Book Review: Joseph Tainter – The Collapse of Complex Societies

Joseph Tainter – The Collapse of Complex Societies (1998)
Rating: 5/5
: Can be downloaded here. Access my other reviews here:
tainter-collapse-complex-societiesTLDR: Joseph Tainter argues that the root cause of civilizational collapse is because of over-investment into and declining marginal returns on complexity. Societies invest in complexity to solve their problems and typically need to expend ever more organizational and physical energy to maintain that level of complexity; eventually, this expenditure undermines their material base, opens up a large potential gap where they could reap the exact same benefits but at a lower level of complexity (and cost), and the likelihood of collapse converges to one.

You can read excellent summaries of the book by Ugo Bardi, and Joseph Tainter himself.


Ruins and relics of long dead civilizations, now overtaken by vines of verdant chaos, or buried under the shifting sands of time, hold a certain morbid fascination for us – these once great, hubristic and monumental societies that flourished and then collapsed, leaving only ruins and legends in their wake. We cannot help entertaining thoughts about the sustainability of own, global, industrial civilization; the “possibility that a civilization should die doubles our own mortality”.

What is collapse? Tainter starts off by defining collapse – when an empire, chiefdom or tribe experiences a “significant loss of an established level of socio-political complexity”, manifesting itself in decreases in vertical stratification, occupational specialization, regimentation, centralization, information and trade flows, literacy, artistic achievement, territorial extent and investment in the “epiphenomena of civilization” (palaces, granaries, temples, etc). He summarizes a large number of historic collapses – Harappa, the Western Chou, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Mycenaean Greece, the Roman Empire and different American cultures.

Civilization and Collapse

Historical cases of collapse. In many cases a formerly highly organized, regimented and standardized civilization devolved into a more chaotic, brutal and cruder one. As they experienced stresses, evidence grows of separatism, feudalism, barbarian invasions and civil war and famines. As in Rome during the Crisis of the Third Century or the Old Kingdom of Egypt after 2181BC, there were multiple rulers competing for power in any one year. Legitimizing symbols of the old order were destroyed, like the burned palaces in Mycenaean Greece and the toppled basalt monuments of the Olmecs and the deconstructed ruins of the Egyptian pyramids. Archaeologists discovered unburied corpses, hoarded jewelry and primitive huts in the cities of post-collapse Harappa; in many cases, grand buildings and monumental works such as the Pyramids are deconstructed to help build local, humbler dwellings to last out the approaching Dark Ages… For some collapses can be very long indeed. A thousand years separated the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the Renaissance. After its 11th C collapse, the population of Mesopotamia dropped to its lowest level in at least 5000 years and until modern times the areas outside Baghdad reverted to nomadism. The mother of all collapses is that of the Ik (used by Dmitry Orlov to represent the fifth, and last, stage of collapse) – in this hunter-gatherer society, at one point all familial and social relations broke down, subsistence was pursued individually and universally abandoned children coalesced into “age sets” for mutual protection.

After the Roman withdrawal, Britain descended into lawlessness as villas and cities were burned, looted and replaced by small fortified settlements; barter and self-sufficiency replaced money and trade networks. Public works, literacy, and internal and external security vanished; for in a “complex society that has collapsed…the overarching structure that provides support services to the population loses capability or disappears entirely” – the “world as seen from any locality perceptibly shrinks, and over the horizon lies the unknown”.

Benefits of collapse? This is not, however, to say that after collapse the world shifts into a post-apocalyptic Mad Max-style Hobbesian war of all against all where the center doesn’t hold, grass grows in a streets and bands of malnourished survivors scavenge amidst the rusted ruins of former grandeur. Contemporary elites incapable of primary food production (as well as historians) see the loss of peace, great literature and technology in a tragic light; yet collapse is at base an economizing process carried through by rational individuals for whom this outcome is objectively preferable. There is evidence that in many parts of the Roman Empire average nutrition actually improved, since the peasants were no longer burdened into forced savings to maintain the imperial superstructure of magnates, bureaucrats and soldiers.

What are complex societies? Complex societies range from kinship-based bands and chiefdoms dominated by populist “Big Men” to territorially-defined nations ruled over by a depersonalized government drafted from the ranks of entrenched elites with monopolies on violence, taxation and legislation and needing constant ideological legitimization and coercion to sustain themselves. The more highly complex societies (based on “organic solidarity”, vertical stratification and horizontal specialization) are “nearly decomposable systems” made from simpler building blocks, which decompose into their constituent forms after a collapse.

How do complex societies evolve? There exist two major schools of thought on this issue, the “Marxist” / “conflict” and the “integrationist”. In The Family, Private Property and the State, Engels wrote that differential acquisition of wealth led to hereditary nobility, monarchy, slavery and imperialist wars – to maintain the privileged position of a ruling class based on exploitation and coercion of the masses (and contradictions in social systems between antagonistic classes drove history). However, there is a contradiction. Marxists say surpluses are needed for state formation, but since material conditions are culturally mediated, why can’t they be concocted whenever one pleases? Why did humanity spend more than 99% of its history in primitive bands?

The integrationists believe that states stem from the needs of society based on a shared consensus, not the ambitions of elites and coercive dominance. This is usually in response to a problem that could be better solved with managerial hierarchies – for instance, a hydraulic despotism can concentrate powers of information processing and labor mobilizations to build and maintain irrigation systems, thus solving the problem of overpopulation in a limited and stressed environment – at least for a time. In this view, elites get compensated for fulfilling their beneficial roles, though Marxists can still make the valid argument that historically their rewards tended to surpass their real contributions because of coercion (soldiers, control over food, etc) and legitimizing propaganda and ideologies.

In conclusion, a synthesis is possible between the two theories. Institutions form from unequal access to resources AND create benefits for average citizens. Integrationism accounts better for distribution of necessities of life; conflict theory for surpluses. Pure self­-aggrandizement can’t account for state development, but helps understand their subsequent history. Complex societies are fundamentally problem-solving organizations, operating through “conflict theory” to resolve the problems stemming from differentiated economic success and through “integration theory” to secure the common wellbeing. When they grow in complexity, societies move from being small, internally homogenous, little undifferentiated bands and chiefdoms with ephemeral and unstable leaders, to large, heterogeneous, internally differentiated, class structured, controlled and unequal nations, requiring constant legitimization, reinforcement and coercion to sustain themselves. Collapse is rapid decline in established level of complexity along continuous variable, from one structurally stable level to another.

Problems with existing explanations for collapse. Tainter devotes a chapter to criticizing the most common explanations for collapse as of 1988:

  1. Depletion or cessation of vital resources;
  2. Establishment of new resource base;
  3. Insurmountable catastrophe;
  4. Insufficient response to circumstances;
  5. Other complex societies;
  6. Intruders;
  7. Class conflict, societal contradictions, elite mismanagement;
  8. Social dysfunction;
  9. Mystical factors;
  10. Chance concatenation of events;
  11. Economic factors.

Ancient writers made a linkage between resource depletion and collapse, but they tended to treat falling agricultural yields, economic decline and political weakness as a co-variable with, or consequence of, elite profligacy, moral decadence and other subjective judgments. This was tied in with their general mystical belief in cyclic history. Although land exhaustion usually led to collapse in agricultural empires like Rome or Mesopotamia, Tainter points out that sometimes ecological stress, such as that following deforestation in medieval England, led to renewed growth instead of collapse as people found a new “energy subsidy” in the form of coal after forced intensification. (Another example would be “sustainability” in Tokugawa Japan – see Collapse by Jared Diamond). This is tied in with insufficient response – though some societies got irreversible locked into a certain level of complexity (Law of Evolutionary Potential – “the more specialized and adapted a form in a given evolutionary stage, the smaller its potential for passing to the next stage”), at other times they adapt or discover new resources that allow them to continue getting more complex. As such, these arguments fail to recognize resource depletion and social choices as ultimately conditioned by a rational benefits-cost analysis of complexity – they don’t see the forest for the trees.

Though suitably simple, apocalyptic and attractive catastrophes and barbarian intruders cannot explain the deeper why? of collapse. The whole point of complex societies is to marshal the surpluses necessary for overcoming such systematic shocks – when the system becomes too fragile, these can tip it over into collapse as happened with the Minoans after the eruption of Thera (it received “… irreparable blow, and from then onwards gradually declined and sank into decadence, losing its prosperity and power”). Rome brushed off the disastrous manpower losses of the Carthaginian Wars with east and even managed to withstand severe barbarian pressure during its Crisis of the Third Century; yet relatively weaker forces toppled the demoralized and anemic Western Roman Empire of the 4th C. Economic problems and elite mismanagement and cronyism are more a symptom of collapse than an explanation.

Explanation through mysticism is the oldest explanation, with Plato writing in Laws, “…since all created things must decay, even a social order…cannot last forever, but will decline”. Writing his seminal Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbons attributed the imperial predicament to relaxation of military discipline, Christianity, ignorance of dangers, bad emperors and the decline of martial spirit with prosperity. Major modern theorists included Danilevsky, Spengler and Toynbee. A lovely, demonstrative quotation from Decline of the West by Spengler is a good example of mystical thinking about collapse:

A Culture is born in the moment when a great soul awakens out of the proto- spirituality of ever-childish humanity, and detaches itself, a form from the formless, a bounded and mortal thing from the boundless and enduring. It blooms on the soil of an exactly-definable landscape, to which plant-wise it remains bound. It dies when this soul has actualized the full sum of its possibilities in the shape of peoples, languages, dogmas, arts, states, sciences, and reverts into the proto-soul. But its living existence, that sequence of great epochs which define and display the stages of fulfillment, is an inner passionate struggle to maintain the Idea against the powers of Chaos without and the unconscious muttering deep-down within…The aim once attained – the idea, the entire content of inner possibilities, fulfilled and made externally actual – the Culture suddenly hardens, it mortifies, its blood congeals, its force breaks down, and it becomes Civilization, the thing which we feel and understand in the words Egypticism, Byzantinism, Mandarinism. As such they may, like worn-out giant of the primeval forest, thrust their decaying branches towards the sky for hundreds or thousands of years, as we see in China, in India, in the Islamic world…At last, in the grey dawn of Civilization the fire in the Soul dies down. The dwindling powers rise to one more, half-successful, effort of creation, and produce the Classicism that is common to all dying Cultures. The soul thinks once again, and in Romanticism looks back piteously to its childhood; then finally, weary, reluctant, cold, it loses its desire to be, and, as in Imperial Rome, wishes itself out of the overlong daylight and back in the darkness of proto-mysticism in the womb of the mother in the grave.

