Rise and Fall of Civilizations Deciphered

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According to CBS News columnist, Robert Costa, Senator Mitt Romney issued a stark message on the fragility of the American democracy at a recent fundraiser for Representative Liz Cheney in Northern Virginia.

“Senator-Romney reportedly told the crowd that he had a chart in his Senate office tracing the history of civilizations over the past 4,000 years. He said it is a reminder of how they can rise and collapse, and of how unusual American democracy is in global history. From the Mongol Empire to the Roman Empire, Romney said, autocracy is the chart’s “default setting,” with authoritarian leaders at every turn, he reportedly added.”

In a 1993 self-published article titled, “On the Cyclical Nature of Excellence”, my friend and colleague, the late Phoebus Christopher and I presented a theory of rise and decline. The theory posits that societies rise and decline as a natural course. Furthermore, the phenomenon of rise and decline is cyclical.

My research into pursuit of perfection since then, has now morphed into a scientific framework for internal and external excellence towards a better and more peaceful world. Senator Romney may be pleased to learn that such a framework exists.

To elaborate, all seven-and-a-half billion human inhabitants of the planet Earth, are endowed with three attributes: S includes truthfulness, honesty, steadfastness and equanimity; R encompasses ego, ambition, bravery, greed, and a desire to live, and T includes Lying, cheating, causing injury in words or deed, and sleep.

These three components lead to a scale of internal excellence in which the maximum S component is at the top of the scale, maximum T component at the bottom, and all other combinations of the three in between these two extremes.

Internal excellence has nothing to do with race, caste, or religion, gender or national origin and it cannot be passed on hereditarily.

The noble ones are toward the top-end of the scale, wicked ones towards the bottom, and the rest, somewhere in between.

Just as individuals have a level of internal excellence, so do societies, but when it comes to societies, we speak in terms of an average level of internal excellence.

When the S component of a society increases, the society rises, but the S component cannot increase indefinitely, and when it reaches the peak, the T component takes over and the society begins to decline. The T component cannot increase indefinitely either, and when it reaches its peak, the S component takes over and the society begins to rise again. These mindset transformations induce repeated rise and decline of societies over thousands of years as depicted in Figure 1.

By way of corroboration, Figure 2 depicts the data on the rise and decline of Greece. This figure plots the number of persons born in Greece and listed in all the twenty-three volumes of the 1991 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica. That culture which produced giants like Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Homer, Archimedes, and scores of others is today considered as the weakest link in the European Union. Rise and decline of Greece is self-evident.

I taught a mandatory six sigma class in the MBA program of the University of Kentucky in Athens, Greece, for twelve years, and the Greek students were enthusiastic supporters of the theory of rise and decline.

Figure 3 depicts the same data for the United States. This plot reinforces Senator Romney’s concerns.

So, we have two choices: Stay on the sidelines, hopelessly witnessing the decline of this great nation take place right in front of our eyes, if in fact decline has commenced, or, intervene.

Intervention as a preventative measure to postpone decline is tantamount to an effort to enhance the societal level of internal excellence. And this requires a measurement device for internal excellence, and a process with which to raise internal excellence.

Internal excellence cannot be measured, but emotions can, and this is fortunate as internal excellence and emotional excellence are intricately linked.

Human beings are endowed with two types of emotions: Positive emotions and negative emotions. Positive emotions encompass love, kindness, empathy, and compassion, while negative emotions include anger, hatred, hostility, resentment, frustration, jealousy, fear, sorrow, and the like.

Positive emotions are strongly and positively correlated with the S component while negative emotions are strongly and positively correlated with excessive R and T components. On the scale of emotional excellence, maximum positive emotions are at the top, maximum negative emotions at the bottom, and all other combinations of the two in between these two extremes

.The scales of internal excellence and emotional excellence are entirely equivalent.

The theory of rise and decline asserts that rising levels of emotional excellence will postpone the decline of the United States. There is no permanent solution.

At first glance, the pursuit of positive emotions at the exclusion of negative emotions to achieve higher levels of emotional excellence may appear deceptively simple. Just watch over your emotions, always promoting positive emotions while avoiding negative emotions. Do a thirty- day self-assessment, and you will realize how nearly-impossible this task is.

