourth idea was that if the ice under ice sheets was melting, then the ice sheets would be gradually descending, even if new ice was being added at the surface. And according to my simulation model, that’s exactly what the ice did. Typical figures were around 1 cm/year. And it would take about 100,000 years for a kilometre of ice to completely melt away.

And my fifth idea was that if the ice sheets were always melting at their base, there would be streams and lakes beneath the ice. And if the ice covered a large area of land, these streams would become tributaries to rivers flowing beneath the ice, much like those found today on the surface of the Earth. And these rivers would flow out of the edge of the ice sheet into adjoining  unglaciated land or sea.

And my sixth idea was that, while the air temperature above the upper surface of the ice might fall as low as 173ºK (-100ºC), the temperature beneath the ice would be stable at 0ºC or slightly higher.

And my seventh idea was that many animals would inhabit the ice caverns beneath the ice, near where the rivers flowed out from under the ice. The ice caves would be inhabited by bats and rats and all sorts of other furry animals. And perhaps some fish would swim up the streams under the ice, to spawn there (e.g. salmon). And if there were animals living under the ice that only came out to feed in daylight, and in summer, then they would have attracted predators like wolves and cats and bears, who would follow them under the ice. And in places where the ice was both translucent and shallow, some plants (mosses?) might have found enough light to survive. And where the caves were large enough, men would have ventured as well, to hunt for sheep and goats and pigs that sheltered there.

And so, by easy steps, we have entered a subglacial underworld. For there once actually was a world that was covered with large areas of ice, 4 km thick in places. And the ice beneath these ice sheets would have been melting, and the meltwaters would have flowed in streams and rivers beneath them out into the adjoining land and sea beyond the perimeter of the ice. And where these streams flowed out, there would have been cave mouths into which animals would have entered, to find shelter in an icy world. There’s nothing irrational about this. And it’s not a mere imaginative thought experiment: it’s all backed up by a heat flow simulation model. And if people don’t believe mine, they can always build their own.

But how extensive were these ice sheets during the last ice age? At present it is believed that they covered much of what is now Canada and parts of the USA. And in Europe they covered all of Scandinavia and areas of north-western Russia. Here’s one map of the world 20,000 years ago:

And much of the evidence for the presence of these ice sheets is derived from their effect on the terrain beneath them. For most of these ice sheets were moving, and where they moved they scoured the ground beneath them, and formed moraines and drumlins made up of transported rocks.

Tomorrow I’ll produce my own suggestions about how far the ice sheets extended at the last glacial maximum.

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Contrary To Official Guidelines

Rose drew attention to this yesterday:

Over 65? Eat butter and cakes to keep you healthy: Latest dietary advice for pensioners

MILLIONS of old aged pensioners can stave off malnutrition this winter by eating full-fat foods such as cakes and biscuits, experts say. Contrary to official guidelines, the over-65s have been urged to stock up on sugar-laden goodies, use cream instead of milk, fry instead of grill and throw slabs of butter into their scrambled eggs.

It was the words “Contrary to official guidelines” that jumped out of that for me. It meant that one bunch of nutritional experts were disagreeing with another bunch of nutritional experts. And in this particular case it was the British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition disagreeing with Public Health England.

Isn’t that just like the Global Warming scare? One bunch of them are saying that the Earth is warming, and another bunch are saying that it’s cooling, and a third bunch is saying that it’s both warming and cooling. And they all have shouting matches, calling each other “denialists”, and worse.

Who do you believe?

It’s the same when nutritional advice changes from one decade to the next, with the same people saying one thing one year, and something else the next. Do you believe what they were saying in 1990, or what they were saying in 2010?

I think that in such circumstances people just stop believing experts. After all, if experts disagree with each other, doesn’t that mean that some of them aren’t really experts? After all, if 10 people give 10 different answers to the same question (e.g. what is 23 x 77 / 12?), doesn’t that mean that at least 9 of them don’t know what they’re talking about (assuming one of them got the answer right, and there’s only one right answer)?

