Culture News & Commentary

2021 The Year That Civilisation Began To Crack

"Do Biden, Albanese, Johnson, Macron and co. seem like the kind of statesmen that can rebuild our civilisation? Of course not."

In May 2022, something remarkable happened. The United States military bravely used their resources to land emergency supplies of baby formula on their shores to plug a gap in their own food supply chain.[1] America had run out of baby formula and their military bravely came to the rescue, or so their commander in chief would frame it. The correct way to view this is that America is in trouble. Not just America, really every country that is reliant on the American-centric vast, intricate, supply chain network to supply it with basic products, is in trouble.[2]

We are watching something happen in real-time that most of us had only read about in history books: the collapse of the international supply chain. This is an interesting and frightening thing to observe in real-time, because it was utterly predictable, and it appeared either no one in power was interested in avoiding this, or that they were deliberately seeking to make this happen. You cannot shut down the supply chain again and again and again, and expect it to always come back online because each shutdown does different damage.

Think of the international supply chain like a drunk man in the pub with a thick skull. He can take a bunch of punches and get back up after them several times. He can show an insanely high level of resilience to each punch. But each punch is doing damage, and eventually, it is too much. Shutting down the supply chain in one area, say place A, may be intended to be temporary, but in place D they were waiting on products from places B and C, that used the supplies from place A to keep their business going. If place A shuts down for too long, or too many times, then place D suffers and goes out of business. Places B and C now start to struggle. They may be able to sell to places E and F, and make up the business they lost from place D. But places E, and F were waiting on supplies from place G, which is also shut down. The many redundancies give the system resilience, but eventually, they break and the system’s complexity means there is no easy fix. You can understand the problem. 

The advantage of a highly complex system of trade and supply is that it is resilient. But this resilience becomes fragility when too many points are broken. Because of the highly specialized nature of our supply chain today, with country 1 specializing in making say steel, and country 2 in making silicon chips, and countries 3-7 not really making anything but purple-haired gender studies majors, eventually this all breaks apart. If too many of these supply chains are broken, the whole system begins to suffer, which leads to supply shortages, inflationary pressure on prices, and cascading system collapse.

I have been following this since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 out of interest, and a little bit of concern. The reason is that a few years ago I read a fascinating book titled: 1177 B.C. The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline. The title of this piece is a deliberate riff off of that book. Kline’s work is a brilliant examination of the time civilisation fell, which many people are unaware of, even though it is etched in our cultural memory. This is the era that gave us the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Aeneid, and the introduction of the Palestinians (Philistines) into Canaan. Many of Europe’s ancient ideas and myths originate from the time before the 12th century. Tales of Hercules, Jason and the Argonauts, the Minitour of Crete and more. This was the era when Egypt was still the greatest civilisation in the World. This is also the era where that came to an end. Egypt survived the collapse of the Bronze Age civilisation, but it was never quite the same again.

The reason this is all relevant, and not just interesting, is because, just like our civilisation, the civilisation of the Mediterranean world in this era was incredibly complex. We tend to think of the ancient world as being very primitive and disconnected. But there were vast trading networks within the Mediterranean and beyond. Some anthropologists and historians posit that even the Americas were within reach of this Mediterranean civilisation. The discovery of tobacco in Ancient Egyptian mummies would seem to suggest this is true.[3]

The fact that genetic discoveries show that up to 70% of British men are related to the Egyptian Pharoah Tutankhamun again highlights that ancient people were more connected than we generally think.[4] Some historians present the history of Europe as if Briton was this dark land shrouded in mystery until Julius Caesar took the Romans there and encountered the Britons. But remember you can travel across the channel in a dinghy today, in calm weather, some people even swim across[5], and you can see the coast of France from the coastline in the South East of England. It is also well-known that the Pre-Roman Brits traded with the Gauls on the mainland of Europe.[6]  

Cline shows that before the collapse of the Bronze Age civilisation around 1200 B.C., the Mediterranean civilisation was an intricate, interconnected and complex system, with specialization in industry in different cities and regions, embassies spread across the region, a trade tongue or lingua franca, and multicultural communities in every area of the civilisation. We even see in the Bible that there were colonies of Philistines in the land of Canaan, long before we know that the sea peoples called the ‘Peleset’ or Philistines moved into the area as permanent settlers.[7] These were likely earlier groups of traders and migrants in the area, who were there long before the major migration of the sea peoples.

