Society Which Collapses

And although the election is over, the deep structural forces that brought us the current political crisis have not gone away. But the descent is not inevitable. This means that we can avoid the worst — perhaps by switching to a less harrowing track, perhaps by redesigning the rollercoaster altogether.

However, the collapse of society can be avoided. Plus, globalisation makes us robust, right? This comes back to what we mean by collapse. By this criterion, even very advanced societies have collapsed irreversibly and the West could too.

For that reason, many researchers avoid the word collapse, and talk instead about a rapid loss of Society Which Collapses. When the Roman Empire broke up, new societies emerged, but their hierarchies, cultures and economies were less sophisticated, and people lived shorter, unhealthier lives. On the other hand, some people, such as Yaneer Bar-Yam of the New England Complex Systems Institute in Massachusetts, see this kind of global change as a shift up in complexity, with highly centralised structures such as national governments giving way to less centralised, overarching networks of control.

Some scientists, Bar-Yam included, are even predicting a future where the nation state gives way to fuzzy borders and global Society Which Collapses of interlocking organisations, with our cultural identity split between our immediate locality and global regulatory bodies. However things pan out, almost nobody thinks the outlook for the West is good. So, can we do anything to soften the blow? Turchin says that by manipulating the forces that fuel the cycles, by, for example, introducing more progressive taxes to address income equality and the Society Which Collapses public debt, it might be possible to avert disaster.

And Motesharrei thinks we should rein in population growth to levels his model indicates are sustainable. These exact levels vary over time, depending on how many resources are left and how sustainably — or otherwise — we use them.

New psychology research may help to explain why that is the case. Cognitive scientists recognise two broad modes of thought — a fast, automatic, relatively inflexible mode, and a slower, more analytical, flexible one. Each has its uses, depending on the context, and their relative frequency in a population has long been assumed to be stable.

David Rand, a psychologist at Yale University, though, argues that populations might actually cycle between the two over time. Say a society has a transportation problem. A small group of individuals thinks analytically and invents the car.

The problem is solved, not only for them but for millions of others besides, and because a far larger number of people have been relieved of thinking analytically — at least in this one domain — there is a shift in the population towards automatic thinking. This happens every time a new technology is invented that renders the environment more hospitable.

Once large numbers of people use the technology without foresight, problems start to stack up. Climate change resulting from the excess use of fossil fuels is just one example. Others include overuse of antibiotics leading to microbial resistance, and failing to save for retirement. Jonathan Cohen, a psychologist at Princeton University who developed the theory with Rand, says it could help solve a long-standing puzzle regarding societies heading for ruin: why did they keep up their self-destructive behaviour even though the more analytical people must have seen the danger ahead?

This is the first time anyone has attempted to link the evolution of societies with human psychology, and the researchers admit their model is simple, for Society Which Collapses.

And while Rand and his colleagues make no attempt to guide policy, they do think their model suggests a general direction we might look in for remedies. Next Society Which Collapses. Available On Air Stations. All Streams. Latin America Report. WLRN Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Email. Rodrigo Abd.

Haitian civil society got very tired of just saying: This is bad, we condemn, we decry. Monique Clesca. Tim Padgett. See stories by Tim Padgett.

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