Nothing New Under the Sun: 8 Historic Patterns

I have written about history on multiple occasions in the past, and now it’s time again.

Studying history is important because it gives you a broad understanding of human nature under different circumstances. And it also allows you to predict with higher certainty when people or countries are succumbing to certain historical patterns. When this happens, there is not much you can do to counteract it — a wiser decision may be to simply extract yourself from the situation and strive to avoid the folly of your peers, statesmen or countrymen.

The big benefit of studying history is that it makes you realize how little human nature changes. It shows you how virtually the same things happen–and repeat themselves–for every generation and lifetime (“Saeculum“).

History is not about memorizing dates (as one does in school); it’s about spotting big patterns.

The most fun and effective ways of studying history is by reading biographies of successful people, learning of the most important individuals in some specific era (could be Renaissance, Gilded Age, Depression, WW-2, Greek and Roman Empire, etc..) You could also investigate the history of your country or industry (how it came to be formed, who was instrumental, why one paradigm replaced the next, and so on…..)

The value of historic knowledge is not in being able to beat friends at Trivial Pursuit or impressing strangers during dinner time by pontificating on the chain of events during the French Revolution (although that might be fun).

The value of historic knowledge lies in being able to create a big picture perspective (into which you can integrate minor details and put things in context) and understand why something happened and how things came to be the way they are now. So: It’s almost like detective work, where you begin from the opposite end and create a coherent chain of events.

8 Lessons of History:

Note 1: All of the following are recurring historic principles; they keep repeating over and over through each generation as the societal equilibrium shifts. The easiest way to think about these patterns, is in terms of a pendulum moving back and forth, like an indicator of macro trends.

[Rarely is the pendulum at rest.]

Note 2: All of these historic patterns are now strongly affected by the Internet and social media platforms, in the sense that they connect individuals with similar interests. This has resulted in the so-called “polarization effect” that has been so debated in the last 5 or so years; where critical mass amounts of similar individuals have become unified and sparked debates (created “mini-rebellions”) previously unknown in popular culture.

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1) The Conflict Between Rich and Poor (Haves and Have-Nots).

The conflict between Rich and Poor is the most powerful historic pattern. The pendulum tends to swing most rampantly here.

Some principles that apply:

  • Meritocracy must apply. The people who work harder, smarter, or more creative–must be rewarded for their labor. When this principle is not upheld, you will see a gradual decrease in morale, culminating in unfairness. This unfairness, in turn, will result in two second-order effects: (1) Movement to where the person is rewarded appropriately, or (2) Rationalization of circumstances, leading to envy and passive-aggression towards those who are dissimilar.
  • As noted in one of our conversation on Future Skills, European GDP must grow by at least 3% per year. I suspect this is the minimum cost to pay for the incompetency of politicians and the state, also the minimum for keeping envy between social classes at a sustainable level. If it grows by less, social tension & distribution problems emerge.
  • The combination of genetic talent and new technology leads to a new distribution of wealth for each generation. A small percentage of young people are better adapted to the new paradigm and/or find themselves in the right place at the right time. Consider Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, they were both talented at the new computing technology and they were born at the point of its inception, gaining access to it years before their peers, thanks to growing up in technologically-savvy families. Bill Gates and Paul Allen also got early access to computers. So, of course, they got a head-start to their learning curve.

Currently, the situation has become polarized in some countries, but more neutral or rational in other countries. Part of this–I believe–is because many social and cultural factors unite towards a network effect (where the rich and smart get better, while the poor or less smart people stagnate or go down). The other part has to do with social beliefs. See next point.

2) The Conflict Between Capitalism and Socialism (Right and Left)

The rich would rather throw away their treasures than part with them to the poor. And the poor would rather steal the treasures from the rich than earn their own money.


Capitalism is the best social system created thus far. Why do I say so? Because it has consistently delivered a better distribution of resources, free market principles, and higher living standards than other social systems.