There is evidence of interconnected trade between Minoa and Mesopotamia (the region of Sumer, Akkad, Assyria, Babylon and Persia).[8] And not just Minoa either, “The archives included records of trade and contact with other areas of the Mediterranean and Near East, with specific mention of unusual items that were received.”[9] A fascinating example is that of a dagger and clothing “made in the Caphtorian manner”, that is from Crete,[10] which is where the Philistines came from.[11] Kings even exchanged gifts with each other across these long distances,

“…Zimri-Lim, the king of Mari, sent a pair of Minoan shoes from Crete as a gift to King Hammurabi of Babylon. The text says simply, “One pair of leather shoes in the Caphtorian style, which to the palace of Hammurabi, King of Babylon, Bahdi-Lim (an official) carried, but which were returned.”[12]

There was even ancient re-gifting! 

These gifts were brought directly to the king by emissaries in what would today be called a diplomatic embassy. Such was the level of intricate connection between these ancient societies, something many people do not often think about. We think of the Classical Greek or Roman society as being intricately connected, but so was this ancient Bronze Age society. So many other examples could be given.

“We must keep in mind that the goods mentioned above represent only a tiny portion of those that once crossed the Mediterranean Sea, for many of the goods traded during the Late Bronze Age were perishable and would be unlikely to leave much in the way of identifiable remains today. Grain, wine, spices, perfumes, wood, and textiles almost certainly have long since disappeared. Raw materials such as ivory, precious stones like lapis lazuli, agate, and carnelian, and metals such as gold, copper, and tin will also have been locally converted long ago into other objects such as weapons and jewellery. Thus, the most abundant signposts of the trade routes and of international contacts may have perished, disintegrated, or otherwise disappeared in antiquity. However, the existence of perishable trade goods can sometimes be identified in written texts or by the depiction in wall paintings that have survived to the present.”[13]

Fifteenth century tombs in Egypt show Aegean (proto-Greek) people, and Minoan people, along with others.[14] These same inscriptions show them carrying their trade goods and gifts. Perhaps the most incredible example of all of this interconnectedness is the discovery that British tin may have been used in the construction of the temple of Israel, which was built after these trade networks collapsed.[15] This was a vast and complex interconnected civilisation stretching over large areas of the ancient world. We even see similarities in the concepts of the gods from Babylon to Egypt, to Greece and up to the Norsemen of Northern Europe.

Then in 1177 B.C., this entire civilisation collapsed, so thoroughly that it appeared as if those civilizations had entirely abandoned the region. Cities like Troy and the Hittite Empire disappeared so thoroughly that they were considered myths and legends. For a long time historians believed that a mysterious people, originating from somewhere in the Mediterranean, the Sea Peoples, were responsible for this destruction. And in part this is correct, they caused much destruction and even threatened Egypt for a time, before being defeated by that ancient Empire:

“In 1177 BC, as previously in 1207 BC, the Egyptians were victorious. The Sea Peoples would not return to Egypt a third time. Ramses boasted that the enemy was “capsized and overwhelmed in their places.” “Their hearts,” he wrote, “are taken away; their soul is flown away. Their weapons are scattered in the sea.” However, it was a Pyrrhic victory. Although Egypt under Ramses III was the only major power to successfully resist the onslaught of the Sea Peoples, New Kingdom Egypt was never the same again afterwards, most likely because of the other problems faced by the entire Mediterranean region during this period, as we shall see below. The succeeding pharaohs, for the rest of the second millennium BC, were content to rule over a country much diminished in influence and power. Egypt became a second-rate empire; a mere shadow of what it had once been. It was not until the days of Pharaoh Shoshenq, a Libyan who founded the Twenty-Second Dynasty ca. 945 BC—and who is probably to be identified as Pharaoh Shishak of the Hebrew Bible—that Egypt rose to a semblance of prominence again.”[16]

Egypt had defeated these invaders, but it had suffered greatly from their attacks. But so did the entire region.

