There are signs that the age of petroleum has passed its zenith. Adjusted for inflation, a barrel of crude oil now sells for three times its long-run average. The large western oil companies, which cartellised the industry for much of the 20th century, are now selling more oil than they find, and are thus in the throes of liquidation.
Whatever else it was, Adolf Hitler's short-lived regime was also a colossal industrial process by which the wealth and productive power of much of Europe was wrenched from its normal purposes and converted into a machine for killing.
Governments of rich countries spend some $6bn of tax money a year on disaster relief and development aid overseas, while each new earthquake, famine or tidal wave can attract 1,000 aid organisations, from the United Nations Children's Fund and Oxfam to the 'Jesus Brigades' of the American south and other charitable adventurers.
The year 2008 was a reminder to those who had forgotten that there is such a thing as history and that the cycle of famine and feast in commerce, first identified in antiquity and well understood in the Middle Ages, was not suddenly abolished in modern times.
To give money to a woman - and here I must speak as a man - is to deny her special quality, her irreplaceability, and reduce her unique amiability to a commodity. Money takes away her name, while transforming her lover into a nameless customer of a market of appetites.
The rise to prominence of the Saudi novel in Arabic is the great man-bites-dog of recent world literature. Saudi Arabia is a country without a free press, where European styles and forms are distrusted and where the female half of the population became literate only in this generation.
Soaring prices for crude oil, falling production surpluses, wild speculation in commodities, a rush into the precious metals, turmoil in the Middle East, assertive oil producers: it is 1973-74 all over again, and at dictation speed.
The prevailing ideology of the modern west - which is political economy - is in the doghouse. Having failed to notice atmospheric pollution, the economists then frightened themselves with the sort of financial crisis they said they had abolished.
My belief, for what it is worth, is that city dwellers cannot understand the world. Insulated from reality by complex and expert systems of provision and police, baffled by fashion and spectacle, city dwellers can distinguish neither the sources of their existence nor the consequences.
Ever since the destruction of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258, the Muslim world has been in slow decline relative to the west. With Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and the creeping British annexation of Muslim India, that decline took on a malign aspect.
The west has a great deal to answer for in the Middle East, from Britain's belated empire-building after the First World War to the US and British policy that condemns modern Iraq to the material and social squalor of a half-century ago.
For all their current prestige, Osama bin Laden and the suicide bombers are still regarded in all but the most desperate districts of Gaza or Peshawar as romantics with little chance of more than symbolic victories, however bloody and brutal. That gives both the Middle East and the West a small and distant hope of security.
When Gordon the Brown, in London in 1997, commissioned a great inquisition or survey of his new realm, the result was the so-called national asset register, which was immediately dubbed by the boomers of the UK Treasury 'the modern Domesday Book.'
The theory of permanent Muslim-Christian enmity, though it flourishes in the caves of Tora Bora and parts of the American academy, was long ago exploded by the historians.
Cause and effect, the riddle of all history, is a particular devil in financial history; and never more so than today, where entire classes of security are collapsing not on public exchanges and stock-tickers but because there are no markets to establish prices this side of nothing.
When William the Conqueror commissioned a great survey of his English realm at Gloucester in 1085, the result was a work so thorough, fair, dispassionate, and wide-ranging that it seemed to the succeeding generations to have come from another world.
By pouring money and goods into devastated regions, foreign aid workers sometimes compound the disruption and debauch the survivors.
Where consumption is both conspicuous and competitive, humanity will never run out of new wishes. All the while, industry creates new desires that are marketed, in the great fashion paradox, as both novelty and need.
The aircraft that blew up the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington conveyed several messages to the world, of which one of the least remarked is this: the Muslims of the world are suffering.
For 50 years, nuclear power stations have produced three products which only a lunatic could want: bomb-explosive plutonium, lethal radioactive waste and electricity so dear it has to be heavily subsidised. They leave to future generations the task, and most of the cost, of making safe sites that have been polluted half-way to eternity.