Capitalism is not a perfect system. Especially not in the United States (see: Crony Capitalism; where lobbyism is the major problem; lobbyism is little more than a justification for bribery and other less than acceptable tactics.) The Founding Fathers foresaw this issue; Benjamin Franklin noted: “When the people find that they can vote themselves [into power with] money, that will herald the end of the republic.”

That said, the fact that so many (young people) are resonating with Leftism and Socialism is scary; I think it has to do with growing up with the Internet and Social Media; it makes people mentally lazy and entitled.

Currently, I find it shocking and distasteful with the rise of radical Socialism. This is a system that has never produced a successful country, but many failures (like Venezuela and the Soviet Union). If Socialism were a business model, and it never resulted in a successful business, what investor would invest in it? Not so many. So how can people believe in it?

Because they don’t know their history. They’re irrational and uneducated. And they want to steal money from other people (as if they–specifically them–were entitled to that money). If Robin Hood came home with a big bag of money, why should he throw gold coins in your direction?

I am open to a new and better system than Capitalism. But there is no better existing alternative yet.

Further thoughts:

  • I don’t believe any extreme social system works beyond a group of, say, 10,000 people. And that includes Laissez-Faire.

3) The Conflict Between Old and Young (Tensile Strength)

I’m old enough to know better, young enough not to give a fuck.


Old and young are at a natural conflict due to their separation in age, time-and-culture-specific experience, expectations of the future, and cognitive states. This is not a bad thing; it is an evolutionary adaptation that (I believe) exists partially because it balances out human societies, and partially because it can result in a sort of positive tensile strength. 1

[The notion of Tensile Strength–a “golden mean” of social prosperity–achieved through balancing social factions and governmental branches, is a topic I may write about in the future. It’s why I think Alexander Hamilton was a genius and also why the Separation of Powers proposed by Montesquieu was brilliant. Further note: The enlightenment thinkers were great at this sort of thing — re-examining fundamental tenets of society; questioning everything and seeking a better way. We should really do this more, especially with regards to government and country models. Most of them are so old and outdated.

Regarding cognitive state: Young people (under 30) are still undergoing brain development; having a lower baseline of rationality (due to emotional fluctuations). Mainly, their frontal lobe (PFC) has more dopamine, due to higher hormonal and neurotransmitter levels; and because they haven’t yet been exposed to such a wide range of events and environments.

For a more detailed explanation, see my PFC framework (4 Pillars of Wakefulness) from Breaking out of Homeostasis

Further thoughts:

  • If you get an exceptionally large generation of people (such as the Baby Boomers) it will have major impacts on everything from politics, to business, to public opinion. Here are two examples: (1) the Baby Boomers are now entering retirement age; (2) the Baby Boomers did not grow up with smartphones, YouTube, chat forums, and social media networks–leading to a big cognitive disconnect between them and the Millenials.
  • As a corollary to above, I think you can use the following rule of thumb: When you have an outsized demographic group and combine it with the introduction of a new medium or technology, it will lead to extreme effects on society and the economy (that are not easy to predict).

4) The Conflict Between Sexes (Male and Female)

It’s the so-called war between men and women. At its far extremes, you have chauvinism and feminism.

Two recent examples from popular culture:

  • The movie Gone Girl by David Fincher & Ben Affleck2 does a great job illustrating both sides of this social conflict. Great movie.
  • The recent Gillette commercial debacle. You can watch the ad here. The end result: They received lots of attention (most of it negative) and it went viral and all that, but at a price way too high (with thousands of people boycotting the company). There was no need for it to begin with. If I had been the owner or shareholder of Gillette, I would be furious at the selfishness and incompetence of these ad-people, for putting a stable, winning business (with a proven ad!) at jeopardy just to further their own careers. But then again, these things often happen in big companies, and Gillette is a big company (that belongs to Procter and Gamble, which is an enormous company). So perhaps the whole thing should just be forgiven as a run-of-the-mill fuckup of big business.