“Beyond Egypt, almost all of the other countries and powers of the second millennium BC in the Aegean and Near East—those that had been present during the golden years of what we now call the Late Bronze Age—withered and disappeared, either immediately or within less than a century. In the end, it was as if civilization itself had been wiped away in much of this region. Many, if not all, of the advances of the previous centuries, vanished across great swaths of territory, from Greece to Mesopotamia. A new transitional era began: an age that was to last for at least one century and perhaps as many as three in some areas.”[17]

An entire advanced civilisation, not too dissimilar to ours in the way that its various nations interacted with each other, disappeared so thoroughly it was as if for many it had never existed. Still, many people in the modern era are shocked to learn about it. The ancient world went from interconnected and inter-reliant to scatterings of small and backward city-states across the same region. But were the Sea Peoples the only cause of this collapse? No.

“Moreover, while we do not know for certain the cause, or all the causes, of the collapse of the Bronze Age world in Greece, Egypt, and the Near East, the weight of contemporary evidence suggests that it was probably not the Sea Peoples alone who were to blame. It now seems likely that they were as much the victims as they were the aggressors in the collapse of civilizations. One hypothesis suggests that they were forced out of their homes by a series of unfortunate events and migrated eastward where they encountered kingdoms and empires already in decline. It is also quite possible that they were able to attack and ultimately vanquish many of the kingdoms of the region precisely because those monarchies were already in decline and in a weakened state. In this context, the Sea Peoples might perhaps be considered simply opportunistic, as one scholar has called them, and might have settled down in the Eastern Mediterranean much more peacefully than has previously been assumed.”[18]

The Sea Peoples were likely a result of, and also took advantage of, system-wide cascade failure. That is, the Bronze Age civilisation had fractured so badly, that it collapsed on its own weight, and then migratory peoples were able to exploit these weaknesses.

“In our current view, as we shall see below, the Sea Peoples may well have been responsible for some of the destruction that occurred at the end of the Late Bronze Age, but it is much more likely that a concatenation of events, both human and natural—including climate change and drought, seismic disasters known as earthquake storms, internal rebellions, and “systems collapse”—coalesced to create a “perfect storm” that brought this age to an end.”[19]

The Bronze Age civilisation of the ancient Mediterranean was a remarkable achievement of human connectedness and society, but it fell, and spectacularly. The more complex a civilisation becomes, the wealthier its members can also become. But the more complex it gets the more fragile it becomes as well. All of those things which made this civilisation strong, also made it vulnerable to collapse, such as specialization of industry, international trade of goods, local specialties in skills and products and more. Once the trade networks broke, an entire civilisation came to an end in roughly 1177 B.C.

So how is this relevant to today?

Well for the last two years supply chains have been cracking very badly, and in 2021 it became clear that this is not a temporary thing, indeed the continued disintegration of supply chains has reinforced this. Here are just a smattering of the articles I have read on this issue: 

“Fears grow as UK factories hit by worst supply chain shortages since the mid-70s”[20]

“Inside America’s broken supply chain.”[21]

“The commercial pipeline that each year brings $1 trillion worth of toys, clothing, electronics and furniture from Asia to the United States is clogged and no one knows how to unclog it.”[22]

“Toyota customers will be waiting up to 10 months for its most popular models. Here is the latest forecast as the global semiconductor crisis goes from bad to worse.”[23]

“It’s likely that if you are reading these words on this website, you already know how hard it can be to get your hands on the new consoles. Well, I’ve got some bad news straight from Xbox VP of gaming Phil Spencer: Finding a console ain’t getting easier anytime soon.”[24]

“Growth in the global market for cars and SUVs will slow in the second half of 2021 after the initial spurt to celebrate recovery from the coronavirus lockdown, but sales in the rest of the decade will suffer initially from chip shortages while the second half will be disrupted by a lack of batteries for electric cars.”[25]

“Chinese antimony prices rose sharply to a seven-year high today as a shortage in concentrate feedstock supplies showed no signs of easing.”[26]

“Our customers are currently experiencing high prices and a low supply of aluminium.”[27]

“Global shortage in computer chips ‘reaches crisis point’ Consumer price rises loom while dearth of semiconductors slow production from Samsung to Ford.”[28]

“‘We’re sorry’: Toyota Australia apologises, outlines lengthy delays as stock crisis worsens. Toyota customers will be waiting up to 10 months for its most popular models. Here is the latest forecast as the global semiconductor crisis goes from bad to worse.”[29]

“Store shelves are empty again, and COVID is only part of the reason.”[30]

