posted on Sep, 22 2010 @ 03:06 PM
In the two years since I started this thread, events have vindicated my intuition. I've also done a lot more research on the decline of complex
societies / communities.
I keep finding the following scenario, with variations, throughout history:
Phase 1. Increasing Complexity
A given community solves its problems by increasing the complexity of its technology and social networks. (Examples include the Egyptians in
the Old Kingdom, harnessing the Nile flood for fertilization and irrigation, and the priests developing the bureaucracy to administer it all. Another
is the Anasazi, who built massive irrigation systems in NM/AZ in the American Southwest. Or Medieval European Christendom, with its system of
traveling fairs throughout western Europe, plus the monastery and banking networks to control production. The best example of course, is Rome, which
built aquaeducts to provide water to the seven hills of the city, and thus increase its population to become the largest city on earth.)
As this stage, problems are solved by technology, and by overcoming the limits of time and space through upping the complexity of the technology, as
well as through a process of social specialization. This means specialized craftsmen: engineers, architects, bureaucrats, etc.
Stage 2. Increasing Costs
This is where the system has grown so big that it begins to bog down. Costs of maintaining the system threaten to overtake profits. Most of the best
fields have been irrigated, all the neighboring tribes have been subdued, and it costs more and more to maintenance the system. This is the point in
time where mercenaries are hired, special police forces created, special rules made to maintain order and control how society divides up the more
expensive remaining resources.
Stage 3. Cutting costs by simplifying the system
A newcomer (often an invader or criminal element) creates surplus by dismantling the overly-complex system. When the components are simplified, many
people lose their livelihoods, and emigrate. This negative population change frees up even more surplus, and creates a temporary "green
time" as few people work as hard to maintain the simplified system.
Examples of this stage are Egypt during the invasion of the Hyksos: irrigation declines rapidly, and the diet shifts over to livestock, which further
reduces the population of workers needed by large households. For the Anasazi, conjectured bandit raids mean that far-flung communities are
disbanded, and move into cliff-dwellings, which are easier to defend, but leave more farmland unprotected, which causes further contractions. In
Europe, the fairs are halted by local chieftans waging war. In Rome, I believe this moment came in 537 AD when Witigis, unable to fully invade Rome,
destroyed the Aqua Claudia, the aqueduct that made Rome's population of 1.2 million unsustainable. The bulk of the population began leaving the city
at this point, and it didn't recover until the Renaissance.
I believe that this process of cutting, "down-sizing" etc., accelerates until the whole system is replaced.
I think this is what is going on economically world-wide.