Here are some other interesting developments to consider:

  • Feminism is a socially dangerous ideology, because it’s out of line with reality. Feminists generally do not understand or believe in neuroscience, physiology or–like socialists–economics.
  • In terms of the pendulum swing, you could say that the pendulum has swung far to the side of women. Women are at the receiving end of social and technological trends. It’s never been easier for women to get laid or amass a supply of potential sexual partners; and it’s never been harder for the average man to do the same. Women now only have to look good, but the man needs to (1) look good, (2) dress well, and (3) be popular or make an above average amount of money. 3 Explained further below:
  • I wrote an article about evolutionary mismatches a few years ago. In that article, I mentioned how social media has shifted the supply and demand of the “sexual marketplace”; where women are extreme users of dating apps and social media, thereby getting lots of prospective men to go on dates with them at all times. Men, on the other time, generally don’t enjoy doing that (although maybe 1-5% of men do). So women are on the receiving end of social media.

Returning to the topic of gender war: Now, in the last few decades, new categories have emerged — arising in social tension and confusion.

Some of these further categories include: Gay people, Bisexual people, Transsexual people, and other groups of people united as a coherent social group ordered by sexual orientation.

In recent years, we’ve seen a big crazy wave of transsexual people (who are trying to infringe excessively on the rest of society). They have a right to change their gender through surgery, but they don’t have a right to demand others treat them as they want to be treated. Like the rest of us, they too, have to bear the consequences of their actions.

5) The Conflict Between Races (Whites, Blacks, Asians, etc)

Two recent examples from popular culture being the Black Lives Matter movement and the movie Get Out (which was a huge box office success, with a budget of $5 Million while grossing $255 Million) about white people lobotomizing blacks and stealing their bodies.

Anyway: There will always be social identification based on skin color or ethnicity. Especially in places where there’s an overwhelming majority of people from another skin color or ethnicity.

Speaking of this, I find it very easy to meet new friends in Asia. Mainly because white people stand out, and most of them work online. But it wouldn’t be so easy in Scandinavia, where most people are white. I assume the opposite is true there for people of other skin colors.


  • There are always irrational uprisings and social changes due to bigotry. That is, outright racism and ethnic-specific discrimination for no good reason. Worst examples: Nazism and killing of whites in Africa.
  • An uprising such as above is not bigotry when it is based in statistics, ineffective regulation and other facts. Consider the war-ridden countries along the Gaza; immigrants from those countries flooding into Europe are lowly qualified people, with little-to-no education and generally have bad (irrational and outdated) beliefs, cultural morals, and social behaviors. Unless they have a university degree, or unless there’s a proven lack of supply of their expertise, they should not be let into Europe. European countries could learn a thing or two from Asian countries; they all have very strict and self-serving immigration policies. Why, just the other week, I was refused service in a restaurant (like blacks in the United States, back in the day).

6) The Conflict Between Freedom and External or Internal Threats (War)

A country that doesn’t have an external threat — or a strong empowering mission (such as putting a man on the moon) is bound to have internal strife; because it’s a necessity for uniting citizens from across different segments of the population. It’s how human beings (as group animals) naturally orient themselves in groups larger than 150-200 people.

When it goes too far in either direction (too much external strife or too much internal strife) the result is a counter-effect. Rebels and revolutions lead to changes in the political regime, but often beget a never-ending cycle of regime-changes (again, this is a prevalent pattern to be observed in war-ridden middle eastern countries, and much of Africa. When a country does too much warring (like the United States in the last few decades, or France, England and Germany during their individual peaks) it causes a strong backlash from those who are attacked and are at the losing end. In fact, according to the Diplomat and high-ranking minister Talleyrand, this was Napoleon’s single biggest mistake; in making the settlement agreements of defeated countries on an ad-hoc basis, where they had to pay war settlement fees in accordance to France’s needs (e.g cost of the war), and not based in what was a more reasonable sum given the country’s terms of liquidity. The result was that those countries and some others formed an alliance to destroy France (and thereby avoided paying their debts).