“Rising fertiliser and energy prices could hit Aussie supermarkets hard. A crisis with unprecedented consequences is likely to hit Australia with shoppers being forced to make difficult decisions as prices skyrocket.”[31]

“One of the car industry’s biggest computer chip suppliers has warned that a major fire at one of its factories in Japan could have a “massive impact” on its ability to fulfil orders.”[32]

“My prediction is that nothing is going to change and the shipping crisis is only going to get worse. Nobody in the supply chain wants to pay to solve the problem. They literally just won’t pay to solve the problem.”[33]

“2022 Ford Explorer, F-150 Among Vehicles Waiting For Chips…Currently, Ford has around 53,000 vehicles that are awaiting chips, which is a significant number by any measure.”[34]

“Indianapolis — Enough specialty infant formula for more than half a million baby bottles arrived Sunday in Indianapolis, the first of several flights carrying infant formula from Europe expected this weekend to relieve the deepening shortage in the U.S.”[35]

“Almost 25% of all container ships in service are currently stuck in traffic. Most are waiting to enter crowded ports and around 30 percent of ships are stuck off China’s coasts. This is mainly due to the country’s strict Covid policy.”[36]

“Why vegetables are missing from shelves and when you’ll see them back again. If you’ve noticed gaps in the grocery aisles, it’s not going to get better any time soon. Woolworths has issued a grim warning about prolonged shortages across a range of foods.”[37]

Many more articles like this could be referenced and linked. Why have I put this long list of articles here? Because I have been following this for a couple of years now. Indeed, I have been expecting to see something like this in our lifetime for a while now, simply because our civilisation has been in decline for some time. You could argue the decline of the West began with World War 2, or even earlier with the first World War, or maybe a little later with the final bloom of the Anglo-American Empire, an extension of Europe, in the mid-twentieth century. The West once extended its power at will over any nation in the world it so desired. But in the last 50 or 60 years, it has lost wars to a succession of lower-end, even third-world, powers showing that either the rest of the world is catching up, or the West is slipping, and the fractures in the West show it is a combination of both. This is all now finally coming to a head.

I can imagine that as the Bronze Age civilisation began to fall couriers carried the ancient equivalent of these news bulletins all over the place warning about problems in the supply chain, about production lines going dormant, or not being able to get supplies or many other issues. Until finally they stopped coming, and then the fall of these societies set in.

Are things going to get better? Maybe, but nothing in all of this shows that this is about to happen. What were supply shortages that were supposed to last into 2021 are now worsening in 2022, and are being predicted to go on for many years now? As one article notes above, these shortages could extend for the next decade in certain areas of manufacturing.

Our civilisation is beginning to crack, these cracks really ramped up in 2021, and our leaders have not the wherewithal to turn this around. Do Biden, Albanese, Johnson, Macron and co. seem like the kind of statesmen that can rebuild our civilisation? Of course not. There are interesting times ahead. I hope you are learning to grow, build and develop strong local communities because there’s a good chance such skills will be necessary.


[1] Polo Sandoval and Samantha Beech, 2022, https://edition.cnn.com/2022/05/22/politics/baby-formula-us-military-aircraft/index.html#:~:text=A%20shipment%20of%2035%20tons%20of%20baby%20formula,need%2C%20a%20Biden%20administration%20official%20earlier%20told%20CNN.

[2] Ironically, America had for some time previous to this point produced all of its baby powder locally, but local manufacturing issues and regulations had ground this production to a halt.

[3] Tobacco and Coca Byproducts In Ancient Egyptian Mummies, 2011, https://www.starmythworld.com/mathisencorollary/2011/09/tobacco-and-coca-byproducts-in-ancient.html#:~:text=It%20is%20generally%20agreed%20that%20tobacco%20and%20coca,the%20oceans%2C%20and%20not%20mere%20chance%20contact%20either.

[4] Daily Mail Reporter, 2011, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2022313/Up-70-British-men-related-Egyptian-Pharaoh-Tutankhamun.html

[5] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_successful_English_Channel_swimmers#:~:text=First%20swims%20%20%20%20Direction%20%20,%20%2054%3A10%20%2015%20more%20rows%20

[6] John Collis, 2014, https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/proceedings-of-the-prehistoric-society/article/abs/crosschannel-trade-between-gaul-and-britain-in-the-preroman-iron-age-edited-by-s-macready-and-fh-thompson-society-of-antiquaries-of-london-occasional-paper-new-series-iv-1984-114-pp-26-figs-5-pls-1200/E85658E47CC723B0A297425FDECC548F

[7] C.f. Genesis 21:25-34.

