We read too much Shakespeare at school, and view our parliamentary politics as dynastic drama, in which an impatient crown prince frets at his long subordination and begins to scheme for the throne he knows he merits, was promised and has earned.
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.
Suicidal violence is not the exclusive property of the Muslim world. Suicide bombings were a tactic of nationalist struggles in 19th-century Europe and Russia, the far east during the second world war and the Vietnam war, and in modern Sri Lanka.
In modern society, where most people live in cities, and where both needs and wishes are absolved through the same remote agency - money - the distinction between wishes and needs has altogether vanished.
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.
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.
At the heart of banking is a suicidal strategy. Banks take money from the public or each other on call, skim it for their own reward and then lock the rest up in volatile, insecure and illiquid loans that at times they cannot redeem without public aid.
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.
Since the attack on the United States on September 11 2001, and the US retaliation in Afghanistan and Iraq, there must be few people who have not felt a twinge of nostalgia for the cold war.
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.
In rising financial markets, the world is forever new. The bull or optimist has no eyes for past or present, but only for the future, where streams of revenue play in his imagination.
Of all the failed technologies that litter the onward march of science - steam carriages, zeppelins, armoured trains - none has been so catastrophic to prosperity as the last century's attempt to generate electricity from nuclear fission.
Saudi Arabia operates according to the belief that God made young men and women so utterly and completely without self-control that they must be physically segregated every moment of the day and night.
The use of refined petroleum as fuel, which began in the 1850s, freed hundreds of millions of people from the toil of centuries, gave hundreds of millions more a life of ease and plenty, and, by allowing great cities to feed themselves from every corner of the world, multiplied the population of the earth fivefold.
Rarely in modern times has there been such a revolution in commercial sentiment as occurred in 2008, or such a display in government and business of panic and helplessness.
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.
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.
Because bankers measure their self-worth in money, and pay themselves a lot of it, they think they're fine fellows and don't need to explain themselves.
There are about 15 million Muslims in the EU. They face ignorance, insult and even persecution. They cannot be wished away. To impose Enlightenment freedoms is self-defeating. Anyway, the Muslims have their own enlightenment.
One of the consequences of the Iranian revolution has been an explosion of history. A country once known only from British consular reports and intrepid travelogues is now awash with historical documents, letters, diaries, grainy video, weblogs and secret police files of questionable authenticity.