Some more thoughts:

  • The larger the external threats, the stronger the justifications to expand the state and infringe on the rights of citizens (in order to “protect the people”). Like how 9/11 and the war on terrorism in the United States gave the government the right to spy on people for arbitrary reasons and never tell them.
  • A country that doesn’t suffer strong external threats will eventually become weak and lose its stoic nature. Sweden is an interesting case study in the making: Let’s see how it fares. Norway and Finland are two other interesting countries in this regard, albeit with different circumstantial factors. Singapore too, though it’s a young country. One of its founding fathers (one of Lee Kuan Yew’s colleagues) said the biggest future threat to its existence was that its new generations would be too spoiled, lose their sense of history, forget about the sacrifices made by the founding generation (current grandparents or dead) or go far into excess (extrapolate the trend of prosperity 4 into the future). We will just have to see.

7) War has Existed in All Times

As long as there is a scarcity of resources, there will be war.

War is mostly a bad thing (because: so many people die, it causes enormous resentment and division, it results in loss of so much money, and in destruction of so much infrastructure and valuable cultural artifacts) but war is also a good thing, because it turns even the laziest and lowliest Homeostasis Dweller into a Homeostasis Breaker. And many of the greatest inventions and discoveries were created during warring times. 5

So: Even if war is hell for most people involved, it results in radical changes to society. And, over the long-term probably benefits future generations. It’s like the notion of punctuated equilibrium (where growth comes in spurts, rather than gradually). You should hope never to live through a war, but to be the beneficiary of it.

Here are two more observations of interest:

  • 1) Sublimation: In some aspects, mankind hasn’t improved much at all over the last couple of thousand years; but in other aspects, we certainly have. And Sublimation is one of them; we have become better at turning primitive instincts into social activities–whether it’s festivals and big parties or large soccer events or …. other things like that. Now, compare that to the Bread-and-Circus strategy employed by Roman Emperors. It worked. And so does this–only more efficiently. Breads and Circuses were more expensive and cost lots of human lives for no good reason (only to entertain dumb people). We can be thankful that less people need to die for no good reason these days. This is directly related to…
  • 2) Segmentation of warring factions: From a meta-perspective, you might say it’s what this article is about. If you can make a war an isolated problem between–for example–old and young, men and women, black and white, or even meat-eaters vs vegetarians or climate-change people vs others, and save-the-animals vs others, then you can keep aggression & social dissent at a manageable level. On the other hand, if you combine many of these things, you can get something more extreme, as may well be the case of the United States. Imagine if all were combined, then add on top of that an external threat and a new system of government. That would be a force to be reckoned with.

The combination of the two things above–sublimation and segmentation of warring factors–help prevent bank runs and revolutions.

8) The Conflict Between Different Governmental and Societal Forms

But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.

~James Madison

Oligarchy, Democracy, Federation, Aristocracy.

Let it be known: Plato was a mental mastermind. 2000 years later and we’re still using his ideas as the operating system of how we think about government and society. 6

If you lived in Rome (which was also a Democracy), you could very well be beaten to death if you voted for the wrong person. Or, even if you were a high-ranking politician like Bibulus, you could get buckets of shit thrown on your head. Today, you can be socially marked for voting on the “wrong” person. So: Some improvement has been made in the last 2000 years.

While we still have electorate Democracy, it no longer uses so much violence, but instead relies on homeostasis and the principle of least effort; where the majority of stupid and lazy people, indirectly affected, have too big of a say in how the allocation of resources should be governed. I’d say it’s gone too far. We should see a correction in my lifetime.


  • There is a never-ending back-and-forth equilibrium between these forces of government and social rule. Never is it one completely; it’s always a mix of many or all. Every generation and society can make a shift, as its culture changes.
  • In theory, there’s one ruling form. But lurking underneath the surface, there are always other powers.
  • The more intellectual and abstract the world becomes (e.g computers moving from mainframes into “the cloud”) the higher the entry barriers are for a functional democracy.
  • No politician will get elected by proposing to speed up traffic lights. Which is an incredible social innovation I am strongly in favor of.
  • Which form of rule is the best one? Democracy is the least of ours evils, as Churchill said. Oligarchy and Aristocracy are inevitable (quite fun to see in Asia 7).

