The 3 stages that Destroy a Country.

The decline of an Empire

I covered the Rise of an Empire on Part I in this series, based on Sir John Bagot Glubb’s essay on the “Fate of Empires” in 1976. If you haven’t read it yet, you can do so here. On this post, I will cover the decline and fall of an Empire using the final 3 stages in that very essay.

  1. The Age of Affluence

Although it is gradual, it is inevitable that the greed of money takes people’s focus away from the values that their forefathers carried. When the Age of Commerce transitions to the Age of Affluence, the generation that takes over is one that has been used to a lot of wealth throughout their lives. Typically, people take what is handed to them for granted; eventually sprouting the first signs of corruption.

“Money replaces honour and adventure as the objective of the best young men. Moreover, men do not normally seek to make money for their country or their community, but for themselves.

Gradually, and almost imperceptibly, the Age of Affluence silences the voice of duty. The object of the young and the ambitious is no longer fame, honour or service, but cash.

Education undergoes the same gradual transformation. No longer do schools aim at producing brave patriots ready to serve their country. Parents and students alike seek the educational qualifications which will command the highest salaries.

The Arab moralist, Ghazali (1058-1111), complains in these very same words of the lowering of objectives in the declining Arab world of his time. Students, he says, no longer attend college to acquire learning and virtue, but to obtain those qualifications which will enable them to grow rich. The same situation is evident among those in the West today.” ~ Fate of Empires

In today’s context, these themes sound very familiar. If you ask most undergraduates why they study a discipline of engineering, medicine or finance, most often the answer will be “money”. The attitude to discover and progress, or even to simply serve is no longer a priority for many.

Another aspect of the Age of Affluence is, political oppositions begin to publicly berate their rivals. In the British Parliament for example, although rival parties fought very hard with each other within the confines of the parliament building, they also believed in respecting the opposition by never criticizing each other in public. Rather you would hear them mentioning about the opposition as “respected gentlemen”. However, as generations took over, these values eroded. The latter day politicians would even go to the extent of passing personal attacks in public. These habits of scorn and open disdain are evident even in today’s British Parliment. Respect for people is one of the first things that’s forgotten in an Empire that begins to decline.

Similarly, when businesses focus more on “making money” rather than on progress, vision and development, they lose sight of the bigger picture. Hewlett Packard, during it’s peak in 2005, brought in Patricia Dunn as its Chairperson in hopes of growing the company further. Dunn though, was a banker by profession and her experience in managing a technology company was non-existent. She believed in sticking to what HP was currently doing and maximizing on profitability (why fix what’s already running smooth?). On the other hand, Tom Perkins, an engineer who had joined HP in 1963 at the personal request of the HP founders, believed that HP should invest in researching the newest technology and make sure they are in the forefront of revolutionary technology. This divided the board of directors into two parties. Each party quarreled (probably disrespectfully) for decisions to be made according to their beliefs, so nothing got done. Bitterness grew and word of this started leaking to the press outside; frustrated employees had secretly begun sending information about these internal issues. An irritated Dunn immediately wire-tapped the top “adversaries” and spied on their actions. Each party was trying to take the other down by going to extreme extents. No one remembered that it was the company that would suffer from these actions. When Dunn’s actions on invading people’s privacy was revealed, it led to a lawsuit against her and she was ousted as the President/CEO in 2006. By 2012, HP had destroyed its reputation and its revenue shrank to $9 billion, compared to the $70 billion in 2005.

In the defense of HP, as of 2017 the company has made a massive recovery from this bad patch and is among the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500.  After HP made some huge changes to its leadership, focused on research and on improving their product offering, the company has come back healthier. This goes to say that unlike a political Empire a business can be turned around with the right attitude towards transformation.

  1. The Age of Intellect

Activities related to gathering more information becomes a major need for a civilization at this stage. In the 11th century, the Arab empire, which was in a rapid political decline, had a passion for building schools and universities although previously a few major universities sufficed their needs. Around this age, under the rule of Mamun, the Arabs mathematically calculated the circumference of the earth with remarkable accuracy – it took 7 centuries after that for Europe to realize that the earth was not flat. Fifty years after the Arabs’ discovery of this magnificent information, their empire collapsed.

