Joseph Tainter's "Collapse of Complex Societies" : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

I've been reading "Collapse of Complex Societies," by Joseph Tainter. Though he makes no mention of Y2K, his premise that societies collapse when the benefits of society are overshadowed by the increasing cost to maintain them gives an eerie forecast of what we see in Y2K, the global financial turmoil, and the instability of governments worldwide. Here's a snippet - tell me what you think.

There are two general factors that combine to make a society vulnerable to collapse. First, stress and perturbation are a constant feature of any complex society. Yet a society experiencing declining returns is investing ever more heavily in a strategy that is yielding proportionately less. Excess productive capacity will at some point be used up, and accumulated surpluses allocated to current major operating needs. There is, then, little or no surplus with which to counter major adversities. Unexpected stress surges must be dealt with out of the current operating budget, often ineffectually, and always to the detriment of the system as a whole. Even if the stress is successfully met, the society is weakened in the process, and made even more vulnerable to the next crisis.

Secondly, declining marginal returns make complexity a less attractive problem-solving strategy. Where marginal returns decline, the advantages to complexity become ultimately no greater (for society as a whole) than for less costly social forms. The marginal cost of evolution to a higher level of complexity, or of remaining at the present level, is high compared with the alternative of disintegration.

Under such conditions, the option to decompose (that is, to sever the ties that link localized groups to a regional entity) becomes more attractive to certain components of a complex society. Many of the social units that comprise a complex society perceive increased advantage to a strategy of independence, and begin to pursue their own immediate goals rather than the long-term goals of the hierarchy. Behavioral interdependence gives way to behavioral independence, requiring the hierarchy to allocate still more of a shrinking resource base to legitimization and/or control.

I owe an apology to BigDog and Chris, by the way. This last line speaks about the fight to keep the hierarchy by those in power at all costs, and in a recent thread, I discounted their belief that our government, namely Clinton, is making plans to keep the regime. History shows this to be true and having thought it through some more, I expect I was speaking naively.

-- Brett (, February 10, 1999


That's cool, Brett, hope I'm wrong. BTW, for a tiny parable of the above, cf Windows V1, V2, V3, V3.1, 95 and 98. Or, Microsoft Word 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 95, 98, 2000 and beyond. Or .... well, you get the idea. Diminishing returns for sure.

Seriously, I believe Runway Cat has been recommending this book. Time to get it and read it ....

-- BigDog (, February 10, 1999.

Thanks Brett, I'll defintely get the book. Very interesting how he keeps stressing STRESS - look around you, I really think he's onto something here...

Cheers, Andy

-- Andy (, February 10, 1999.

Yes Dog, I've posted on this book before. Those quotes above are cool. However, the truly weird thing about this book is his chilling honesty. See, when he's gone through all the 'theory' about what various scholars have concluded 'causes' collapse, he points out that all the supposed collapse-triggers are always and everywhere present. Yet, collapses don't occur on schedule. Basically he points out that all the analysis in this area is (of necessity I suppose) post-hoc rationalizations rather than experimental or predictive science.

It is kind of like evolutionary theory: for any weird gizmo an animal may have on or in its body, some evolutionary biologist can cook up a reason why it was a necessary, functional adaptation. But why that animal and not others ? Why that gizmo and not another ? Why at that time and not another ? Can you predict the next adaptation ? Etc. No answer. This author is very open about that weakness of the field of collapsology.


-- Runway Cat (, February 10, 1999.

I read a book once by Emile Durkhiem, can not rememeber title.

Societies collapse because, over time they lose the social fabric and structure that holds them together.

in this scenary all strata's of society enter a state of "normlessness" were the traditional expectations of the society no longer hold true. We're there baby!!!

In this situation the ruling elites become more and more repressive in an attempt to reverse this state and the ruled are ever more oppressed by their rulers. BILL BILL HE OUR MAN IF HE CANT DO IY NO ONE CAN!!