Will & Ariel Durant believed the best government was the one that resulted in the best educational system; as defined by creating the largest number of independent individuals.

What do you think?

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  1. If society consisted only of people under age 30, it would be very dangerous and chaotic; it would be an eternal free-for-all. If Society consisted only of people over 55, it would be all country clubs and Bridge-playing. But when both exist (not to mention young adults, teenagers, and children) you will have more checks and balances on society — and also more innovation through multi-generational interplay. As long as people can get along…

  2. Ben Affleck is killing it! He’s 46 and seems to have hit a stride, and being in his prime when it comes to making and acting in movies. I saw another great movie by him a few months ago, Live by Night. It’s inspiring. Note to self: pick a career where experience is put at a premium.

  3. In the past, women needed to be good at cooking, be from a good and cultured family, be faithful without fail, and many more things. Those things have now gone out the window; but it’s important not to get too anchored in the current time frame. Let’s see again in 10 years from now.

  4. Singapore is the fastest growing country in the history of the world, in terms of GDP and living standards.

  5. We can thank Napoleon for canned food. He gave a big nation-wide reward to the person who could come up with a way to preserve food for a long time and still have it edible. The reason he wanted this was because he was considering invading Britain. It never came to be, but an inventor stepped up to the task and got his reward.

  6. For instance, consider how the Romans basically copied all the best ideas of the Greeks, implemented them with a frenzy, and conquered most of the known world. It’s incredible. What Roman had the idea to do that? What if the same thing happened in our lifetime; like a Singapore, on a larger scale.

  7. Not long from where I live, there’s a miniature mall with Burger King, Star Bucks, and some restaurants. In the middle of that mall, there is a large hall full of paintings, all facing in one direction. How did this happen? My best guess is: Some young kid from a rich Thai family had the idea that he would revolutionize how malls were made–by putting lots of paintings inside it. Everyone will want to see that!


  1. Abgrund says:

    Interesting list, but are they really all historical constants? Some, I think, are creations or even fictions of the mass media.

    1. It’s remarkable how /little/ history has been affected by conflict between rich and poor. Jealousy very rarely materializes into insurrections, and these are almost always small and easily crushed. Labor unions have to make a positive effort to stir the resentment of workers against owners. In democracies, the poor never despoil the wealthy, in spite of all the whining.

    Humans are petty; the average person doesn’t hate a rich man, whose position he can’t comprehend, half so much as he hates his cohort on the next rung of the ladder, whose position he understands perfectly well and believes he could and *should* hold.

    As often pointed out, the danger of class conflict arises not when the rich are excessively so, but when the expectations of the (relatively) poor face a sharp downward revision. Movements like the over-rated “yellow vests” appear when the homeostasis of the masses is disrupted by the perceived loss of what they already had. Otherwise, all it takes to keep the poor in line is a bit of distraction.

    2. Insofar as there is a real conflict between capitalism and socialism, it’s a cover for other conflicts like that between plutocrats and demagogues. The notion of an ideological conflict between “capitalism” and “communism” was vaporous even in the twentieth century. The Cold War was not a conflict between economic systems as such, it was an attempt by Russia to resist American hegemony by all available means (including autarky).

    The sense of entitlement sometimes associated with “socialism” is its motive; socialism is just one (transient) mode of expression. People feel entitled to whatever they already have; if they are not required to grow up, they will retain in adulthood the child’s expectation of being supported and protected while having no responsibility.

    Unfortunately, there are all too many demagogues willing to exploit this. A pretty young woman gets all sorts of preferential treatment; a feminist teaches her that any lapse in this preference is persecution. Und so weiter…

    3. Conflict between old and young is as old as social behavior in animals. It’s exacerbated by rapid social change, but that’s not the underlying force. As for something like the so-called baby boom leading to a higher proportion of young to old, this proportion was always very high until very modern times due to substantial death rates in all age groups.