And how do you tell who the real experts are, that have the right answers? Are they the ones who look like Albert Einstein? Or are they the ones who look like geography teachers? Or are they the ones in military uniforms? Or are they the ones with lots of letters after their names (like B.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D., FRS, and so on)? Or are they the one who are well-known TV celebrities (like Bill Nye “The Science Guy”)? Or will they be the ones with matching cufflinks and patent leather shoes?

But if 9 out of 10 experts don’t know what they’re talking about, doesn’t that mean that there’s a 90% likelihood that any so-called “expert” won’t really know what he’s on about? And doesn’t that mean that there’s a 90% chance that any guy who claims to be an expert – including a real expert – will turn out not to be?  So you shouldn’t trust real experts either?

In fact, how do you tell whether there are any real experts at all?

And in fact, given that we have no complete knowledge of anything, and all our sciences are in process of change and development and improvement, might we not say that the real experts who really do know what they are talking about have yet to make their appearance, and can’t be expected before the year 2763 or thereabouts?

For myself, when I’m faced with conundrums of this sort, I usually believe whatever it was that I always used to believe, rather than what any so-called expert is now telling me I should believe. Or else I set out to become an expert myself. That’s to say that I try to find out what 23 x 77 / 12 is using my own poor mathematical skills. I might not get the right answer, but it will be my answer, and I will know how I arrived at it.

And that’s why I’m forever building computer models of orbiting asteroids or melting ice sheets and stuff. I always set out to try to figure things out for myself. Because I never believe experts. And that’s why I keep the words of Richard Feynman in the right margin of my blog. Science only gets done when somebody stops believing the experts, and starts to think for themselves.

You want my advice on nutrition? Ignore the experts. Eat what you like. You’ve got several hundred million years of evolutionary development that will tell you what to eat. Use the hard-wired ability that cats and dogs and birds use all the time. They usually seem to know what to eat and what not to.

But I’m not an expert on nutrition, so you shouldn’t take my advice.

And if I was an expert on nutrition, you shouldn’t take my advice either.

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Inclusivity

Grandad reminded me of an article I saw yesterday:

In an attempt to make public performances more “inclusive” for people with “disabilities” like anxiety and other sensory issues, the University of Manchester students’ union has voted to ban applause at student union events, and is asking students to use “jazz hands” instead.

The decision was made to keep the University of Manchester compliant with a 2015 vote in the UK’s National Union of StudeBut students also noted that loud noises like “whooping” or “traditional applause” can create problems for students with anxiety.

It’s yet another example of the sheer lunacy that is afflicting the world: banning applause.

I’ve never come across anyone who objected to applause. But I never used to come across anyone who objected to tobacco smoke either. Now I suppose that there’ll be any number of people coming out and saying that they really hate it when anyone claps their hands, because to them it sounds like a lot of shotguns going off, and frightens them.

Whatever next?

It’s always done for the sake of “inclusivity”, isn’t it? And it always involves banning something. And usually something totally innocuous, like tobacco smoke or carbon dioxide or clapping.

And each one of these bans places another slight restriction on people, added to all the other slight restrictions that form a cobweb of constraint. We’re all becoming like flies caught in a spider’s web, slowly being cocooned by rules and regulations, immobilised and silenced.

The “inclusivity” never includes smokers, of course. Smokers just get excluded. And they get more and more and more excluded, all for the sake of “inclusivity”.

It’s becoming unendurable. And I think it’s why more and more people are revolting against it, revolting against all the people who are trying to control them.

Like Guy Verhofstadt:

The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator has said he will “never” allow the UK to control its own borders, claiming a system based on allowing in professionals and people with the skills the nation needs amounts to “discrimination”.

Ranting before MEPs on Tuesday, arch-liberal and federalist Guy Verhofstadt also personally attacked senior members of the Tory Party and rejected proposals from leadership favourite Boris Johnson to extend the Article 50 process.