Unfortunately, mystical explanations relying on life and death biological growth analogies of life and death and vaguely defined concepts of “vigor” and “decadence” are scientifically unrigorous, albeit aesthetically attractive – as proved by the space Tainter himself feels compelled to devote to it!

Understanding collapse. As noted above, human societies are problem-solving organizations – the benefits of complexity are management of class struggle (conflict theory) or satisfaction of social needs (integration theory). Yet complexity needs energy to maintain itself – modern industrial civilization is more energy-intense than hunter-gatherer societies by many orders of magnitude. As civilization climbs up the ladder of complexity, ever more information networks, hierarchies and specialists have to be funded out of surpluses; thus, the per capita support costs for greater complexity continuously increase. However, investment in socio-political complexity as a problem-solving response often reaches a point of declining marginal returns (i.e. growth in costs overtakes growth in benefits, and collapse becomes increasingly likely when overall costs surpass gross benefits). Tainter backs up this theory of diminishing returns on complexity by analyzing several major features of complex societies.

Diminishing marginal returns to agriculture, mineral extraction. As the population grows, it is forced to intensify food production by transitioning from slash and burn agriculture to annual cropping or even multi-cropping (Boserup); furthermore, there is evidence the shift to farming from hunter-gathering was spurred on by rising population densities in the Fertile Crescent (Cohen). These early farmers were less healthy than wild men like Enkidu, yet they had huge advantages in numbers and organization. However, although overall food production rises the per unit labor output declines, eventually reading to a subsistence crisis and susceptibility to collapse-inducing systemic shocks; however, sometimes major jumps in population can result in transformation through discovery of a new energy subsidy as happened repeatedly in England around 1300, 1600 and the Industrial Revolution (Wilkinson). Since the largest, most accessible and concentrated ores and oil deposits are generally discovered and exploited first, marginal returns apply heavily to these enterprises (this is what EROEI is all about).


Patents productivity.

Diminishing marginal returns to information processing. Although the numbers of technical workers and R&D spending (see graph) mushroomed since the 19th C, US patents per capita peaked in 1850-1900. The amounts spent on medicine in relative terms, not to mention absolute, did nothing to avert slowing life expectancy growth (the easiest and most effective innovations are vaccinations, sanitation, basic hygiene and obstetrics – as long as the people are afflicted with drug addictions or other specific problems, concentrating on these is enough to raise life expectancy to 70 years. Returns on treating chronic conditions are much poorer, though there might be a revolutionary breakthrough that will reverse diminishing returns). Students are getting far longer and more specialized educations, which generally “yields decreased general benefits for greater costs”, with specialization serving a narrower sector to general social cost. These observations are supported by Planck’s Principle of Increasing Effort ­- “with every advance [in science] the difficulty of the task is increased” (i.e. you’re now unlikely to make new discoveries by flying a kite in a thunderstorm). Furthermore, “Exponential growth in size and costliness of science, in fact, is necessary simply to maintain a constant rate of progress”, and according to Rescher, “In natural science we are involved in a technological arms race: with every ‘victory over nature’ the difficulty of achieving the breakthroughs which lie ahead is increased”.

Diminishing marginal returns to socio-political control. Parkinson makes observations on the tendency of bureaucracy to metastasize, e.g. noting how between 1935 and 1964 the number of officials in the British Colonial Service rose from 372 to 1661 even as the Empire disintegrated (“the bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy” – Civilization 4). But this cannot be specific to states because hierarchical specialization increased everywhere, including the cost-conscious private sector, because complex organizations need ever more administrators to manage ever greater requirements in information processing and integration of disparate parts requirements. This can result in vicious spirals and destructive loops. One example is Arms spiral → greater costs in unproductive military size, R&D on both sides → balance of power remains constant; another is taxation increases, regulation → avoidance, fewer returns, search for loopholes → more bureaucracy for finding loopholes, for coercion → more regulations, more taxes → budget deficits, inflation, delegitimization → more bread and circuses, coercion, etc → more taxes → collapse, etc – it’s possible to build any number of these.

Diminishing marginal returns on economic productivity. It is well-known that advanced countries grow at a slow rate, since they already use all the more profitable technologies, while poorer countries can converge at a fast rate if the right conditions are in place (I wrote a lot on this on SO). Rich countries face declining marginal returns on investing in more economic growth, and need to spend more maintaining their existing level of complexity.


Diminishing returns to increasing complexity (after Tainter 1988), because you need energy to maintain a certain level of complexity.

Explaining collapse. As shown above, the curve for marginal return for complexity is Ո-­shaped. Inevitably there comes a time when “continued investment in complexity as a problem solving strategy yields a declining marginal return” (C1,B1 to C2,B2). Tensions, adversity and dissatisfaction build up, resulting in ideological strife (e.g. between growth and no-growth). The system “scans” for solutions or alternatives to collapse, be it new religions in Roman times or more R&D, green technologies or singularitarianism today. If this process is successful, the system receives an energy subsidy (like England got with coal), and the process continues; otherwise, it passes the peak and starts descending into outright “output failure” as benefits fall while costs soar. At this point, decomposition rapidly becomes inevitable as “scanning” ceases, for the system no longer has the surpluses to do it. In most cases rigid behavioral controls are imposed, innovation and positive change is stymied and corruption, authoritarianism and feudalism begin to dominate (I think the Polish word uklad is appropriate), for society is enslaved to its own myths of superiority and delusions of grandeur. Increasingly radical attempts to save the system, even cardinally change it, cannot permanently reserve the trend towards further complexity and disequilibrium; eventually, everyone loses faith in the system and there is a severe collapse.

(My abstraction of collapse: Systematic increase in complexity → regulation of subsistence production → hierarchy, bureaucracy and agricultural facilities investment (irrigation) → agriculture for bureaucrats, more energy / minerals extraction → expanded military for protection → even more food and resources needed → more resources drained from support population → ever increasing demands on legitimization → if it fails, needs more coercion → more internal policing costs → delegitimization as taxes up, corruption up, infrastructure decays, no visible benefits → revenues down, budget deficits, inflation → decomposition becomes optimal option → stresses, fragility, drawdown of reserves → catastrophic event (invasion, climate shift, etc) → peasantry and regional magnates become apathetic to wellbeing of central powers → collapse to lower, more local and balanced, level of sociopolitical complexity).

The Collapse of the Roman Empire

At least in the West, the decline and fall of the Roman empire is the prime historical example of collapse. Though Tainter also takes an in-depth look at the Mayan and Chaco collapse, the Roman case is the most detailed.

During the early rise of the Republic, Roman expansion were self-financing. The accumulated surpluses of conquered peoples were assimilated, tributary flows established and for a time Roman citizens were relieved from taxation.In early agricultural societies, territorial aggrandizement was the only way to acquire the energy subsidies needed to increased complexity – but it was a poisoned chalice, for Rome assumed long-term obligations to administer, garrison and defend the new territories.

Already under Augustus (27BC-14AD) there appeared shortages of revenues, forcing him to introduce an unpopular 5% tax on inheritances and legacies to fund military pensions. The size of the empire was also capped by this period. The Roman Empire was centered around the Mediterranean because all the richest regions were concentrated there, since at the time bulk transport of goods (primarily food products) was only possible by sea. Further conquests like Britain and Dacia were net losses to the imperial accounts, while eastern lands were blocked by Parthia.
However, at the the benefits of empire firmly surpassed its costs. The Pax Romana was enforced by a standing, professional army that secured internal and external security. A competent civil service and extensive road and courier system encouraged trade and economic integration. Food storage and distribution was organized to prevent local famines (at least in regions near the coasts) and urban dwellers were treated to public works and treated with a public dole.

Yet those same above trends – increasing army size, burgeoning bureaucracy and welfarism – led to increasing stresses on the system that provided them. From the time of Nero, the state began to debase its currency by mixing silver with base metals, leading to the ancient equivalent of inflation.


Debasement of the Roman silver currency, 0-269 AD (after Tainter 1994b with modifications).
The chart shows grams of silver per denarius (the basic silver coin) from 0 to 237 A.D., and per 1/2 denarius from 238-269 A.D. (when the denarius was replaced by a larger coin tariffed at two denarii).

The military apparatus also increased greatly, both the number of troops and their salaries. Soldiers’ pay increased from 225 denarii under Augustus, to 300 under Domitian, and 750 denarii by the end of the reign of Severus Alexander in 235. Yet these salaries were undercut by inflation and there were bands of military deserters loose by the time of the Severans.

In general, “The expenses of government were steadily increasing out of proportion to any increase in receipts and the State was moving steadily in the direction of bankruptcy” (Matting). The Antonine Plague of 165-180AD depopulated the Roman Empire, fiscal difficulties multiplied and in 235-284 the Empire entered a period of unparalleled stresses known as the Crisis of the Third Century.

Emperors and pretenders ruled for months at a time before being sidelined or assassinated, usually after losing the critical support of the military. Trade networks declined precipitously as the countryside was afflicted by lawlessness, banditry and separatism, leading to rural depopulation. Peasants flocked to local notables and landowners for protection, resulting in the establishment of the self-sufficient manorial economy that would characterize medieval Europe – the Bagaudae in Gaul and Hispania were peasant insurgents reacting against these trends towards proto-feudalism. Barbarian incursions wracked border regions of the Empire and there was another plague in 150-170 AD.

Censuses and historical detail thin, as literacy and science declined during this period, to be replaced by an “increase in mysticism, and knowledge by revelation”:

Literacy and mathematical training apparently declined during the third century… The major emphasis of what education remained was rhetoric, and that was not really relevant to the needs of the government. There was at the same time an increase in mysticism, and knowledge by revelation. The external threats brought increased propaganda about patriotism, ancient Roman values, and superiority over the barbarians.

Inflation hurt state workers on fixed incomes (soldiers, bureaucrats, workers in military factories, etc), forcing the government to pay them in kind or bullion. Aurelian conscripted the craft associations to build walls around Rome. Costs, taxes and inflation continued to soar, to provide for continued growth in the army, bureaucracy, the dole and palaces; yet at the same time, the effectiveness and transparency of civil services declined and public works fell into disrepair.

Yet by then there were tentative signs of recovery. Aurelian reformed the coinage, reconquered lost provinces, repelled the barbarians and ordered the obligatory farming of land by drafting nearby villages and towns into agricultural work forces. Diocletian and Constantine made truly sweeping reforms that “levied all resources to one overarching goal: the survival of the state”.


Roman military strength over time.

The army doubled in size from 300,000 under the Severans to more than 500,000. Diocletian built strategic networks of roads and fortresses along the frontiers; Constantine made the army more mobile, professional and increased the expensive cavalry component. The empire split into two and administrative units were made smaller to dissuade revolt, which required an even larger bureaucracy. Christianity was adopted for legitimization of the Emperor as God-sanctioned, with focus shifting from personality to symbols of power (diadem, mantle, scepter, orb). The new burdens resulted in more taxes and inflation, despite tax innovations and attempts to fix prices. The distinctions between private and public blurred as the State directed people into occupations (usually along generational lines) and levied their output.

