Comment 52770

By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted December 07, 2010 at 13:25:46

I'm not so sure that Western civilization is in nearly as much trouble as you make it out to be, at least not due to resource depletion or pollution. The resilience you advocate is in fact a key feature of Western societies and it is one of the elements, along with work ethic, representative government, low levels of corruption, and other characteristics, that has served to make Western societies the ones that still enjoy the highest standards of living in the world.

As an anthropologist and a historian, I'd disagree. The resilience is certainly a key feature of many Western societies, but the same could just as easily be said of Africa, Asia or the Americas. Our living standards, though, are pretty clearly linked in large part to the few hundred years of global conquest undertaken by Western governments. And in that sense, you could also say the same of many African, Asian or American civilizations - most of which now lie in ruin.

Civilizations tend to follow relatively similar patterns of explosive growth and collapse, from the ancient cities of the Middle East to Rome, and then a few hundred years later, the major civilizations of the Americas such as the Maya or Anasazi, most of which saw major transformations around 900-1100 AD. In most of these cases, we don't even totally understand today what happened, or which of many worsening factors (population, water, land, social stratification, militarism etc) did it - only that in most cases, a century later, the most powerful cities were virtually abandoned. New centres emerged in some areas (the Mayans turned toward more compact, market-based cities, and never again had a God-King), in others, people returned to the "old ways" of hunting and gathering, with the help of some of the technologies brought by fleeing immigrants (ie: corn).

In almost every one of these cases, these great civilizations reached their peak in terms of things like territory, population and economics shortly before they faded back into the deserts and jungles. Does this sound familiar at all? I'm not saying we're doomed - only mortal. And that if we don't learn from the past, we're going to repeat it.

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