He claimed that “enough mess has been created” by Brexit already, adding “let’s stop it”, before deploring the actions of the Conservative Party in recent weeks as “insane”.

Pretty much the whole point of Brexit is for Britain to control its own borders. That’s why Brexit is supposed to happen. But Mr Verhofstadt thinks we must be “inclusive”of other people (although not smokers, of course), and countries shouldn’t have borders. I suppose he thinks that houses shouldn’t have gates  or fences or walls or doors or locks. And I imagine he also thinks that people shouldn’t have wallets or bank accounts that other people can’t take money out of. In fact I’m sure he does. That’s how socialists think. And he’s clearly a socialist. The European political class consists entirely of socialists.

Which is why I think Brexit won’t happen. It’s supposed to happen next March. But my bet is that nothing will happen at all. And it won’t happen because the socialist European political class have never wanted it to happen, and have no intention of ever letting it happen. No country can be allowed to leave the EU, once they have entered. The EU empire can only expand, never contract.

What are socialists? They are, in many senses, people who believe that human society is more important than any individual within it, much like the sea is bigger and more important than the individual fishes that swim in it. And for the individual fishes of the nations of Europe, the EU is the sea. In their view, we are all primarily members of society, and our primary duty is to that society, much like the primary duty of a soldier is to the army in which he serves, and in which he must submerge his upstart individual identity.

For these socialists the crime of individuality is that of having become separated from society. The insubordinate individual who has his own opinions, and ignores the conventional wisdom of the society around him, is regarded as guilty of something very like treason. How dare he think for himself! How dare he!

China seems to be the last refuge of socialism these days. And of course under socialism, everyone must think the same way. And so Xi Jinping of the Chinese Communist Party is instituting :

Indoctrination: Mass political indoctrination is the central purpose of the reeducation camps established in Xinjiang. Elsewhere in the country, however, the Chinese government has instituted a wide variety of indoctrination programs, with the explicit goal of expanding the CCP’s control over people’s minds.

Digital police state: Human rights groups have reported that there’s a digital police state at work in Xinjiang. A hyper-intelligent digital surveillance system is used to control citizens, tracking what they say, read, and do.

Arbitrary detention: Reports of the Xinjiang crisis show that nearly all of China’s Uighurs are at risk of being forcibly and arbitrarily detained.

Pervasive controls over daily life: Foreign media and Human Rights Watch allege that the Chinese government is instituting a range of controls over daily lifefor Xinjiang residents, including restrictions on religious practices.

Well, thank goodness we don’t have indoctrination and digital police and arbitrary detention and pervasive controls over daily life here in Britain! It’s a free country still, isn’t it?

Well, isn’t it??

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The Idle Theory of Government

In Idle Theory, all wealth is idleness. And economic growth is growth in social idleness: as the economy grows, people need to do less and less work to stay alive. And so, over time, thanks largely to technological innovations – roads, bridges, ships, planes, railways, steam engines, radios, TVs, the internet, etc – social idleness gradually increases.

But social idleness can also decrease. Natural catastrophes – storms, floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions – decrease idleness. So do famines, droughts, plagues, and wars. All serve to decrease idleness.

Taxation is a levy on people’s idle time. And the  Idle Theory of Government is that government grows as social idleness grows. And that is essentially why we’re seeing governmental giantism these days.

It starts perhaps with the need for an army to defend a nation against enemies (who wish to invade and subjugate and enslave it). And war, like sports such as cricket or football, is an idle time activity. War does not increase idleness. In fact it always decreases it.

In war, otherwise idle people set themselves – or more usually are set by others – to work as soldiers. And in the past, the idle pastime of war was only ever conducted during the idle summer months (just like cricket or football): the campaign season. But now wars are fought in both summer and winter. They are fought all year round. And so now most nations maintain a standing army of soldiers, who need to be exercised and provisioned. In many countries, these standing armies are made up of ordinary citizens who are made to perform national service in the army for several years before returning to civilian life.