Population remained down after the plagues – agricultural laborers were so rare landowners bribed vagabonds to enlist for military conscription. Height requirements were lowered and barbarians made up an ever larger share of the army. The demographic collapse continued unabated, despite attempts to reverse it like Constantine’s program of assistance to orphans and poor children in 315AD.

Taxes, already high before the Dominate, doubled from 324 to 364; they were flat, unresponsive and regressive. The wealthy fled to the countryside, obtained exemptions on taxes and passed on their costs to peasants and the remaining urban middle classes. Since peasants had few reserves, if shocks like droughts, locusts or banditry ruined them they had to borrow, starve or sell down their possessions (land, children, etc). When they failed to repay, they were dispossessed and either coerced into serfdom or fled to the cities for relief, where the dole was still handed out. The result was depopulation of the countryside and impoverishment of the cities.

The burdens of complexity broke the Western Roman Empire. Different occupations fought for personnel, so military declined until barbarians were relied upon entirely to staff the army – Attila was defeated in Gaul in 451 by a federation of local Germanic kingdoms. Records indicate both rich and poor apathy, and even sympathy, to the barbarians (Balkan miners went over to the Visigoths en masse in 378).

According to RM Adams, “By the fifth century, men were ready to abandon civilization itself in order to escape the fearful load of taxes”. In 476, after being denied payment or settlement in Italy, the Roman barbarian army mutinied, sacked Rome and deposed Romulus Augustus, the last Western Emperor.

For whereas “under the Principate the strategy had been to tax the future to pay for the present, the Dominate paid for the present by undermining the future’s ability to pay taxes” – in the end this could have only ended in collapse.


Although the loss of art, literature and peace are seen as catastrophic, especially by elites incapable of primary food production and by later historians, it is always a rational, economizing process (see Romans aiding barbarians). This is because “at some point along the declining portion of a marginal return curve, a society reaches a state where the benefits available for a level of investment are no higher than those available for some lower level”, thus opening a kind of potential gap. Population collapse usually preceded socio-political collapse (Roman depopulation began in the middle of the 2nd C).

Furthermore, “collapse occurs, and can only occur, in a power vacuum”, for in a “competitive, or potentially competitive, peer polity situations the options to collapse to a lower level of complexity is an invasion to be dominated by some other member of the cluster…investment in organizational complexity must be maintained at a level comparable to one’s competitors, even if marginal returns become unfavorable” – this accounted for how the competing Maya states took so long to collapse, and collapsed simultaneously when they did. For “the specific state is legitimized in the eyes of its citizens by the existence of other states which patently do function along comparable lines”.

Implications for global industrial civilization. We are experiencing diminishing marginal returns in investment into agriculture, mineral extraction, energy efficiency, healthcare, education, political and industrial management, the military, some elements of technical design and further GDP growth. Furthermore, just as in the Roman Empire, some skeptics might argue that our credit-based, inflationary system taxes the future to pay for the present and our depletion of high-EROEI energy source and pollution emissions undermine the ability of the future to pay taxes.

We can already see “scanning” behavior for solutions – survivalism, sustainability, machine superintelligence – we would be wise to marshal resources and concentrate on intensification in this area, so as to increase the chances of achieving a technological transformation which will allow us to leap over the Olduvai Gorge. Success is not guaranteed, however, since R&D is itself subject to diminishing returns…

As Paul Valéry said, “…nothing can ever happen again without the whole world’s taking a hand”. Because of the lack of a power vacuum, any collapse will be global and densely spaced in time – hence the prevailing predictions about and fear over multiplying failed states in the decades ahead.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. I am going to try to do more book reviews in the future.

    This is not, strictly speaking, a new review; I first wrote it several years ago, then deleted it from my blog for some reason I can’t recall (this was before I was at the Unz Review). I am republishing it with a few minor spelling/grammar corrections.

  2. Very good book, surprised to see it here as it demonstrates the futility of right-wing fantasies of increasing control of nature, man, and society and presents a vision that is far more in line with Taoism.

    Also in line with that guy I quoted a while ago with the theory that the more effort the closer you are to the death threshold that Dan C got so furious about at the time.

    I think Anatoly is discovering his spiritual side. I knew Russia would change him rather than he Russia.

    I wonder if in 10 years Anatoly will realize how much of his thinking was just an artifact of living in the West. You can write a post about it then, Anatoly.

    As for the mystical explanation, it is not unfortunate that it is not scientifically rigorous.

    AK: Except that (see just above) I wrote it when I was in the US, in Berkeley, near the height of what I suppose passed for the “mystical” phase of my life.

  3. Oh, I see its a few years old. Maybe we cannot attribute it to Russian influence then but to a rarely revealed side of you that possibly exists in kernel inside you somewhere, maybe.

    Well, it’s good to see it.

  4. Daniel Chieh says

    This reminds me, AK, of the conversation we had briefly about biological systems and their efficiency. That’s going to be one of the continuing strengths, I believe, of biosingularity versus technosingularity scenarios; technological solutions for all of their strengths appear to be more fragile and more costly in terms of energy than biological solutions, especially if variability of input is considered. E.g. most organisms can consume a pretty wide selection of acceptable material to convert into energy, but technological inputs seem fairly narrow and specialized.

    Its a well known issue when trying to automate factories.

  5. Daniel Chieh says

    As I said then, and worth repeating: lying doesn’t make you any more spiritual.

  6. Perhaps that mystical phase of yours is now returning (as why else publish this) under Russian influence, and perhaps it’s what drew you to Russia initially?

    Either, I’d like to see more of mystical Anatoly 🙂

  7. German_reader says

    I’m not sure of the validity of such a general model of collapse when it only refers to pre-modern examples, with the fall of Rome being the most well-documented example (though in fact there are many crucial issues about which we know very little with any security), the other examples like the collapse of Eastern Mediterranean societies in the late Bronze age or the collapse of Maya cities being even more remote from the modern world. There is some vague allusion to the destruction of Baghdad by the Mongols and the end of the Polish commonwealth (if I understand the reference to uklad correctly)…but that wasn’t really a case of collapse in a power vacuum, but just military defeat or partition by more powerful neighbours.
    Seems doubtful to me that the fall of Rome is really relevant to the present world. I also disagree with some of the elements of the interpretation of that process (imo it ignores the changes among Rome’s enemies too much – e.g. the Germanic barbarians forming larger confederations in late antiquity and becoming technologically and militarily much more threatening than at the time of Arminius, also the rise of Sassanid Persia), but would just recommend Bryan Ward-Perkins’ The fall of Rome and the end of civilization, which contains a lot of interesting data.

  8. OK, I will retract my comment that you got angry if that makes you angry 🙂

  9. blahbahblah says

    “When the whole world was a roman citizen, Rome no longer had any citizens, and when a Roman citizen was the same as a Cosmopolite, there was no love for either Rome or the world. When love of country in Rome became cosmopolitan, it grew irrelevant, inactive, and null, and when Rome became the same as the world, it was no longer the homeland of anyone, and Roman citizens, once their homeland was the world, had no homeland, as the facts showed.” – Giacomo Leopardi

    I feel Spengler and Toynbee got a lot of the social psychology right… as societies become more complex(often through conquest) the more they will be dominated by a managerial rationalism that sets itself apart from those they manage. They start to create a sense of selfhood in denying and negating past shared values and memories. They stop to care who exactly they manage and abstract them away. This in turn leaves the managed class a deep sense of homelessness… a lost sense of being part of a shared community of memory. And then the managed will react with either inert lethargic nihilist submission, populist insurrection for recognition, or a communitarian exit that rejects the values of the managerial class while updating the old ones to be a basis of a new nation or religion.

  10. “i.e. you’re now unlikely to make new discoveries by flying a kite in a thunderstorm”: those who have looked into it note that Ben Franklin never did exactly say that he had performed his proposed kite/key experiment. This, they reckon, is just as well; if he had tried it he would probably have been killed.

  11. Biological civilisation is a one way road. If ours fails now, we may never again get the chance to get off this rock. It is the single moral imperative of humanity.

  12. Germanic barbarians forming larger confederations in late antiquity

    I don’t know if there are any surviving Roman era writings on it, or whether it is just theory, but it is interesting to consider how many former parts of the Roman Empire have some equivalent of the Spanish term la Alemania for Germany.

    IIRC, the phylogists believe it was the name of a confederation of tribes living along the South of the Rhine. The origin of the name being the obvious German cognate.

    Seems doubtful to me that the fall of Rome is really relevant to the present world.

    Could be differential fertility rate, lowering IQ. Some people believe it could be seen in the DNA, if you dug up the bones.

  13. German_reader says

    but it is interesting to consider how many former parts of the Roman Empire have some equivalent of the Spanish term la Alemania for Germany.

    Yes, the Alemanni were such a confederation. The use of their name for Germany must date from much later though, probably the high middle ages. I’m not sure, but it might have something to do with the Staufer emperors of the 12th/13th centuries whose original power base (where they were dukes) was in Suabia, that is what had once been the territory of the Alemanni. I suppose from the outside the “Suabian” (that is “Alemannian”) Staufer emperors and their followers might have been regarded as representative for the entire empire.
    Btw, Germany is apparently called Almanya in Turkish, and anti-German Turks and other ethnic activists have now taken to calling Germans Almans on German-language Twitter, which probably is intended to be pejorative.

  14. ال ألمان

    Or “al-almaan” is Germany or German in Arabic – maybe the Turks got it from them… which would make sense since Arabs likely made first contact and probably adopted the name that was used to designate them in the Iberian peninsula. Or maybe the Spanish adopted it from the Arabs…hmmm.


  15. Is the upshot of all this that civilizational collapse is due to not following the paradigm of “keep it simple, stupid”…?


  16. Decreasing marginal returns in agriculture? Prices have never been lower. Cost of nitrogen and potassium fertilizers are low on a historical basis.

    I don’t want to overdo it, traditional theories of resource constraints need reflect impact of technology.

  17. Daniel Chieh says

    Its very reliant on complexity: irrigation, pesticides and specialized crops. The technological improvement is not actually “free” as opposed as having its own cost in complexity and adding to the overall infrastructural burden on society. Even something as simple as knowledge may ask for specialization in individuals, and itself depend on a system of teachers, media so it has an upkeep in order to maintain.

  18. The Big Red Scary says

    Thanks for posting the review. Even if I’ve been too busy lately to comment much, I am still reading this blog, and I’d be glad to see more along these lines.

