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A Link From a Listener

D sent the following:

I read this article in full:


The article is dated april 5th of this year in the magazine and 2nd of april online.

Refers firstly to an old book (pub. 1988) "The Collapse of Complex Societies" by Joseph Tainter of University of Utah, Salt Lake City.

He holds that all civilisations develop more layers of complexity until they are crushed under their own weight. Ours has only grown so big because of the free ride that oil has given us.

If crops fail, and rain is patchy, build irrigation canals. When they silt up, organise dredging crews. When the bigger crop yeilds lead to a bigger population, build more canals. When there are too many for ad-hoc repairs, install a management bureaucracy, and tax people to pay for it. When they complain, invent tax inspectors and a system to record the sums paid.


There is, however, a price to be paid. Every extra layer of organisation imposes a cost in terms of energy, the common currency of all huiman efforts.

The article later talks about how societies can move from hierarchies to networks but that the evidence suggests that this can make things worse. Your friend, Thomas Homer-Dixon is also quoted in this article.

Can you find NewScientist in your local library?



Thank you, D. I think it would be pretty presumptuous of me to claim Thomas Homer-Dixon as a friend. I've read and found great value in his book, The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization, and I've had one conversation with him, which you can hear in episode 36 of the C-Realm Podcast, but we've never met face to face, nor have we carried on any sort of on-going correspondence.

Multiple C-Realm guests have made mention of Joseph Tainter's book. I list it in the C-Realm Amazon Store under "Guest and Listener Recommendations" with Dmitry Orlov as the person who recommended it. That was in the context of our discussion in episode 96: Kollapsnik & the Ripping Yarn. If you haven't heard that episode or don't remember it, you might want to give it a listen or go and read Dmitry's essay The Five Stages of Collapse. It has a renewed relevance given the on-going catastrophe in the financial markets and the reportedly urgent need to pass unread legislation that will throw seven hundred billion dollars at the goal of preventing total collapse of the money-for-nothing economy.

I have not yet read the article to which you linked, but when I do, I may come back and expand upon this entry.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 24th, 2008 03:17 am (UTC)
Good Books on Collapse; Information Discovery

Coping With Collapse:

I thought this picture humorously sums up humanity's broad perspective on societal collapse. The link goes to a post in the 'Reality Sandwich' website, which contains links to some useful books about collapse.
These include titles such as:

  • Economic and planetary collapse: Is it a therapeutic issue? by Kathy McMahon, Psy.D.

  • "Recession, Depression, Collapse: What's Fear Got To Do With It?"
    by Carolyn Baker

  • "The Waking Up Syndrome"
    by Sarah Anne Edwards and Linda Buzzell

  • "How to be Radical? - An interview with Todd Gitlin and George Monbiot"

By the way, I often find new books of interest by searching for related books on the social networking site for bibliophiles; LibraryThing.com. Oddly, none of the titles above come up. But for a book like 'Collapse ...' by Jared Diamond there is always a list of good recommendations, [link here] based on what LibraryThing users have in their collective libraries.

I highly recommend LibraryThing as a tool for people who are reading into new topics, such as those that are developed in the c-Realm podcasts, because it allows them to take one good book and use it to discover related material, previously unknown to them.

Sep. 24th, 2008 09:39 am (UTC)
Re: Good Books on Collapse; Information Discovery
Here's a link to John Michael Greer's "The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age" in LibraryThing.

There seem to be no recommendations as of yet, because it's quite new. There are 5 users on LT, who own this book. If there are no automatically generated recommendations, and you want to explore the area more, perhaps it is worth looking at these users and seeing what they have in their libraries, and what they like/dislike most.

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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