-- Archemedes (, February 10, 1999.

"In this situation the ruling elites become more and more repressive in an attempt to reverse this state and the ruled are ever more oppressed by their rulers. BILL BILL HE OUR MAN IF HE CANT DO IY NO ONE CAN!!"


WE are the reason why any "ruling elites" would become more and more repressive.

WE must take this responsiblity upon ourselves for our inaction and lack of interest.

WE've been lulled into a sense of comfort and WE don't fight anymore.

"In this situation the ruling elites become more and more repressive in an attempt to reverse this state and the ruled are ever more oppressed by their rulers," refers to Kings and Rulers and not to representitive government.

I don't discount the premise that this is happening now within our own government but placing blame upon them and only them is not responsible.

WE have to take the blame for not being active in our own government.

WE have to take responsibility for the decisions that have led us to the kind of government we have at this time.

Our system has shown a great capacity to evolve and change and it can become better but it will take the actions of a true and vocal majority with a common vision before it happens.

"making plans to keep the regime."

What exactly would you expect? Would you expect any President to sit by and watch as this nation faces the possiblity of being torn apart? Do you think any other President would act differently? Perhaps the would act more responsibly and not as recklessly but I believe they would take similar action to ensure the nation remained intact.

Mike =====================================================

-- Michael Taylor (, February 11, 1999.

To: Mike

I agree with you except, What do I expect from the government?

HONESTY, LEADERSHIP, a commitment to the law, and the Constitution ridiculous Things I don't expect from SLICK WILLY

-- Archemedes (, February 11, 1999.

Mike, I agree with you. We have allowed ourselves to be placed in this position of comfort. Once I asked a friend to ride with me to vote. Her answer, "No, it's raining."

I grew up without electricity, running water or TV, and I never felt deprived. But when I got away from home, I began slowly acquiring the fun and easy gadgets. And I began slowly to quit canning, gardening, sewing and making do. Now I regret it, but I'm glad Istill know how. Speaking of expecting "honesty and leadership." I expect that too. But it's rather naive of us, when you stop to consider that "they" come from the same society we live in, and corporate spending, has more clout than we do.

Concerning President Bill and both houses of Congress; a caller suggested on a radio talk show that Clinton had rather be facing the investigation of his sexual romp by Congress, than dealing with the Y2K problem; and that Congress had rather pursue the investigation, than deal with Y2K; and that all of this was better for Wall Street, corporate profit, and high media ratings, so Clinton, by his serial groping, had conveniently provided everyone, with a built in escape hatch for the real problems we are facing. Comment?

-- gilda jessie (, February 11, 1999.

Gilda --- very true, I think, not necessarily that they consciously wish it, but when this is over, it is very, very likely that the evil eye of media glare will swoop down ASAP on world economic and political perils. March and April are going to be very interesting.

-- BigDog (, February 11, 1999.

gilda, we are in absolute understanding and agreement. I read your words like they were my own.

Archemedes... I expect the same things from government. There are too few leaders and too much special interests.

I keep thinking about how often the words 'get back to doing the people's business' were uttered throughout this process by both sides. I kept thinking they are protesting just a little too much. I think they were relieved to not have to deal with the really hard issues.

Big Dog, I fear you're right. It makes perfect sense and it's been mentioned in other threads that after this scandal is over other bad news looms on the horizon.

How do I feel about that?

We aren't gonna make it, are we?

Mike ==========================================================

-- Michael Taylor (, February 11, 1999.

The function y=f(x),
a mapping from:
x E {X} domain = state of your society (thriving/collapsing)
y = E {Y} range = personal, individual outcomes (life/death, health/wealth)
is strictly non-linear !

You will, however, die.

-- Blue Himalayan (bh@k2.y), February 11, 1999.

"...and they will vote themselves bread and circuses."

-- Greybear

-Got peanuts?

-- Greybear (, February 11, 1999.

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