I think being status-blind should make you impertinent by default.
This is probably the best example I have seen of "Joy in the Merely Real".
I would like to slightly argue with this proposition regarding the fall of Rome.
It is indeed true that the direct reason for the fall was the weakness of the late Roman armies compared to barbarian forces.But Rome moved away from using farmer soldiers as the backbone of the army with the Marian reforms in 107 BC. This did not stop the expansion of the empire nor weakened the army for several centuries. Q.E.D.
However, I think your speculation in the second part (transition of power) is actually a really good explanation for this decline of the Roman army. The Imperial armies often rebelled in the late period, trying to promote a new Emperor. To counter this, reforms were introduced that decreased the chance of a successful army rebellion, but they also greatly diminished their effectiveness:"Under the Roman emperors, besides, the standing armies of Rome, those particularly which guarded the German and Pannonian frontiers, became dangerous to their masters, against whom they used frequently to set up their own generals. In order to render them less formidable, according to some authors, Dioclesian, according to others, Constantine, first withdrew them from the frontier, where they had always before been encamped in great bodies, generally of two or three legions each, and dispersed them in small bodies through the different provincial towns, from whence they were scarce ever removed but when it became necessary to repel an invasion. Small bodies of soldiers quartered, in trading and manufacturing towns, and seldom removed from those quarters, became themselves tradesmen, artificers, and manufacturers. The civil came to predominate over the military character, and the standing armies of Rome gradually degenerated into a corrupt, neglected, and undisciplined militia.."Source: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/smith-adam/works/wealth-of-nations/book05/ch01.htm(The link is to the first chapter of Book 5 of the famous Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. I suggest reading it, it has really good insights on the nature of armies.)
I agree that often the best don't rise to the top, but you have bad examples here.
You are confusing expertise in different domains: just because one is exceptional in something, it does not follow they are good at teaching it or making videos of it.This is especially apparent in Bottura's channel. He might be the best chef in the world, but his youtube content is mediocre.
I like the bird-plane analogy. I kind of had the same idea, but for slightly different reason: just as man made flying machines can be superior to birds in a lot of aspects, man made ai will most likely can be superior to a human mind in a similar way.
Regarding your specific points: they may be valid, however, we do not know at which point in time we are talking about flying or AI: Probably a lot of similar arguments could have been made by Leonardo da Vinci when he was designing his flying machine; most likely he understood a lot more about birds and the way they fly than any of his contemporaries or predecessors; yet, he had no chance to succeed for at least three additional centuries. So are we in the era of the Wright Brothers of A.I., or are we still only at da Vinci's?
I personally think the former is more likely, but I believe the probability of the second one is a lot greater than zero.
Almost all of these could have been said 50 years ago with no or minor (e.g. change Trump to Nixon) change with pretty much the same emphasis. Even those that not (e.g. Pandemic), could be easily replaced with other things similar in nature in absolute outcome (famine in China, massive limitation of mobility (and other freedoms) in the Eastern Block etc.).
Even 100 years ago you could make similar cases for most things (except A.I., that is a newer concept, yet there could have been similar issues in those times for which people had the same hope for that I am not aware of).
Yet, here we are, better off than before. Was this the expected outcome?
Generally I am quite wary with explanations of evolutionary psychology, but I think a good point can be made that going to war oversees is very similar to going out to hunt mammoth for the tribe: a dangerous travel-adventure to kill things to help the tribe. I suppose people with such tendencies were more likely to reproduce.
"Something that I hadn't considered before: would it be possible to move people into target areas (before attacks) or radiated areas (afterwards) by using conventional and/or area denial weapons?"
I don't think so. Generally if you want to increase casualties you would want to have people concentrated as much as possible, so move people into already large cities. However, people during wartime (and pandemics) usually tend to move out from such places, this is shown both by historical experience and to me seems to be the logical way to act (as cities are targeted due to critical infrastructure they contain and most services cities offer become severely limited).
Even if the countryside were targeted deliberately for this effect, conventional weapons cannot be used efficiently for this kind of area denial, for such nuclear weapons seem to be the most effective, maybe alongside with chemical weapons, but those have the same limitation (fallout directed by weather conditions, wind in particular) with far less power.
I travel back in time to the 1170s and shoot Temüjin, aka Genghis Khan, before he could establish his empire.
Although there had been good policies he promoted (e.g., religious tolerance, trade), the probable upsides vastly outweigh this.
Just to name a few that I consider to be most important:
1. During the Mongol conquest tens of millions perished. This had been the approximately third bloodiest "conflict" in all human history. However, unlike e.g. the World Wars, where several large belligerents existed without a single pivotal person (e.g., even without a Hitler, a bloody Second World War could have happened, just as a first one did in the same region between the same states) and almost all of it could have been avoided if the Mongol Empire is not formed at all.
2. As part of these conquests Baghdad and it's Grand Library was destroyed, which were the center of Islamic scholarship of that time. Most likely this had been a huge factor in the decline of secularism and scientific inquiry in the Middle East.
3. The mainstream theory regarding the spread of Black Death in Europe says it arrived via Genoese traders who fled from the Mongol siege of Kaffa, Crimea, where mongols catapulted infected corpses over the city walls. If really that was the source, avoiding this could have changed the prevented/delayed the spread of the disease and deathtoll might have been much lower.
As these all would have happened about 8 centuries ago, the long term effects would be even greater.
I did not find a designated page, so I am going to test the spoiler function here.
>! test spoiler 123456