Part of New Studies in Archaeology. Author: Joseph Tainter. Date Published: March ; availability: Available; format: Paperback; isbn: Notes on “The Collapse of Complex Societies” (J. Tainter). 1. Introduction to Collapse. Intro! The sublime mystery of collapsed civilizations and dark portents. Collapse of Complex Societies has ratings and 91 reviews. Mark said: Ok, done!Tainter’s work is an opus. How could it be otherwise with a title lik.

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Can we get out from under excessive demands for complexity?

Joseph Tainter: The Collapse Of Complex Societies | Zero Hedge

Such is the nature of comparative case-based research. Mar 09, Chris Chester rated it it was collqpse Shelves: All problem solving organizations are subject to cost-benefit analysis. The advance of civilizations is a progression in organizational complexity as a solution to problems of collzpse acquisition and distribution as populations become increasingly concentrated. His focus on regulations and taxes makes one feel Tainter is in with the Chi-town gang.

Twenty-four examples of societal collapse help develop a new theory to account for their breakdown. This is a minor strength and a major weakness of his book.

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But other cases, like the Maya, the Western Roman Empire, and Easter Island, are among those situations that do not provide easy explanations. Nowhere, though, is complexity evaluated other than with respect to quantifiable variables—ones that, jjoseph they have not been quantified because of lack of data, could at least be quantified with the right data. Kipling perhaps captured the role of moral virtues in civilizations best in “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” This is why purely economic theories for the Great Divergence are always miserably incomplete—they take no account of culture, which cannot be quantified, collzpse is determinative of the course of a civilization.

Apr 16, Peter rated it liked it Shelves: And ultimately, it’s that that makes me look at his conclusions for modern society seriously. No trivia or quizzes yet. Feb 21, Darnell rated it really liked it Shelves: In dismissing his consideration of greed, Tainter points out that greed, like the poor, will always be with us.


Joseph A. Tainter, The Collapse of Complex Societies – PhilPapers

When a society confronts a “problem,” such as a shortage of energy, or difficulty in gaining access to it, it tends to create new layers of bureaucracyinfrastructureor social class to address the challenge. It’s a little ponderous to read, because it is documented and reasoned like a thesis. We cannot delve into the wormhole of human psychology, he says, because if you are trying to build a model, you have collapsf be able to account for your variables.

Here Tainter analyzes many of the ways that groups of people can completely fail to maintain the complicated but fragile webs of interaction that separate us from animals trade, governance, food production, resource extractionwith examples from the Mayans, Romans, Hittites, Babylonians, and many more.

Our motto may as well be “idleness in the face of disaster. Be the first to ask a question about Collapse of Complex Societies.

However, as the Empire grew, the cost of maintaining communications, garrisons, civil government, etc. It develops insofar as it is beneficial to the majority of its members. We have developed the most complex society humanity has ever known.

His analysis and application of his theory to the Western Roman Empire argues that it was not barbarians, Christians, or plagues that brought down Rome, but a limitation on the value of complexity. Of course bringing oil into it pulls Jared Diamond to mind. According to Tainter’s Collapse of Complex Societies, societies become more complex as they try to solve problems. One final point on rationality, a key assumption made by Tainter.

Our system of innovation is going to change very significantly over the next twenty to thirty to fifty years or so. This book is illuminating.

That doesn’t sound right.

His treatment of modern staving off of collapse touches on this. Tainter is an anthropologist, so he views history though that prism.


It is often assumed that the collapse of the western Roman Empire was a catastrophe for everyone involved. Joseph Anthony Tainter born December 8, is an American anthropologist and historian.

Just in case society does collapse, I’ll document the fall here, so at least at the end I can say “I told ya so! What was useful to me: DMR theory is thus uncomfortably tautological. I’m not going to lie, this book majorly bummed comlex out, but I’d rather we had this perspective and a chance to avoid past mistakes than blindly blunder into the same fate that has befallen many past societies.

Joseph Tainter

But when more and more communities were added that were subject to the same stress surges like drought or invasion, the utility of the system declined. But that’s what will happen because, as we expand our capability e. L’occidente Con Gli Occhi di Machiavelli. After devaluation of coinage, his main discussion has been about taxes. A dry read, yes. When their borders reached a certain point, the costs of maintaining the empire exceeded the possible gains by further conquest.

At low complexity, adding more layers of doers, thinkers, and paper-shufflers makes society more productive and everyone better off, but each additional layer takes energy, and eventually you run into the law of diminishing marginal returns, meaning that after a certain point society becomes paralyzed under the weight of its own corporate and governmental bureaucracies and can no longer adapt to changing conditions like resource shortage, environmental change, economic shifts, or external threats.

Rather, we get a lot of description.