    Two thoughts that I’ll throw out there.

    1) In such discussions, one tends to focus too much on the Western Roman Empire, which was never economically or culturally the important part, as far as I understand.

    1.5) I had a classics prof who liked to say that the modern Greeks are grumpy that they missed the Renaissance, which was a rather curious comment given that it was Greeks fleeing the Turks who ignited the renaissance in Italy.

    2) Taleb’s fragile/anti-fragile distinction is a concise and memorable way to talk about those concave/convex graphs of marginal returns. (Also memorable: concave is a frown, convex a smile.)

  19. Can Karlin do a study as to how lower IQ cultures like the Arabs and Mongols were able to defeat higher IQ sedentary cultures like the Byzantines, Sasanisds, Khwarezmians, Abbasids, Songs, and Jurchens? I do not like how people just handwave away everything to IQ, seems stupid to argue that nomadic peoples have higher IQ than their richer sedentary counterparts.

  20. I have to disagree, Dan C. Lying to oneself will take you further and further into the ether.

  21. Is the upshot of all this that civilizational collapse is due to not following the paradigm of “keep it simple, stupid”…?

    Keep it simple enough and there is nothing to collapse.

  22. Bukephalos says

    curiously the arabic name for Austria النمسا “al-nemsa” is seemingly borrowed from a slavic language (nemtsy, nemci for Germans). Not quite clear how the word came to them, Turks currently say “Avusturya”

  23. Whether a society is simple or complex, that is is not really a factor if it comes into conflict with a superior civilization. I don’t really know if the Incas and Aztecs were supposed to be simple or complex, but surely none of that would have a made a difference in the end.

  24. You can still discover interesting things with a small pile of graphite and some scotch tape.

  25. Censuses and historical detail thin, as literacy and science declined during this period, to be replaced by an “increase in mysticism, and knowledge by revelation”:

    Much like social studies, one might note.

  26. It is interesting to note that the Romans essentially went down because of too many fixed cost obligations on a variable income.

  27. Bukephalos says

    vast subject, but the sedentary agriculturalist was always at a catastrophic disadvantage when faced with the nomadic pastoralist/raider. I’m not sure people internalize the kind of damage you’ll inflict simply by driving your horses and livestock into others fields, even before drawing any sword or shooting a single arrow.

    If people want to compare the historical trajectory of western Europe to eg China, Russia or the Byzantines, they would be wise to try and simulate the much larger exposure to nomadic raids such as happened in the other three, the effect that would have had on the progress of western Europe etc. Very bad most probably, most everyone would still be stuck walking in the mud to this day

  28. NK is a good example.
    Once the “free”Soviet material support went away, the industrialized NK agriculture collapsed and had to find less complex solutions.

    Small mounds of human faeces that are used as fertilisers in farming at a farm in South Hamgyong province, DPRK

  29. The Alarmist says

    “After the Roman withdrawal, Britain descended into lawlessness as villas and cities were burned, looted and replaced by small fortified settlements; barter and self-sufficiency replaced money and trade networks.”

    You may want to read more up to date histories. Romano-Britain underwent what might be described as a period relatively graceful degredation, which might be akin to what you would see in small-town America in the event the national government were to fall apart. Even the so-called conquests of the Angles and Saxons are now believed to be more like a rather peaceful wave of migration, with Romano-Britons allocating land to the migrants and admixing with them over generations.

  30. The Alarmist says

    NK was frozen out of the world markets by the so-called Free World, so of course the country regressed after Soviet support was withdrawn.

  31. TomSchmidt says

    Yes, well, when Rome collapsed there was still all that fossil fuel energy to help humanity escape the Malthusian trap. If we don’t find a way to secure other sources of energy, then not only will we collapse, but no future civilization will or can ever rise to the level we have.

    Switching to solar means no growth to pay for the increasing complexity. But at least it means we have electricity and all it powers for a while longer.

  32. TomSchmidt says

    Ward-Perkins makes the point that there really WAS a collapse of civilization, but in Britain, chiefly. Britain collapsed to a state more primitive than existed before Roman conquest.

    Have you read Mohammed and Charlemagne? There the idea was that there wasn’t a 476 collapse, but that civilization in Gaul and Spain (and Ireland) was growing until the Islamic conquests closed the Mediterranean and cut off commerce, shifting the balance of power within France from Marseille and the Merovingians towards Paris and the Carolingians.

  33. Even if the “Freen World” had not done that, the DPRK would have struggled because they would have to pay (more).

  34. The Alarmist says

    “… the easiest and most effective innovations are vaccinations ….”

    There is now conjecture that while vaccinations might have helped with the battles against many of the targeted diseases, they might also have made us succeptible to others. Autism is the most famous example bandied about, but a number of cancers that plague many in later life are now suspected as being triggered by agents and reagents in vaccines. I’ve also read that the increasingly complex cocktail of medicines that many in the West, particularly the US, are on is contributing to an uptick in dementia, which is increasingly a hallmark of impending death. In short, we’ve probably seen most of the gains to longevity we are going to see as a species as long as we keep pumping our systems full of bad chemistry.

  35. The Alarmist says

    So you get half the picture: If they weren’t frozen out of markets to trade whatever was in their comparative advantage to produce and trade, even if it was only cabbage to their cousins in the south, they’d have more cash to pay for things. USSR purchases of sugar from Cuba had a similar subsidy effect that hurt Cuba significantly when they stopped, but Cuba was and continues to be a popular destination for many Westerners, so it is not nearly in as dire condition as North Korea. It also does not help that we keep the Norks in a high state of military readiness with our continuing provocations; after having all their cities wiped out by the US, it is easy to see why they keep armed to the teeth.

  36. Have you read the Turchin book, Secular Cycles? He has some interesting theories in there

  37. Cagey Beast says

    Mr Karlin needs to be given the Talk. Not the one about dating Black men or the other one about dealing with the police; he needs the one about Russianness. Here it is, starting around 57 mins 30 sec:

    That scene with the Soviet town Prosecutor is the mirror opposite companion to this one:

  38. Why Rome fell? This question was debated for millenia. Ancient pagans and modern atheists blamed Christianity, ancient Christians blamed will of God, modern Christians blamed homosexuality, modern Marxists blamed the dialectic process of history, modern racists/IQists blamed “race mixing” etc.

    When Rome fell? Not in 476, nothing happened on this date, certainly no “sack”, just another puppet emperor was deposed, and no one cared to appoint new one, so unimportant the office became.

    In my opinion, it was just case of bad luck. Ancient civilization fell in the mid 6th century, hit by triple whammy of two natural and one manmade catastrophes.

    Imagine if during WW2 Earth was hit by asteroid or volcanic explosion that caused worldwide famine, and then virulent pandemic that killed half of the population. Want to bet that our technological civilization would fare better?

    This explanation is deeply unpopular, because it offers no “moral lessons”. Sometimes, bad shit happens and big rock will fall on your head out of nowhere. This is all that there is.

  39. The problem with the Technological Age is that it has lately gotten boring. Twitter, facebook, uber – yeah, real exciting.

    Transhumanism is more of the same old humanity, and colonizing space is just more of the same old boring stuff that happens on Earth. So now we’ll have facebook and twitter on colonies on Sirius X. Yay! Totally worth all the effort, man!

    Unless I’m battling Klingons in sleek spaceships, outwitting Ronulans, and trading with devious Ferengi against a backdrop of mysterious forces in an unknown universe, I’m not not interested.

    We’ll just import the inanity to space, like in a Phillip K Dick novel before the strange cool stuff starts happening.

    Technology might have been fun at some point, especially at the beginning when it was fresh and no one really new where it was going, but like everything it’s grown stale. That was inevitable.

    The only people still excited about Technology are people with anxiety issues who need a sense of control in their lives to feel at ease.

    The good thing is that all this intense concern with technology is leading into a new Middle Ages as it all collapses, and a return to fun and exciting experiences again, especially as mysticism returns and thrilling explorations of the interior landscape along with it, and a new appreciation for the wonder of nature.

    We may have to go through a fee nuclear wars for this, although not necessarily – and humanity might not survive, which is also ok. Something new will arise.

  40. Everything has a positive side and a negative side – the dream of utopia, of all positive side, is logically impossible.

    Implied in the existence of a positive is a negative. Two sides of the same coin. Cannot exist without each other. They define each other.

    Of course all this technology brought its negative side, that was implicit in it.

    Of course most people cannot understand this and will continue trying to make a world of all positives, which by definition is logically impossible, with the result being the cyclical nature of human civilizations. Up, then down, up, then down. And so on, until the Earth gets eaten by the sun in the final downward move implied by the upward move of Earrth existing to begin with.

    With of course, a further Up after that 🙂

  41. Transhumanism is more of the same old humanity

    How is this so? Transhumanism from what I have read is nothing less than the end of homo sapiens. Beyond just uploading our brains into a computer, its proponents argue for a hive mind and becoming god like beings.

  42. In a sense yes it is the end of homo sapiens, but taken on its own terms as an attempt to make humanity immortal uploading our brains into computers would just be more of the same thing. Godlike powers are also just more of the same thing.

    None of this is transformational, it is just extension in space and time. If the banal is extended in space and time it is still banal.

    The problem with all these visions of progress is that they are substitutes for creating a worthwhile way of life.

  43. The Alarmist says

    NASA has ruled out Apophis hitting Earth in 2029 and 2036, but they’ve also been mis-reporting temperatures from their remote sensing systems to gin up climate change fears. I’d say that Apophis would be the next best test of your hypothesis, unless the Neocons decide to do a Bolt out of the Blue on Russia and/or China. (A Bolton out of the Blue? 😉 )

  44. modern racists/IQists blamed “race mixing” etc.

    Seems to me, rather plain locally-based dysgenics is the more popular IQ-based theory. Differential fertility rates within the same ethnic groups.

    Race mixing is a bit asinine, IMO, since it was so difficult to travel in those days. Though I suppose it could have happened in colonies, where for instance Archimedes was born in Syracuse probably from invader stock.

    By comparison, the West’s modern troubles mostly seem to have to do with cheap flights. I don’t believe they would be to the same scale at all if it was just ships. Though I grant that Europe might still have a North African problem.

  45. Via slave trade.

  46. That’s an interesting theory. Do you have one on “Germany” and its variants? Best I’ve heard is it comes from Louis the German. But, then again, Julius Caesar used the term.

    Supposedly, the English used the word “Dutch” to describe the people of Holland because they were a major maritime power, and they were unconcerned with Germany until later times. This I think would maybe put a dent in the theory that “Alemania” was taken up in the Middle Ages – it has a massive geographic spread. And, I believe, that is where the idea that it comes from Roman times originates from.

