The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."

Thursday, May 11, 2023

What if Lemmings had a King? Practical Uses of Monarchy

Most people seem to think that kings and queens are little more than useless parasites. Yet, I think they could be useful in some circumstances. Especially if you are a lemming

The story that lemmings commit mass suicide by jumping from a cliff is a legend created by a 1958 Walt Disney movie. It is not true, but if it were it would be the result of a "Nash Eequilibrium," a condition in which no individuals can deviate from their current behavior without suffering a penalty. If all the lemmings run in the same direction, none of them can change their individual course. And the result is that all lemmings die. Incidentally, the Nash Equilibrium can be seen as part of the concept of "Seneca Cliff" -- the cliff occurs because everyone keeps running toward it.

The problem also exists in human societies. Once society has decided to take a certain course, and when the decision is cemented and reinforced by propaganda, most people find themselves stuck in a classic Nash equilibrium. They may well understand that the current choices are leading everybody to the cliff, but no single player can change his/her strategy without suffering stiff penalties. We are seeing that happening over and over in history, and it may be happening right now with the whole human civilization. Are there ways to avoid falling into the cliff? Maybe yes. 

Let me give you an example. Take a look at these data: 

Total losses during WWII (From Britannica)

Germany: 4.2 million 
Italy: 400,000

Germany suffered a factor of ten more losses than Italy (and some sources say many more than that). Why? I can argue that the reason was mainly one: Italy had a King, Germany didn't. That made it possible for Italy to surrender early enough to avoid the worst. 

This story of how Italy surrendered to the Allies is not well known outside Italy, so let me give you some details. In 1943, it must have been clear to everyone that the war was lost for Italy. Yet, the Fascist propaganda continued to bombard Italians with optimistic slogans about the unavoidable final victory. With Mussolini being "always right" by definition, nobody in Italy could change his/her position on the war without personally paying a stiff price: being accused of treason. Italians were like lemmings running toward the cliff. Many of them could see the cliff, but none of them could stop the collective motion toward disaster.

There was only one person in Italy who could break the rules of the game: King Victor Emmanuel III. For him, intervening to stop the war was dangerous, but not doing that was even more dangerous:  the defeat of Italy would likely cause the end of his dynasty. In July 1943, the Allies invaded Sicily, and the military situation was rapidly deteriorating. The King acted together with some influential members of the fascist regime. Mussolini was voted out of power by his own Fascist Grand Council, and the day after, he was arrested on direct orders from the King. On September 8th, the Italian government officially surrendered to the Allies. 

Unfortunately, the King badly botched the operation. He should have acted much earlier and much more decisively. Instead, while he was running away from Rome, the Italian army was left without orders, and it disbanded, while the Germans rapidly took over most of the country. The Fascists reorganized themselves in Northern Italy and fought on, while some of the members of the Grand Council who had voted against Mussolini were shot. And the King didn't save his dynasty, either. A more decisive action could have resulted in Italy being rapidly occupied by the Allies, perhaps trapping a large German force there. Maybe, the war could have ended earlier than when it did. And, maybe, Italy would still have a King (not necessarily a good thing, but, who knows?). 

Yet, despite the many mistakes that King Victor Emmanuel made, it is likely that, without his intervention, Italians would have suffered much more than they did. With half of Italy fighting with the Allies, a certain degree of moderation in carrying out military operations was necessary on the part of the Allies. That avoided, for instance, the kind of scorched earth raids that the Allies carried out against German cities. Nor was Italy ever targeted with extermination plans such as the "Morgenthau Plan" that would have killed tens of millions of Germans if it had been put into practice. 

Would all that have happened without the intervention of the King? Maybe, but it would have been much more difficult. In Germany, one year later, a group of army officers tried to follow the example of Italy and depose Hitler by assassinating him. But the plan failed: the conspirators had no support, and almost all of them were executed. A good example of the harsh law of the Nash Equilibrium.

So, would kings be useful to lead us out of the several impasses in which we find ourselves stuck? Maybe they could. For instance, I am sure that there are many people on both sides of the war in Ukraine who want to stop the madness, but they are trapped in another Nash Equilibrium. Only a king could say, "Stop!" as King Victor Emmanuel did in 1943 in Italy. Unfortunately, no Kings are directly involved in this war, so we can't expect that to happen. 

So, returning to the kings of old might not be such a bad idea. Are any ladies around willing to don a scuba suit and offer a sword to passersby from the depth of a lake?


Two years after that King Victor Emmanuel had Italy surrender to the Allies, the Emperor of Japan did the same. It was much too late to avoid horrendous losses, with a total of about two million casualties and most of the Japanese towns torched to cinders. But it can be argued that it would have been worse for the Japanese if they had fought to the end, as the Germans did. 


  1. Outside of Italy, the Italian soldiers in WWII are widely derided in the anglosphere at least as cowards, largely due as a residual effect of allied propaganda. Rommel's autobiography states that mostly they were poorly equipped & led, with delusional objectives from the political high command, which almost guaranteed poor performance. ( He pointed out that on the Eastern front they fought as well as anyone else when unhandicapped with those problems )

    My Italian grandfather fought throughout the whole war on the Axis side, said he never wanted Italy involved in the first place & though outvoted would then have preferred joining on the allies' side again - as in WW1, thinking it would suit the country's needs better - vs the fascist party's desires. (He was a plane spotter in the Afrika Korps) A large minority, like him had no desire to be there for a cause they didn't believe in, didn't vote for & had nothing to gain from. Being condemned to death and/or suffering by the idiocy of the majority through their votes for the charlatans of the day and resenting their impossible fantasies doesn't make you a coward. It puts you in the sad position of being one of the few black sheep amongst the flock of white ones, with enough intelligence to know you're going towards the cliff, but not enough to escape the stampede, whatever actions you attempt to fight the power of the sheeple.

  2. surely Savoia have been strong in pushing to preserve population from the terrible bombing by the allies but i don't think it have been the key factor, Japan have a king and thay faced two nuclear bombs before the surrender, but anyways i think it could be true, when we are facing the real bad threats some assiomatic and absolut power could save us from the worse

  3. What is called "Nash Equilibrium" - stops the moment one's car runs out of fuel...

    "Nash Equilibrium" today - is fossil fuels - looted...

    "Nash Equilibrium" - is another evidence that when Energy looted - turns a curse...

    Why the lights are going out in South Africa - BBC News [Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Ukraine, Russia, Sudan, and on and on, too?] -

    Humans were not ready morally, ethically and intellectually to start the mass extraction of fossil fuels - with the advent of the steam engine 300 years ago.

    Watch here - "2nd Law of Thermodynamics explained: Things get more random over time | Stephen Wolfram" - - if you have nearly a full one hour to waste - laugh and cry...

    The Magna Carta requires now overhauling - adding to it the right for humans to understand what Energy really is;

    "In any system of energy, Control is what consumes energy the most"


  4. I'd have to guess that various despots of all sorts will arise as globalism fragments. I would guess that some of them will claim the title of "King" and such.

  5. The world is short of Kings or others who have power to correct a national madness. There is not shortage of Mussolinis of all kinds waiting to cultivate national madness.

    Discussion of NASH equilibrium. allows me to quantify national madness.

    Having a low coefficient:
    Kings and others who have the power to correct a national madness.

    Having a high coefficient:
    Mussolinis of all kinds waiting to take power and cultivate national madness.

    Multiply these coefficients against the probabilities of national madness in our future. Sum them together to yield the chance of making it on through to the other side. A minimum maintenance threshold is not met. A floor function prevails and the second law of thermodynamics takes the day.

    In conclusion, lacking a lady of the lake we are doomed.