Saturday, February 20, 2010


Jared Diamond, author of 'Guns, Germs and Steel' and 'Collapse', studies why some societies fail. The examples of the Mayans, Great Zimbabwe, Easter Islanders which failed, and Japan and Java where they have carried on going strong.

What is there that we can learn from the past in order to avoid societal collapse? He has a 5 point framework or checklist of things he goes through to understand why societies collapse.
  1. Human impacts on the environment. People inadvertently destroying the resources on which they depend.
  2. Climate Change
  3. Relations with neighbouring friendly societies
  4. Relations with hostile societies
  5. Political, Economic, Social and Cultural factors that make it more or less likely that the society will perceive and solve their problems.
I think it is number 5 which still most concerns us. It seems while people like the idea of logic in general, and a lot of progress has been made in terms of people challenging and turning aside some of their superstitions, a lot of people will still stand in the way of solving the worlds problems, and many will even die for things that they don't claim to understand, but believe in blindly. This is the thing that scares me the most.

I am still an optimist though. I think that while emotion is stronger than logic, and so impedes people working together and solving problems, a world with solved problems is far more emotionally appealing than killing someone because they killed your cousin, brother or father. I think a world where we celebrate and revel in all sorts of cultural heritage while not letting them define our future is very appealing.

Destruction takes up a hell of a lot of energy. So does guilt, blame and fear. Would be great if we recognized that some of the things that we think give us strength are the causes of this energy sapping. It doesn't just make logical sense, it feels right too.

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