    That’s interesting that you make the association with Swabians. I recall they were in Spain. Perhaps, North Africa too.

    Spain, Britain, and France all have old origins. France, of course, deriving from the German tribe the Franks, who interestingly also lived along the Rhine.

    I knew the Turkish word was something similar – that’s part of theory. Didn’t know about the Almans thing. It’s odd – I don’t get the whole taunting the natives thing, which seems to take place so often. I guess it can only be described as hubris. Thought the Turkish strategy in Germany was to distance themselves from the North Africans.

  47. If not Spain, it could be that they got it direct from North Africa. Germans invaded it because it was the breadbasket of Rome. They, of course, also invaded Spain in Roman times. Anatolia was, of course, also a part of the Roman Empire. So, the whole theory fits together nicely, except for all the places where they are called Germans or some variant. Could be influenced by what tribe invaded what country. Germans were another tribe that lived along the Rhine.

    I thought of el Alamein, but that supposedly has a separate origin.

    Just to elucidate a bit: the Alemanni tribe is thought to derive from an old German endomyn. Since English is Germanic, you can readily appreciate it: all men, or everyman. The idea was that it was a confederation of smaller tribes, and that the name was a boast on its size.

    Of course, there were a lot of other important German tribes with separate names, but I think it is kind of a cool theory that, when this group united, they became powerful and conquered. Perhaps, somewhat similar to how Germany became a powerful country when it was united.

  48. …too many fixed cost obligations on a variable income

    That seems to be the generic cause for any collapse, from a civilisation all the way down to an individual. Locking in benefits for the ‘future’, fixed cost obligations, is a natural development as a society (or a person) advances. But benefits or rewards are by their nature variable: sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you. Eventually there is a gap and no way to close it without collapsing the underlying complexity. Societies collapse when most people perceive that it actually benefits them. Obligations are just another word for ‘debt’, and what is often underestimated about debts is that they a social construct.

    The key question today is what is the strategy to sustain the Western system when the next – inevitable – downturn happens. All the easy things have been done. I suspect that there is no strategy and that means that it has to be kept going no matter what. For the globalist elite class there truly is no alternative. And this time they have nukes.

  49. they got it direct from North Africa. Germans invaded it

    I had forgotten about this.

    but I think it is kind of a cool theory that, when this group united, they became powerful and conquered.

    Do you have any reference (online) for a summary on the German people. Not looking for a book, just something that highlights these kinds of things.

    My wife’s family is from Swedish background, but they are originally Germans that moved into that area first through Norway a long time ago. So it’s interesting to me.


  50. I originally read the theory from a book by Isaac Asimov. Not that I would particularly recommend him as a historian – he’s a dry writer and was always pumping books out.

    Early German history can be kind of sketchy (like much of Northern Europe). What little I know of it I’ve picked up from a lot of different sources, which caught in my mind because Germany is one of the few countries I’ve visited and I used to have an interest in the language – though my skills in German were never much. Though I did have a pretty good education in Spanish, which has itself sadly atrophied. That, in a nutshell, is why I’m fascinated by the theory about the term Alemania.

    I’m not sure what a good online source would be. Perhaps, Mitleser or G-reader could chime in?

  51. German_reader says

    Have you read Mohammed and Charlemagne

    No, but I’m familiar with the outlines of Pirenne’s thesis. iirc current consensus seems to be that it was exaggerated and that long-distance trade in the western Mediterranean already suffered a steep decline in the 5th century (as evidenced by the decline in the export of North African pottery and other wares which had been exported over long distances), and that there was widespread decay of urban civilization. Those trends were then reinforced by the consequences of the Arab conquests.

  52. German_reader says

    Best I’ve heard is it comes from Louis the German.

    That’s definitely not contemporary (I’m not sure if it’s even medieval tbh). There wasn’t a Germany yet in the 9th century, only a East Francia, composed of different peoples like Bavarians, Saxons and Suabians. The view of modern medievalists is that Germany only gradually came into existence during the 10th century, after the final break-up of the Carolingian empire, the establishment of new dynasties and a gradual drifting apart of the former parts of the Frankish realm.
    I don’t know when “Germany” is first attested in English, interesting question.

    That’s interesting that you make the association with Swabians. I recall they were in Spain.

    Those were the Suebes, who had a kingdom in Spain until the later 6th century. It seems to be unclear though where exactly they came from, not sure if there’s a real connection with Suabia.

  53. German_reader says

    I’m not sure what a good online source would be.

    I can’t think of anything like that right now tbh. But for early medieval history one could look up the relevant chapters in the New Cambridge Medieval History (can be pirated on that Library Genesis site).

  54. From wiki:

    he received the appellation Germanicus shortly after his death in recognition of Magna Germania of the Roman Empire, reflecting the Carolingian’s imperial perspective.

    Of course, the word Germany is obviously old and was on Ptolemy’s maps, which were hugely influential at least up until the time of Columbus. But my thinking is that the choice of terms may have been influenced by fashions in certain places, or perhaps what was easier to say in the local language.

    IMO, it’s a big thing that the German tribe lived along the Rhine. A lot of places were named after people who lived along rivers. The map, in effect, became the territory.

    In my view, the Swabes were either certainly the same people, or at least should be considered to have the same origin as Swabians. Tribes often fractured geographically, after conquest. That’s why it is so difficult to create unified countries in some places.

  55. German_reader says

    I’m pretty sure that English Wikipedia is wrong about Louis the German, he wasn’t named “Germanicus” by contemporaries, it’s probably dating from much, much later, after the middle ages (maybe early modern humanists who were rather enthusiastic about Tacitus’ rediscovered “Germania”). And I have no idea what “Magna Germania” is supposed to have meant in Carolingian times, such a concept didn’t exist then. I have a reasonably good knowledge of 10th century sources for East Frankish/German history, and as far as I can remember, something like Germani never turns up there, instead it’s always references to the different peoples of the realm like Franks, Saxons or Bavarians.

  56. Ancient world (or decline and fall of Roman Empire), is not very analogous to modern world, because we live in an epoch after progressive development of science and technology.

    Romans’ technological advantage over peoples they defeated was limited. Roman dominance required continuation of very specific cultural and military practices.

    In our time, powers still have advantages and disadvantages of culture (e.g. the civilized English legal system, which sucks capital from countries with less developed legal systems). But whole dynamic radically altered by progressive development of science and technology.

    When British army was in war against Zulus in the 19th century, their advantage relative to Zulus was far more than which Romans had against barbarians they dominated – British had modern rifles reflecting modern industrial technologies,* Zulus had, aside from some muskets imported, just spears and arrows.

    If China soon wants to be militarily rivals with America, it will not happen until they attain parity with America, in military technology. And of course, all our discussion about “human capital” and “smart fractions” is mediated by the technological age. In Ancient Rome, mathematical ability of “smart fraction” would be much more irrelevant to whether its power would continue.


  57. “Magna Germania” is a callback to Roman times. It was in Ptolemy’s book, and there were copies everywhere. It may not have had much of a real political meaning, (neither did the term Great Britain originally) but it is not the least bit surprising to me that they would have seized upon it, as a uniting myth, even if only as a passing fancy.

    Rome had its own prestige, as demonstrated by the later term Holy Roman Empire, and endless distant others, such as the Russian “Czar.” It’s not random that the Church clung to Rome either, so I find it plausible they would have resuscitated the Roman title Germanicus. BTW, I’m sure the Carolingians would have been familiar with Germanicus – there’s a large monumental arch to him still standing in France. Incidentally, I heard of Louis the German before wikipedia existed, so I feel comfortable saying that is his standard title in English. Maybe, it was disposable or part of a list at the time.

    In Ireland, there were many parallel terms to describe the Irish as a people, even when they had separate tribes, and not much of a central rule. Two of the more universal terms, Hibernians and Milesians can in some way be said to come from Ptolemy’s map. So, I can see the possibility of several terms co-existing for years without much of a state sanction, even as the German tribes continued to war among themselves. There was more of a flare for poetry back then, before attempts to reform the language.

  58. German_reader says

    Incidentally, I heard of Louis the German before wikipedia existed

    Well yes, in German he’s also called “Ludwig der Deutsche”. But I’m sure nobody called him anything like that in the 9th century. It’s a modern, anachronistic appellation (maybe going back to 16th century humanists), because he ruled over the territory that was later to become Germany, to distinguish him from all the other Carolingian kings called Louis.
    The imperial idea was of course predominantly Roman in character and antiquity (especially in its late antique Christian form) an important model for Carolingian rulers.

  59. …or a communitarian exit that rejects the values of the managerial class while updating the old ones to be a basis of a new nation or religion.

    I believe Toynbee referred to this process as “seceding from society.” Probably the best idea of them all.

  60. Well, I’ve found something that seems to have been machine-translated from German, so it is a bit hard to interpret. It seems to be in general agreement with you, but says he was called “Rex Germaniae” in the Annals of St. Bertin. And a monk, Otfrid of Weissenburg, wrote a book dedicated to Louis the German. (I assume Ludwig der Deutsche). Anyway, he doesn’t seem to be a likely source for popularizing the name.

    Wiki mentions: In English, the word “German” is first attested in 1520, replacing earlier uses of Almain, Alman and Dutch. And that both terms Almain and German are in Othello.

    1520 is not long after the introduction of the printing press into England. I can understand why they abandoned Dutch. Why they abandoned Alamain is a bit of a mystery, unless we attribute it to fashion.

  61. The last Western Emperor is always referred to in English as Romulus Augustulus.

  62. 1520 is not long after the introduction of the printing press into England. I can understand why they abandoned Dutch. Why they abandoned Alamain is a bit of a mystery, unless we attribute it to fashion.

    Less/declining French influence?

  63. That’s a really good theory. There may be something about being an island that makes one want to separate themselves linguistically from one’s neighbors.

    Of course, in 1453, the English lost Normandy and Guyenne. In 1558, they lost Calais. Meanwhile, there were so many wars, they may have grown to disdain the French language.

    The other day, I was reading a book written by an English author shortly after the Franco-Prussian war. I was very surprised to find a footnote praising the Prussians, since the English don’t seem to often overflow with praise for foreigners, and there didn’t seem to be a natural segway into it – it had practically nothing to due with the subject. But then I remembered the English antipathy towards the French, and it all seemed to make sense to me.

  64. Almost Missouri says

    “Decreasing marginal returns” isn’t the same as “decreasing returns”. Returns may indeed be improving (lower prices), even while the the cost of getting each additional improvement is higher, until eventually it can’t be afforded at all and then returns really do decrease and prices rise as costs advance without a corresponding improvement in output.

