“A Brief Introduction to Societal Collapse”
‘The Collapse of Complex Societies’ by Joseph Tainter is one of the most important books on this subject. It’s an incredibly well-researched study of various societal collapses throughout history. Tainter develops a model of collapse via seventeen examples, then applies the model to three case studies: The Western Roman Empire, the Mayan civilization of Mesoamerica, and the Chaco culture of North America.
‘Societal collapse’ is generally understood 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 a simple manner to perform a simple task.
According to Tainter’s model, a society increases in…
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