A Brief Introduction to Societal Collapse

Thuletide

1200 words
Partially extracted from another article, but it’s more suited to being a standalone post.


One of the most important books on the topic of societal collapse is ‘The Collapse of Complex Societies’ by Joseph Tainter; an incredibly well-researched study of various societal collapses throughout history. Tainter develops a model of collapse via seventeen examples, then applies it to three case studies: The Western Roman Empire, the Mayan civilization of Mesoamerica, and the Chaco culture of North America.

Most people understand ‘societal collapse’ to mean “society becomes very shitty”, but Tainter provides the technical definition of ‘collapse = a massive reduction in the complexity of a society’ (not quoted verbatim).

A ‘complex system’ can be loosely defined as ‘a system that consists of multiple interdependent parts or subsystems that interact in a non-simple way.’ Note the operative word: Non-simple. A wristwatch has multiple interacting parts, but operates in…

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