    I don’t have figures in front of me, but I believe this is not an unreasonable description of modern Western agriculture. Prices are low and slightly lowering, but the margin of improvement is less each decade. And the advances that underlie each improvement are larger, costlier and more dubious each decade: massive fertilizer, pesticide and irrigation inputs recently, giving way to genetic engineering now and in the future.

    Also note that in the case of agriculture, outputs–and therefore “improvements”–are measured in raw weight or volume. This has led to breeding and manuring to favor those outcomes, at the expense of actual nutrition. The nutrient per bushel content of most agricultural goods has been declining for at least a century in the West. If measured by nutrients rather than weight/volume, the West may already be in outright decreasing returns agriculturally.

  65. Which are the healthiest countries in Europe?

    OCTOBER 29, 2018

    Eastern and Western Europeans Differ on Importance of Religion, Views of Minorities, and Key Social Issues

  66. How do complex societies evolve? T
    —Marxists say surpluses are needed for state formation, but since material conditions are culturally mediated, why can’t they be concocted whenever one pleases? Why did humanity spend more than 99% of its history in primitive bands?

    Can you explain what you mean ?

  67. There is a fundamental problem with the theory discussed. The only time, at least insofar as the article relays it, it decides to descend to the level of actual historical facts, it gets those facts WRONG. The concept of economic decline and agrarian depopulation in late Roman Empire had long been busted by archeological finds. Indeed, right until mid 600s, late Roman and, for the most regions, immediate post-Roman countryside flourished, with population and levels of land cultivation unequalled before, and, in many regions, particularly North Africa, for the next 1200 years or so. And while the Germanic barbarian kindgoms were probably cheaper to maintain and less extortionate than the unified Western empire, except for a few placed like Britain (where invaders exterminated and displaced the old Roman population) they largely preserved Roman order, administration, laws, and urban life, only installing themselves as the key benefactors of the system. In Spain, most of Gaul and Africa, even Italy beyond Rome itself (which suffered from the end of state subsidies to its urban population), civilization continued largely as it did, and population seemed to even increase, until Arabs came, and then everywhere archeologists cared to dig it was over in a flash.

    So basically, why even pay attention to a theory which fails to accommodate the practice the very first time it tries?

  68. Not having read the book, it seems to be arguing for a soft collapse, or at least that the collapse of Rome was economically rational. So I don’t see exactly how this is inconsistent with what you’re saying, other than trying to place the dates of trends in the Empire’s population.

    I’m inclined to apply some of Gregory Clark’s “Farewell to Alms” ideas here, which seem to align partly with Tainter. Namely, that the main long-run effect of good economic policies in a Malthusian society is to increase the population, not the standard of living, until population density reaches some maximum given the constraints. By contrast, a society applying ruinous policies will burn through its population over time as undernourished peasants fail to multiply and others outright starve; a negative “savings rate” on the population stock.

    Rome was likely doing this to maintain its military and its large urban centers (with an urbanization rate not seen in Europe until the 18th or 19th centuries); it was grinding its peasant/slave population into oblivion, requiring ever greater extraction to keep the cities afloat, accelerating the decline to oblivion until the peasants could take no more and welcomed any change to their situation.

    The Empire subsidized urban begging and taxed rural production; is it any wonder it ended up with unsustainable urban populations? And unlike a modern welfare state it didn’t have the surplus to manage this without people dying somewhere along the way.

    The point at which this process turned around likely came well before 476 as the state’s ability to extract surplus broke down, though the exact date surely depends on the place. After that point, while there were dislocations due to war and the breakdown of authority, more people came to be engaged in food production and fewer people engaged purely in consuming that production. Hence the population began to multiply.

  69. TomSchmidt says

    There had been a collapse in the West in the fourth century. What changed was that populations started growing again in the West in the fifth and especially sixth centuries, and commerce rebounded. This is traced by the number of Syriac coins from that time found in the south of France.

    The Islamic conquest essentially shut off trade with Byzantium. Scott, writing a reprise of Pirenne, makes an interesting point. The oldest archives of the French monarchy are inscribed on papyrus, a cheap, easily produced substance. The Islamic conquest of Egypt cut off the supply of paper. Scott suggests that this also led to a collapse of business as accounts could no longer cheaply be kept; it would be like cutting off the supply of disc drives today.

    Gregory of
    Tours is interesting reading in this regard.

  70. Philip Owen says

    And in Welsh it is “Yr Almaen”

  71. Philip Owen says

    The Anglo-Saxon extermination of the British has been thrown into the dustbin.

    Your point about the Roman Empire not being that great economically is well supported. For example, people got taller. The Tubercolosis bacterium expresses itself as Leprosy (this happens in well nourished populations) not as TB (poor nourishment). The Romans had great civil engineering but underused technology like wind and water mills. Slavery depresses innovation even more than immigration. The Anglo Saxon invention of the horse collar allowed the ploughing of heavy clay soils (and thus settlement of the English Midlands).

  72. Tainter argues that in Italy the evidence suggests living conditions were better in the sixth century as compared with the fifth century. That may be but it is clear that in Britain on the other hand the end of the Empire resulted in long lasting economic decline. Gaul seems like Italy to have weathered the end of the Empire fairly well economically. The more peripheral parts of the Western Empire fared less well.

    Probably the most negative effect of the fall of the Western Roman Empire was greatly increased warfare – the Byzantines vs. the Lombards in Italy, the onslaught of Germans in Northern Europe, the Arab conquests.

  73. Nothing could go wrong with atmospheric methane and CO2 rocketing off the chart.

  74. Prussia was a little helper of England until it came too big and too strong.

  75. “The Tubercolosis bacterium expresses itself as Leprosy”. – Not exactly.

    Leprosy’s decline caused by rise of TB

  76. In the last decades everything is more and more complex , marriage , schooling , working , raising children , living , dying . confiscatory taxes , endless rules of the Governments , delusional ideologies . You have to work more and more for less and less , and to feed endless parasites . The collapse is around the corner .

  77. Bardon Kaldian says

    I have read the book, a few years ago, and the review. The book tries to explore a few theoretical models of history & societies.

    From what we know about history, “strong” theoretical models don’t work. They have zero predictive & small explanatory power. The same goes for “cosmic historians” like Toynbee or Spengler. Although Spengler has made not few interesting observations, it remains that his speculations are ultimately arid: how do we know that a culture is old & decrepit? The oldest culture on earth, Chinese, has collapsed & been resurrected many times in past 2500 years. There was, evidently, no final collapse. Even “weak” models, like those exposed, have an air of belatedness around them: they seem like post-festum ruminations.

    The central weakness of the book reviewed is that there are too many unknown variables & way too many unquantifiable parameters. How do you quantify “will to live”? Or “will to fight & conquer” ? Or, even if you could, time dependence of those variables? And, complex hedonistic & secular successful Western societies lack exactly those basic human drives. How do you quantify “hope & optimism”?

    And yet, it was Western world that unified the globe & created modernity. Who would have known that in, say, 1600, or even 1800? Who could speculate in 1900. that China will be a player on par with Britain & Germany and that African countries will, at least in theory, have the same global rights as European countries?

    It is dissociation from history & world-views, mentalities, that I find lacking in this otherwise nice book. If a society is self-assured, possessed by a sense of mission & enough ingenuity- then other factors come into play.

    And I even won’t try to elaborate on sci fi possibility of genetic engineering that could create different types of humans (or even more radically, beings) & their very different modes of life and needs and organization….

  78. Bardon Kaldian says

    Then, there are theories which may sound “mystical”, but are actually scientific. I would recommend Eysenck’s book “Genius: The Natural History of Creativity”, 1995.

    On pages 162-165, we read….

    A Russian historian, A. L. Chizhevsky, suggested that sun-spot cycles might be responsible for cyclic events in world history; his hypothesis was that high sun-spot activity promoted revolutions, epidemics, mass migrations and other disasters. The evidence presented was not very convincing, and Chizhevsky was sent to Siberia by Stalin, apparently for suggesting that it was the sun rather than the doctrines of dialectical materialism that lay behind the great upheavals of history (Eysenck and Nias, 1982, p. 132).

    The theory was taken up by S. E. Ertel, a German psychologist whose rigorous, objective and large-scale work has laid a firm foundation for extending this hypothesis to cultural activities. Ertel argued that if high sunspot activity really triggered off socially destructive behaviour, then perhaps low sun-spot activity might trigger off culturally positive behaviour. The sunspot cycle is of course well documented. It is irregular, but emerges at about 11.1 years on the average, with intervals between peaks ranging from seven to 17 years (Hoyle, 1962,1975). There are strong magnetic fields inside sun-spots. Energy dissipating when magnetic fields are annihilated produces huge discharges (solar flares).
    Ertel used recorded sun-spot activity going back to 1600 or so, and before that by analysis of the radiocarbon isotope C14, whose productions as recorded in trees, which give an accurate picture of sun-spot activity. Plotted in relation to sun-spot activity were historical events, either wars, revolutions, etc. or specific achievements in painting, drama, poetry, science and philosophy. Note that Ertel’s investigations resemble a ‘double blind’ paradigm, in that the people who determined the solar cycle, and those who judged the merits of the artists and scientists in question, were ignorant of the purpose to which Ertel would put their data, and did not know anything about the theories involved. Hence the procedure is completely objective, and owes nothing to Ertel’s views, which in any case were highly critical of Chizhevsky’s ideas at the beginning.
    Fig, 4.4 shows scientific and philosophical activity in Europe, and a combination of the two in China, before, during and after the Maunder Minimum; there is no question that a marked burst of activity emerged during that period for all three groups. Similarly for the arts; curves showing abnormal creativity for painting, poetry and a combination of science and philosophy are given by Ertel; the agreement is astonishing. Fig. 4.5 shows a comparison of literary productivity in the world as a whole, and specifically in European, Persian, Osmanic, Arabic, Chinese and Japanese language groups. The congruence or peak activity in all these groups during the Maunder Minimum is unmistakable. Fig. 4.6 compares peak activity in painting, poetry, literature and science for European and non-European countries. In addition to the overall congruence, it should be noted that for both groups peak activity in painting precedes that in poetry, poetry precedes literature, and literature precedes science; the straight dotted line indicates this precession.

    Ertel finally presents a much larger parallel set of curves, based on radio carbon C14 dating, of Chinese and European literature, painting and science, from AD 600 to 1700, i.e. antedating the periods already covered. Discontinuities are obvious, and it is apparent that these discontinuities show cultural synchronicity, and are also synchronous with the radiocarbon C14 curves. Also, indicated are several minima other than the Maunder, namely the Schwabe, Oort, Wolf and Sporer minima; notable is the correspondence with cultural productivity, particularly the Chinese – before the thirteenth century there was as little artistic or scientific productivity in Europe, which was still locked into a medieval sleep (Ertel, 1989).

