This is about a 20 minute video of a TED Talk by UCLA Prof Jared Diamond. He discusses common threads of societies that collapse. There are several very instructive themes in this talk that apply to Simon’s post today and to the general inability of our system to adapt to what has become blindingly obvious is a ticking time bomb, the fragility of our financial markets, on display today. These themes apply to collapsing society’s and are not financial in nature, but do manifest themselves economically. By the way, this talk is from 2003, a time we can now describe as mid-crisis.
The factors of collapse he identifies are:
1) The society inadvertently destroys its environment. (Self Destructiveness)
2) The climate changes in a way that alters the food supply. (Changes from outside the system)
3) Relations with friendly societies may prop up a society. But if relations are strained, the society may be more likely to collapse. (Parochialism)
4) Relations with hostile societies.
5) The political, economic, cultural and social factors may make it difficult to solve their problems.
In multiple instances, such as Easter Island and the Greenland Norse, the society de-forested itself, somehow oblivious to the consequences. How can this be? What might they have been thinking when they cut down their last tree? So the question can be broken down into why society failed to perceive the problem, why it failed to tackle the problem, or why it’s attempt to tackle the problem was not effective.
A couple generalizations consistently popped out. One is that there is a Conflict of Interest between the short term interest of the decision making elites and the long term interest of the society as a whole, especially where the elites are able to insulate themselves from the consequences of their actions (we can solve this one). A second generalization is that the society has strongly held beliefs that may have been good in many circumstances but are poor in other circumstances. These may make it very hard to change. An example of such a strongly held belief today is that unfettered markets are better and safer than collective decisions regarding markets.
He concludes that our present course in an unsustainable course. We either resolve unsustainable conflicts intentionally or they will be resolved in ways beyond our control. Today the markets are teetering again.
A final conclusion is that we can not decide that there is one solution to our problems. We need to seek many solutions to our problems.
Please view the video if you have time. I think you will draw more parallels than I have the chance to draw out here.