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Old Age and Societal Decline

Old Age and Societal Decline

People grow old and die. Civilizations eventually fail. For centuries amateur philosophers have used the former as a metaphor for the latter, leading to a few useful insights and just as many misleading generalizations. The comparison becomes more immediately interesting as our own civilization stumbles blindly toward collapse. While not the cheeriest of subjects, it’s worth exploring.

A metaphor is not an explanation.

First, it’s important to point out that serious contemporary researchers studying the phenomenon of societal collapse generally find little or no explanatory value in the metaphorical link with individual human mortality.

The reasons for individual decline and death have to do with genetics, disease, nutrition, and personal history (including accidents and habits such as smoking). We are all genetically programmed to age and die, though lifespans differ greatly.

Reasons for societal decline appear to have little or nothing to do with genetics. Some complex societies have failed due to invasion by foreign marauders (and sometimes the diseases they brought); others have succumbed to resource depletion, unforeseeable natural catastrophe, or class conflict. Anthropologist Joseph Tainter proposed what is perhaps the best general theory of collapse in his 1988 book The Collapse of Complex Societies, which argued that the development of societal complexity is a problem-solving strategy that’s subject to diminishing marginal returns. Once a civilization’s return on investment in complexity goes negative, that civilization becomes vulnerable to stresses of all sorts that it previously could have withstood.

There is a superficial similarity between individual aging, on one hand, and societal vulnerability once returns on investments in complexity have gone negative, on the other. In both cases, what would otherwise be survivable becomes deadly—whether it’s a fall on an uneven sidewalk or a barbarian invasion. But this similarity doesn’t provide explanatory value in either case. No physician or historian will be able to do her job better by use of the metaphor.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Old Age and Societal Decline

People grow old and die. Civilizations eventually fail. For centuries amateur philosophers have used the former as a metaphor for the latter, leading to a few useful insights and just as many misleading generalizations. The comparison becomes more immediately interesting as our own civilization stumbles blindly toward collapse. While not the cheeriest of subjects, it’s worth exploring.

A metaphor is not an explanation.

First, it’s important to point out that serious contemporary researchers studying the phenomenon of societal collapse generally find little or no explanatory value in the metaphorical link with individual human mortality.

The reasons for individual decline and death have to do with genetics, disease, nutrition, and personal history (including accidents and habits such as smoking). We are all genetically programmed to age and die, though lifespans differ greatly.

Reasons for societal decline appear to have little or nothing to do with genetics. Some complex societies have failed due to invasion by foreign marauders (and sometimes the diseases they brought); others have succumbed to resource depletion, unforeseeable natural catastrophe, or class conflict. Anthropologist Joseph Tainter proposed what is perhaps the best general theory of collapse in his 1988 book The Collapse of Complex Societies, which argued that the development of societal complexity is a problem-solving strategy that’s subject to diminishing marginal returns. Once a civilization’s return on investment in complexity goes negative, that civilization becomes vulnerable to stresses of all sorts that it previously could have withstood.

There is a superficial similarity between individual aging, on one hand, and societal vulnerability once returns on investments in complexity have gone negative, on the other. In both cases, what would otherwise be survivable becomes deadly—whether it’s a fall on an uneven sidewalk or a barbarian invasion. But this similarity doesn’t provide explanatory value in either case. No physician or historian will be able to do her job better by use of the metaphor.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Rising Police Aggression A Telling Indicator Of Our Societal Decline

Rising Police Aggression A Telling Indicator Of Our Societal Decline

A historially common marker of failing civilizations

My first Uber lift was in South Carolina.  My driver was from Sudan originally, but had emigrated to the US 20 years ago.  Being the curious sort, I asked him about his life in Sudan and why he moved.  He said that he left when his country had crumbled too far, past the point where a reasonable person could have a reasonable expectation of personal safety, when all institutions had become corrupted making business increasingly difficult.  So he left.

Detecting a hitch in his delivery when he spoke of coming to the US, I asked him how he felt about the US now, 20 years later.  “To be honest,” he said, “the same things I saw in Sudan that led me to leave are happening here now. That saddens me greatly, because where else is there to go?”

It’s time to face some uncomfortable ideas about the state of civilization in the United States. This country is no longer the beacon of freedom illuminating a better way for the world. Why not? Because it has ceased to be civilized.

The recent spate of police brutality videos and the complete lack of a useful or even sane response by the police unions is shaping my writing here. But it goes well beyond those incidents and extends into all corners of the lives of US citizens now, as police abuse is only one symptom of a much deeper problem.

What do we mean by “civilized?”  Well, take a look at its official definition and see if you note any descriptors that are lacking in present day US culture:

 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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