W.Va. nature helps tell U.S. fate

A movement in science has emerged that deserves the attention of all Americans. Some biologists have found a way to apply their research of animal-population ecology to the history of nations. These trailblazers argue history needs to become an analytical, predictive science. This new discipline has been coined cliodynamics-named after Clio, the muse of history.

Cliodynamics was founded by ecologist Peter Turchin. He has collaborated with many scientists, including West Virginia University professors. One case studied invasive gypsy moths with a population front in the mountains of West Virginia. While ecology analyzes the increase and decrease in gypsy moth populations, cliodynamics adapts the methods to predict the rise and fall of nations.

Understanding the growth and decline of the gypsy moth population requires ecologists to utilize evolution. Most people think natural selection is driven only by selfishness. However, ecological research, including that of ant and bee colonies, has proven natural selection also rewards cooperative behavior.

In simple human terms, cooperative groups are favored by natural selection. This means when a person is a member of a group in competition with another group – such as in sports – it is in everyone’s interest to cooperate with fellow group members to defeat the other group. However, when there is no competing group, people turn to selfish behavior and compete with each other.

Cliodynamics relies on this discovery that evolution is driven by both selfishness and cooperation. Turchin explains that nations cooperate and flourish when facing external threats such as war or frontier enemies. But peacetime is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing. No outside adversary leads to selfishness within the nation. This spurs multiple domestic crises. History has shown that this cycle leads to population increases, insufficient resources, civil strife and the ultimate collapse of the country.

Turchin argues the United States is headed toward the end of the cycle. The factors he identifies indicate a collapse is becoming more hastened by President Barack Obama’s ideology. Obama’s unwillingness to engage our enemies is decreasing national unity and patriotism, and his many socialist policies of redistributing wealth are increasing selfishness and divisiveness.

Meanwhile, Russia is at the start of the cycle. Putin hopes to replace the U.S. as the new superpower. He has repeatedly engaged the world stage and he has created a frontier. Through his imperial leadership, Putin is rallying his people and catalyzing cooperation.

It may seem farfetched to use insects to predict the rise and fall of nations. However, all life follows the same natural laws. Cliodynamics isn’t just another ivory tower theory. It aims to ultimately answer: “How do we fix failed states? How can we end civil wars and evolve political structures for nonviolent methods of resolving conflicts? And how can we promote integration at the global level and stop interstate wars?”

Plato and Bacon argued for governments led by truth-seeking philosophers. In contrast, all branches of U.S. government are dominated by lawyers – a profession where their schooling teaches them to disregard truth and instead focus on winning arguments. We need leadership who will take more counsel from the profession devoted to truth: science. But we must also be careful of politicians who cherry pick their science for party platforms. However, one thing is for sure: ignoring science will only increase the likelihood of the collapse of America.