    A final attempt to prove his theory led Ertel to look at the C14 phenomena in the seventh to eighth century BC, when an unparalleled outburst of creativity occurred in ancient Greece, in India, in China and in the Near East; here too agreement with (lack of) solar activity was found, as demanded by the theory.

  79. This book is part of my large category of “bought but unread”.

    For what it’s worth, I bought it because I had recently read Chris Zook and James Allen’s “Repeatability: Build Enduring Businesses for a World of Constant Change”, that interestingly gets quite deep into the question of why businesses fail, and I was wondering whether societies fail for similar reasons.

    With regard to Zook and Allen’s book:

    The authors interestingly use their years of top-level international strategy consulting to arrive at some essential dos and don’ts for growing businesses.

    It’s surprising how many fail, and they highlight the major risks of stagnation through bureaucratic complexity making the unfortunate enterprise a sitting target for more efficient and flexible competitors.

    One could call this “death by loss of focus” and they provide a check list at the end of the book to help a business stick to its core competencies.

    The general idea is that individual improvements to a system may be OK, but put them all together and you get a bureaucratic mess that is so complex and expensive that only special interests (who else?) can penetrate them for their own advantage, with management being permanently distracted by non-core issues.

    Leaner and more focused competitors without all the bells & whistles, defeat the overgrown corporation/society and appropriate its surplus (i.e. it dies – or rather goes into debt first and then dies).

    If it’s a valid analogy, the US seems to be in the last stages of the process, with the added problem that its Zionist/Globalist leadership is mostly in it for their personal gain rather than the welfare of the public. In other words, it’s not a well meaning mess, it’s just special interest looting.

  80. Jim Bob Lassiter says

    In North Carolina it’s called Alamance.

  81. Timothy Madden says

    I think that a comprehensively accurate answer to the civilizational collapse question, especially as technology becomes increasingly prevalent, was provided by Professor Robert Lynd, in his Forward to Business as a System of Power by Professor Robert A. Brady (Economics, University of California), Columbia University Press, New York, 1943., p. xii. (the Forward is dated October 1942) (emphasis added):

    Social organization around functional concerns is normal to human beings. Western liberalism, imputing freedom and rationality to the individual, washed its hands of the problem of securing positive organization; it proceeded on the assumption that, wherever organization was socially desirable, men would recognize the need and forthwith organize themselves. Such a theory not only misread human nature but it failed to take account of the momentum developed within such a cultural complex as machine technology owned and exploited within a legally buttressed system of private property rights. Liberal democracy has never dared face the fact that industrial capitalism is an intensely coercive form of organization of society that cumulatively constrains men and all of their institutions to work the will of the minority who hold and wield economic power; and that this relentless warping of men’s lives and forms of association becomes less and less the result of voluntary decisions by “bad” or “good” men and more and more an impersonal web of coercions dictated by the need to keep “the system” running. These coercions cumulate themselves to ends that even the organizing leaders of big business may fail to foresee, as step by step they grapple with the next immediate issue, and the next, and the next.

  82. Perhaps complex societies with ever increasing investment with ever decreasing returns are in part due to government overreach … the felt need for government involvement, control, and regulation increasing costs while stifling freedom and initiative.

    I’m reminded of something a young German man once told me. He was thinking of immigrating to the United States. His complaint:

    “Once, if something wasn’t expressly forbidden, it was allowed. Now, it if is not expressly allowed, it is forbidden.”

    He and his wife had horses. His example was that in the past one could ride horses in the German forests except where forbidden. Now, they could only ride their horses along short paths where horses were expressly allowed.

    Consider the impact on German society and the economy when this overreach starts to impact all aspects of German society.

  83. Sounds like one of my academic Lib relatives publishing BS using big words and never referencing the real world we live in now year 2018.

    One force signaling the near collapse of civilization in my Chicago university community (Where Obama made his base) is the annual invasion of our community by hundreds of Black AA teens who going on wilding sprees setting cars on fire, vandalizing businesses and assaulting people, especially targeting (White) University of Chicago students.

    This has now gone on 3 straight years and it’s an annual event much like Detroit’s Devil’s Night Halloweeen celebrated in the 1980s which featured mass burnings of abandoned homes. North Africans in rough Paris suburbs now do the same on Halloween and New Year’s eve.

    Our local lib community tries to do alternative events, arts and crafts but it hasn’t had much appeal for these teens who prefer wilding attacks.

    The Chicago Lib Dems, BlackLivesMatter Dems (DA Kim Fox, top judge Tim Evans, Sherif Lib Irish guy Tom Darte, Black police chief) are predictably useless:

    Here’s the write up in the University of Chicago Maroon newspaper and the local neighborhood newspaper.

  84. Hadji Gegenraum says

    Low gross agricultural prices mean the destruction of ‘earned income capital’ used to run an economy.

    The National Organization for Raw Materials, since the late 1930’s has demonstrated this natural fact that the entire economy suffers when we do not pay the producers of the wealth that keeps clothed, housed and fed, their due, such that they can participate, through purchase, of the work of the manufacturing and service sectors.

    Money must be earned into circulation if we are to have a working economy. Underpaying producers of real wealth means that that earned wealth is not saved or spent in the natural fashion that allows for such profits to benefit the rest of society.

    The Great Depression was simply a matter of the collapse in Ag prices for underpaying farmers destroyed the largest consumers of capital goods purchasing power….rippling through the entire economy.

  85. An indicator of collapse ?

    Over Half Of America Gets More In Welfare Than It Pays In Taxes

  86. Space travel for humans is impossible because of radiation; we will never get off this rock…not even to the moon.

  87. Abelard Lindsey says

    I’m already seeing the collapse of complexity with regards to the health care, education, and government services in the U.S. The spy agencies appear to be both corrupt and incompetent (the recent Iranian penetration of the communications of the CIA’s clandestine service is primarily due to incompetence on the part of the CIA itself). So, many of our institutions that supposedly define our society are indeed collapsing. However, does this have any possibility to bring down industrial civilization? I think not. Manufacturing is doing well right now, and the people I see in it are both competent and semi-immune to this disease of political correctness that is destroying field like education and what not.

    If anything, industrial civilization is going to get more robust in the near future. Stuff like 3-D printing will significantly simpllify supply chains and the development of low-cost “printable” electronics will provide an alternative to the multi-billion fabs that currently make semiconductor devices.

    I think a lot of large scale social institutions will disappear in the next few decades. Since many of these do not create real value, but actually parasitize value from those who actually create it, many of us will actually be better off with them gone.

    Remember, even the Medieval period had its trading city-states in the form of Venice and Genoa. The modern-day versions are places like Singapore and HK. The very first human civilization, Sumaria, was a network of trading city-states. Unlike the nation-state, the city-state concept is eternal.

  88. Abelard Lindsey says

    Try telling the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) paradigm to my predecessor where I work. His control programs were so over the top complicated that it is truly a bitch to figure out how they work when I have to troubleshoot something for a customer.

    And, yeah, I agree with you that KISS should be the guiding paradigm of making anything that is intended to work for a long time. I think one of the reasons why people tend to over complicate things is because of the bureaucratic mentality. Everyone wants to create their own little empire with themselves on top, with underlings to lord it over.

  89. So much stupity on this thread. I had a worthy reply to Andrej, until I read too many of the moronic replies, dislodged my logic.

    Perhaps that is an intentional tactic, this thread seems to have been swarmed by newbs to the site.

  90. obwandiyag says

    He blames everything in the world on “complexity.” The next one blames it on “malaise.” Pick a single word. Shoehorn everything into it. You win.

    Personally, I blame everything in the world on “meringue.”

  91. It’s not only “complex societies” that are “collapsing,” but the entire human species as well.

    Infinitely intricate ecosystems consisting of millions of diverse species, live and bloom together on earth, surviving in synergy with one another, for hundreds of millions of years.

    Humanity is just simply, too greedy and self-serving for mother nature.

    So it’s now finally on the way out, and that’s a good thing, for a charitable earth.


  92. foolisholdman says

    Can Karlin do a study as to how lower IQ cultures like the Arabs and Mongols were able to defeat higher IQ sedentary cultures like the Byzantines, Sasanisds, Khwarezmians, Abbasids, Songs, and Jurchens? I do not like how people just handwave away everything to IQ, seems stupid to argue that nomadic peoples have higher IQ than their richer sedentary counterparts.

    Just a suggestion: militaries notoriously are always fighting the last war. The highly intelligent tend to steer clear of a military career. Stupidity and courage quite often go together. So, for example when the Mongols came to fight Western armies they used tactics that were completely unfamiliar to their opponents, who could not believe that it was possible to shoot accurately, from horseback at someone chasing you, thought that when an army retreated it meant that you were winning and could not believe the distances that the Mongol army could cover in a day or two.

    Likewise, the Gauls seem to have been completely flummoxed by the Roman “tortoise” formation.

    What I am saying is that armies are rather inflexible organizations which can be thrown off balance by an enemy with an unfamiliar military technique and tend to repress thought (particularly from the ranks!) rather than welcome it.

  93. Tainter devotes a chapter to criticizing the most common explanations for collapse as of 1988:

    1.Depletion or cessation of vital resources;
    2.Establishment of new resource base;
    3.Insurmountable catastrophe;
    4.Insufficient response to circumstances;
    5.Other complex societies;
    7.Class conflict, societal contradictions, elite mismanagement;
    8.Social dysfunction;
    9.Mystical factors;
    10.Chance concatenation of events;
    11.Economic factors.

    Well Tainter is wrong. Some or all of those can cause a collapse of a simple or complex society. Waste of time to over think it.
    Pompeii got wiped out in 79 AD by No. 3.
    Detroit got wiped in the 80’s by Nos. 1,4, 7, 8, 10 and 11.

  94. Humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970, report finds

    The huge loss is a tragedy in itself but also threatens the survival of civilisation, say the world’s leading scientists
    Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation.
    The new estimate of the massacre of wildlife is made in a major report produced by WWF . and involving 59 scientists from across the globe. It finds that the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else.”

    Trump jr…trump trash goes hunting…one leopard, one water buffalo and one elephant killed


  95. Steve Naidamast says

    I am not all that knowledgeable regarding the theories put forth in this book. However, in my own profession of software engineering, which I retired from in 2014, I can definitively see a trend towards an increase in complexity yielding increasingly marginal returns.

    The zenith of current software technology was actually reached in 2010. Everything both developers and users required had been developed and implemented successfully. The tools were mature and the use of such tools were made rather easy in comparison to prior eras of programming technologies.

    This left the technical vendors with literally nowhere to go in terms of maintaining robust revenues as had been the case for quite some by this point.

