Tuesday, June 11, 2013


I’ve been coming up for air between dives into Joseph Tainter’s “The Collapse of Complex Societies.” There’s no doubt the man does a thorough job. Civilization by civilization, cause by cause, history by history (Rome, Western Chou Empire, Indus Valley, Mesopotamia—that’s Iraq to you—Old Kingdom Egypt, Hittite Empire, Minoan civilization, Mycene, Olmec,  Lowland Classic Maya, Mesoamerican Highlands,  Teotihuacan, Monte Alban, Tula, Casa Grandes, Chacoan, Hohokam, Hopewell, Mississippian Woodlands, Huari, Tiahuanacao, Kachin, and Ik) he leaves no upturned stone unturned.

You can check Tainter’s causes off, stone by stone:
1. Depletion or cessation of a vital resource or resources on which the society depends
2. The establishment of a new resource base
3. The occurrence of some insurmountable catastrophe
4. Insufficient (or incompetent) response to circumstances
5. Other complex societies in competition
6. Intruders
7. Class conflict, societal contradictions, elite management or misbehavior
8. Social dysfunction
9. Mystical factors
10. Chance concatenation (don’t you relish that fancy word for clustering?) of events
11. Economic factors
12. Climate collapse

Now pick the one or ones you think are the yellow brick wall to which your particular civilization is headed. If your civilization has a name, or if you think it’s civilized, please identify it using a complete sentence.  Use numbers only and a ball point pen.  Black and blue are the only acceptable colors.  All others will be disqualified.

Check your answers. If you picked number 9 (mystical reasons) you have only yourself to blame. No one can judge the mysticism of another. If you picked social dysfunction, you didn’t attend finishing school.  If you didn’t pick 7, it’s because you didn’t read your Marx.  If you picked 10, it’s because you’re Jewish and tend to be overly pessimistic. But if you picked 12, you get 100%.  Because according to Tainter, 100% of all collapsed civilizations experienced climate change of some kind or other.  No exceptions.

And guess what, even though we consume 25% of the world’s resources, we can’t force climate collapse just on countries we don’t like, and now that there are no more planets to escape to, things have stopped looking all that good, not even for Virginia or Santa Claus.

MAY 28, 2013

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps the only hope for the world is for civilization to collapse.