I’m sure you’ve all seen variants on this meme:
It’s attributed here (whence I grabbed the meme following a Google Images search) to a post-apocalyptic novel, but the idea is very old: Oswald Spengler articulates pretty much the same thing in his Decline of the West (Die Untergang des Abendlandes). I just had no idea how old.
A YouTube channel named (in Hebrew) “coming to the professors” has many interviews with Prof. Mordechai Kedar, lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan University whose work I have previously discussed here. Unabashedly Orthodox and religious Zionist, he nevertheless speaks of Arab culture with a level of empathy that puts many “yefe nefesh” [“beautiful souls”, i.e., “bleeding hearts”] to shame.
The other day he had a long lecture on Ibn Khaldun’s cyclical theory of history; now an abridged English version has been posted. Dr. Kedar is extremely articulate in Hebrew, a bit more hesitant in English. (I cannot vouch for his spoken Arabic: suffice to say he has apparently declined at least one serious offer of a professorship in the Gulf States.)
Abū Zayd ‘Abd ar-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn Khaldūn al-Ḥaḍramī (Tunis 1332 – Cairo 1406), generally referred to as Ibn Khaldun, was a medieval historian and philosopher of history. His major life work, Kitab al-`Ibar [Hebrew speakers will recognize ktav [al] ha`avar, writing about the past] was a seven-book series with a “history of the world” up to his own time. However, what has been read and studied outside the Arab realm is the first book, al-Muqqadimah, [“The Introduction”, or, “Prolegomena”], in which he lays out his theory of how human society evolves.
His reference point is, of course, the desert, but one can substitute any unforgiving environment or climate.
First phase: people start out in the desert. Because it is impossible to survive in this environment alone (for one, if you do find water, the well or oasis needs to be guarded lest a competing tribe rob you of it), group cohesion, or what Ibn Khaldun calls Issabiya (which Dr. Kedar translated with the German loan word Volksgeist, popular spirit), becomes all-important for survival.
Next, the tribe discovers a more fertile/hospitable land and — thanks in no small part to its Issabiya — conquers and settles it. [The reference to the Arab conquest of the Fertile Crescent is obvious.]
The next generation grows up with parents who experienced that struggle, and is influenced by this, and continues to learn the ways of the warrior and of survival in the desert.
The generation after them mostly hears these things second-hand, a little bit from surviving grandparent. In the next generation after that, it is no longer in living memory. Every generation progressively loses Issabiya and becomes more attached to a hedonistic lifestyle of riches, alcohol, cannabis [hashish in Ibn Khaldun’s time], exotic eroticism, etc.
Finally, they will be displaced and dispossessed by a hungry young upstart tribe, who have eyed their lands and seen the inhabitants lack the will to live on. [Some will die, others will flee, yet others will presumably assimilate into the new culture.]
Now, you wonder, what does all this have to do with Boeing? I will let Bill Whittle explain.
Briefly, Boeing went from a hungry, passionate startup where the founders wagered their own fortune, to a company that did the seemingly impossible (the B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-29 Superfortress, the B-52 which is still operational in 2021, but also the Boeing 707, the Jumbo, the 737, the Dreamliner,…) to a corporate dinosaur that has seemingly forgotten what it’s all about and just lumbers and blunders on from one fiasco to the next. The company that once could build the first stage of the Saturn on fairly short notice has trouble producing a leak-proof spacesuit now, as it drowns in bureaucratic entropy. Meanwhile, in that very same space field, small upstarts are eating their lunch, the way a small upstart named Apple [that is meanwhile well on the road to dinosaurification itself] once ate IBM’s lunch. [Have you used any IBM computers later?]
Is this process inevitable? Perhaps it needn’t be, methinks, but arresting it requires firmly, and constantly, reminding ourselves what we’re all about. And reinventing ourselves when we have to.[*]
[*] This is exactly what IBM did, by the way: reinventing itself as a services rather than a hardware company. Microsoft is far into the process of doing the same.