So once a nation has a standing army, its idleness is slightly decreased. And if a nation may have a standing army, it may also arrange to have a police force as well, which is another standing army, but intended to fight internal enemies, such as thieves and rapists and murderers and fraudsters.  Once again, this new standing army of policemen does nothing productive. It does not increase social idleness. In fact it decreases it.

So now that we have a professional army and police force, the army will wish for there to always be sufficient numbers of enemies to justify their existence, and perhaps even to allow the army to expand, and be better armed. And the police force will wish for there to be sufficient numbers of malefactors in the world needing to be apprehended, and perhaps even for there to be a surplus of such malefactors to justify the expansion of the police force.

And if there is an army and a police force, there will also arise a need for prisons in which to detain malefactors. And so  next we get a prison service, and another standing army of prison guards, and a prison building programme.

And in addition to these there needs to be a legislature which makes the laws which determine who is and who is not a malefactor who needs to be sent to prison. And this legislature is another standing army of bureaucrats, who formulate and enact laws, with prison sentences or fines attached to failure to comply with these laws. And the larger this legislature or civil service becomes, the more laws it makes, and the more laws it makes the more law-breaking malefactors it creates. So if the legislature starts by attaching prison sentences to theft and murder and rape, it will then go on to make prostitution and drug and alcohol and tobacco consumption illegal or restricted. It may also make speeding in motor vehicles illegal, and parking on double yellow lines illegal.

In these various different ways, the various standing armies in government slowly expand, making larger and larger levies or taxes upon the idle time of its citizens. And so while the idleness of society is gradually being increased as new technologies come into use, social idleness is also being decreased as government taxes people more and more. In fact, as government grows, it is quite likely to impoverish a nation.

So if I revise my cartoon to include the growth of government, using a yellow icon featuring a suited bureaucrat (or mobster) to represent the idle time demands by GOVernment (right), the evolution of society over time may look more like this:

Initially, when life is mostly very busy (8% idle), there is no government. And then, as social idleness rises to 33%, government appears – in the form of a standing army of some sort -, the burden of this government serves to reduce social idleness from 33% to 25%. And when social idleness has risen to 67%, and the government has tripled in size, the burden of this government reduces social idleness to 42%. And then when social idleness has risen to 91%, and government has tripled again in size, the burden of government reduces social idleness to 17% – and the people are becoming impoverished.

And this seems to be the state of affairs in much of the Western world, and elsewhere as well. Governments just keep getting bigger and bigger, and more and more intrusive. There are larger and larger standing armies of soldiers, policemen, prison guards, parking wardens, civil servants, and legislators (to name but a few of them). In the case of the EU, an entire new layer of legislators has been added on top of the existing layer of national legislatures that preceded it.

And the process is entirely natural. But it is one that is driven by fear of largely imaginary threats. In the case of the standing armies of soldiers, at present is it really necessary for the British to be ready to defend themselves against imminent invasion by the French or Germans or Spanish? Is it really necessary to have laws against the imaginary crime of drug use, and an attendant army of policemen and prison guards? Is it really necessary to have speeding fines and parking fines? Is it really necessary to enact laws to prevent the largely imaginary threat of global warming? Is it really necessary to enact laws against the wholly imaginary threat of environmental tobacco smoke? Government grows by identifying and exaggerating mostly non-existent threats. For each new threat identified is then converted into an other stream of taxes, and another overburden of restrictive legislation.

At some point, as social idleness approaches zero, and nobody has any free time at all, society reaches breaking point. For in Idle Theory, zero idleness is the threshold of death. And societies can also die. And their death is likely accompanied by mounting failures and shortages. At this point, governments usually fall. And they will be replaced by slimmer and fitter governments. Or perhaps by no governments at all.

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