For progress, the required positive changes have to come about from within. To learn how requires an understanding of one more fundamental concept.

Societies the world over have a tremendous affinity to the philosophy of renowned eighteenth century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, which says, All knowledge flows from the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.

Sciences, laws, policies, etc., are all products of reason.

Much of the progress humanity has made since the renaissance period is due to scientific discoveries in Northern and Western Europe, and subsequently in the United States. Most Nobel prizes in sciences continue to go to scientists in the United States. Thus, it becomes easy to fall into a trap and conclude that products of reason are quite sufficient. Such is not always the case.

There are several examples where the products of reason have demonstrably failed. Take racial harmony for example. The 13th amendment to the US Constitution abolished slavery in 1865, and a number of laws have been passed since then, including the 1965 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender or national origin, and yet, racial discord persists, and may well have grown worse in recent years.

In direct contradiction to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, Swami Vivekananda asserts, Indian thought dares to seek, and successfully finds something higher than reason. Vivekananda was an Indian monk, revered in India and widely respected in the United States (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal).

For an example of something higher than reason, see the article on intuition in Forbes. Ancient Indians have made a number of discoveries that are clearly beyond the reach of reason. The Vedas are perhaps the oldest example of discoveries that are beyond the reach of reason. The discoveries therein couldn’t have been sourced from previous knowledge as there was none.

To discover something higher than reason, it is necessary to enhance the focus of attention and meditation is a tool to do that. A direct consequence of enhancing the focus of attention is a rise in emotional excellence.

To solve significant problems such as racial disharmony, uniting a divided nation, renewable energy, global warming, desalination, etc., it is absolutely essential to utilize both “products of reason” and “an enhancement in the focus of attention”.

Societies are limiting themselves to products of reason alone to solve significant problems and that is tantamount to fighting with one hand tied behind the back.

By now, meditation has been widely studied in scientific circles. Medical researchers have proved the efficacy of meditation for lengthening of telomeres slowing the aging processes, and there is at least one Nobel Laureate who is receptive to the idea yoga can promote creativity.

Relatedly, the importance of internal/emotional excellence is being recognized in the United States. See this article, Take Heart America, You Are Not Declining, in BizEd (now called Insights), a monthly publication of Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the body that accredits B-school curricula in the United States.

In closing, rise and decline of societies are naturally phenomena, but as this article has attempted to show, it may be possible to postpone decline by embracing the available products of reason and enhancing emotional excellence.


The author gratefully acknowledges the editorial assistance of Tony Belak, JD, former Ombudsman, University of Louisville.

Further Reading:

  1. Pradeep B. Deshpande and James P. Kowall, The Nature of Ultimate Reality and How It Can Transform Our World: Evidence from Modern Physics; Wisdom of YODA, 2015 (amazon).
  2. Pradeep B. Deshpande, Scientific Framework for World Transformation, Dialogue and Alliance, a Publication of Universal Peace Federation, New York, 33, 1, June 2019. (Dialogue and Alliance is a publication of the Universal Peace Federation, a New York City-based international organization with consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Cultural Council).
  3. Pradeep B. Deshpande and Phoebus M. Christopher, On the Cyclical Nature of Excellence, Reflections, No. 1 1993.
  4. Pradeep B. Deshpande, On the Scriptural Notion of Varna: Is India on the Rise? Reflections, No. 2 1996.
  5. Pradeep B. Deshpande and James P. Kowall, Din-i-Ilahi 2.0: Towards a More Peaceful World, ThePulse.One, March 14, 2022.
  6. Pradeep B. Deshpande, Racial Harmony: The Role of Religion and Spirituality is Essential, Dialogue and Alliance, December 2021.
  7. Pradeep B. Deshpande, Why America is at the Crossroads and How China Can Emerge as a Benign Superpower, Scientific God Journal, March 2021.
  8. Bruce Kasanoff, How to Measure and Enhance Your Intuition, Forbes.com, November 26, 2020.(https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucekasanoff/2020/11/26/how–to-measure-and-strengthen-your-intuition/?sh=57c557637a73)
  9. Pradeep B. Deshpande, The Secret of Exemplary Performance, BizEd, August 2019.

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