    The result was what I called the development of “junk technologies”, which began with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. These “smart” technologies have had a disastrous effect on US society in particular as younger and younger generations are firmly addicted to such devices and are quickly losing the skills for Human interaction, general intelligence, imagination, and the achievement of one’s own independence.

    Though people reading this may react negatively to such contentions, the scientific and sociological evidence has been quite readily available for some time now for any who chose to do the research.

    In terms of the software development profession, vendors followed the same trajectory of complexity as the iPhone introduced (No, the smart phone does not make your life easier it just offers perceived convenience and even the designers of such hardware have admitted as much. The realistic result of the iPhone was the ability of faster communication while messing up everything else in one’s life.). In this regard, software vendors had to find a way to maintain their revenue primacy so they decided to reinvent the way software was currently being developed by creating massive layers of complexity to processes in which efficient resolutions had already been found and introduced.

    This has been especially true in terms of web development whereby, Microsoft mostly, returned web development to that of a previous era programming style while making the tools required for such development far more difficult than was needed.

    The result was a complete turning back of the clock with no real, perceived benefit to the organizations that were being served by such implementations. In fact, the positives to such development to date have only been perceived to be those that benefited software engineers and developers where no actual benefit has ever been touted for the companies that have to make use of such developments. In reality, if a software application works well, the user most often does not care how it was designed and implemented making software professionals touting of such technologies a false positive.

    So instead of refining already mature tools to develop applications with and making them even better than they already were, vendors decided to throw their successes to the wind, throw everything out with the bathwater, and subsequently created what is now primarily a mess in the web development arena as new professionals struggle increasingly to maintain similar deadlines with even more complex tools than we had in the past.

    The huge investments in new forms of data storage, data analysis complexity, communication paradigms, and subsequent application development to support such enlarging forms of technology go to the very basis of this book’s treatise on the rise of complexity with decreasing margins of return for the efforts expended…

  96. Thank you for your entry and your experience .

  97. The Collapse of Complex Societies

    Complex societies collapse because transactions between individuals become burdened with having to support unproductive people. Lawyers, accountants, local, state, and federal bureaucrats all must eat.

    All those unproductive people’s needs get added into the cost goods and services. They delay transactions from occurring. What should be an easy exchange between buyer and seller becomes costly and difficult. Because of the add costs, as time goes on, the wages of the producer can no longer buy what he produces. That is when society fails. (These unproductive people also become a major roadblock to change and progress.)

    The reality is that as time progresses, society gets more and more burdened with the unproductive offspring of the elite. They take up professions that add nothing to society’s dinner table. They suck society dry.

    Think Peace — Art

  98. There is also the Jewish factor hypothesis, common to many civilizations destruction (Mesopotamian, Macedonian, Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Rome, Poland Lithuania and Ottoman Empire )

    The only problem for the all Jewish hypothesis are the asian and American destructions …

    Even if for the north Native American, I ve read an article saying that those unfortunate people had put their confidence for organizing their trade and peace reaties in the Jewish people because they were impressed by jzwish ability to appropriate themselves their multiplz languages and cultures. Some Jewish spoke more Native American languages than the Indian themselves …it didn’t go well for the indian.

  99. Mesopotamian, Macedonian, Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Rome

    But Jews had nothing to do with the collapse of any of these societies (apart from maybe the Maccabean revolt and the collapse of the Seleucids for Macedonian)

  100. Even the so-called conquests of the Angles and Saxons are now believed to be more like a rather peaceful wave of migration, with Romano-Britons allocating land to the migrants and admixing with them over generations.

    In an age when it’s politically compulsory to view all population replacement as entirely beneficial peaceful immigration historians suddenly decide that population replacements in the past were all entirely beneficial peaceful immigration. It’s almost as if historians have figured out that if they want to continue to have careers it would be a good idea to view the whole of history through the lens of political correctness.

  101. Ilyana_Rozumova says

    Natural selection
    And genetics.

    There are two types of females.

    One type is pretty, petite, little bit plump, sensitive and gentle.
    Men are attracted to this type of women.

    The other type is not so pretty, rather taller, not chubby, with rather strong bone structure, a bit coarse and having thin mustache.
    Men are not attracted to this type woman so much.

    And here is the problem.
    The pretty women particularly matched with a strong man will produce mostly girls, and if they produce a boy that boy will be weaker than father.

    The second group that is ugly women will produce mostly boys that will be stronger than father.

    And so in society the upper class man have first pick from the crop and those will be pretty woman.

    For the lover class mostly ugly women will remain.

    But generational result will be continuous decline of strength, aggressiveness, tenacity, and stamina of ruling class men.
    Opposite will happen in lower class man.

    So changing places will become inevitable.

    This is one of the factors in demise of empires.

    Ref: See the story in Bible of Isaac (Israel) getting two wives for price of one.
    Sabine women were mostly rejects from the neighboring tribe and they were ugly.

  102. SeekerofthePresence says

    Apostle Paul speaks of apostasy as a key sign of the end. The corruption of major portions of the Roman clergy, episcopal split within the Orthodox, devolution of Protestantism to various forms of Arianism: do these developments speak to a general societal collapse? Collapse of faith means collapse of everything?

  103. Unless I’m battling Klingons in sleek spaceships, outwitting Ronulans, and trading with devious Ferengi against a backdrop of mysterious forces in an unknown universe, I’m not not interested.

    The fact that the Space Age ended in total disinterest and futility is one of the great tragedies of the West. Compared to science fiction the reality was so utterly boring that there was never any chance the Space Age would make a comeback. It’s over. We’ll never leave this rock, because anything out thee in space is almost certainly a thousand times more boring and pointless.

    The end of the Space Age was the point at which westerners stopped caring about having a future.

  104. We’ll never leave this rock, because anything out thee in space is almost certainly a thousand times more boring and pointless.

    Space probes have returned numerous photographs from the surfaces of the inner planets: A plethora from the Moon and Mars, a few from Venus, a handful from asteroids, and even some from Saturn’s moon Titan. What immediately impresses one about these photos is the utter ghostly timelessness of those places, their barren rock and dust which never see anything and which no one ever sees. Whether it is now or a billion years ago is completely indiscernible. The conclusion is oppressive and inescapable. These worlds are dead.

    I have no idea why some people are so excited about going to Mars. They will find nothing there except a lonely descent into madness.

  105. Mistake. I meant to press Agree button.

  106. Österreich Austria Eastern Realm

  107. Timothy Madden says

    When that brand new Lion Air 737 crashed last month, and the first news accounts also reported a “thrill ride” for the passengers on the previous flight, I immediately thought – Oh oh! That sounds like a software problem.

    I also had a constructive flashback to the 1980’s crash of one of the earlier Airbus A320’s I think, in the woods near Paris, which was attributed to a software glitch.

    As a software engineer, do you think that we are facing a general complexity threshold in these areas?

  108. German_reader says:

    “Seems doubtful to me that the fall of Rome is really relevant to the present world.”

    I Respond:

    Oh really, corruption of Roman society and the collapse of Roman borders, mass invasion of Rome by hostile (Your Germanic barbarians) alien tribes seems pretty much identical to what Western Europe and the United States are suffering now.

    Our societies are corrupt, low birth rates, corrupt sexuality and degenderacy.

    Asiatic hordes of Huns rampaging, raping and slaughtering across Central Europe pushes all kinds of German tribes of Goths and Vandals to flood across Rome’s external borders. Same thing is happening now in Europe, USA.

    You seem kind of out of it, not paying attention mate.

  109. Yes, you are most probably right that Mars is lonely, barren rock a wasteland of nothing. But that probably is better than hanging out at the University of California at Berkeley and having to suffer that dwarf Robert Reich getting paid $300,000 a year to teach one poli sci course and rant about how much he hates White people.

  110. The fact that the Space Age ended in total disinterest and futility is one of the great tragedies of the West. Compared to science fiction the reality was so utterly boring that there was never any chance the Space Age would make a comeback. It’s over. We’ll never leave this rock,

    Gee, that completely ignores the fact that POTUS directed the DoD and The Pentagon “to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the armed forces” that would be “separate but equal” from the Air Force. Are you really confident that POTUS is going to fail in this task?

  111. Daniel Chieh says

    Have to admit, a pretty novel theory.

  112. james charles says

    “At current rates, we’ll hit 1.5ºC on a decadal-average basis by ~2040. The first year above 1.5ºC will occur substantially earlier, likely associated with a big El Niño event in the late 2020s/early 2030s.

    . . .

    The basic issue is that the effort to reduce emissions sufficiently to never get past 1.5ºC would require a global effort to decarbonize starting immediately that would dwarf current efforts or pledges. This seems unlikely (IMO). ”

  113. Steve, thanks for your insight from your specialized knowledge base. In my 60s now, I’m entering cranky old fart territory, so I’ve probably gathered a whole mess of biases in how I view the “complexification” brought by technology.

    Having said that, I actually do wonder when I’m ordering a Big Mac from one of those big upright computer screens: “How in hell is this better than ordering from a teenager with a pencil behind his ear (in the 1960s) checking off boxes on an order pad?”

  114. The only trustworthy global temperatures are here:

    As you can see the gradient is 0.1°C per decade during last 40 years when truly global satellite measurement of temperature was possible.

  115. This marvelously complex small-town opera house was built by a family named Tainter:

  116. Philip Owen says

    Gosh, cycles. Do a Fourier analysis. Such analyses on other data sets do not suggest inevitable global warming. Its not how climate scientists analyse things but …

  117. If people want to compare the historical trajectory of western Europe to eg China, Russia or the Byzantines, they would be wise to try and simulate the much larger exposure to nomadic raids such as happened in the other three, the effect that would have had on the progress of western Europe etc. Very bad most probably, most everyone would still be stuck walking in the mud to this day

    LOL, wrong.

  118. Nomadic people were always richer and higher IQ than sedentary people. The material wealth of Scythians, Kirghiz, the Ongud, etc was extraordinary.

  119. The main thing about Mars is that we don’t know if it has sufficient gravity for long-term habitation. Life is evolved for 1 G, not 0.38 G. We have no idea if that’s enough.

    Why would Mars be exciting? Well, it has more surface area than the combined land area of earth – though we can’t live on the surface – not in open environments anyway. It has an enormous amount of water too, near the surface.

    Theoretically, it could support an enormous population. Its border is space – hard for Africans to cross in a rubber dingy.

  120. Those upright computer screens at McD’s means fewer employees on the payroll. The result? More profit for McDonald’s of course. Same deal with supermarket self-checkouts, ATMs etc.

  121. How could IQ exist before it was invented? It’s a subjective measurement created by humans. Yet you lot treat it like a it’s infallible and universal like the laws of physics. Lulz

    Edit: whoops..reply was for #121 ‘Nawyr’