    4. As a factor in society, conflict between the sexes is historically non-existent. Only the frantic efforts of generations of Feminazis have managed to create any conflict at all. Many observers have noted that in those societies which actually oppress women, the women don’t mind at all. Only when they have been given a privileged position do women demand more, and then only with the encouragement of agitators.

    5. Racial strife is a surrogate for tribal (in-group vs. out-group) conflict. Racial distinctions are somewhat arbitrary; in the USA “Asian” is effectively a single race, but to a Pakistani, Chinese is as much a different race as European.

    Give people some other out-group to hate (e.g. heretics or meat eaters) and race tensions will fade.

    6. The theoretical contradiction between freedom and security has long been noticed by political philosophers, but in practice freedom has not been a meaningful social force for a century in the West, and elsewhere perhaps never.

    People are much more readily motivated by fear, no matter how irrational, than by freedom; they care nothing for any freedom they do not personally need to exercise. And they are easily tricked into giving up freedoms without receiving real security in return, though security could often be obtained without giving up freedom.

    Any conflict between freedom and security is now concluded; only echoes remain.

    7. War has existed in all times, until now. Strategic nuclear arsenals have put an end to large scale wars, and international commerce has nearly put an end to small scale wars. I do not think the USA, let alone Europe, is even capable of fighting a major war again.

    8. For most of history, the only governmental/societal form was hereditary autocracy. For much of the modern world, the only conceivable form is demagoguic plutocracy. There’s rarely any conflict here. Few people will contemplate radical change until society has entirely broken down, and even then society tends to revert to something suspiciously like what it was before.

    France went through nearly a century of revolutions and new monarchies before settling on democracy. Russia remains an autocracy in spite of all the upheavals since 1905. When rapid fundamental institutional change does happen, it’s always driven by external pressure. Slower change, driven by economic/technological evolution, is invariably aimless. Humanity is too apathetic to direct its own future.


    The biggest, most constant factor in human history isn’t conflict. It’s homeostasis, as much for societies as for individuals.

    • Abgrund,

      Thanks for the exhaustive answer. I am considering making a best-of post of your comments. I don´t agree with all of your opinions, always, but every time you comment, you are making me think and I really appreciate that.

  2. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. For me, the era that is most similar to today is the time of the fall of the Roman Republic. I have been studying it a lot lately, going through the ancient sources, and the conditions are eerily similar. Just to add to the discussion, I tried posting a link to the articles I wrote on my blog about that time, but the comment didn’t go through. I think studying what happened then is incredibly relevant to determine what types of paths today’s world could take. If anyone is interested, I have 2 incredibly long articles on my blog analyzing this, which complement what Ludvig is saying here and go in depth on the parallels between the two eras. Historical analogies can be quite illuminating sometimes.

  3. For me, there is one era of history which is eerily similar to today, and that is the fall of the Roman Republic. I have been doing research on this, and I think it would be very relevant if I share the stuff I wrote here (I actually went through the ancient sources), since it fortifies what you are saying.

    This is my analysis of ancient sources:

    And this is my commentary on what is happening today, using history as an analogy:

  4. Hawthorne says:

    I think that the best form of rule is the one that makes for the most profitable and respected country, given that it does not oppress its citizens too much.

    The question is how to do it, right?

  5. Hey Ludvig, nice to see you write a long article again. I think what you are saying about Segmentation and Sublimination makes a lot of sense. It’s not something I have thought of before but it appears like a good explanation. What do you think this will lead to next, if I may ask?

  6. Boom – one of your most interesting articles. Will have to let this digest in my mind for a while. Probably what stands out most to me is what you say about politics. It’s unlikely to get elected to fix “boring, mundane” problems that aren’t likely to be written about in the media or discussed around the water cooler.

  7. Hey Ludvig!
    Let me give you my opinion
    This is a good pin-point of where the world is at but where it might be in another 10 years is impossible to know and I hope you know that too.

  8. Wow Nicholas Appert looks almost like Napoleon with that turban.

    There are so many ideas in this article I have to re-reread it.

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