[8] Cline, Eric H.. 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Turning Points in Ancient History) (p. 18). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

[9] Ibid, p.19.     

[10] Ibid, p.19.

[11] Genesis 10:14, Jeremiah 47:4, Amos 9:7.

[12] Cline, Eric H.. 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Turning Points in Ancient History) (p. 19). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

[13] Ibid, p.22-23.

[14] Ibid p22.

[15] James E. Patrick, 2019, https://www.c4israel.org/news/did-british-israeli-tin-trade-supply-solomons-temple/#:~:text=Scientists%20recently%20found%20evidence%20suggesting%20that%20Solomon%E2%80%99s%20Temple,in%20the%20tin%20mines%20of%20Cornwall%20and%20Devon.

[16] Cline, Eric H.. 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Turning Points in Ancient History) (p. 9). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition. 

[17] Ibid, p.9.

[18] Ibid, p.11.

[19] Ibid, p. 11.

[20] Richard Partington, 2021, https://www.msn.com/en-au/money/other/fears-grow-as-uk-factories-hit-by-worst-supply-chain-shortages-since-mid-70s/ar-AAPNfs0?ocid=msedgdhp&pc=U531

[21] David Lynch, 2021, https://www.yahoo.com/news/inside-americas-broken-supply-chain-204628616.html     

[22] Ibid.       

[23] Joshua Dowling, 2021, https://www.drive.com.au/news/were-sorry-toyota-australia-apologies-outlines-lengthy-delays-as-stock-crisis-worsens/

[24] Zack Zwiezen, 2021, https://www.kotaku.com.au/2021/10/xbox-head-explains-console-shortages-will-continue-into-2022/amp/

[25] Neil Winton, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/neilwinton/2021/07/27/battery-scarcity-will-dwarf-chip-shortage-impact-on-global-auto-sales-report/?sh=3343a0db363e

[26] China’s antimony prices at 7-year high on ore shortage, 2021, https://www.argusmedia.com/en/news/2191864-chinas-antimony-prices-at-7year-high-on-ore-shortage

[27] Analysis: Global Aluminium Shortage, 2021, https://www.alumeco.com/news/2021/analysis-global-aluminium-shortage

[28] Mark Sweney, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/mar/21/global-shortage-in-computer-chips-reaches-crisis-point

[29] Joshua Dowling, 2021, https://www.drive.com.au/news/were-sorry-toyota-australia-apologies-outlines-lengthy-delays-as-stock-crisis-worsens/

[30] Kevin Ketels, 2021, https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/technology/store-shelves-are-empty-again-and-covid-is-only-part-of-the-reason/ar-AAPxbZd?ocid=mmx&PC=EMMX01&PC=EMMX01

[31] Tarric Brooker, 2021, https://www.news.com.au/finance/economy/australian-economy/rising-fertiliser-and-energy-prices-could-hit-aussie-supermarkets-hard/news-story/b55905302f02b6336229e73b9782514c?amp

[32] Leo Kelion, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-56486242

[33] Tyler Durden, 2021, https://www.zerohedge.com/markets/ive-been-driving-trucks-20-years-ill-tell-you-why-americas-shipping-crisis-will-not-end

[34] Brett Foote, 2022, https://fordauthority.com/2022/05/2022-ford-explorer-f-150-among-vehicles-waiting-for-chips/

[35] Military plane carrying 39 tons of baby formula arrives in U.S., 2022, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/baby-formula-shortage-operation-fly-formula-us-military-plane/?fbclid=IwAR1c_x-cJZjjB341lm72gloG84Lz726_5PuToz4bA_687fAXEdk4BKrTMV4

[36] Kimon Beckmann, 2022, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/shanghai-containers-cargo-ships-grid-locked-kimon-beckmann#:~:text=Almost%2025%25%20of%20all%20container%20ships%20in%20service,mainly%20due%20to%20the%20country%27s%20strict%20Covid%20policy.

[37] Laura Aubusson, 2022, https://www.kidspot.com.au/news/why-vegetables-are-missing-from-shelves-and-when-youll-see-them-back-again/news-story/f8e56f5efac9ba72bd9565f8571786c7