Post(s) tagged with "Jared Diamond"
- Jared Diamond (via cultureofresistance)
Don’t call me a “declinist.” I really don’t believe the United States—or Western civilization, more generally—is in some kind of gradual, inexorable decline.
But that’s not because I am one of those incorrigible optimists who agree with Winston Churchill that the United States will always do the right thing, albeit when all other possibilities have been exhausted.
In my view, civilizations don’t rise, fall, and then gently decline, as inevitably and predictably as the four seasons or the seven ages of man. History isn’t one smooth, parabolic curve after another. Its shape is more like an exponentially steepening slope that quite suddenly drops off like a cliff.
If you don’t know what I mean, pay a visit to Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas. In 1530 the Incas were the masters of all they surveyed from the heights of the Peruvian Andes. Within less than a decade, foreign invaders with horses, gunpowder, and lethal diseases had smashed their empire to smithereens. Today tourists gawp at the ruins that remain.
The notion that civilizations don’t decline but collapse inspired the anthropologist Jared Diamond’s 2005 book, Collapse. But Diamond focused, fashionably, on man-made environmental disasters as the causes of collapse. As a historian, I take a broader view. My point is that when you look back on the history of past civilizations, a striking feature is the speed with which most of them collapsed, regardless of the cause.
The Roman Empire didn’t decline and fall sedately, as historians used to claim. It collapsed within a few decades in the early fifth century, tipped over the edge of chaos by barbarian invaders and internal divisions. In the space of a generation, the vast imperial metropolis of Rome fell into disrepair, the aqueducts broken, the splendid marketplaces deserted.
The Ming dynasty’s rule in China also fell apart with extraordinary speed in the mid–17th century, succumbing to internal strife and external invasion. Again, the transition from equipoise to anarchy took little more than a decade.
A more recent and familiar example of precipitous decline is, of course, the collapse of the Soviet Union. And, if you still doubt that collapse comes suddenly, just think of how the postcolonial dictatorships of North Africa and the Middle East imploded this year. Twelve months ago, Messrs. Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Gaddafi seemed secure in their gaudy palaces. Here yesterday, gone today.
What all these collapsed powers have in common is that the complex social systems that underpinned them suddenly ceased to function. One minute rulers had legitimacy in the eyes of their people; the next they didn’t.
This process is a familiar one to students of financial markets. Even as I write, it is far from clear that the European Monetary Union can be salvaged from the dramatic collapse of confidence in the fiscal policies of its peripheral member states. In the realm of power, as in the domain of the bond vigilantes, you’re fine until you’re not fine—and when you’re not fine, you’re suddenly in a terrifying death spiral.
Molecular genetic studies over the last half-a-dozen years have shown that we continue to share over ninety-eight per cent of our genes with the other two chimps. The overall genetic distance between us and chimps is even smaller than the distance between such closely related bird species as red-eyed and white-eyed vireos, or willow warblers and chiffchaffs. So we still carry most of our old biological baggage with us. Since Darwin’s time, fossilized bones of hundreds of creatures variously intermediate between apes and modern humans have been discovered, making it impossible for a reasonable person to deny the overwhelming evidence. What once seemed absurd - our evolution from apes - actually happened.
Jared Diamond (The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal)
I read other two Diamond’s books (Guns, germs and steel and Collapse); that were the most important books of my last five years