In the developed world today, institutions for education is becoming commonplace. The purpose of creating these institutions have nothing to do with expanding the longevity of the civilization. Nevertheless as a result people at this age see a massive amount of intellectuals under its flag. Unfortunately these intellectuals are led by ignorant leaders who are too arrogant to take their opinions seriously. This skewed distribution of power will be the poison that puts bad decisions to action; the civilization’s eventual digging of its own grave.

People in the Age of Intellect tend to believe that the human brain can solve all the problems of the world, says Glubb. But being clever can only do so much. Even the smallest group of individuals, whether they are trying to build a well of water or come up with a solution for world hunger, need to put in a considerable amount of self-sacrifice and dedication to ensure that they achieve their goals. To believe that miracles can be created without these qualities is a recipe for disaster. For those living in this age, dedication, and hard work is not anymore considered important.

Have you ever wondered why companies bring in Management Consultants when they are too big, too rich, but not progressing? The senior management becomes too confident that a great mind (usually a graduate from Harvard, Stanford or Yale) can solve the problems that stem from the bottom. So the consultants devise clever policies, procedures and processes which the managers push down their teams’ throats, and everyone wonders how their idiot bosses got their jobs in the first place. No one can solve a business problem by looking at numbers or interviewing a few people. They need to get deep into the slimy muck at the bottom of the business, which has been ignored for a long time, and clean it up with their bare hands. Without this self-sacrifice by the management, a company will go nowhere but down.

  1. The Age of Decadence

Empires in decline can be spotted by the oddly similar activities they tend to partake in. According to Glubb, a declining civilization will forget about its scholars and make heroes and celebrities out of Athletes, Cooks and Artists who will be paid tremendous amounts of money. People would also show an incessant obsession for sex. Ultimately pleasure would trump the core values that used to govern them.

During the decadence of the Roman Empire, the government sponsored massive sports shows in the arena. A main reason for this was the government’s need to distract the public from the real problems facing the country – such as the economic recession in Rome at the time. So, without focusing on how they’ll eat the next day, a majority of the Roman public would come and watch gladiators cutting each other’s throats to prisoners getting devoured by lions. And just like today’s celebrity athletes, Roman athletes were treated almost as super-humans. Diocles, the roman charioteer, took home an equivalent of USD 15 billion by the time he retired. If that wasn’t enough, they erected a monumental statue of him to celebrate his heroism. The highest paid athlete in present times is Christiano Ronaldo earning close to USD 60 Million a year (a far cry from Diocles), but doesn’t this resemble a scary repetition of history?

Pornographic sculptures were also commonplace in declining Rome. People started to enjoy music sung with filthy and suggestive lyrics instead of those that had some substantial literary value. This is not at all different to Niki Minaj, Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga.

Very interestingly companies in a stage of decadence tend to show very similar signs too. Take Enron, a highly successful company at its peak, was said to have hired former strippers during the final years before it filed for bankruptcy. Many executives of Enron were later revealed to have had extramarital relationships with several of their staff members. Enron, for many years, turned out to have been faking and distracting its investors from what was really going on within its four walls. Overnight, Enron stock crashed – which lost millions for many speculative investors.

“American Apparel” is facing a similar situation today, with its CEO/Founder having sexual harassment lawsuits against him, leading to also a massive revenue drop for the past 5 years. Uber similarly might be going through the same situation. Although Uber’s life-span has been short, it is possible that a decline could occur at any time. Because the values that govern a company plays a major role in its success or failure.

Unless an empire, political or business, takes measures to always firmly realign to the core values that brought it to its prosperity – it is inevitable that it’ll eventually run its course.

There’s much to learn from the 6 stages of a civilization – one of the biggest lessons is that the disregard of core values is a major reason for an empire to fall. Measures must be made then, to ensure that these values are always reinforced to the population so that they are not forgotten and sustained well towards the future. There is no guarantee that such actions will render an Empire to survive the test of time. But If we as individuals educate ourselves of these signs, one person in the right place can make a massive change towards the better.

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