Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Brigid over at Home On The Range wrote an outstanding blog essay:  If John Wayne Were Here Today

It is worth popping over for the read.

I want to add a little bit to what she wrote.

Why do societies collapse?

Actually, we have a pretty good idea of why certain societies collapsed.

I want to call three books to my reader's attention.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond (Professor at UCLA)
Multiple interlacing reasons are given for why societies collapse.  One major theme involves the dynamics of depletion.  Many factors are outside of an individual's control but some are not.  For instance, as individuals we can take steps to ensure that we do not eat our "seed-corn".  Another dynamic is to not become completely dependent on long logistical supply trains delivering "necessities".  We can also strive to maintain lines of communication with neighbors.

Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches and Cannibals and Kings both by Marvin Harris (former Chairman of the Anthropology department at Columbia).  Professor Harris believes that nearly all conflict can be made explicable when viewed through the lens of access to scarce resources, whether the resource is a square meter of tillable ground in Rwanda, an inn in Bosnia or salvage rights for plumbing fittings  in Belfast.  Historically, the keystone resources were protein and fat.  The in-group/out-group dance is all about cutting out enough of the population to ensure that you....the in-group....has access to enough protein and fat to ensure future success in both war and reproduction to fulfill the biological imperative.

Individual responsibility

I own about ten acres.  I select superior garden vegetables and save seed (and seed potatoes).  I have a few acres of woodlot that I manage for poles, stakes, firewood and game.  I like nut producing trees and bushes.  Nuts store well and are nuggets of protein and fat.

As a family, we are very visible to our neighbors. We spend a lot of time outside and we are a mixed-race family which is still rare out here.  I will be judged because I am so visible.

In 2001 a neighbor who I knew casually bent over backward to do me a favor.  I was blown away.

He insisted on telling me why he helped me, "I run a salvage yard and a lot of people look down on me for what I do.  I see you and your wife out walking and you wave to me EVERY TIME.  That might not seem like much to you.  But out here we pay attention to those kinds of things and we remember them."

That stuck with me.

Addendum:  Marvin Harris's message is, in the end, hopeful.  Technology is the process that defines new resources.  Consider coal.  As a rock it makes very poor walls and even poorer chimneys.  Coal was not a resource until somebody redefined coal as a fuel.

Or consider Japan, a nation poor in traditionally defined natural resources.  They learned how to take sand, make  chips with embedded software and then charge premium prices for those devices.  Sand!

The elegant thing about defining technology as the father-of-resources is that every human is born with a brain.  There are no guarantees that technology will keep apace of population and its demands.  But there is hope.